Oldham Athletic were last night heading towards the hugely controversial move of signing Ched Evans, the 26-year-old who has been convicted of rape, with the father of the player’s girlfriend a key person in paving the way.
he situation is understood to be fluid with the club’s owners aware of the huge tide of opposition, and a fresh start for the striker is not yet sealed.
But despite the storm of protests, the club are believed to feel that there will not be a mass boycott of sponsors if the striker does join.
The Independent understands they have also put plans in place to cover any financial losses which a protest brings. Karl Massey – the father of Natasha Massey, who is engaged to Evans – is a key part of the contingency plans.
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.
The League One club also feel fortified by having the backing – and cover – of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who had initially undertaken to join them at a press conference on Monday, though withdrew that commitment amid the blizzard of condemnation of the move. The PFA is also thought to be ready to provide financial support to get Evans back into the game at Oldham.
But the absence from the scene today of PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor – who is attending his mother’s funeral – appears to rule out the prospect of a press conference and may give Oldham 24 hours’ more breathing space.
Taylor argues that the former Manchester City and Sheffield United striker has served his time with an 18-month prison sentence after his rape conviction. Oldham have agonised about whether to risk national opprobrium and sign Evans.
With the cash-strapped club currently slipping towards another relegation battle after four consecutive defeats, New York-based Corney has been prevailed upon by fellow director Barry Owen, a former Greater Manchester Police superintendent, to make the move for Evans.
Corney, who has read Evans’ case notes, has also been pressed to resist letting public protest skew his decision. Oldham have already assessed Evans’ personal fitness, which is thought to be at an acceptable level for a player who has not performed competitively for three years. His use of a personal trainer has helped him maintain his fitness levels.
Although a petition demanding that Oldham should not sign Evans has gathered 12,000 signatures, Oldham do not seem to feel that their fanbase is universally against the idea. One source suggested that Oldham feel as many as 75 per cent of fans would accept Evans joining the club, though this could not be confirmed.
Independent News Service