Ched Evans will be released from prison today with the footballing world waiting to see whether his former club, Sheffield United, will re-sign the 25-year-old striker.
The South Yorkshire club cancelled Evan’s contract in 2012 after he was found guilty of rape and the Welshman is set to be released after serving half of his five-year sentence. Rumours began earlier in the year that the Blades had held talks with Evans over the possibility of rejoining the club on his release. This sparked a huge divide between the Bramall Lane faithful with petitions from both those who supported Evans’ return and those against it gaining thousands of signatures.
Now Evan’s release is imminent the debate over whether the former Manchester City academy player should be allowed to play professional football again has hit fever pitch. It was started off by broadcaster Judy Finnigan who caused outrage on Monday 13th’s Loose Woman, by describing Evan’s rape as “not-violent” and backing him to take up the boots again.
“It was unpleasant, in a hotel room, I believe, and she was – she had far too much to drink,” she continued. “And you know, that is reprehensible, but he has been convicted and he has served his time,” the 66-year-old said. The broadcaster was forced to issue an apology after facing a backlash from viewers, on social media and rape victim charities.
But Mrs Finnigan brought up an important point – should Evans be stopped from doing his job, now that he has served his time?
A Free Man: Free to play football?
The 145,000 people who have signed the petition against Evan’s rejoining the Sheffield United would argue no while Evan’s family and girlfriend – who like the forward maintain he has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice – would argue yes.
The crime is undoubtedly horrific and my personal opinion is that five years let alone serving just two is not a punishment but then it is the law. Who am I to argue with the laws that serve this country? Ched Evans, by law, will be a free man and will be free to play professional football again.
The law is not what the Sheffield United board have to deal with – it is the morality of allowing a convicted rapist into their club – one that prides itself on being a family.
The chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, comes out in support of Evans.
Football is about role models – that is why when managers fight on the touch line or player dive there is outrage – because these highly-paid professionals are on a pedestal whether they like it or not.
Can a club really justify bringing back a convicted criminal? It’s happened before – Lee Hughes was jailed for three years for killing a passenger in on coming car after the striker’s vehicle had collided it with it. He signed with Oldham Athletic on his release.
That didn’t sit very well at the time and you feel neither would Evans’ return to Bramall Lane.
The board of Sheffield United have to ask themselves whether they want a convicted rapist on the back of their shirts, on the side of their stadium and on the front of their match day programmes.
Do they want to be the club who look the other way and re-sign Evans, giving him the money and lifestyle that he had before while his victim, who has suffered a torrent of online abuse, lives a life tarnished by Evans.
Evans was a fantastic footballer – his goalscoring record speaks for itself and at only 25, assuming the talent is still there he can go onto achieve great things.
Would you want him at your club?
But would you want that to be at your club? I certainly wouldn’t.
Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough, who visited Evans in jail, has said that the decision will be taken by the board and made “above football level.”
Football can speak to a nation and if Sheffield United decide against re-signing Ched Evans then it sends a fantastic message to professional footballers: that they cannot go around breaking the law, serve their punishment and expect to pick up where they left off.
Too many times we have seen it happen: Joey Barton, Marlon King, Nile Ranger, have all committed various crimes in which they served time in jail. All walked back into a highly paid job without a second thought.
That needs to change. Would we, the average general public, be so lucky? Probably not.
But even more than that – it sends out a message to rape victims. That a rapist will be punished and won’t just walk back into the easy life. Evans’ should not be allowed to play professional football again, he needs to be a made an example of.