UPDATE, APRIL 21:
- Ched Evans has this morning won an appeal against his conviction for rape and faces a retrial.
- Three appeal judges quashed the conviction after fresh evidence emerged. Details can not be reported for legal reasons.
- Ahead of the ruling the prosecution had said it would seek an immediate retrial if Evans won his appeal.
- An initial statement published on Evans' website, which was subsequently replaced, thanked Sheffield United supporters for their ‘support, encouragement and belief’.
CHED EVANS is set to make national headlines again this week and Sheffield United could be about to join him.
On Thursday the Court of Appeal will rule on whether the former Blades striker’s conviction for rape in April 2012 will stand or be overturned.
Should the ruling be found in the 27-year-old’s favour, Evans, who served two-and-a-half years of a five-year jail sentence but has always maintained his innocence, will find it a good deal easier to resume his football career. Pending a possible retrial, Bramall Lane would be his first port of call.
A storm of protest across the country and from other parts of the world rained down on United and the Welsh international when, on his release from prison in October 2014, he was offered the chance to train with the Blades. Subsequent anger was directed at Oldham and Hartlepool who also indicated they were willing to take Evans on.
It is difficult to understand how United’s co-owners and board members could have been so naive not to expect anything less. But that is what they claimed. That alone calls into question their judgment in general and may offer an insight on why the club has been allowed to slide disastrously over recent years.
In the most shameful episode of the club’s history it defies comprehension as to why United would even want to offer employment – make no mistake that was the planned objective – to a convicted rapist in the box office let alone a high profile role.
Every person who commits a crime and serves their sentence is entitled to a second chance. But surely it has to be an appropriate one. The relationship between club and supporter, as United know to their cost this season, is one of trust and respect. Evans deserves neither.
His behaviour towards the woman he was found guilty of raping was disgusting. He let down the people who love him, his family and girlfriend, Natasha Massey, who has since become his fiancee and mother of his baby boy who was born in January.
Lastly, but much less importantly where real life is concerned, he let down his employer and the thousands of United fans who, up until his conviction, had worshipped the man spearheading their team’s strong bid for automatic promotion back to the Championship.
Co-chairman of a club which actively promotes family values, Jim Phipps, failed to understand any of this as United blundered into dangerous territory like an elephant in a china shop.
He proclaimed at the time that he was “angry and upset” that “mob behaviour” had prevented the club from “not being able to do for this footballer what should be done”. Sheffield Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill, who United were so quick to name the Bramall Lane Stand in her honour, was just one member of that “mob”. Ennis-Hill has since had her name removed. Are the two events connected? Probably not. The club described it as a commercial decision.
Phipps appeared to be hung out to dry as no other spokesperson appeared willing to put their head above the parapet. Nevertheless it was a feeble attempt to try and take the moral high ground. It was, in fact, only the threat from club sponsors to cancel their lucrative contracts if United did not end the association with Evans, that brought the men behind closed doors to their senses. To hell with the claimed ‘moral obligation’. Money talks.
Which is what the self-inflicted furore was all about in the first place as far as United were concerned. Through crass stupidity it was regarded by those who should know better at Bramall Lane as a win-win.
The club had a verbal agreement with Evans that on his release he would resume training at Shirecliffe with the intention of offering him a new contract. Why else would co-owner Kevin McCabe and respective managers Danny Wilson, David Weir and Nigel Clough have thought it necessary to visit a convicted rapist in prison near Leyland in Lancashire?
United would re-employ the man who in his last season had scored 35 goals in 42 appearance before being jailed, at a fraction of the wages they had been paying him before.
Evans would have the chance to put himself back in the shop window by hopefully spearheading the Blades return to the Championship. If and when United chose to sell, it would result in a healthy profit for a player they paid £3million to Manchester City for in the summer of 2009.
Don’t forget either that McCabe was reported in the Sunday Times to have stumped up £170,000 from his own pocket to Evans AFTER the player's contract had been cancelled. Something McCabe has never denied. Money which Evans is said to have used to help pay off his mother’s mortgage in North Wales.
Clearly a strong relationship exists between the player and United’s bosses irrespective of the crime he committed. Should new evidence presented to the Court of Appeal by Evans’ lawyers last month be deemed robust enough to cast doubt about the jury’s original verdict, United may well resurrect their original offer.
MORAL HIGH GROUND
The crucial difference this time would be that Evans, however vile his social behaviour has been, would not carry the burden of being a convicted rapist. Indeed, he would be a man whose wrongful conviction at the age of 23 had stolen a blossoming future.
This time United’s right to give Evans the chance to re-establish his stalled football career would be valid. It would still bring with it a similar storm of protest, but in these circumstances the moral high ground would have swapped sides.
Reprehensible behaviour, which Evans doesn’t deny, says much about the man’s character before his conviction. That may or may not have changed. Today, Monday, April 18, in the eyes of the law Evans is a rapist. On Thursday there is a possibility that, in the eyes of the law, he isn’t.
From a personal perspective, I would have had great difficulty continuing to watch Sheffield United whilst Evans the rapist represented the club I love. If, however, the player’s conviction is ruled to have been unjust and the Blades, having stepped out of the frying pan, are prepared to leap into the fire, well I for one would not hold that against them. Although I’d much prefer Evans to restart his career elsewhere.
If he did return there would have to be one proviso. No triumphalism on Evans’ or the club’s part. For even if he is found to have been wronged by the justice system, he has nothing to be proud about and neither does Sheffield United.