NO SOONER had one chapter appear to have closed the possibility of striker Ched Evans rejoining Sheffield United has dramatically resurfaced.
A boardroom upheaval at Chesterfield following the Blades 4-1 weekend win at the Proact Stadium revealed the troubled club’s perilous financial state after the shock resignation of Spireites chairman and majority shareholder Dave Allen. So much so that when asked if the club could fold, vice chairman Dave Jones said: “I don’t know.”
Prior to quitting, Sheffield businessman Allen bankrolled the club and was instrumental before becoming chairman in 2012 in their move from Saltergate to a purpose built 10,500 capacity stadium which cost £13m. The former chairman of Sheffield Wednesday is reported to have injected an emergency £200,000 into the club last month in order to meet the wage bill and running costs. With loans totalling £4million and a mortgage of £2million any prospective buyer would need to spend almost £10m which would include Allen’s shareholding. There has been a suggestion, however, that Allen may be willing to accept a reduced offer.
Chesterfield directors who rejected Allen’s request that they wave payment of interest on loans until the club was in a proper position to pay, met yesterday in a continued effort to solve their problems in the short-term at least. A statement released said: “The directors are aware of media speculation relating to the club's current position and are continuing to work around the clock to resolve the situation.” It added: “Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Dave Allen has officially been removed from the Companies House register as a director of CFC 2001 Limited, but remains as the majority shareholder with a 60% stakeholding in the company.”
Evans signed a one-year contract at Chesterfield in June in a bid to re-establish his stalled career and is earning £2,000-a-week. He must be regarded as one of the Derbyshire club’s biggest playing assets. As reluctant as manager Danny Wilson, whose side are well adrift at the bottom of League One, would be to see Evans go, his hand is likely to be forced in the January transfer window if the club cannot stabilise its finances.
Add to that Blades manager Chris Wilder’s refusal in the build up to last week’s match to rule out the prospect of Evans eventually returning to Bramall Lane and the player’s apparently warm relationship with United co-owner Kevin McCabe.
Asked about the possibility of Evans, who scored 35 goals in 42 appearances for the Blades in 2011-12 before having his contract cancelled after being convicted and jailed for rape, Wilder said: “Any player could join this football club at any stage of their career. I’m not singling anybody out.”
Evans served two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence before being released and has since had the conviction quashed on appeal. A retrial in October found the 27-year-old not guilty. His loyalty is clearly with Wilson and the Spireites who were prepared to give him the chance to reboot his career despite more than four years out of the game with a renewed charge of rape hanging over him.
Wilson’s judgment was key in the move to employ Evans who played the best season of his career at Bramall Lane under the former Blades boss. “The decision to bring him in was based on his footballing ability,” said Wilson. Referring to the pending retrial, he added: “What we can't talk about is what will happen in the future because we just don't know.”
Unfortunately for Wilson the pay-off from a bold decision to put his and the Spireites reputation on the line by backing the player’s successful plea of innocence, may now be scuppered in an urgent need to raise cash and prevent a very real threat of club going under.
United, who paid £3million to Manchester City in 2009 for the Wales international, may now have the chance to make their near neighbours an offer they might be unable to refuse in the January transfer window.
Other clubs, Championship Aston Villa being one, have been monitoring Evans since his return to the game. Injury and the retrial in Cardiff have interrupted the striker’s progress and he would represent a big gamble before he has the chance to properly prove himself. Nevertheless he has scored five goals in 12 appearances for the Spireites.
Bramall Lane, however, is home for Evans, a club that knows him well. Fans were split when United invited him back to train at Shirecliffe following his release from prison in 2014 as a convicted rapist. The national furore which followed forced the club to abandon its naive, secret and long-held plan to quickly reintroduce him to the game in a red and white-striped shirt. No less than three United managers, Wilson, David Weir and Nigel Clough, visited Evans in prison.
The extraordinary loyalty displayed by United began when McCabe was reported to have paid up the remainder of jailed Evans’ cancelled contract from his own pocket, believed to be £170,000. Money which is said to be have been used to pay off the mortgage on the player’s mother’s house in North Wales.
Evans and United clearly have a special relationship. Given Chesterfield’s plight at the foot of League One and their sudden financial predicament, he would relish the chance to rejoin the Blades, a club that many are now anticipating to be in the Championship next season. It’s a perfect fit.
Evans was applauded by travelling Unitedites as he was substituted in the second half at the Proact last Sunday. If the player had any doubts about how he would be received, he hasn’t anymore. Many see him as the ideal partner for Billy Sharp or at the very least a key addition to ensure success in May and beyond.
Judging from Wilder’s pre-match comments, they’re not alone.