The signing of Luke McCormick has caused a storm of anger amongst Oxford United fans. But, while the anger is wholly understandable, it is energy wasted. Maybe if we try really hard, perhaps something good might come from it.
Boys from Up the Hill have done a pretty excellent job at assessing the implications of the move for the club from a PR perspective, their view summing up what appears to be the view of the majority of those joining in the brouhaha. I can’t disagree with what they’re saying, although it is only one scenario and the world is a complicated place.
Avoiding scandal is certainly an easier solution for the club, but perhaps there is something to applaud about the decision.
It seems unlikely that the club would have been unaware of the potential impact of McCormick's signing who was convicted of death by reckless driving in 2008. It's not difficult to see that there may be some repercussions from hiring someone convicted of killing two children. Presumably, had there been others available at the right money and experience, then the club would have surely picked them up.
As much as Max Crocombe’s performance on Tuesday was encouraging as a debut, it can’t have left Wilder with the impression that he’d solved the problem of filling Ryan Clarke’s not inconsiderable goalie gloves. In difficult conditions, Crocombe’s performance revealed both his potential and the areas he needs to work on. He had a couple of decent catches and a couple of hair raising misjudgements against a Burton team that, in the main, oscillated wildly between toothless and impotent.
The crowd, and everyone else, were generous with their encouragement but had Wayne Brown, as a fully cooked professional goalie put in that performance, the reaction would not have been as positive. Nobody could honestly say that the 'keeping situation had been solved.
This season is going to go one of two ways; it will peter out to nothing, or we will end up in a massive dog fight for the play-offs. It’s a difficult call at the moment, but if the season is to have any useful end product, it won’t be for the feint hearted, or debutant goalkeepers. We need a new goalkeeper with some experience.
It is difficult to be wholly supportive of the signing of McCormick. Beyond the basic football one, I couldn’t construct an argument with any conviction to say this is a good thing. I can, however, create an argument where the decision is an understandable one.
Generally speaking, I think we’re all in agreement that drink driving and killing children are both bad things. No amount of outrage is going to make that point clearer, and nobody is going to decide that drink driving and killing people is a good thing because McCormick has gained himself a 16 week contract as a lower league goalkeeper. His actions will not change the overall moral landscape and Oxford’s decision to sign him is also immaterial to that position.
The club could adopt a policy where they won't employ people with convictions. A virtuous position, but one that is virtually impossible to maintain. Where might you draw the line with something like that? All convictions? Only 'really bad ones'? Who decides what is a really bad one is? Or do you just make a series of arbitrary moral judgements as to your actions as you wind your way through life? You could, but you’d quickly tie yourself up in knots in a bank contradictions.
The club set out its stall when they came out in support of Adam Chapman when he was convicted of death by dangerous driving in 2010. It seems that most fans supported that position, ‘Chappy’ is a widely loved goon, man of the match at Wembley, an endearing and engaging character when interviewed, who is sometimes brilliant, and rarely criticised when he isn’t. He’s certainly cut more slack than people like Michael Raynes or Simon Heslop. His conviction has really done him no harm at all from the fans’ perspective, although last night some appeared to be rapidly backtracking on that position, becoming morally outraged about that decision 2 years after it was made.
The Chapman decision was generally applauded because it offered something rare in football; an opportunity to rehabilitate from a mistake that will live with him for the rest of his life. Football does moral outrage pretty well; Eden Hazard trying to hurry things along by poking the ball from under a ballboy was quickly turned into a story about a millionaire footballer kicking a child. Every week you will see uproar about inconsistencies in decision making, diving and corners being taken from 2 inches outside the arc. When we get to the serious stuff in life, we froth at the mouth. With the Chapman decision Oxford demonstrated a cool rationale head, a position to be applauded.
But being cool and consistent doesn’t come without its difficulties. The world isn’t consistent, and so things will inevitably come along which will challenge the chosen position. McCormick's situation is not different to Chapman’s. That his victims were children and not an old man, and that he was drunk and not texting does not get change that they were both convicted of getting in a car and driving dangerously. Neither intended to kill, they didn't target their victims, the damage they caused were a consequence of their recklessness. You can’t, with any credibility, argue that McCormick is different to Chapman.
This is not a situation that anyone wants to be in. But we're a civilised society which devolves responsibility for making morale judgements to the law and the courts. That's the system which decides who gets punished for what. We trust this system because it works and is fair. It is not football’s responsibility to make additional judgements and dish out further punishment.
McCormick is a free man and the law has allowed him to rebuild his life after a horrible mistake. He, like Chapman, will live with that for the rest of his life and nothing gets away from that. Giving someone a route back to those people wanting to be a useful functioning member of society is a positive thing. Trying to continuously punish someone who has already been punished is a reductive and pointless exercise. No amount of flagellation will make the loss of the children any easier. People will just end up tearing themselves to pieces trying to solve the insolvable problem of the loss of a loved one. If the club takes some role in making a terrible situation fractionally less terrible by providing a platform for some rehabilitation rather than just becoming another voice in an already deafening cacophony of dissent, then perhaps that is to be applauded.