The Ched Evans debate may be one of the most press-sensationalised signings in recent years . So many people have weighed in offered their views on the ‘should you sign a convicted rapist’ debate, from politicians to crime commissioners. No one has listened to the main view that counts: the fans. This article is simply about the effect the signing will have on Oldham Athletic FC.
You never actually realise how serious an issue like signing a player with a conviction is until it happens to the club you love. This is not the first time in my life of supporting Oldham that this has happened. As many will remember, in 2007 Oldham Athletic confirmed the signing of Lee Hughes, convicted of Manslaughter, only weeks after his release. At the time sparked large controversy in the football world. However, nothing compared to that of Ched Evans.
Ever since Oldham Athletic revealed that they were interested in holding talks with Evans, who has already been rejected by former side Sheffield Utd, the media spotlight has been firmly on the League One side. It’s difficult to turn on a news channel this week without seeing some story about him holding talks or a live camera feed outside SportsDirect.com Park, hoping for an interview with anyone at the club. For a small League One side like Oldham this is quite a big shock; as was the social media backlash which has led to a number of sponsors being forced into expressing their views.
So far two of Oldham Athletic’s many commercial partners have confirmed that they will sever all ties with the club if they sign Evans. These partners are Verlin Rainwater Solutions, who have the naming rights to the away stand, and Mecca Bingo, who are seen as community partners to the club. This is clearly a major worry for a club of Oldham’s size due to the loss of revenue losing a sponsor would result in.
However not all sponsors feel the same way: CM Solicitors and Optima Cars have both publicly released statements confirming that they will continue their sponsorships of the club regardless of the decision to sign Ched Evans. Optima Cars were also quoted in a statement on the Oldham Athletic website to say how they believe it would be “wrong and improper” to end sponsorship of the club and that they feel “it is not right to interfere with the employment decisions of the club”.
In my opinion, is a very admirable decision by both firms to stand by the clubs decisions. I also understand why sponsors like Verlin and Mecca Bingo would wish to sever ties due to the bad publicity they would inevitably receive by association.
From a purely footballing point of view, the reasons to sign Ched Evans are clear. Evans has scored 42 goals in just over 100 games for Sheffield United, averaging a goal every 2.45 games. This is in addition to being capped 13 times for Wales, including one International goal. It is clear to see why with these stats a League One side who have recently suffered 4-0 and 7-0 defeats would be interested in the striker. There is however the fact that he has not played football professionally in over two and a half years so his fitness and overall awareness would be questionable.
The issue has also led to a number of high profile celebrities and government figures expressing their views. Former news editor and talk show host Piers Morgan made his views very clear via his twitter page that he believes “Evans should be afforded the same rights as other footballers convicted of serious crime. ie. Hughes? McCormick”. This view is one held by many and raises the question why should Evans be treated differently than those aforementioned players. In my opinion this validates the view that he should be allowed to return to football like Hughes and McCormick did and allowed to get on with his life.
This view is not held however by Labour Leader Ed Milliband. He was quoted in an interview stating how he “wouldn’t take the footballer on” if he was in the Oldham Athletic Board member’s shoes. He feels this would send a negative message to those who hold footballers up as role models, i.e. young children. This view is shared by over 20,000 people who signed an E-petition this week attempting to stop the signing from taking place
Overall despite the bad press and loss of some sponsorship ties and revenue, I respect Oldham’s decision to offer Ched Evans the opportunity to return to football and as a lifelong fan of Oldham Athletic, I do hope to see him play this season for my club.