Kevin MacDonald leaves Aston Villa following bullying investigation

Club opened investigation after Gareth Farrelly made claims public in interview

Kevin MacDonald has left Aston Villa “with immediate effect” following an investigation into allegations of bullying. Photograph:  Ian Walton/Getty Images

Kevin MacDonald has left Aston Villa “with immediate effect” following an investigation into allegations of bullying. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

 

The Aston Villa youth coach Kevin MacDonald has left the club “with immediate effect” following an investigation into allegations of bullying made by a number of former young players.

In a statement, Villa apologised to the former players affected by the behaviour of MacDonald, who was a youth and reserve team coach in two spells over a 25-year period from the mid-1990s, and Villa said his conduct “would not be tolerated by the club today”.

MacDonald worked as assistant to Steve Staunton during his spell in charge of the Ireland international team.

The investigation, conducted by an independent barrister, Jack Mitchell, was initiated by the club’s chief executive, Christian Purslow, after the Guardian published an interview with the former Villa midfielder Gareth Farrelly in December.

Farrelly, who was at Villa from 1992 to 1997 then played in the Premier League for Everton and Bolton and made six international appearances for the Republic of Ireland, described MacDonald’s coaching regime as “a culture of verbal and physical bullying”.

Farrelly, now a solicitor, recently appointed to the panel of the court of arbitration for sport, said he sank to “extremely dark places” including thoughts of suicide, as a young player struggling with MacDonald’s “relentlessly negative” approach.

In 2017 the Premier League upheld a bullying complaint against MacDonald made by a Villa player and his father but Farrelly was prompted to speak out because, he said, he was “incredulous” that MacDonald had remained in a coaching position at the club.

Following the publication of the interview with Farrelly, several other former Villa youth players spoke to the Guardian describing similar treatment by MacDonald and another coach, Tony McAndrew, including negativity and constant verbal abuse.

MacDonald remained as the head of football development at Villa until this week, although he was removed from contact with players after Mitchell’s investigation was launched in December.

McAndrew left the club in 2017 after more than 20 years coaching young players and was not subject to the investigation. In December he declined to comment on the allegations. MacDonald was instructed by the club not to comment.

In their statement, Villa said: “Aston Villa can confirm Kevin MacDonald has left his position as head of football development with immediate effect. Mr MacDonald had been reallocated to non-player facing duties pending completion of an independent investigation into allegations published in The Guardian newspaper in December 2018 about his past conduct.

“That investigation carried out by barrister Jack Mitchell has now concluded and the results delivered to the board. As the report forms part of an employee disciplinary process, the club is unable to provide details in public, although copies of Mr Mitchell’s investigation have been provided to the FA, Premier League and statutory authorities.

“Mr Mitchell appealed for individuals to come forward to give evidence and we are especially grateful to those former players who assisted him in his investigation. Aston Villa wishes to apologise to all former players who were affected by behaviour which would not be tolerated by the club today. Our approach to safeguarding is now unrecognisable from the past and has been described as excellent in recent EFL and Ofsted audits. The club will now begin a search for his successor.”

Farrelly welcomed the outcome of the investigation into MacDonald and paid tribute to the former players who had given evidence.

“I hope people will see this news and feel vindicated after having had remarkable courage to come forward and relate their experiences or assist others to do so; it will no doubt have been incredibly difficult for them,” he said.

“Some people still struggle and are affected now by the experiences they suffered at Villa, as young footballers hoping for a career in the game. This particular investigation and MacDonald’s departure demonstrate that people in authority can be held to account for their actions, even if it takes many years.

“There is no place for people like him in football.”

Greg Walters, a Villa academy scholar from 1998 to 2000, one of those who spoke out about the bullying that he said destroyed his confidence at the time, said: “Some people might wonder what good we feel this has done for us so long afterwards but it does feel important that the club has now acknowledged the behaviour wasn’t right. I hope young players today and in the future won’t be subject to any kind of similar culture that we suffered.”

MacDonald is understood to have been represented by the League Managers’ Association. – Guardian

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