SHEFFIELD United last night came under renewed pressure to cut ties with convicted rapist Ched Evans after two major sponsors warned they would consider withdrawing their support if the club signed the forward.
Evans this week moved a step closer to rejoining the League One side, who he played for before being jailed in 2012, when he began training with their squad following a request from players’ union the PFA.
But the two businesses who sponsor United’s shirts – car dealership John Holland Sales and DBL Logistics – hinted they would scrap their deals if the Blades re-signed the 25-year-old former Wales international.
John Holland Sales, whose brand adorns the front of United’s shirts, said it condemned “rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms”, adding: “Whilst ever the ‘ex player’ is not employed by Sheffield United, John Holland Sales Ltd remains committed to its commercial partnership. Should this situation change John Holland Sales will re-evaluate its position as shirt sponsor.”
DBL Logistics, which is in the first year of a two-season that sees it appear on the back of the team’s shirts, was unequivocal on its stance should Evans – who denies rape – be handed a new contract. “DBL Logistics would end its back-of-shirt sponsorship with Sheffield United if the club employed a convicted rapist,” it said. “However, whilst the current situation remains and Ched Evans is not contracted to Sheffield United, DBL Logistics will continue its business to business relationship with the club.”
Sponsors have exerted their influence before in English football. Property search company Zoopla announced it would not renew its shirt sponsorship of West Brom earlier this year after Baggies striker Nicolas Anelka caused a racism storm by using a so-called quenelle gesture, which the Football Association found to be anti-Semitic. Anelka was sacked in March for gross misconduct after he said he would quit the club.
United’s warning from its sponsors came on the day two more of the club’s patrons stepped down amid consternation over Evans’s possible return. Sixties pop star Dave Berry and school food and health adviser Lindsay Graham followed television presenter Charlie Webster in resigning.
Evans, who scored 48 goals in 113 games during three years at Bramall Lane, was released in October after serving two and a half years of a five-year sentence. He was found guilty in April 2012 of raping a 19-year-old girl in a hotel 11 months earlier. He has maintained his innocence and said he wants to resume his career.
United manager Nigel Cough said the club was not close to signing Evans again but defended the former Manchester City trainee’s right to play professionally again.
“Everybody realises the gravity of the situation and seriousness of everything and that’s why it has taken so long to even get to this stage,” Clough said. “According to the law of the land he is entitled an opportunity to resume his career. It has nowhere near been decided that we will sign him. How you can sign a player that has not played football for two years and seven months – I don’t think anyone is in a position to do that.”