Convicted rapist and former Wales forward Ched Evans last night blamed “mob rule tactics” after Oldham Athletic caved in to widespread pressure and abandoned plans to sign the controversial footballer.
Oldham said they had been prepared to accept criticism for the move but had pulled the plug due to concerns that the loss of sponsors distressed by the association could threaten the club’s viability.
The third tier side also fuelled unattributed suggestions that they had reneged following threats of death and sexual violence to directors and their families, condemning “vile and abusive” messages.
But Greater Manchester Police cast doubt on those claims by insisting that they had received no complaints of such threats made to anyone associated with the Latics.
Evans, 26, was released from prison in October having served half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011. He denies rape and is challenging the conviction.
The former Sheffield United and Manchester City player yesterday apologised publicly to his alleged victim for the first time, while still continuing to maintain his innocence.
He also depicted a campaign against him as being the cause of threats from Oldham’s sponsors to withdraw their support, action that he claimed could have caused job losses.
“It is with great sadness that today I have withdrawn from talks with Oldham Athletic,” Evans said in a statement on his website, which also hosts several articles making the case for his innocence.
“Sadly the ‘mob rule’ tactics employed by the more radical elements of our society and the constant media reporting has had the desired influence on some sponsors and the club would face significant financial pressure if I joined them.
“The most significant issue for me was that owing to the threat of funding opportunities being withdrawn which may jeopardise the building of Oldham’s new stand it would mean that workers would lose their jobs and others would be put at risk – that would simply not be fair.”
He added: “Whilst I continue to maintain my innocence, I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise for the effect that that night in Rhyl has had on many people, especially the woman concerned.”
Club sponsors Verlin and ZenOffice had pledged to cut ties if Evans was signed, police chiefs and politicians urged Oldham against the move and more than 60,000 signed a petition opposing his hire.
Oldham confirmed their U-turn, following several days of deliberation, and cited “unbearable pressure” arising from the link with Evans, who has now seen potential deals evaporate with four clubs.
“Proceeding could have placed significant financial pressure on the club and continued to be a divisive influence. As a consequence the deal could not go ahead,” Oldham said.
Professional Footballers’ Association boss Gordon Taylor, who has backed the right of Evans to return to football, last night sparked anger after comparing the situation regarding Evans to the Hillsborough tragedy.
“He wouldn’t be the first person or persons to have been found guilty and maintain their innocence and then be proved right,” said Taylor. “We all know what is alleged to have happened at Hillsborough and we’re finding it was very different to how it was portrayed at the time.”
TIMELINE: CLUBS GET COLD FEET OVER EVANS
Sheffield United allow Ched Evans to train with them upon their former player’s release from prison halfway through a five-year sentence. Manager Nigel Clough reveals discussions about re-signing the striker, but the Blades eventually decide against it in November amid snowballing opposition from sponsors and patrons, including local athletics hero Jessica Ennis.
Oldham Athletic issue a statement insisting they do not intend to sign Evans after the reports link the League One club with the out-of-contract former Wales international.
Hartlepool manager Ronnie Moore reveals he wants to sign Evans for his League Two strugglers, saying “I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t”, but the north east club rule out a move 24 hours later, suggesting they had never planned to offer him a contract “and, for the avoidance of doubt, will not be doing so, irrespective of his obvious ability as a football player”.
Ministry of Justice quashes talk of a move to Malta due to strict rules imposed on sex offenders, but players union the PFA reveal an unnamed English club is close to signing Evans. That club is revealed to be Oldham, but several days of pressure from sponsors, politicians and police chiefs force the League One outfit to withdraw a contract offer. Evans blames “mob rule” and offers public apology to his alleged victim but maintains his innocence.