Ched Evans was found not guilty of rape following a retrial. The verdict was returned by a jury of five men and seven women at Cardiff Crown Court on October 14, 2016. The article below was written in June.
CHED EVANS divides opinion and stirs more emotion than his stalled football career ever will. Some of it extremely disturbing.
Anyone who spent a few minutes on social media following yesterday’s news that the striker, whose contract was cancelled by Sheffield United following his conviction for rape – a conviction overturned two months ago – has agreed a one-year deal at Chesterfield with an option for a further 12 months, will know what I mean.
At the extreme end of the scale, what goes through the heads of some men’s minds – and, astoundingly, a few ladettes’ – is unfathomable. Their ready release of bile and anger directed towards women from the dark recesses of what appear to be some very troubled and inadequate minds is stomach-churning.
So willing to put a woman on trial in the court of Twitter where it appears, irrespective of what may or may not have happened, it is deemed perfectly acceptable for a man to try and take advantage of someone who is apparently so drunk they don’t know what they are doing. The ‘she deserved it’ brigade.
Absurdly the very man they seek to support is damaged by it. If Evans is to successfully re-establish a career which came to an abrupt half in April 2012 when he received a five-year jail sentence of which half was served, an indirect association with a bunch of knuckle-dragging neanderthals championing the cause is the last thing he needs. Thankfully, those self same cretins, as alarming a number they are, do not represent the majority. On one side of the argument are those who uphold the principles of deserving of a second chance once a punishment and debt to society has been fulfilled; and the backbone of British justice, innocent until proved guilty.
They are opposed by many who believe the nature of what has since become an alleged crime following the Court of Appeal ruling, should be taken into consideration given the high profile role a footballer has. A job which often involves hero worship and attention, especially among youngsters. Basically, given that the former Wales international has again been charged of rape and faces a retrial in October, they believe that Chesterfield, very much a family club, has acted prematurely. Both sides have valid points.
If you or I applied for a job as, let’s say a postman, and in the ‘any other information’ section of the application form we mentioned indefinite leave in October was a necessity to attend Crown Court because we had been charged with rape, it’s safe to surmise we wouldn’t be delivering letters any time soon.
Spirites boss Danny Wilson is a decent man. So is his first team coach Chris Morgan. Both know Evans well from their days at Sheffield United where the striker, who won 13 Welsh caps, scored 35 goals in 42 appearances, the best season of his career by far in footballing terms, before going to jail.
But quite what was going through former Blades boss Wilson’s mind leaves much to be desired if you are a fan of Chesterfield. What is it about Evans that persuades those who know him well to enter into controversy, create division and bring the name of respected employers into disrepute?
The answer, of course, is two-fold. Firstly, goals win points and points win prizes. Had Evans not had such an extraordinary season on the pitch for the Blades in 2011-12, his football stock would not be nearly so high.
It is easily forgotten that in the two seasons prior to that at United, Evans was regarded as a £3million flop. In 74 appearances after signing from Manchester City, he managed just 13 goals. A strike rate of one in every 5.7 matches. Groans around Bramall Lane regularly accompanied his lack of contribution. At City he scored just one goal. On a loan spell from the Etihad he fared better, scoring 10 in 28 appearances for Norwich City.
Secondly, it is clear those who have worked with Evans and know him well, believe the player when he says he is innocent of the charge. They are willing to view events of an indisputable and squalid night in North Wales in 2011 as an out-of-character prank. A lads’ night out. Dismissing the rape victim who, following recent legal events has once again become the alleged victim.
Why else would United have cancelled his contract after Evans was originally found guilty and yet club owner Kevin McCabe saw fit to make up the £170,000 shortfall from his own pocket in a private transaction? Something that was reported in the Sunday Times and never denied.
Why else would successive Blades managers – David Weir, Wilson and Nigel Clough – have all have made visits to Evans in prison? And why did United feel that on Evans’ release in October 2014 they had a supposed duty of care for a former employee whose behaviour had led them to being let down big time?
The jailing of Evans is widely recognised as costing United, now approaching their sixth season in League One, promotion to the Championship. Under the same circumstances would that willingness to help rehabilitate, as it was described at the time, been afforded to the likes of a Michael Higdon had the former Blades striker found himself, for example, in a similar situation? Everyone knows the answer to that.
United’s name was dragged through the mud and courted headlines nationally and worldwide as the club stubbornly refused to give up on its cynical plan to sign a player of proven goalscoring ability at third division level who had previously been earning £20,000-a week, on the cheap. To hell, it appeared, with the rape victim, now alleged rape victim.
Until that is sponsors stepped in threatening to cancel lucrative contracts. Then talk of moral obligation and second chances disappeared. Evans was quickly dispatched from the training ground.
It is undeniable, however, that those who argued Evans had served his sentence and should not be denied the chance to resume his chosen profession if offered the opportunity just like anyone else, had a strong argument.
Chesterfield, believed to be paying him just under £2,000 a week (close to £110,000-a-year for someone who hasn’t played for more than four years) have now taken the controversy to a new level.
Evans was an employee of Sheffield United when he was charged with rape. He had served his sentence when they attempted to bring him back into the fold. Wilson and Spirites owner Dave Allen have chosen to employ an individual who arrives facing a charge of rape.
Evans, if like me you have stood behind as he attempted to negotiate the checkout at Waitrose in Wilmslow, is not the brightest. He demonstrated that again yesterday in an honest statement that didn’t endear him to all Spirites fans. “I have played in the Premier League and for Wales” said Evans. “I hope to be able to do both again and whilst not quite what I aimed for, Chesterfield could be the stepping stone I need to get back there.” That’s gratitude for you.
Innocent until proved guilty but a tricky one for Chesterfield-supporting parents to explain to their sons and daughters. If sponsors of the club have not already intervened, what if in Autumn a jury finds the latter?
Presumably Evans’ contract will be cancelled and he will be back to square one. Or is it the view that even if Evans is found guilty he has already served a jail sentence and will be unlikely to return? A win-win so long as you are willing to forget about the alleged victim.
Hopefully that is not the case. Chesterfield, on the advice of Wilson and Morgan, have effectively taken the law into their own hands, pre-judged the upcoming court procedure and declared to themselves that Evans is indeed not guilty. It looks foolhardy and irresponsible now. If they are right about the outcome, it will to many appear brave. Upholding a morale principle in someone they had every faith.
But wouldn't it have been wise and less provocative to have waited for the outcome before making the decision? If Evans is found not guilty of the charge, there would be no reasonable obstacle to a resumption of his career.
A jury will once more decide Evans’ legal fate when the case is heard in Cardiff beginning on October 4. Ironic though, isn’t it, that the 27-year-old footballer may well have today been basking in the glory of spearheading Wales to the top their qualifying group at Euro 2016. But for, that is, what he doesn’t deny was a pathetically sleazy, juvenile night in North Wales. If nothing else he let his family down including fiancee Natasha Massey who has stood by him and gave birth to their son in January.
Worthy in fact of some of those knuckle-dragging neanderthals whose support he could do without. For many that says it all.