Oldham Athletic appear not to have ruled out signing former Sheffield United striker and convicted rapist Ched Evans - we asked Sheffield folk for their views.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our video report,
The 26 year old ex-Blades star has been linked with Oldham as he seeks a return to football having served half of a five-year prison sentence.
This afternoon chief executive Neil Joy read a statement outside the club’s Boundary Park ground in which he said the club would “continue to have conversations” with the Professional Footballers’ Association and “conduct due diligence” on the potential signing of Evans.
Joy said in his statement: “Oldham Athletic is not at this stage making any official announcement with regard to the speculation concerning Ched Evans.
“Whilst acknowledging the considerable media attention, we continue to have conversations with representative bodies such as the PFA and will conduct due diligence with regard to any decision we make on this matter.
“Although it has been reported that a press conference would be held, we will officially advise if and when any such event will take place.
“The club would also request that its stakeholders and partners’ position and privacy be respected until this matter has been concluded. We will not be making any further comment for the time being.”
Club sponsor Verlin has said it will terminate any involvement with Oldham should the club sign Evans.
And a petition urging the League One club not to sign the former Blade has been signed by around 20,000 people.
Labour leader Ed Milliband has also had his say on the debate. On BBC Radio Manchester, Mr Miliband said Evans had shown no remorse and that he would not employ him.
“Personally, if I was in their shoes, he hasn’t shown remorse and I wouldn’t take him on,” he said.
Evans wants to return to football after being released from prison in October.
He served two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence after being found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011.
Oldham insisted in December the club would not be offering Evans a contract or an opportunity to train but it is understood further talks have taken place since then.
Evans had an offer to train with former club Sheffield United retracted in November following strong local opposition, while Tranmere and Hartlepool also rejected the opportunity to sign him.
He was initially given permission by the Blades to return to train with the club at the request of the PFA.
But following a backlash from sponsors and patrons opposed to Evans’ return - as well as a petition signed by 160,000 people against it - the club retracted the offer.
Now Craig Verling, a director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions which sponsors a stand at Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park stadium, said he too would pull out if Oldham offers Evans a contract.
“The club know our stance and that is if they sign or allow Ched Evans to train we will be out of the door.
“We had a conversation with the club when they considered allowing Ched Evans to train with them six to eight weeks ago, and we were led to believe they had listened to the general input.
Rick Holden, who was a part of one of Oldham’s greatest ever sides in 1990 when the club reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m not comfortable with it at all, it’s one of those crimes that will never go away in my opinion.
“I don’t see how the chap can survive actually, given the ferocity of football up and down the land, even if he did sign. I think it’s untenable.”
Broadcaster Charlie Webster stood down from her role as a club patron of Sheffield United in the wake of their links to Evans.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, she said of Oldham owner Simon Corney: “Isn’t the brand of his football club important? Isn’t the community of his football club important? When Sheffield United had the petition, I think it was a ridiculous amount, 160,000 people that stood up.
“I stood up, Jessica Ennis stood up, very many patrons stood up, society stood up and said ‘no’ and they listened and he didn’t get re-signed for Sheffield United. I’m hoping that Oldham will listen as well and Oldham will understand that this is a greater issue than just Ched Evans, it’s about sexual abuse.”
Webster said that while Evans should be allowed to work again, he should not be able to take up such a privileged position as a professional footballer.
“It’s not about a job... of course I believe in rehabilitation, he should get a job, go and get a job then where he’s not influencing the next generation and he’s not seen as a role model,” she added.
“He shouldn’t have a job as a professional footballer, the FA should put some sort of code of conduct so we know if a footballer goes and commits a crime, he doesn’t deserve that privilege that he was once given.
“The problem with giving Ched Evans his job back in a position of privilege where he influences is the fact that we’re saying to young boys and men out there ‘you know what, we tolerate rape in this society, it’s okay, you might get a bit of a slap, you might get two and a half years in prison but actually ultimately you’ll be fine.”
Evans has always maintained his innocence and his case is due to be reviewed by the Criminal Case Review Commission.
The new petition against Oldham signing Evans has been set up by a Twitter user going by the name of ‘Jean Hatchet’ - the same person whose petition against Evans rejoining Sheffield United attracted more than 160,000 signatures.
It has attracted around 20,000 signitures so far.
The new petition states: “He does not deserve to return to a high profile and highly visible role in football whilst he still refuses to acknowledge his guilt, apologise to his victim and attempt to make clear his views to the fans who look up to him that what he did was wrong and they should not traumatise her or other rape victims.”
On Friday Maltese side Hibernians revealed that they had made a contract offer to Evans for the remainder of the season, although the BBC quoted a spokesman for Evans denying the player received such an offer.
However, any move abroad is unlikely to materialise given the UK’s tough regime in managing sex offenders.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are determined to have one of the toughest regimes in the world for managing sex offenders, to stop them re-offending and to protect victims.
“Probation officers must give permission for sex offenders on licence to take up new jobs and this includes ensuring they hold regular face to face meetings - this effectively rules out working abroad.
“The offenders will also be subject to strict conditions such as exclusion zones, non-contact orders and having to attend sex offender treatment programmes.”