One of Oldham’s sponsors has severed ties with the club ahead due to the “imminent signing” of convicted rapist Ched Evans.
Verlin Rainwater Solutions says it will no longer be associated with the club, who are expected to make a statement about the 26-year-old striker on Thursday.
Discussions between the League One club and the Professional Footballers’ Association have continued over a possible signing of Evans, despite vociferous opposition.
There have also been reports that Evans and the club have agreed personal terms ahead of any signing.
Craig Verling, a director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions which sponsors a stand at Boundary Park, said in a statement: “After receiving the news regarding the imminent signing of Ched Evans it is with great regret that Verlin Rainwater Solutions will no longer be associated with Oldham Athletic.
“We would like to take this opportunity to make clear that we feel that Mr Evans should be able to lead a life without further punishment after serving his sentence, although our feelings remain the same that this should not be within the public domain where his previous behaviour may influence the next generation.
“We sincerely wish the club a very successful future and have no regrets about being associated with Oldham Athletic over the past few seasons, but feel our continued support would be sending out the wrong message.”
Oldham said there would be no statement today but hope to make a statement tomorrow.
The PFA and Oldham were close to agreeing a joint statement on Tuesday but there were several outstanding issues with the club seeking a number of reassurances.
The club have been aware that some sponsors and the local council are unhappy at the prospect but major sponsor Sports Direct, owned by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, has remained silent on the issue.
The decision over Evans has divided fans and even Prime Minister David Cameron has become involved.
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 half way 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 62,000 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.”
Another Oldham sponsor, ZenOffice, warned it would sever its five-year relationship with the club if the Evans signing went ahead.
A statement from the company said: “This partnership has been based on mutual respect as OAFC did share the same values as ZenOffice, based on family and community.
“ZenOffice do not agree that the current path OAFC are embarking on espouses these values. Therefore it is with much regret that ZenOffice would like to confirm that we will end our association with Oldham Athletic Football Club if the move goes ahead to sign Ched Evans.”