When composing one’s thoughts about any news story, it can act as a degree of consolation to try and take the best of said story and hope that, at the very least, lessons have been learnt from it. When reviewing the recent story regarding Oldham Athletic’s attempts to sign Ched Evans, however, there is little positivity to be seen anywhere. From the very outset – a Premier Inn in Rhyl, a kebab shop in the middle of the night, either the infidelity of a man or the rape of a barely conscious young woman – there’s a grubbiness underpinning this whole sordid chain of events that leaves a dirty, bitter taste in the mouth. We’ve all had a glimpse into a world that makes one’s face involuntarily crunch into a grimace when considering this particular story.
The events of the last week or two have seen no-one emerge with any great credit. Oldham Athletic’s handling of this highly emotive case has been little short of shambolic, and it’s reputation rests in the mud at the moment. This is a situation entirely of the club’s making. From its shape-shifting over whether it was going to sign this player in the first place, through seeking to take the moral high ground in its statement when confirming yesterday that it was seeking to sign him through to the needless reference to death threats – and, having been asked by several prominent journalists today, at the time of writing Greater Manchester Police have confirmed that they have received no complaints concerning rape threats having been made – in their statement following the falling through of the agreement today, the club has acted as if it has a vague idea of what PR might even be and has lost sponsors and most likely supporters as a result.
Then there’s the small matter of Ched Evans himself. Evans also made a public statement this afternoon which may be considered the greatest matter of “too little, too late” since Brazil’s consolation goal in their World Cup semi-final against Germany last summer. The website in his name, which is understood to to have attracted the attention of the Attorney General of late, remains active, and the truth of the matter is that, for many people, there was little that he could have said I’m his statement that even could have been appropriately ameliorating. Again, though, this is a situation entirely of Evans’ making. He was released from prison eighty-three days ago, and the timing of a statement following the collapse of the Oldham deal feels insincere to the point of hopelessness to many – perhaps most – that have seen it.
Evans’ appeal remains awaiting review by the Criminal Case Review Board, but until such a time that his appeal is heard and he is vindicated, the outside world has no alternative but to consider him a convicted rapist. Indeed, we may even consider that, having served two and a half years of a five year sentence whilst having consistently shown no contrition for what happened, he might even be considered to have got off a little lightly. Evans could have openly separated himself from the appalling website in his name, issued a firm statement deploring sexual violence against women, or made sizeable donations to charities that help the victims of rape deal with the psychological trauma that follows such acts of violence, but none of this happened either, until today’s half-hearted reading statement.
Some hold the opinion that Evans has served his time and should, therefore, be allowed to resume his chosen career. This argument is flawed for several reasons. Firstly, he has not really “served his time.” He remains released from prison on licence having served half of his sentence, and retains a place on the sex offenders register. And even if we were to overlook these legal technicalities, he has no automatic “right” to a career in the lucrative world of professional football, any more than you or I do. The criminal justice system is not a carousel that one steps onto and off again with nothing having changed in the outside world. Criminal convictions aren’t simply about spending time in prison. As Ched Evans has discovered, such convictions carry ramifications that continue to echo long after release from prison, and it might be argued that these ramifications are an important ingredient in the deterrent aspect of our criminal justice system. No-one would suggest that Evans has no right to earn a living for the rest of his working life. The question put before the world by this case has been that of whether he has the right to a career in professional football, and the answer to that question seems to be heading in the direction of “no” at present.
We should also consider the treatment of the victim in this case, of course. It is frankly astonishing that she should have needed to change her identity or move house five times, on account of her new identity having been revealed. We might have assumed that getting a new identity would make tracing her to be difficult, so what lengths, exactly, did either somebody or a group of people go to in order to harass her? It seems unlikely that a group of people with no expertise in locating people would have the expertise to do this, so what on earth has been going on in order for her new identities to have been so consistently and quickly revealed? It’s behaviour that feels sub-human, and even from the most generous and practical perspective, it has done nothing positive for the perception of Ched Evans or his ongoing quest to clear his name. It has all been absolutely, utterly bewildering.
But generosity has been so thin on the ground over the course of this story – with the possible exception of Evans’ girlfriend’s father, who overlooked the fact that Evans, whether consensually or not, carried out an act of infidelity against his daughter to the point of offering to indemnify Oldham Athletic against the financial fall-out of Evans signing for them – that it’s near impossible to take anything other than an angry attitude towards all concerned. If, as been suggested, Oldham Athletic were keen to sign the player in the hope of his appeal being successful and the player’s transfer value soaring, then we can only really wonder where football’s moral compass currently rests, presuming that it’s even plausible that it still has one. And as for Evans himself, well, the truth of the matter is that a point of no return sailed past long ago. Even if he was able to clear his name, return to professional football and have the successful career that was anticipated for him before any of this happened, for many people Ched Evans will be remembered for this wretched chain of events before anything else. This will almost certainly be his legacy, regardless of anything that may or may not happen in the future.
Ched Evans has all talent that millions would want before anything else, but it was squandered through a fog of alcohol, kebabs, Premier Inn hotel rooms and sex, and for now that sex is considered to have been an act of rape. When a young adult enters this career, they likely dream of trophies, glory and wealth beyond their wildest dreams, but it seems increasingly likely that one night on Rhyl has destroyed that. If it were possible to wish away the events of that night, all concerned would surely do so. But they can’t, and we can’t either. The actions of Oldham Athletic and Ched Evans – even up to and including today’s public statements – have given us no reason to hold anything but them in anything but contempt, but it’s all too easy to believe that many other clubs and many other players would behave the same under similar conditions. As been said elsewhere, if Zen Office, Mecca Bingo and Verlin Rainwater, the sponsors who withdrew their support from Oldham Athletic over this matter occupy the moral high ground over all of this, it doesn’t say very much for the tattered state of professional football’s compass in this regard. But then again, few of us reading this are probably particularly surprised by this. Professional football in England has been smeared with this sort of grubbiness for as long as many of us can remember.
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