Convicted rapist and former Sheffield United and Wales international striker Ched Evans was released from prison at 5:00 am today after serving just half of his 5 year prison sentence. The case has sparked a media furore and furious public debate on whether Evans should be allowed to return to his privileged position as a professional footballer.
Evans was jailed in 2012 for raping a 19 year old woman. The woman had gone back to a north Wales hotel with Clayton McDonald, a friend of Evans and fellow footballer. At the time she was drunk, so drunk that she could barely stand. McDonald texted Evans to tell him that he had ‘got a bird’ and Evans joined them at the hotel. After McDonald had sex with the incapacitated teenager Evans also took advantage of her vulnerable state and had non-consensual sex with her while other friends of Evans attempted to film the act through the window of the ground floor hotel room. The footballers left hours before she regained consciousness; Evans via the fire exit.
Both men were subsequently charged with rape. McDonald was acquitted, presumably the jury reasoned that agreeing to go to his hotel room was some form of consent, despite the fact that she was not in control of her faculties. Evans was convicted of rape and sentenced to a 5 year prison sentence. During his trial the jury heard that Evans told police:
“We could have had any girl we wanted in that nightclub. We were drinking, having fun there. It’s not uncommon we pick up girls ….. Clayton’s an attractive guy. We are footballers, that’s how it is. Footballers are rich, they have got money, that’s what the girls like.”
Since his conviction Evans has continued to protest his innocence, claiming that the act was consensual. Consequently he has never expressed any remorse or regret for the young woman’s ordeal. His girlfriend has stood by him, claiming that the only thing he is guilty of is cheating on her. Her millionaire father has bank rolled a website proclaiming Evans’ innocence, as well as a legal team including a specialist appeals barrister and a firm of private investigators. Despite their efforts judges have refused to give leave to appeal and Evans is now taking his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
In the meantime his victim has suffered a two and a half year internet hate campaign which has reached a new crescendo in the weeks leading up to his release from prison. She has been illegally named on social media, with a number of people being prosecuted for the crime. As a result she has been forced to leave her home town and to change her identity. So as Evans returns to the security of his family his victim has been forced into exile.
At the time of his conviction in April 2012 Sheffield United did not sack Evans but one month later they said that they would not be renewing his contract. However, it has been reported that they continued to pay Evans £20,000 week following his conviction and imprisonment until his contract expired, including the one month’s salary players are contractually entitled to if they have not secured a contract with another club.
Since then the club have maintained contact with him and the Blades’ Manager, Nigel Clough, and the club’s co-chairman, Kevin McCabe, have recently been to see him in prison, fuelling rumours that he will be allowed to return to his former position as striker. Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah bin Mossad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, one of the world’s richest men and co-owner of Sheffield United, is said to have given a nod of approval for Evans’ return.
Clough was not the Manager of Sheffield United when Evans was imprisoned, so he played no part in the decision not to sack him. It seems that he will also play a very minor role in deciding whether Evans should return to the club:
“We have had one or two discussions, we are awaiting a decision and the owners will make that in good time.”
Clough said at his pre-match press conference previewing his side’s League One trip to Bradford on Saturday:
“I have been involved in decisions, but it is very much a decision for the owners and when the time is right to say something as a club we will do that. It is that sort of decision – it’s above football level. It’s my decision whether to put him in the team if he comes back, it’s not my decision whether he comes back in the first place – that’s theirs. Until the decision is made there is no point talking about it.”
Evans signed for Sheffield United in a £3 million deal in 2009. Prior to his imprisonment he scored 48 goals in 113 games for the Blades, including 35 in 42 games during the 2011/12 campaign which was cut short due to his trial and conviction. Many Blades fans have called for him to be rehabilitated, but almost 150,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Bramall Lane club not to welcome him back.
It is a situation that continues to divide opinion. While Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor insists Evans should be allowed to return to his former position, Sheffield United came under yet more pressure to reject Evans when deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, joined the debate yesterday.
In an interview with LBC Radio Mr Clegg, who is a Sheffield MP, said:
“I think the owners need to think really long and hard about the fact that when you take a footballer on, you are not taking just a footballer these days, you are also taking on a role model.
“You are taking on a role model, particularly for a lot of young boys who look up to their heroes on a football pitch in a team like that, and he has committed a very serious crime.
“It is for the football club to decide, but I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people.
“I’m sure that will weigh heavily in the decisions made by the owners of Sheffield United. Rape is an incredibly serious offence, an unbelievably serious offence.
“He has done his time but I just don’t believe that the owners of a football club can somehow wish away the fact that that has happened.”
Ex Sports Minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn said the convicted rapist needs to show remorse if he is to resume his career. Blades fan Mr Caborn said:
“If he publicly apologises, or if his appeal is successful, he should be given a second chance.”
Former Blades boss Neil Warnock added:
“When you have served your time you are allowed to get on with your life – that is the law.”
But Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre is outraged. Manager Meera Kulkarni said:
“A convicted rapist who has shown no remorse should not be reinstated to his club.”
Labour sports spokesman Clive Efford said it was “not appropriate” for Evans to return to professional football after his release. Mr Efford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
“I think there are many areas of employment where, when you’ve committed a crime like that, you are not allowed to be employed in that form of employment, and I think football is one of them, because you are a role model within a community.
“I know this is sad for Ched Evans, who’s been to prison and paid a price, but I think that in these circumstances it’s not appropriate to have someone with that record in a profession where you are idolised by young people.”
The ex-Manchester City player has been capped 13 times for Wales and inevitably Chris Coleman has also been drawn into the debate. Back in August Coleman revealed that he will have earnest discussions with his FA of Wales bosses before deciding whether to select a convicted rapist during the looming Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Coleman, who needs to find a goal scoring centre forward as the final piece of the jigsaw in his young Welsh team, did not rule out the prospect of Evans appearing at some point during the 10-match campaign. However, he says he would need to sit down with the FAW hierarchy, as well as holding face to face talks with Evans himself, before giving the green light for the Sheffield United striker to return to international duty.
He went on to say:
“Someone from the FAW was quoted the other day as saying Ched is a goal scorer and that’s what we desperately need.
“But look, that’s more than a five minute conversation for me. It’s one we would need to look at in great detail because of the magnitude of the situation.
“I’ve not had the conversation with anyone yet, although yes I have thought about it myself.
“Normally the manager picks the squad. This one is different though and I would have to discuss it with officials at the FAW.
“If Ched were to return to a club and do well, then it’s a conversation for us to have. Once you mention someone’s name with the words ‘convicted rapist’, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
“I don’t know Ched himself, but I would have to sit down and talk to him, too.”
Asked bluntly if he would be prepared to pick a convicted rapist in his team, Coleman answered:
“I’m aware there is already an online petition against him playing football again.
“I’m also aware that if you are a carpenter, say, or a plumber and you come out of jail you are permitted to get back on with your career.
“Because of the high profile nature of the sport, football is different. That’s why I would have to sit down with the FAW first before this could possibly happen anyway.
“Then I would have to sit down with Ched, too. I couldn’t discuss whether he thought was not guilty. He was found guilty of a horrible crime.
“Because of that, I’ve been put in a horrible position myself, if I’m honest.
“But what I must also say is that even if he were to return to a club, you can’t just expect him to pick up where he left off. He’s been away from the game for two and a half years and you can’t just find your form straight away.”
Former Wales football manager Terry Yorath has said that he would select rapist Evans if the player successfully resurrects his club career. Yorath said that if he was in Wales boss Chris Coleman’s shoes he would meet the player and, if convinced he was over his prison ordeal, urge the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to let him pick Evans. But Yorath, who called Evans’ crime “abhorrent” and an “affront”, said as the father of two daughters he would “150% accept it” if the request was turned down. He said:
“Probably at the back of my mind I would be thinking we need a Ched Evans in the side so I’m going to go in that committee and say ‘Listen we could do with him in the squad’.
“If they turn around to me and say ‘No’ I would absolutely 150% understand where they’re coming from.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult time for the boy and I’m looking at it from a football point of view. But you have to look as well at the girl and her family. It’s been a difficult time for them as well.”
Yorath said it would be difficult for a Wales squad short of striking talent to ignore an in-form Evans. He added:
“We’re not endowed at the moment with strikers that score lots of goals. When Ched was playing he looked as if he was going to become a good centre forward.
“Obviously he has been convicted for a crime, which is a horrible crime, but he’s always maintained his innocence. Now he’s served his time for that do the FAW, or does Chris himself, say ‘We think he’s served his time’ as Sheffield United seem to be saying and let him get on with the rest of his life?
“Or do you go down the road where obviously people will think the crime is abhorrent, which it is, and they say he should never ever play again?”
Yorath, the father of TV presenter Gabby Logan, 41, and former Las Vegas acrobat Louise Yorath, 40, said if Evans had any other job no-one would question his right to go back to work. Preventing him playing again would effectively punish him twice, he said.
“If that was a guy who was outside football, outside sport, he would be able to come back into life and get himself a job somewhere.
“That’s where people get divided. They get divided between sport and other employment. All his life all he’s done is play football. He’s been brought up to play football.”
Evans wouldn’t be the first footballer to re-build his career after spending time inside for a serious offence – there are plenty of other examples. Blackpool striker Nile Ranger, 23, has convictions for robbery and assault while Marlon King, 34, is serving the latest of several stints behind bars. Now inside for dangerous driving he also has convictions for violence against women. King has always found a club after being released for his previous offences. Former West Brom striker Lee Hughes signed for Oldham Athletic in 2007 after being sentenced to six years for causing death by dangerous driving. Forest Green Rovers forward Hughes, 38, was also convicted of assaulting a woman in May 2012.
Yorath said the decision on Evans’ Wales future should not be left to Coleman but sorted by the FAW behind closed doors. He added:
“There’s going to be lots of people outraged if he does go back to Sheffield United and if he does play for Wales. But what I don’t want to see happen is for the FAW to turn round to Chris Coleman and say ‘You make that decision’ because that would be unfair on Chris.
“Chris behind closed doors might say ‘I need him’. All through history we’ve never had a big squad anyway. So any player who is good enough to play for Wales you have to consider them being in the squad.
“So if he’s not considered to be in the squad that’s another way of hitting him. They (the FAW) should go behind closed doors and talk it over with Chris – but the FAW are the ones who have got to make that decision. It’s up to them.”
Rape Crisis England and Wales responded by saying that they are concerned about reports of Evans’ possible return to football. The organisation does not usually comment on specific cases, but has made a rare exception in his case.
Director of communications Katie Russell said:
“It is of course any convicted criminal’s right to serve their sentence and then go back into employment. We absolutely stand by that.
“But at the same time we would urge Sheffield United to think very carefully about the message that they send when they immediately re-employ someone who’s been convicted of such a very major crime.
“If they choose to do that, which is their right, we urge them to strongly consider the impact that will have on huge numbers of their supporters and we urge them to make a very strong statement condemning sexual violence, condemning violence against women and making it clear that misogyny, sexism, violence and sexual violence in particular won’t be tolerated within football.”
Footballers themselves are divided on whether they should be perceived as role models for society. In 2011 Blackpool boss Ian Holloway cited Paul Scholes as the epitome of a good role model in professional football when he said:
“People within football need to be good role models and, in fairness, most of them are. You won’t find a better one than Paul Scholes, who went through his whole career without even a whiff of an off-the-field issue. Wherever footballers go, they need to act in a proper manner and send out a message to young people: “That’s how you behave.”
“I accept it is more difficult in this ridiculous era when the world has been taken over by social networking sites. Blimey, everyone has a camera in their hand, because even phones can take pictures.
“So what these players have got to realise is that they are in the limelight 24/7, and they have to behave in the right way all the time. People look up to players. We hold the dreams of so many in our hands so we have to lead and set an example. But we haven’t been doing so for years and it is driving me crazy.
“At the end of the day, though, it comes down to individuals taking responsibility. That’s how my mum and dad brought me up and if I had ever done wrong, they’d have dragged me down to the police station themselves.
“No one should disrespect the law because without the law there is nothing. Without discipline there is nothing. I try to do my bit at Blackpool. I demand my players behave. After we had been away to Portugal in pre-season, the hotel sent a letter thanking us for the behaviour of my players. That’s pleasing, but it shouldn’t even be in question. My lads know that if they don’t behave, they won’t be here. I don’t care what sort of footballer they are, or how good they are, they’ll be gone.”
Holloway’s view is shared by former Hammer’s striker Jermain Defoe who has previously said that:
“Footballers have a duty to behave decently – on and off the field. Footballers have to be aware they are role models for kids. We’re all human beings and people make mistakes.”
Teetotal Defoe says a strict upbringing on a tough council estate in Beckton, East London, helped to point him in the right direction. His dad Jimmy, an alcoholic, left when he was just a toddler. So, Jermain, his mum Sandra and sister Chante, 22, had to move in with his grandparents. And his mum encouraged his football skills to steer him away from crime. He went on to say:
“I don’t drink or smoke and I’ve never touched drugs. All I wanted to do was be a footballer, but I had to be disciplined. My mum drove me to football and watched me every weekend – she was brilliant.”
Friends he grew up with were less lucky. He says:
“A lot I used to play with have ended up in prison. It’s very sad.”
Conversely, when he was writing about the riots in England in 2011, former West Ham goalkeeper David James said that the idea that professional footballers should be role models for society was a misnomer. He went on to say:
“I still believe that parents should be the main role models for their children. I’m not sure that the youth of today relate to footballers. While it is true that most of us have had a council estate upbringing, most now live away from those communities, enjoying a lifestyle that is light years from the kids we are talking about.”
My personal view is that Ched Evans should not be allowed to resume the privileged life of a professional footballer. He was soundly convicted of the crime of rape and his request for appeal has been rejected. However, he continues to protest his innocence and has shown no regret or remorse for his crime. He has allowed his friends and family to use their wealth to mount a high profile campaign to try to clear his name, riding rough-shod over the emotional well-being of his victim. His supporters have also hounded his victim with an internet hate campaign, forcing her to change her identity and effectively lose the life she had before Evans decided to use her body without her consent for a glorified form of masturbation. Therefore he has proven that he is a very poor candidate for rehabilitation.
Whether footballers should or shouldn’t be expected to be role models for young people in our society is a moot point. The crux of this matter is the message it gives regarding the crime of rape. Ched Evans will now be on the Sex Offenders Register for the rest of his life. He will be on that Register for a reason; because he has committed a serious sexual assault against a woman. Whether we like it or not, professional footballers are revered and idolised by our society. If you were a Sheffield United supporter with young sons and daughters would you expect and encourage them to cheer and celebrate the goals of a convicted rapist who had shown no regret for his crime? Neither would I. If Evans does return to his former role as a highly paid striker in the face of all these facts, then professional football has degenerated to a whole new level of moral corruption.