The Ched Evans affair

The footballer was arrested for raping a helpless and inert young woman, having been called to the location by a fellow footballer, who had seemingly been involved with her. Evans was found guilty in court and sentenced to five years in gaol against which he appealed without success. He was, however, released on license after serving half of the sentence; still proclaiming his innocence and now wants to resume his professional career. By Brian Glanville.

The sordid and contentious Ched Evans affair, as it might be called, has slipped somewhat into abeyance of late but I fear we have by no means heard the last of it. Let me acquaint you with the disturbing details. Evans is a Welsh international centre forward and a prolific scorer for Sheffield United. He was arrested for raping a helpless and inert young woman, having been called to the location by a fellow footballer, who had seemingly been involved with her. Evans was found guilty in court and sentenced to five years in gaol against which he appealed without success.

He was, however, released on license after serving half of the sentence, still proclaiming his innocence and for a long time showing no element of contrition. When he ultimately and quite recently did, it was in the shape of a vague statement of sympathy for the girl — who has been forced to change her residence five times in the face of shameful abuse — though still no admission of guilt.

Far from it, and subsidised by the millionaire father of his current girlfriend he has essayed yet another appeal, whose odds against success are astronomic. The Criminal Case Review Committee, to which he has turned, has just allowed three percent of the 18,751 cases to succeed. We can take it then that Evans will be turned down, too. Moreover, a possible compromise, that he would, in face of immense public opposition to any return to the game in England, go to play abroad. But this is denied to him, since his sentence is technically not over for the balance of half of those five years, during which he is legally on license under the aegis of an appointed officer.

So, the issue now, surely, is not that he isn’t guilty, which seems hard to refute, but whether and when he can play again. Even the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the leader of the Labour opposition, Ed Miliband, have gratuitously aired their opinion, jumping on the prevailing bandwagon to insist that he should not. The possibility of him playing again for three different clubs, one his original team Sheffield United, who were initially prepared to let him train with them but backed down under tremendous public pressure — Tranmere Rovers then Oldham Athletic (who backed out with weasel words) was furiously howled down.

He has, however, had his more rational defenders, their case being that his punishment should not prevent him totally resuming his football career. A view, which has been put sometimes clumsily, sometime more rationally, but which seems most unlikely to prevail.

Its less rationale proposer was, surprisingly, the Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association, which in less grandiose days was known as The Players’ Union, Gordon Taylor. I have known, liked and even admired Taylor for a good many years, but in this instance believe he has made a fool of himself. His confused original statement went: “(Evans) wouldn’t have been the first person or persons to have been found guilty and maintain their innocence and then be proved right. If we’re talking about football, we know what was alleged to have happened at Hillsborough and it’s unravelling and we’re finding it very different from how it was portrayed at the time, indeed by the police at the time.”

For sheer insensitivity and ineptitude, this was a declaration that would take some beating. If comparisons were odious, this one was crass beyond belief. Let me remind you of what happened on that tragic afternoon at Sheffield Wednesday’s inadequate football stadium in 1989. The occasion, exactly as it had been there a year previously, was the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Though there were signs then that the stadium was no longer fit for the purpose of such an event and its concomitant crowds, it was chosen again. In the event, inept police control allowed a gate to be opened, spectators to pour into the Liverpool supporter’s end, resulting in the crushing to death of 96 Liverpool fans, penned in inexorably by the metal barricade at the foot of the terrace. David Duckenfield, the senior policeman in charge, hopelessly out of his depth and quite inexperienced in crowd control, had panicked and propitiated the disaster.

Yet who, and this is a question which seems to oddly not to have been pursued by the current, devastating, if sadly belated, inquiry, was he in charge at all? His predecessor had managed to organise an event which never got out of hand. It was disclosed that he had been taken off the role at a very late stage as the penalty for being charge of a force guilty of so called “horse play”. So you might say that the ultimate offender was the senior policeman who took him off the event.

In his evident confusion, Taylor seems to have in the back of his mind the appalling accusation which appeared the next morning in the Sun newspaper, accusing Liverpool fans, without a scoop of truth, of robbing their dead fellow fans and urinating on their bodies. Ultimately, it emerged that this misinformation had been given to a local news agency by the police themselves.

Yet these obscene libels were never widely believed. Certainly not by myself, then a senior football correspondent, my fellow columnist and any football fans whom I knew. If truth has largely and scandalously come out, it concerns the important but secondary matter of how the police failed in their duties and lied about the consequences. Gordon Taylor then went blundering out, under furious criticism, to declare, “Chad Evans is a totally different case but he has the same belief in innocence.”

Steve Bruce, the manager of Hull City, spoke up in favour of allowing Evans to resume his playing career, though more rationally. And at least he can point at his redemption, when managing Birmingham City, of the winger now playing in India, Jermaine Pennant, whose career seemed in the ruins when he was jailed following a drink-and-drive car accident. I well remember seeing Pennant excel one Saturday for City when, as Bruce said proudly afterwards, he was simply unplayable.

The problem for Evans is that rightly, rationally or not, such immense public fury has been engendered by the affair, hardly tempered by the viciousness of those who have rallied against the victim and made a misery of her life, that it is hard to see him playing again in English football for years to come.