Disgraced ex-Sheffield United striker Ched Evans is reported to have signed a controversial deal which could see him playing football again as soon as this weekend.
The 26-year-old striker, who played for United for three years, is reported to have today agreed personal terms with League One club Oldham Athletic after days of talks.
The Professional Footballers’ Association hinted over the weekend that a deal with a club was close to being struck, which would allow the convicted rapist a route back into football.
And now Oldham’s sponsors claim they have been told to prepare for an announcement confirming the signing of Evans on Thursday or Friday.
One sponsor, Verlin Rainwater Solutions, has now ended its association with the club.
Director Craig Verling said: “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.
“We sincerely wish the club a very successful future and have no regrets about being associated with Oldham Athletic over the past few seasons, but feel our continued support would be sending out the wrong message.”
The Football Supporters’ Federation said fans were split over the issue of whether Evans should be given a chance to play professional football again.
An FSF spokesman said: “There is no clear consensus from fans one way or the other - this is clearly a very divisive issue in society, not just among supporters.”
Evans was released from prison in October - mid-way through a five year term imposed for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel bedroom in North Wales in 2011.
He has always maintained his innocence and his case is being looked at by the Criminal Case Review Commission.
Oldham Athletic has not yet commented on speculation of the deal, which is said to closely involve Evans’ girlfriend’s father, Karl Massey - a successful businessman.
He is said to have agreed to cover any financial losses incurred by Oldham if fans boycott games and sponsors pull out.
Mr Massey, who runs a chain of jewellery stores in north-west England, is also said to have offered a cash incentive which will cover Evans’ wages until the end of the season.
And a petition urging the club chairman not to sign Evans has now attracted around 60,000 signatures.