ONE OF the main sponsors of Oldham Athletic has said it will be “out of the door” if the club signs convicted rapist Ched Evans.
The announcement will pile pressure on the club which is reportedly having second thoughts about the move.
Its board is meeting in the wake of a huge public backlash against a possible return to football for Evans, who was released from prison in October after serving half of a five-year sentence for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in a hotel.
Craig Verling, a director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions which sponsors a stand at Boundary Park, said: “The club know our stance and that is if they sign or allow Ched Evans to train we will be out of the door.
“We had a conversation with the club when they considered allowing Ched Evans to train with them six to eight weeks ago, and we were led to believe they had listened to the general input.
“But our sources have made it clear he will be training or signing for the club this week and it is not something we wish to be associated with.”
There were no sightings of Evans at Boundary Park, after it emerged Oldham was the unnamed club referred to by Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, who said a club would be holding a press conference to announce his signing.
Evans, who still protests his innocence, is understood to be in talks with Oldham, which last month said they would not be offering the ex-Wales striker a contract or the opportunity to train with them.
But the apparent U-turn has sparked outrage among some Latics fans and the news of Evans’ possible return to football led to an online petition which has attracted more than 20,000 signatures.
Rick Holden, who was a part of one of Oldham’s greatest ever sides in 1990 when the club reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m not comfortable with it at all, it’s one of those crimes that will never go away in my opinion.
“I don’t see how the chap can survive actually, given the ferocity of football up and down the land, even if he did sign. I think it’s untenable.”
Broadcaster Charlie Webster stood down from her role as a club patron of Sheffield United in the wake of their links to Evans.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, she said of Oldham owner Simon Corney: “Isn’t the brand of his football club important? Isn’t the community of his football club important? When Sheffield United had the petition, I think it was a ridiculous amount, 160,000 people that stood up.
“(I) stood up, Jessica Ennis stood up, very many patrons stood up, society stood up and said ‘no’ and they listened and he didn’t get re-signed for Sheffield United. I’m hoping that Oldham will listen as well and Oldham will understand that this is a greater issue than just Ched Evans, it’s about sexual abuse.”
Webster said that while Evans should be allowed to work again, he should not be able to take up such a privileged position as a professional footballer.
“It’s not about a job... of course I believe in rehabilitation, he should get a job, go and get a job then where he’s not influencing the next generation and he’s not seen as a role model,” she added.
“He shouldn’t have a job as a professional footballer, the FA should put some sort of code of conduct so we know if a footballer goes and commits a crime, he doesn’t deserve that privilege that he was once given.
“The problem with giving Ched Evans his job back in a position of privilege where he influences is the fact that we’re saying to young boys and men out there ‘you know what, we tolerate rape in this society, it’s okay, you might get a bit of a slap, you might get two and a half years in prison but actually ultimately you’ll be fine.”
The saga of Evans’ return to football has continued since his release sparking an angry debate over his future.
The Professional Footballers Association says Evans has served his sentence and he deserves the chance to resume his career following his release from prison.
But fans and women’s groups say he should not return to such a high-profile role within the game.
Evans had an offer to train with his former club Sheffield United withdrawn following a backlash from Blades supporter and other clubs including Tranmere and Hartlepool also rejected the opportunity to sign him. A recently touted move abroad to Maltese club Hibernians appeared to have floundered due to rules on convicted sex offenders and their probation regime.
Evans, who previously played for Manchester City, was jailed in April 2012 for raping the woman in Rhyl, north Wales.
The player denied the offence, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
Verlin signed a deal to sponsor one of the Boundary Park stands in 2013, with the club’s marketing executive, David Broadbent, then describing it as “fantastic for all parties”.
But Mr Verling said his company would have no hesitation in ending its support should the club reverse its original announcement that it would not pursue an interest in Evans.
He added: “Ched Evans is a convicted rapist and, while my personal view is that people should be given a second chance in life, it is just not something with which we wish to be associated.
“It is not a business decision, it is a personal one, and the fact is it just does not sit right with me.”
Speaking outside Boundary Park, Oldham manager Lee Johnson said: “I understand these are very difficult circumstances. I respect that for everyone. It’s a board decision.”
Asked if the board had decided against signing Evans now, Johnson replied: “I don’t want to comment. Whatever the board decides I will be a part of.”
Another Oldham sponsor, Web Applications UK, said it will continue to support the club irrespective of its decision over Evans.
The company’s chief executive, Craig Dean, said he believed it would be “unethical” to seek to influence the situation in either direction.
Dean said in a statement: “To deprive a human being of the right to work in their chosen profession should be a decision taken by a judicial system that dispassionately balances the rights of the individual against that of the society as a whole.
“There are cases where such rights should be restricted for the good of the whole, but it is not a decision that should be made by an IT company.
“Whether Oldham Athletic choose to employ Ched Evans is a decision for the manager and board of directors of the club; we will not interfere with that decision.
“We are conscious that there are those that wish us to exercise our influence, to whatever extent that exists, to prevent Ched Evans’ employment, but we believe to do so would be unethical; instead, we will respect whatever decision is made by the club, who are best placed to determine Mr Evans’ employability.”