Talks on convicted rapist Ched Evans signing for Oldham have concluded for the day without a decision being taken on his future.
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the club had begun drawing up a joint statement but several issues remain to be settled and discussions will continue on Wednesday.
The League One club confirmed on Monday that they are considering taking the controversial step of offering Evans a route back into professional football and it is believed Oldham are seeking further assurances from the PFA and other authorities.
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron has become involved in the issue, which has also divided supporters.
Asked at a regular Westminster news briefing whether Cameron thought Evans should be given a new footballing contract, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “His view hasn’t changed (from) ... the time when there were reports around Sheffield United.
“Ultimately, it is for employers to take decisions, but the Prime Minister does think that footballers are role models and he is sure that any potential would-be clubs and employers will weigh their decisions very carefully.”
Evans was released from prison last October halfway through a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman.
Since then, he has been rejected by Hartlepool and Tranmere. Former club Sheffield United offered the striker a chance to train with them last November but they retracted the invitation after it caused uproar.
Oldham, however, chose to begin a second round of negotiations with the Welshman despite insisting last month that they would not sign Evans. It has led to more than 35,000 people signing an online petition urging them not to do so.
The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) said fans were split over the issue of whether Evans should be given the 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.
“Some fans argue that footballers convicted of offences such as rape should never be allowed to play professionally again as it is such a serious crime.
“Other supporters say that once an individual is released from prison, they should be allowed to pursue their previous career so long as the law of the land allows it.
“Even if Evans has the right to play, some fans say they would still feel uncomfortable at the implications of a convicted rapist representing their club.”
Oldham’s secondary shirt sponsors CM Solicitors said the decision was solely down to the club.
A statement said: “As secondary shirt sponsors, we are obviously aware of ongoing speculation concerning the possible engagement of Ched Evans by Oldham Athletic.
“Whilst there are many difficult considerations with regards to the matter, we believe that this is solely a matter for the club and we are confident that they will make the right decision in all of the circumstances.
“Whatever the outcome we are and will remain proud sponsors of the club going forward.”
Oldham’s chief executive Neil Joy issued a statement on Monday under the heading ’Ched Evans’ which said the club would ”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.”
Oldham do stand to lose sponsorship revenue if they sign Evans.
Verlin Rainwater Solutions, which sponsors a stand at Boundary Park, says it would “be out of the door” if Oldham went ahead with the signing.
Another sponsor, Mecca Bingo, tweeted: “We can confirm will be ending our association withOfficialOAFC if they sign Ched Evans.”
Jim McMahon, leader of Oldham Council, urged the club not to sign Evans.
He said: “Oldham Council supports and enjoys a strong partnership relationship with Oldham Athletic, and I’ve personally worked hard with the club owners to help secure the redevelopment of Boundary Park because of the club’s importance to the town.
“My view – if I were in the club’s position – is that playing for a professional club puts you in the public eye and that carries important responsibilities. As things stand, I don’t believe that Mr Evans would be a suitable role model and ambassador for the town, or for the long-term reputation of the club.”