English club angered by ‘mob’ behavior over rapist
SHEFFIELD, England (AP) — The chairman of an English soccer team says he is angry that “mob-like behavior” forced the club to back down from its decision to allow a convicted rapist to train at its facilities.
Sheffield United, which plays in the third division, bowed to public pressure and withdrew its offer to allow Wales international Ched Evans to resume training at the club following his release from jail.
The issue has provoked heated debate in Britain in recent weeks, with even leading politicians weighing in with their opinions.
“It has always been our decision about what we do, but we have to take note (of public opinion),” Jim Phipps, an American lawyer who is United’s co-chairman, said Friday. “We are coming up in questions to the Prime Minister at the G20 (summit) — how the hell did that happen?”
Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis was one of the most high-profile people to speak out against the return of Evans, saying she would want her name removed from one of the stands at the club’s Bramall Lane stadium if the striker was to be signed.
Three of the club’s patrons resigned over the issue and a petition against Evans joining United — where he played before his conviction — was signed by more than 165,000 people.
Acknowledging that the issue spiralled out of control and was a “mess of our making,” Phipps stood by the view that footballers should be given the same right of rehabilitation as other offenders.
“I’m angry that we are not able to get a chance to do for this footballer what should be done,” Phipps said at a news conference. “I’m upset that we are not able to do what we wanted to do.
“The people who believe that Ched should be punished for the rest of his life might call that a victory,” he added. “I think of it as a defeat for the principle that punishment under the justice system should be left to those that are authorised by law.”
Phipps said United had no choice but to back down.
“We had the direct attacks on the club, on its sponsors, we had attacks on our community foundation and everyone is well aware some of our patrons had their comments to say,” he said.
“The issue was tearing at the fabric of our community. We are a community and family club and we had our people at each other’s throats and the promise was that things weren’t going to get better.”
English football’s players’ union said it may “ultimately be of benefit to both parties to move on and for Ched to look for a fresh start.”
“It is hoped that Ched will be given an opportunity at another club to return to the job he is trained to do,” the Professional Footballers’ Association said in a statement.
Evans was released after serving half of a five-year sentence for raping a woman in a hotel room in 2011. He admitted to having sex with the woman but denied raping her.