The Ched Evans situation

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By Philip Jackson

In April 2012 Sheffield United’s Ched Evans was found guilty of raping a woman and was given a 5 year prison sentence, having served half of this term he has been released.

Now comes the discussion as to what he does next.

He has stated his desire to return to a life as a professional footballer, why would he not? It is very well paid (does he have the skills and abilities to find another career that would remunerate to the same level?) It is not really the money that is the main sticky issue, but the other things: idolisation and open adulation, influence on supporters of all ages, representing a club and city etc. that make having been convicted of rape and then returning to being a footballer the problem.

As a point of reference, I do not want him to return, yes he has served (half) his time and in the eyes of the law he can, but my thoughts are that he shouldn’t be allowed to.

Now I love Bradford City, as I’m sure most of those reading this do, but this made me think; if Evans was a Bradford City player or this concerned a City player what would my thoughts and feelings be? I hope that I would still feel the same as I do now, that the crime itself is enough, the abuse of another person in that way would mean I would want the club I love to show the same strength of character (or common decency).

If, however, City did take him back it would be very hurtful to me that the club I love be so at odds to my own standpoint. How would that change my relationship with the club? Would I accept it, or return our flexi/season tickets, write to the chairmen, start a petition, not go for a bit until he’d left? It would certainly sour that relationship.

I feel close to the club and in a number of ways feel we are unique, whether this is true or just my perception as a supporter of the club I can’t be sure, but I feel we are unique. That relationship due to events over the last two years is strong and the bond between club and fans is different from elsewhere because of the events of May 1985.

The club though has a responsibility to respect its supporters and take into account their needs, and I believe it does really well to do that in many different ways. Just being at Valley Parade on a match day is remarkable, look around in your mind’s eye at all the faces and people you see. Young, middle aged, old, really old, boys, girls, men and women, loads of women go to Valley Parade every match, the club are doing well in welcoming all to come to Valley Parade and that makes me proud on a match day.

How would all those women who come to Valley Parade feel about supporting a player who is a convicted rapist? (Never mind the view of most men there or the women in their lives that don’t come.) I couldn’t see it happen.

I know they are my club, but I do believe if it had been a City player who did this, the club wouldn’t take him back. I think the chairmen and manager wouldn’t let it happen.

I remember hearing Mark Lawn commenting to the Rotherham chairman about having Steve Evans as his manager, the Rotherham chairman pointing out that Steve Evans has brought them success, Mark Lawn’s response being that he wasn’t that desperate for success! Now I understand Steve Evans is just very annoying and nothing more, but given that the Chairman’s view on an annoying manager is such, I feel morally he wouldn’t allow a Ched Evans anywhere near BD8.

Can I make a plea to Sheffield United? Please don’t do it! I have never really had much animosity towards you, yes you are a Yorkshire rival and you beat us last Saturday, but generally I’m not too bothered by you. You have a lot to think about, your badge states ‘1889’ by my maths that makes you 125 years old, do you really want to celebrate that milestone by welcoming a convicted rapist back into the fold?

125 years of history, in that time you have won the league and FA Cup and been relegated and promoted numerous times and had many hundred players play for you. You have a community foundation charity working for social inclusion, health, education etc. You have a stand named after Jessica Ennis for crying out loud! Ched Evans is one player, that is all. He may score a few goals but he is no world beater and won’t take you to the Premier League. Any short term gains won’t outweigh the negatives.

If you are committed to being a force for good and representing Sheffield in a positive light then you can’t do this. Set an example to all the people who look up to you to show this isn’t acceptable behaviour. Clubs have banned people for chanting about the Bradford fire, thereby making positive statements, this I see as worse though.

I missed it, but have heard that United fans were chanting his name on Saturday, the news this week has shown pictures of United fans chanting his name at the game on Tuesday and interviewed a couple of fans (including a woman) who felt they should take him back, which I find truly depressing. I am sure that a large number of United fans won’t want him back along similar lines to my thoughts above, but the noises reported are those in favour of his return.

You need to show that he shouldn’t be brought back and idolised, say what he did was wrong and he cannot retake the position he once held, show that the treatment of other people, dignity and respect for others are more important than football.

It is clear that as it is the biggest and most influential sport in the world, the game can make a huge difference to the perception of different issues football fans have. The return of Ched Evans to me would say ‘How awfully you treat people doesn’t really matter to us and therefore it shouldn’t really matter to you’

As with other controversial issues, footballing authorities are reluctant to take a strong moral stance and stick to it and because of this it’s precious image has suffered; from FIFA and its questionable voting process for world cups, theirs and UEFA’s poor record on tackling racism and the FA’s weakness and acquiescence to all things Premier League and Sky to the detriment of its competitions and the development of the game, footballing authorities will probably just pass the buck and leave it to others to make their own decisions, which again as ‘guardians of the game’ they need not to do.

What is needed is for them to show their support for victims, minorities and women, shine a light on issues such as these and give some proper guidance. They could also just ban Ched Evans from returning to any club, as in footballing terms he is an asset and someone, if not United, may well think it is worthwhile taking him as a proven goalscorer.

Would it help other players who had to become his team mates, how would you feel about having him in the dressing room? They need to think about how he is dealt with on the pitch by other players, referees and also the crowd, I just think it will cause too many problems in the long run for them.

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Categories: Opinion

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