Monday 19 March 2018

Comment: 'Team Ched' supporters show just how sick football culture has become

Chesterfield's Ched Evans leaves Cardiff Crown Court with partner Natasha Massey
Chesterfield's Ched Evans leaves Cardiff Crown Court with partner Natasha Massey

Oliver Brown

“Naturally delighted.” These were the indelicate words of Chris Turner, Chesterfield’s chief executive, upon hearing that Ched Evans was no longer a convicted rapist.

Quite where the notion of delight fitted into this sleazy, tawdry, deeply unedifying tale was anybody’s guess, but Turner decided there was not a moment to lose in circling the wagons. “We can now all move on and focus on football.”

They never learn, do they, this tone-deaf band of blazers? Cast your minds back to 2012, when Evans received the conviction that was quashed earlier this year. How do you suppose the Professional Footballers’ Association responded to the news? With horror, or at least a few deftly-chosen words of censure? No, it decided to include him in its League One ‘team of the season’. When Evans cropped up among the names read out at Grosvenor House that evening, the clapping continued unabated.

There is no sense of grace from the spectacle of Evans resuming the next chapter of his life, after yesterday’s not-guilty verdict at Cardiff Crown Court. The established facts of what happened at the Premier Inn near Rhyl on the night of May 30, 2011, are sordid enough: Evans lied, as he admitted in court, to obtain the key that gained access to the bedroom, did not speak to the young woman before, during or after sex, then left the hotel by a fire exit.

As for the impression of contrition, forget it. His statement on Friday that he “wholeheartedly apologised to anyone who might have been affected by the events of the night in question” does not square with the fact that he has stood by while a website has published horrendous character assassinations of the woman concerned. Her life, to a greater extent even than his, has been ruined. If a man such as Evans is now to be made a martyr, then the culture of football in Britain truly is sicker than we thought.

Some of the reactions among Evans’s peer group were grimly predictable. “The girl who lied about Ched Evans is a disgrace!” wrote Jack Payne, the Huddersfield midfielder, on Twitter. “Should be locked up.” It is fairly evident that Payne is not the sharpest pencil in the case, but it might need explaining to him that the not-guilty decision does not by extension mean that the woman lied. Far from it. It simply indicates that the jury were unable to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that she did not consent to sex.

On it will go, this heightening of Evans’s victimhood, in direct proportion to the traducing of the woman with whom he had that wordless encounter almost five years ago. There was even a bizarre intervention last night by Stacey Flounders, who, as former girlfriend of convicted paedophile Adam Johnson, might have a fair idea of the depths to which a few feckless footballers can sink when not on club duty. “About time!” she wrote. “Not guilty. Team Ched.”

No right-thinking person could seriously consider endorsing a campaign entitled ‘Team Ched’. But the toxic swill of social media reaction that the Evans verdict unleashed was frightening to behold. The woman, who had surely been humiliated enough after finding every facet of her sex life pored over in a courtroom, once more faced a welter of sickening abuse. So, too, did women who sought to speak up for her. A passing glimpse of this ghastly public flogging exposed a fundamental hypocrisy. The recent release of the video recording Donald Trump making sexually aggressive comments about women has been condemned the world over.

Trump’s attempt to defend it as “locker-room talk” has even inspired several athletes to coin a slogan of “not in my locker room”. Move across to football, and attitudes are a little less enlightened. Evans, who by any measure behaved reprehensibly, is now portrayed as the persecuted party.

It is a depiction that football would do well to resist. Manchester City, to their credit, have removed his picture from the wall celebrating former academy students who graduated to the first team, and it is unlikely to return. The Wales team, who have adopted a mantra of “together is stronger”, ought to do nothing so regressive as inviting him back into the fold.

For certain clubs have, however tentatively, taken steps to move on from men of Evans’s ilk. Brighton and Hove Albion were the first club in the land to begin educating their players about the laws surrounding consent. It would be a dangerous development if this progress were to be undone, amid misguided attempts to rehabilitate a man who has taken the image of the game to its very nadir.

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