Oldham manager Lee Johnson says it will be a “board decision” if the club opts to sign convicted rapist Ched Evans, as a sponsor threatens to abandon the club if it goes through.
Johnson’s comments were the first to be made in public by any club employee since news emerged on Sunday that the League One club could be about to offer the 26-year-old a deal.
An online petition against the signing has already attracted more than 20,000 signatures and club sponsors have already expressed their opposition to the move, with one saying it would be “out of the door” if Evans signs.
Speaking outside Boundary Park, Johnson said: “I understand these are very difficult circumstances. I respect that for everyone. It’s a board decision.”
Asked if the board had decided against signing Evans now, Johnson added: “I don’t want to comment. Whatever the board decides I will be a part of.”
One of Oldham's main sponsors has said it will be ``out of the door'' if the club sign Evans.
Craig Verling, a director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions which sponsors a stand at Boundary Park, said the company would terminate its involvement with the Latics if Evans joins up with the League One outfit.
Oldham are reported to be holding a board meeting to decide whether to pursue their interest in Evans, although no confirmation was immediately available from the club on Monday morning. Evans was not part of the group which arrived at Boundary Park on Monday morning to make its way down to the club’s training ground.
Verling told reporters: “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.
“But our sources have made it clear he will be training or signing for the club this week and it is not something we wish to be associated with.”
Another Oldham sponsor, Web Applications UK, said it will continue to support the club irrespective of its decision over Evans.
The company’s chief executive Craig Dean said he believed it would be “unethical” to seek to influence the situation in either direction.
Dean said in a statement: “To deprive a human being of the right to work in their chosen profession should be a decision taken by a judicial system that dispassionately balances the rights of the individual against that of the society as a whole.
“There are cases where such rights should be restricted for the good of the whole, but it is not a decision that should be made by an IT company.
“Whether Oldham Athletic choose to employ Ched Evans is a decision for the manager and board of directors of the club, we will not interfere with that decision.
“We are conscious that there are those that wish us to exercise our influence, to whatever extent that exists, to prevent Ched Evans’ employment; but we believe to do so would be unethical, instead we will respect whatever decision is made by the club, who are best placed to determine Mr Evans’ employability.”
News of Evans’ potential signing attracted a major media presence to Boundary Park on Monday morning.
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 the striker.
He was initially given permission by the Blades to return to train with the club at the request of the Professional Footballers’ Association. But following a backlash from Blades supporters, sponsors and patrons opposed to Evans’ return - 160,000 people signed a petition against it – the club retracted the offer.
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 on Monday, 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.”
PFA chief Taylor said the players’ union had not asked any club to sign Evans but would support them doing so.
Any move to sign Evans is likely to lead to public outcry, but Taylor is keen to avoid a similar situation to the one that engulfed Sheffield United after they made their offer to the player.
”I don’t want to create a replica-type situation that we had at Sheffield (United) because I’m a little bit concerned that we need a press conference and that will invite, of course, many antagonists,” he said.
Taylor said the PFA appreciated the situation was ”very sensitive”, but reiterated its stance that Evans deserved the chance to resume his career following his release from prison.
”We’ve made it clear in our statements that we feel he’s been unable to say much because of the appeals process, but he has served his time and the job of society is to look to rehabilitate,” Taylor said.
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.