The news that Mason Greenwood will leave Manchester United brings to an end a six-month investigation by the club into the player’s conduct. His exit was “mutually agreed”, according to statements released by the striker and United, with the club concluding he did not commit the offences he was charged with. However, serious questions remain over United’s handling of the situation, and whether football clubs can ever be trusted to act as judge and jury over serious allegations involving their talent.
Greenwood was suspended by United in January 2022 after allegations made against him online, which led to him being arrested and later charged for attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault. The CPS dropped the charges in February of this year, citing “a combination of the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light”.
Since then, like a slowly grinding wheel, the club has spent months in “fact-finding” mode, later drawing up plans to bring Greenwood back on a phased return, which were leaked by staff furious at the club’s decision. Most alarmingly, as part of United’s preparations for his return, the club reportedly drew up a list of external figures, including MPs, journalists and charities, and divided them into categories ranging from “supportive” to “hostile” – including labelling a host of domestic abuse campaigns as “hostile” towards Greenwood’s proposed return.
Women’s Aid called such language “inappropriate”, and the club’s protracted investigation has left many female fans speaking out about feeling silenced. A number founded a group to make their voices heard: Female Fans Against Greenwood’s Return. The club’s delaying of its final decision in order to consult the female team at the 11th hour adds insult to injury – seemingly placing responsibility for the decision in their hands and opening them up to online abuse.
As a lifelong fan of Man United and a domestic abuse campaigner, it has been difficult for me to watch my club drag its heels on such serious allegations. United officials conducted an internal investigation into the allegations against Greenwood, with no mention of consulting independent experts. Can we really expect objective impartiality from a club when investigating one of its key players, given his huge financial value? It exposes the need for the creation of an independent body to preside over such serious investigations in future – one that could deliver a rigorous, expert assessment of all of the facts, as well as safeguarding players, staff and key stakeholders in the business, including fans.
There is no part of myself as a United fan that feels proud to support the club, given how this investigation has been handled. Management has repeatedly failed to centre the voices of fans on these issues, which reeks of a club intent on finding an outcome that benefits them. Fans who are survivors of domestic abuse have found the actions of the club re-traumatising; some of them told me that the idea of Greenwood running out on to the pitch again was so abhorrent to them that it would mean they would no longer be able to support the team.
Greenwood has always denied the accusations against him, and United’s own investigation concluded that “the material posted online did not provide a full picture and that Mason did not commit the offences in respect of which he was originally charged”, noting further that “Mason publicly acknowledges today, he has made mistakes which he is taking responsibility for”. But its handling of the Greenwood case has proved that United is unfit to carry out serious investigations into player behaviour safely and responsibly.
Regardless of Greenwood’s situation, an opportunity has been missed to amplify awareness of and improve education about sexual violence and abuse in society, which continue to permeate the football world. Cases of unnamed Premier League footballers on bail amid multiple allegations of rape raise serious questions about the capacity of any club to investigate one of their own without independent input. Involving external oversight in allegations of misconduct offers a solution to cleaning up football’s reputation. Manchester United has undoubtedly made the right decision to part ways with Greenwood, but its seeming inability to come to that decision without its hand being forced shows how much work there is left to do.
David Challen is a domestic abuse campaigner
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