Alan Biggs at Large: Ched Evans to Chesterfield is a question of timing
Wherever and whenever Ched Evans returned to football there was going to be controversy.
That he has signed for a club just twelve miles from Bramall Lane was always going to re-open a wound for some supporters of his former team and understandably so. It was bound to divide followers of his new club too.
Those Blades who continued to back him through his conviction and imprisonment are bound to feel sore at the circumstances. Those who opposed a return to Sheffield United amid as divisive an episode as the club have known are entitled to feel confused. Because from the start this has been a splintered issue with a jagged blur of rights and wrongs, formed by a range of conflicting and deeply held views which in themselves were not necessarily right or wrong.
It’s been about emotion and opinion. Everyone is entitled to both, within reason, and no-one should be derided on either basis.
Personally, I can’t pretend I was anything other than shocked when I heard that Chesterfield had actually signed Evans ahead of his retrial for rape allegations. I didn’t imagine anyone would commit until a potential stampede afterwards.
I make no bones, either, about happening to be a Spireites supporter from a young age or the fact that, when Sheffield United shaped to bring their former striker back into the fold, this column argued against such a move.
But one thing to stress is that it did so on a question of timing. I parked the moral issue, accepting strong arguments either way. My theme was to warn that it would be backfire on the club and so it proved.
Evans may have been out of prison, having served half of a five-year sentence, but he was still a convicted man - at that time.
If you’d opened a book on where he might return you’d have to have put a short price on Chesterfield with Danny Wilson as their manager – Evans’ boss at the Blades
during the richest vein of his career and who has since supported him privately.
So what we are really talking about – again - is timing. As things stand, Evans has no convictions - not even for motoring - against his name. That is starkly different from the background to previous attempts to re-integrate him, including those of Oldham and Hartlepool, which all fell foul of public outrage.
Evans is approaching a trial, in this case a retrial, just as he was when he continued to play and totalled 35 goals for the Blades in season 2011-12. It must be added that I understand Chesterfield will conduct a review process should he be found guilty a second time.
Nevertheless, it is a huge public relations gamble, albeit an obvious expression of faith in Evans clearing his name following club meetings with the player and his representatives after his successful appeal based on new evidence. In that sense, too, the Blades also acted on a basis of belief.
Three other clubs are said to have made counter offers to Chesterfield’s. It remains a hugely delicate matter.
Certainly, it is not for journalists or anyone else to pontificate publicly on the case. Except to say that if Evans is finally and irrevocably cleared, there can be no reasonable stance other than to fully acknowledge that and respect his strength of character.
I know Wilson well, as I do members of his board. I can’t pronounce on the rights and wrongs but I do know they are principled people who, from their investigations, share a belief upon which no-one is in a position to comment. Let’s place our trust in justice being served and await the outcome.