A proposed deal between Oldham Athletic and convicted rapist Ched Evans has been cancelled.
There was further outrage when Professional Footballers’ Association Chief Executive Gordon Taylor brought up the Hillsborough tragedy in conjunction with the Evans case.
During an interview with Radio 5 he said:
[Evans] wouldn't be the first person or persons to be found guilty and maintain their innocent and then been proven right.
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.
In a statement, the club said:
It has been widely reported that Oldham Athletic will not be signing Ched Evans, which we can now confirm.
The whole issue has divided opinion and the Club has been put under unbearable pressure as a result.
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.
As a Club we condemn all crime including rape and irrespective of any appeal procedure it was always the case that we were prepared to withstand the barrage of abuse that is evident within the country and on social media.
We deplore and condemn the vile and abusive threats, some including death threats, which have been made to our fans, sponsors and staff whilst this process has been in the public domain.
Finally, we would like to place on record our gratitude to all who have supported the club during this difficult period, including the Club staff, who have retained their focus throughout and in addition to Ched and his team who have acted with professionalism at all times.
We understand Ched has released his own statement on his website.
The club will not be making any further statement on this matter.
BBC Sport reporter Natalie Pirks claimed that a member of the club's board was told his daughter would be raped if Evans was signed.
There are conflicting reports regarding how accurate Pirks' claim is, but it seems clear the BBC was told that threats of some description had been made to board members.
Evans has released a statement saying his "silence" had been misinterpreted as "arrogance", and that people abusing his victim on social media were "not my supporters".
The Oldham Chronicle reported earlier that Latics owner Simon Corney had quit as chairman as a result of the controversy. However, a club source has denied the story.
According to the PA:
Oldham's deal to sign convicted rapist Ched Evans has collapsed, a senior Oldham source has confirmed.
The club source has however denied a report in a local newspaper that chairman Simon Corney has quit over the matter following reports of threats to his family.
It comes as Evans, 26, issued a "wholehearted apology" for the effects of his actions in 2011 but continues to maintain his innocence over his rape conviction.
The BBC said yesterday that a club sponsor had ended its association with Oldham Athletic as a result of the plan to sign Evans.
Verlin Rainwater Solutions director Craig Verling told the BBC:
We would like to take this opportunity to make clear that we feel that Mr Evans should be able to lead a life without further punishment after serving his sentence, although our feelings remain the same that this should not be within the public domain where his previous behaviour may influence the next generation.
Tens of thousands of people have also signed a petition urging Oldham not to sign Evans.
The BBC reported yesterday that 11 clubs in Leagues One and Two had ruled out signing him.
The footballer was released from prison in October last year after serving half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman.
Although he said the sex was consensual, the jury accepted the prosecution's argument that the woman was too drunk to give consent. She has had to change her name five times and been forced to leave home after being hounded by online trolls. Evans' conviction is being re-examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Two days ago, Oldham MP Michael Meacher said it would be “totally inappropriate” for Oldham Athletic to sign Evans.
The Labour MP told BuzzFeed News:
Oldham Athletic has always been a very family-orientated club that has a very strong community programme involving significant numbers of young people who look up to many of the players.
The Independent claimed that Karl Massey, the father of Evans' fiancée, Natasha Massey, was a "key part" of the club's plans. The paper reported:
A successful businessman who runs a chain of jewellery stores in north-west England, Massey is understood to have pledged financial backing to make good any money which Oldham's sponsors withdraw in protest. He is also ready to provide a cash incentive which will cover Evans' wages until the end of the season. Massey has a personal connection to Oldham's chairman and owner, Simon Corney, another Mancunian entrepreneur.
However, the Daily Mail reported that Karl Massey would not in fact be covering Evans' wages or lost sponsorship.
Last year, Natasha Massey appeared on ITV's This Morning alongside Evans' sister Kylie.
In November, Sheffield United retracted an earlier offer to let Evans train at the club.
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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