Sheffield United have released a statement condemning the abuse by fans against those who have urged the club not to re-sign convicted rapist Ched Evans.
The Blades, who beat Doncaster Rovers 1-0 at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday afternoon, said they would ban for life any fans who are caught abusing the likes of Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill or TV presenter Charlie Webster through social media or by chanting at matches.
The statement reads: “Following its decision earlier this week to accept a request from The Professional Footballers’ Association to the effect that the Club consider allowing Ched Evans, who is a PFA member, to train at the Club’s facilities, Sheffield United Football Club is appalled at the recent condemnation and abuse that has been levelled at both some of its more high profile supporters and those who have no connections to the Club but who have voiced their opinion on the matter.
“The Club believes that these fans, individuals and corporates have a right, like any other, to express their view on the Club’s current stance regarding its former player.
“They should not be vilified as a consequence of them having to make public their views, following a social media campaign that pursued them and urged them to disassociate themselves with the Club. They have worked long and hard to reach their standing in society and their link with the Club should not be the reason for this being damaged.
“Regarding the personal tirade against individuals, the Club will work with both South Yorkshire Police and any other supportive body to help identify the instigators. This will include abuse through social media messaging and chanting at grounds.
“Anyone who is found to be involved in such practice will be banned for life from Bramall Lane.
“Sheffield United will not accept the abuse that is being received by those who have voiced their opinion. They have felt it necessary and have been courageous enough to have made their statement and this should be respected.
“Apart from this, and the statement dated 11th November, the Club will not be making any further comment until it feels appropriate to do so.”
South Yorkshire Police confirmed they were investigating ‘reports of abusive tweets’ against Ennis-Hill after she took her stance, saying role models should set a ‘good example’ to young people.
Her comments sparked massive debate on Twitter, with the majority of people, including United fans, backing her position.
But there were also some offensive and abusive comments towards the heptathlete and new mum.
One Twitter user’s vile abuse was so shocking it was reported to police. His account later appeared to have been removed.
Evans, who is appealing against his conviction, has been given the go-ahead to train at the club this week, causing Webster, pop star Dave Berry and businesswoman Lindsay Graham to resign as patrons.
Sheffield-based BFN Nutrition, a sponsor since this summer, provided nutritional supplements for players and had its name on the club’s warm-up kit will ask for those to be removed.
Sheffield United’s Community Foundation has also distanced itself from the row saying it would be ‘disappointing’ if a decision ‘it has no involvement in’ hampered its charity work.
The striker denied raping the woman, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
The prosecution said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.
Port Vale defender Clayton McDonald also admitted having sex with the victim but was found not guilty of the same charge.
An appeal against Evans’s conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012. His case is due to be looked at by the Criminal Case Review Commission.
After his release, Evans released a video on his website protesting his innocence and vowing to clear his name.
He said: “It is my hope that I will be able to return to football.
“If that is possible then I will do so with humility, having learnt a very painful lesson.
“I would like a second chance.”
Victims’ groups have condemned the two-minute video message.
Evans scored 42 goals in 103 games for the Blades, having previously played for Manchester City and Norwich City.
The Star Editor’s opinion: No way back for Ched Evans