Allowing Ched Evans To Sign For Oldham Will Have A Toxic Effect On English Football

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Ched Evans is closing in on deal with League One side Oldham Athletic…

After months of protests, political unrest and sponsor threats, it seems Ched Evans is closing in on a return to football, with League One side Oldham Athletic 80% likely to sign the striker, according to their owner Simon Corney.

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The latest BBC reports confirm that Oldham, who are 14th in League One, plan on making a statement later this week. Corney said the deal could happen “at any time”, but that it “wasn’t straightforward” and there were “some legal issues” to overcome first.

It’s unlikely that even Evans could have estimated the furore his potential return to the game would cause. The Welsh international was expected to join the Latics on a long-term deal and train with the club on Monday, but the move was met with widespread opposition, stalling the deal.

As the source explains, Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping a woman in Rhyl, North Wales. He was released from prison in October after serving half of a five-year sentence, but has so far failed to secure a new club, despite the apparent interest of former employers Sheffield United.

The player continues to protest his innocence, and an investigation into his conviction by the Criminal Cases Review Commission is under way, but he has been met with unwavering resistance from numerous football fans, while 160,000 people signed a petition against his return.

Politicians have also had their say. Reports in the Daily Mirror carry quotes from both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, who said Oldham shouldn’t sign him because: “he’s a role model and he’s been convicted of a very serious crime.”

The Prime Minister warned any club thinking of allowing a man to return to work after serving his jail sentence to “weigh the decision very carefully due to the position of footballers as role models,” an opinion that was seemingly echoed around the country.

Except, it seems, in Oldham, who have something of a history of signing players who have served time in prison, having also picked up Lee Hughes in 2007, after he was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving.

But with social media now at the forefront of every major footballing news story, the Evans case has created a far more toxic atmosphere, and the implications of its eventual outcome have now become of national interest.

When asked about the public backlash, Corney added: “I completely understand people’s views and I respect them. I would never tell people they are wrong to have their own views. But we want people to keep them in check.”

He is also believed to have argued that while Evans had committed a crime, the player had served his sentence and deserved another chance, a message that has also been argued by a counter-petition, which has attracted more than 2,000 signatures.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations between club and player, this is a 26-year-old man whose life will never be the same. What will the reaction be from opposition supporters? What about opposition players? How can you work in that environment?

When Clayton McDonald was acquitted of the same crime in 2012, he told reporters: “It’s so hard to move on with all this publicity. I have sympathy for Ched but I was found innocent at the end of the day.

“Trouble is, mud sticks and I have found it very difficult for a club to take me on. I was cleared of rape but Ched’s case and subsequent publicity have destroyed my life and career. I had a year of hell leading up the trial, and it’s not changed much since.

“To be falsely accused of rape is terrible. I wasn’t guilty of anything but had to prove it. I have tried to rebuild my life ever since the court case but have found it near impossible. As a pro you have to try and cope but it’s so hard.”

If that was the story of a man cleared, how can a man charged have any hope of carving out a career in the public eye? For the good of player, club and English football, Oldham must avoid signing Evans, let the court case and appeals run their course, and let all involved move on with their lives.

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