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My first ever SCAN article concerned the early release of Ched Evans from prison after his conviction of rape and the possibility of him being re-employed as a professional footballer in the future. Well this future has arrived: over the Christmas break, due to the January transfer window opening, this saga has dragged on.
Ched Evans has been linked to several clubs including Sheffield United, Hartlepool and Oldham Athletic during the transfer window. However, these moves have not materialised due to what Evans calls “mob rule”. However, it is clear that Evans does not understand the people’s disgust that a convicted rapist felt he could swan back into a high-profile job after revealing no remorse for a crime that would preclude re-employment for many. Football, and footballers, are so blinkered at times, so cut off from the real world. The robust public reaction to Evans was a strong stance against a sport that arrogantly believes it can operate to its own skewed, commercially driven, results-related mores, not to public morals.
Footballers’ sense of entitlement, encompassing the “I’ve got a bird” culture, cheating on their partners, having sex with a woman too inebriated to give consent as laughing team-mates try to film events, before leaving through a fire escape, has now been challenged by the public. This challenge was first brought by Jessica Ennis-Hill, the revered athlete spoke so simply yet so powerfully about her concern about Evans returning to her club, Sheffield United, that the club had a rethink two months ago.
It’s not only Evans who doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the problem but the footballing world itself. Oldham’s attempt to sign a convicted rapist in the face of unprecedented opposition proved that football is out of touch with modern values. It strengthens the view held by many that football puts results on the pitch before principles, and of a profound disconnect between club boardrooms and the public at large.
This is further emphasised by comments made the PFA’s chief executive, Gordon Taylor, comparing the Evans case to the Hillsborough tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters. Taylor’s support for Evans is deeply misguided. The fact remains that Evans has not done “his time”, that he is currently out on licence and has yet to show any remorse to his victim, who has had to live in hiding. Football’s authorities have handled the Evans situation terribly with the FA’s chairman, Greg Dyke, silent on an issue that has divided the game. Football’s leaders go missing when needed most. But David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Clive Efford, the Labour MP, have all cogently voiced their unease about Evans being helped back into the national game, and none is an obvious exponent of “mob rule”.
As I mentioned in my previous article, I believe in the criminal justice system and the idea of rehabilitation of prisoners, but Evans’ statement this week proves a naivety within the situation and a man who believes he is the victim, as he see sponsors holding clubs at gun point and the Ministry of Justice blocking any move to work abroad as seen with the prospective move to Hibernians of Malta. His statement proves he is several steps away from rehabilitation, and should not even be considered to be back in the media spotlight of football.
The public storm has been generally made with dignity. However, those who made death threats against Oldham officials and staff – and also the rape threat against a board member’s daughter – need the full force of the law brought against them, rightly so, just as the police tracked down nine of Evans’s so-called supporters who named his victim on the Wild West of the web.
It seems unlikely the public will ever be able to accept Evans back in the sport, and I am one of those. He has not apologised to his victim, who has had to change her name and residence. He has not called off the attack dogs on social media who continue to hound the victim and now he wants to be accepted back in one of the prestigious professions in the country with open arms. This is not right and should not even be a matter we should even be considering. And thankfully clubs are starting to realise this as well, as Evans is not worth the trouble. The people have made their case against Ched Evans and we are winning.