Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe to football
– Albert Camus
Ched Evans is a convicted rapist who also happens to
be have been a professional footballer. His career trajectory saw him play 16 games for Manchester City before it was clear he was good but not good enough to make it at the very top of his profession. He moved on loan to Norwich City, playing 28 games over one season, before heading back to try his talent at Manchester City again and then ultimately joining Sheffield United in 2009.
Sheffield United at that time played in England’s second-tier Championship, a level below the Premier League. The team was relegated to League One (another level further down) after a poor season but it was Evans’ third season with te Blades (as the team is alternatively known to fans) where he found form, scoring goals and winning personal awards.
In April 2012, Evans was convicted of a rape that occurred the previous year and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in October, 2014, with conditions, claiming he was innocent and intent on his clearing his name.
All of this history has proved as something of an inconvenience for Evans as he attempts to resume his career. Several football clubs in England, and one in Malta, displayed interest in offering Evans a new job: Sheffield United, Hartlepool United, Hibernians in Malta, and Oldham Athletic.
Sheffield United’s co-chairman and manager apparently met with Evans in jail and considered reemploying him (the club canceled his contract upon conviction). Hartlepool United’s manager claimed he would like Evans to sign for his team . Hibernians, in Malta, offered Evans a contract, too. Oldham Athletic’s owner even overruled the team’s coach, who expressed doubts about the merits of signing Evans, on the issue.
Evans was a wanted man – his apparent football skills overriding his conviction for rape.
Gordon Taylor, Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, the player’s union, strongly backed Evans. For bonus points, Taylor compared the Evans ‘injustice’ to the Hillsborough tragedy, an event at which 96 people were killed in a crush at a stadium (in Sheffield, ironically). Hillsborough has been the subject of government inquiries and media investigations about what actually occurred on that day. Evans has a website set up by his family, a legal appeal, and people like Taylor speaking for him.
“[Evans] wouldn’t be the first person or persons to be found guilty and maintain their innocence and then been proven right,” Taylor said.
“If we’re talking about things in football we know what happened, what was alleged to have happened, at Hillsborough and it’s now unravelling and we’re finding it was very different to how it was portrayed at the time, indeed by the police at the time.”
Steve Bruce, the manager of Hull City, also felt compelled to spring to Evan’s defence. Speaking with apparent authority on the issue, Bruce must have spent his years as a Manchester United defender also studying law and the past few months (at least) elbow deep in the minutae of the Evans rape case.
(You can read about the case in full here – perhaps Steve Bruce did the same).
“I might be upsetting people but there is a question of the rape and how he’s been convicted,” Bruce suggested. “When you look in detail – and I don’t think most people have really, because they have just seen Ched Evans as a convicted rapist – Ched has got a case.”
Thank you, your Honour.
Professional football is infamously amoral. As more than one player has said to me: “I would rather play with a team full of c*%#s and win then play with my best friends and lose.”
But, still. What exactly is the allure of Evans for those whose jobs mean that every day they evaluate and discard employees based on performance and data (at best) and gut feeling (at worst)?
Why would otherwise smart and intelligent and successful people back an Evans comeback, and either ignore his conviction or align themselves with the line that he is the actual victim in this case with a “wrongful conviction” when all it brings them is a burden?
Why would the owners and coaches of football clubs that represent local communities face down the team’s supporters, the values of those supporters, (some) sponsors, investors, community leaders, and media in order to employ Evans, a convicted rapist?
Is there such a shortage of goal-scoring competence at lower-level football teams in England (and Malta) that the homework and due diligence afforded in potentially signing Evans means there is clearly no better option?
For football teams down on their luck, is Evans as good as it gets? Why have these teams and team owners risked their own reputations on behalf of Evans? Or have these people actually taken it upon themselves to finally lead the line against perceived injustice and Evans is their standard bearer?
And it doesn’t get better.
The attorney general has asked prosecutors to consider criminal charges against the individuals behind the Ched Evans website for allegedly identifying the woman he raped.
In CCTV footage posted on the website, which was set up by Evans’s family and friends in 2012 to protest his innocence, the victim is seen entering the hotel in Rhyl where she was later attacked. Clearly visible in the footage, with her face obscured, she is seen entering and leaving the hotel on the night of the attack.
The footage, which was part of the material used in the criminal case against Evans, is posted under the headline: “Too Drunk to consent, too drunk to remember”. The site asks viewers to “judge for yourself” whether she looked drunk in the footage.
The victim’s father, who has spoken of how her life had been ruined after being identified on social media made a complaint to the attorney general over the footage.
But, you know. The boy can play, and that.
I don’t believe SUFC cancelled his contract on conviction. My understanding is that they (in my view shamefully) continued to pay him whilst he was in jail, until his contract expired.
According to Sheffield United, Evans was released on May 30, 2012. http://web.archive.org/web/20120602094408/http://www.sufc.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10418~2792398,00.html