SHEFFIELD UNITED’s co-chairman has said he views the decision to retract the offer to allow convicted rapist Ched Evans to train with the club as a “defeat for the English justice system”.
Jim Phipps was “angry and upset” that Blades bosses were forced to go back on their agreement with the former striker following intense pressure from the public, charities and high-profile fans.
Speaking to the press for the first time since the announcement was made, he took responsibility for the original decision and said the u-turn was largely down to attacks on the club, sponsors and its community foundation.
Mr Phipps said: “We are a community club, a family club, and we had our people at each other’s throats. Things did not look like they were going to get any better.”
While admitting the board had failed to anticipate the storm surrounding Evans, released from prison last month after serving half of a five-year jail sentence for raping a 19-year-old girl, the director maintained his defiant stance against critics who have argued Evans should not be allowed to return to football.
He said: “I am and angry and disgusted at a number of things in this case.
“I am angry that we are not able to get a chance to do for this footballer, what should be done, simply because I have a view about the way all footballers should be treated.
“I am upset we are not going to be able to do what we wanted to do.
“But I acknowledge that my view is not the only view, and that my principles, the board’s principles, are not the only thing that matters.
“The people who believed Ched should be punished for the rest of his life, might call that a victory.
“I don’t see it as a victory to them. I see it as a defeat to the principle that punishment under the English justice system should be limited to those punishments which have been authorised by law and dished out by the courts.”
His views were echoed by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), which made the request for Evans to return to training with the Bramall Lane contingent following his release.
A statement from the PFA said: “We fully understand and respect the opposing views to Ched’s return to Sheffield United and clearly part of the issue related to him returning to the club he was previously with at the time of his imprisonment.
“With that in mind, it may ultimately be of benefit to both parties to move on and for Ched to look for a fresh start at a different club.”
Evans, 25, is due to appeal the conviction for a second time through the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Four celebrity patrons of the club including singers Paul Heaton and Dave Berry resigned over the 25-year-old being granted permission to train.
Olympic heptathlon gold medal winner Jessica Ennis-Hill also asked that the club remove her name from one of the stands at Bramall Lane if the club opted to re-sign Evans.
But Mr Phipps played down the impact this had on the club’s decision.
He said: “She (Ennis-Hill) made her point, others made her points in other ways. I would not say the decision was made principally about the sponsors, or money. That is one aspect but our community was in disarray.”