Ched Evans: Sheffield United withdraw offer of training

Football club reverses decision to allow convicted rapist to use facilities following public pressure over former player’s future

Sheffield United has performed a U-turn and withdrawn an offer to allow convicted rapist Ched Evans to train with the club, citing the unexpected intensity of the reaction to their decision.

The club initially agreed to allow Evans to train with them following a request from the Professional Footballers’ Association, which has argued that the striker should be free to resume his career after being released from prison last month.

But it has been under increasing pressure not to offer Evans a new contract and has now reversed its decision to allow the player to train at the club.

A string of patrons resigned from the club’s Foundation and Olympic gold-winning heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill said she would ask for her name to be removed from the Bramall Lane stand that bears it if Evans was re-signed.

The player, who cost Sheffield United £3m in 2009 and scored 35 goals in the 2011/12 season, served two and a half years of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman following a night out in Rhyl.

He continues to protest his innocence and has lodged an appeal with the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Organisations including Rape Crisis England & Wales and the End Violence Against Women Coalition vehemently opposed the decision to allow Evans to return to training.

More than 165,000 members of the public have signed a petition calling on Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe not to re-sign the striker.

“The club initially accepted a request from the PFA for Ched Evans to be able to train. The reaction to this has been at an intensity that could not have been anticipated when first announced,” said the club in a statement.

“As noted in previous statements from the club, the legal system of this country provides for both the punishment and the rehabilitation of every person who has been found guilty of a crime.

“Sheffield United will not be used to promote the view that professional footballers should be treated differently, as has been the want of certain sections of the media and various commentators.”

In announcing that it had reversed its decision, which would appear to indicate that the club had also decided against re-signing Evans, Sheffield United also criticised the media and some of those who have put pressure on it over the issue.

“We remain disappointed at some of the inaccurate reporting, misinformed views and commentary, as well as the actions of a minority of individuals on social media. Professional footballers must be treated as equals before the law,” it said.

“The club condemns rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms.”

The confused nature of the statement reflects the extent to which the case has split the Sheffield United fan base. Some fans have loudly chanted in support of Evans at matches but others have said they would refuse to return to Bramall Lane if he was re-signed.

“We recognise that a number of our supporters will be disappointed with this decision, but would ask that they remember the responsibilities we have not only to a fine and proud club, whose history stretches back over 125 years, but also to the communities in which Sheffield United is active and to the city we represent,” said the club.

A string of politicians have also spoken out on the case, with shadow sports minister Clive Efford and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, whose constituency is in Sheffield, among those arguing Evans should not be allowed to walk back into football given his status as a role model.

“I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people,” said Clegg shortly after the 25-year-old was released in mid-October.

Earlier this week singer-songwriter Paul Heaton became the latest figure associated with Sheffield United to resign his position as a result of its decision to allow Evans to train with the club.

The former lead singer in the Beautiful South followed the lead of television presenter Charlie Webster, businesswoman Lindsay Graham and 1960s pop singer Dave Berry in quitting as a patron of the Sheffield United Community Foundation.

Webster tweeted on Thursday night: “Sheffield United have done the right thing by not letting Ched Evans train with them. It’s the right thing for the club, its fans, its community and the victim. @SUFC_tweets is a great club with a fantastic history and now its future can be fantastic too.”

Others have argued that Evans has been punished for his crime and deserves the right to resume his career. “It is a fundamental part of the justice process that a person serves his or her sentence and then is entitled to be released and continue with their life,” PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has said.

His supporters have pointed to others who have resumed their football careers after being found guilty of serious crimes. Former West Bromwich Albion striker Lee Hughes joined Oldham Athletic in 2007 after serving half of a six year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving.

Evans released a video statement in which he said he was “determined” to clear his name and wanted to return to football. He apologised to his girlfriend, who has stood by him and whose father is funding a campaign to clear his name, but at no stage has apologised to his victim.

She was forced to change her name and move away from her home town after her identity was revealed on Twitter and she become the target of online abuse.

Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and MP for Sheffield Hallam, tweeted: “A sensible decision by Sheffield United regarding Ched Evans. Step in the right direction.”


Owen Gibson, chief sports correspondent, and Chris Johnston

The GuardianTramp

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