MacDonald exits Villa following bullying allegations
Written by Simon Austin — August 20, 2019
ASTON VILLA Academy coach Kevin MacDonald has left the club “with immediate effect” following an investigation into allegations of bullying that had been made against him.
Villa have apologised to the players concerned and insisted that MacDonald’s conduct “would not be tolerated by the club today”. MacDonald was a youth and reserve team coach at Villa in two separate spells spanning 25 years from the mid-1990s.
He was their former Under-23 coach and most recently Head of Football Development - a position he held up until this week.
Villa chief executive Christian Purslow initiated the internal inquiry, headed by barrister Jack Mitchell, following allegations made by four youth players about sustained bullying and abuse they suffered at the hands of MacDonald and another coach, Tony McAndrew, in the 1990s.
McAndrew left the club in 2017 after more than 20 years coaching young players and was not subject to the investigation. MacDonald was removed from contact with players after Mitchell's investigation was launched last December, although he remained Head of Development.
One of the players concerned, Gareth Farrelly, told The Guardian’s David Conn there had been "a culture of verbal and physical bullying, but there were no checks and balances. He (MacDonald) operated with impunity.”
In a statement, Villa said it could "confirm Kevin MacDonald has left his position as head of football development with immediate effect."
It continued: "Mr MacDonald had been reallocated to non-player facing duties pending completion of an independent investigation into allegations published in The Guardian 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 added: “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,.
“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.”
Initial complaints, which pre-dated Purslow's time at Villa, had been dismissed by the club. Pete Lowe, founder of PlayersNet, which offers support and guidance to young players and their parents, had assisted in the case.
He told TGG: “A father had put his concerns about the emotional and verbal bullying suffered by his son down in writing and sent it to the club, but they came back and said nothing untoward had gone on.”
Lowe helped the father take his concerns to the Premier League, which has regulatory oversight of its Academies, and in February 2017, having conducted its own investigation, the League wrote to the father with damning findings against both Villa and MacDonald.
“There is evidence of bullying, aggressive behaviour and unacceptable language by Mr MacDonald,” the letter stated.
“The club said that nothing untoward had gone on,” Lowe said. “Then, 17 months later, they suspend the member of staff for exactly the same allegations that had been brought in the first place.”