YOU may have read about Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatly publicised, highly vaunted transfer from Juventus to Manchester United over the last week or so. The Portuguese superstar – unquestionably one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport – returning to the team that elevated him to demigod status for many all those years ago as both parties look to recapture their former glory.

Sounds romantic, right? Even now I can hear a chorus of violins swelling somewhere in the distance. But a quick glance on social media at some of the ‘hidden replies’ – responses from users that have been censored by a tweet’s original publisher – on stories hailing Ronaldo as “an example to every footballer” painted an altogether different picture.

You see, away from the glitz and the glam of one of the world’s greatest players transferring between two of its grandest old clubs, there has been outright dissent. Not because of anything Ronaldo has achieved on the park, though. The anger is directed at his murky past off of it.

Comment after comment was hidden where Ronaldo was accused of being a rapist, following on from allegations that date back to 2009. Der Spiegel reported in 2018 that the German newspaper had access to documents that showed the Portuguese had signed a witness statement during the investigation of rape claims made by American Kathryn Mayorga.

In the statement, Ronaldo speaks of engaging in a sex act with Mayorga. “But she kept saying ‘No.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘I’m not like the others.’ I apologized afterwards,” Ronaldo supposedly recalled of the incident, which sounds a lot like non-consensual sex to me. The initial charges against Ronaldo were dropped following an out-of-court settlement - one that depended on Mayorga's silence, naturally - but the case has since been reopened. Ronaldo has an outstanding warrant to provide his DNA in the US from 2019, so he simply doesn't go there.

Ronaldo spuriously denies the allegations, which he has previously branded ‘fake news’, but there are a few too many – fans, clubs and major institutions in the media – which are all too keen to brush such troublesome issues under the carpet and laud the footballer’s prowess. It’s a reaction that must be horribly deflating and depressing for victims of sexual assault yet sadly, the Ronaldo case is not an isolated incident.

The very same week that Ronaldo’s move to Manchester was being formalised, news broke of another deeply troubling episode across the city. It transpired that Benjamin Mendy, the Manchester City full-back, had been charged with four counts of rape and one of sexual assault. He has been arrested and is in custody at HMP Altcourse in Merseyside.

Mendy has since been suspended by the club but they were more than happy for the French internationalist to continue playing after he had been charged but before he had been arrested – in other words, when there was no external pressure placed on the club. They were happy for Mendy to contribute to the team, knowing he was the subject of a serious police investigation, when no one was informed enough to object.

Think about that. They knew Mendy was facing multiple charges of rape, and they played him anyway. 

It’s not a problem restricted to England, either. Here in Scotland, we also have clubs who will overlook a troubling past if they think it will improve the team enough.

Take Clyde, for example. Here’s a club that currently employ Ally Love (who has previously served a five-match ban for racially abusing an opponent) and David Goodwillie, the subject of a landmark civil suit in Scotland, prompting one newspaper headline to ask: ‘With a racist and a rapist in the team, what do you have to do exactly to lose your place at Clyde FC?’.

The one-time Dundee United forward never faced criminal charges for the alleged rape of a woman in January 2011 but was found guilty in a civil court – where the evidence threshold is significantly lower, it must be said – and ordered to pay the victim damages.

Goodwillie appealed the decision and it was rejected – which would suggest to me that he maintains his innocence and therefore cannot be considered rehabilitated – and it wasn’t long before the Bully Wee offered what was initially supposed to be a short-term deal. Five years later, Goodwillie remains at Broadwood and is one of their best players.

I was speaking to a friend who is a Clyde fan about the whole sorry mess recently and found her take on it all interesting. She told me how she stopped financially supporting the fan-run club after Goodwillie was signed and struggles to truly lend her support to the team. She attends fewer games, and her enthusiasm for the club she has supported for decades has waned. What happens when wee boys, enthralled with Goodwillie’s goalscoring exploits, grow up and realise what he has done after being raised to idolise him? How is that going to shape their attitudes towards women and sex?

Just as there is a reluctance from the clubs themselves to tackle these issues, supporters have a responsibility to self-police within grounds themselves. Only a week ago I heard a group of fans singing about a current player’s previous conviction for a sex crime, giddily glorifying the act and actively revelling in it. Perhaps there were those who told their fellow fans to cut it out but their requests, if they did exist, fell on deaf ears.

We need to be better as fans at telling our clubs when they sign someone who simply isn’t fit to wear the shirt. We have no shortage of positive tales of redemption and rehabilitation within our game – something I’m oddly proud of – in the shape of figures like Livingston manager David Martindale or Aberdeen defender Declan Gallagher but for those who are unrepentant, a line must be drawn.

Such action can make a difference. Only last month, hundreds of Dundee supporters signed a petition to express their outrage after convicted sex offender Niall Mason began a trial at the club. The petition, organised by my former colleague Niall Christie, pointed out that Mason has consistently maintained his innocence at every opportunity and sought to overturn his criminal conviction. And guess what? It worked. A few days later, the trial was ended and Mason was released.

It was a show of collective force; an insistence that Mason’s employment by the club would be a step too far. And it’s the same sort of reaction that Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United or Goodwillie’s recruitment from Clyde should have been met with. We owe it to the victims of sexual assault within every fanbase in the country – and statistically, they’re there in every fanbase – to not simply brush it all under the carpet.