The Ched Evans saga took another extraordinary twist earlier this month when it emerged Oldham Athletic were the latest club set to sign the disgraced forward following his release from prison. Ultimately, however, following substantial pressure from various sponsors as well as opposition from both inside and outside the club, the League One side duly withdrew their offer to the 26-year-old. The right call for all concerned.
It would be unfair to criticise Oldham in the first instance for wanting to give Evans a second chance, not least because his former employer Sheffield United and League Two basement-dwellers Hartlepool United were also keen on offering him a contract before Christmas. Moreover, Evans could be classified as a low risk signing particularly as he would likely have been signed on a short-term deal on low wages. It is not difficult to see why clubs were lining up for his signature (from a solely footballing perspective) given the fact he hit 29 league goals before his rape charge in 2012. A proven goal-scorer in the third tier, but with unwanted baggage too it would seem.
A lot has been written and talked about regarding Evans and whether the former Welsh international should be given a second chance. In one corner you have those who believe he has served his time, and should be able to get his life and football career back on track. There are others who simply wouldn’t want their club signing someone with such a tarnished reputation. Many, including myself, are uneasy at the fact that Evans could quickly become idolised by younger supporters should he start scoring goals once again. One point that has often been overlooked in this contentious debate is the idea that, should the forward start scoring regularly for a new employer, his conviction for such a sickening act would simply be forgotten or pushed into the periphery.
Now Evans is not the first sportsman to be imprisoned for a violent act. One only has to look at Forest Green Rovers’ Lee Hughes, jailed in 2004 for causing death by dangerous driving while at West Bromwich Albion, as someone who was given a second chance to resurrect their career which he did successfully with Oldham Athletic and Notts County. Another such example is that of Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper Luke McCormick or former striker Marlon King, the former having also been sentenced to a jail term for causing death by dangerous driving, and the latter who is currently serving an 18-month sentence for reckless driving himself. What makes these aforementioned individuals different to Evans? Arguably it has developed into such a hostile issue due to the fact that Evans has shown no remorse and maintains it never happened.
The old saying forgive and forget may not be applicable here, and rightly so, but surely he would do himself a huge favour by expressing regret at what happened – something he only did for the first time when it emerged Oldham were set to sign him despite a wave of opposition. Lee Johnson’s League One side were tempted by the prospect of securing the services of a player who once commanded a £3m transfer fee. If it worked out, in the long run the Latics may have secured themselves a tidy profit which could prove pivotal to the future long-term sustainability of a club that has long teetered on the brink of extinction. To some extent, one can sympathise with their situation. Johnson has seen his side’s promising start to the season evaporate and witnessed five players depart the club leaving them virtually threadbare. Clubs are prepared to make brave decisions because arguably they have to. With the Premier League gobbling up most of the revenue, it is easy to see how disproportionately the clubs of the lower reaches of the Football League are left to suffer. Hereford United’s recent slide into the footballing history books is a frank reminder to a number of clubs that is it simply becoming harder and harder to survive.
Whether the decision to pull out of the protracted Evans deal was done out of morality or because of pressure of losing vital sponsors, not least the company financing their new stand at Boundary Park, it seemed a monumental risk in the grand scheme of things to jeopardise your very own reputation, even if they may have reaped the rewards if Evans began to rediscover the form he displayed so devastatingly during the 2011-12 season with Sheffield United.
It is that word ‘devastating’ that sums up this drawn out saga so well. Devastating in the sense of the consequences of Evans actions in Rhyl that evening. Potentially devastating for football’s standing as an institution that should encourage morality not make a mockery of it, and evidence of the extent clubs are willing to go to.
Should Evans be granted the opportunity to resume his footballing career, it would take a bold call that defies the majority of public opinion on the matter. Given the media storm that has had social media talking so strongly in recent months, it’s unlikely any football club will make an offer for the striker for the time being. Perhaps that’s for the best.