THE head of the footballers’ union has apologised after he compared the Ched Evans controversy to the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
Gordon Taylor’s comments prompted a storm of controversy after it emerged that convicted rapist Evans’s proposed move to Oldham Athletic had collapsed amid threats to club staff and their families.
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) chief told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He would not be the first person or persons to have been found guilty and maintained their innocence and then been proved right.
“If we are talking about things in football, we know what happened, what was alleged to have happened at Hillsborough. And it’s now unravelling and we are finding it was very different to how it was portrayed at the time - indeed by the police at the time.”
Amid widespread criticism, including an accusation of being “crass” and “inappropriate”, he returned to the airwaves to apologise.
He told BBC Radio Merseyside: “The last thing I intended to do was to upset anybody connected to the Hillsborough case.”
“I’ve long been a supporter of them (the Hillsborough families) so if that’s the impression they got, it’s a totally wrong one and I’m very sorry for that.”
In another interview on BBC Radio 4 Today Mr Taylor said he was “in no way” making a comparison between the two situations.
“It was the principle with regard to establishing the truth and his right to do that. Now as it has turned out...obviously I don’t want to offend anybody at the Hillsborough Family Support Group, we’ve always been supportive of them.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to offend any of them, it was quite the opposite.”
Professor Phil Scraton, the lead researcher and primary author of the Hillsborough independent panel report, said of Taylor’s initial comments: “To conflate this with the institutional failings and demonstrable injustices (of Hillsborough) is crass, it’s insensitive and it’s inappropriate.”
And Steve Rotheram, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, said: “It’s totally unnecessary and it’s very insensitive bringing Hillsborough up with the conviction of a rapist and whether a rapist should be allowed to play football or not.
“I can’t understand (Taylor’s) logic. I can’t get my head round how an intelligent man uses issues that are so unrelated to make his point.”
But Taylor’s apology was accepted by the families of some victims as they attended the inquests into the disaster in Warrington on Friday.
Barry Devonside, who lost his son Chris, said: “You have to accept it. It’s unfortunate that it happened in the first place but he needs to think before he opens his mouth.
“He was foolhardy to make comments in relation to Ched Evans and the Hillsborough disaster. There is no connection between the two whatsoever.
“This isn’t the first time Gordon Taylor has been involved in a gaffe. He really needs to connect brain with mouth.”
And Brenda Fox, whose son Steven died, said: “I accept that apology, no hard feelings to the man at all. I think it was a mistake. It was just one of those off-the-cuff things that people say and they shouldn’t say and they regret.
“Hopefully he’ll be more careful and it will make him more cautious when he does speak. I don’t expect him to apologise to me personally. If he makes a statement that apologises to all the families, I will accept that and move on.”
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the Hillsborough disaster following a crush at the start of the FA Cup semi-final clash with Nottingham Forest in Sheffield on April 15 1989.
After years of fighting by the families of those who died, new inquests into the deaths began last year.
The PFA has consistently supported Evans’s right to return to football after he served half his five-year prison sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in North Wales.
But Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic have both abandoned plans to sign him amid a massive public backlash in which sponsors and patrons threatened to walk away if he played.
Evans, 26, who continues to maintain his innocence, has apologised publicly for the first time for “the effects” of the night in the hotel.
But he blamed the “mob rule tactics employed by the more radical elements of our society” for scuppering his planned return to football.