OLDHAM’s signing of convicted rapist Ched Evans appears “imminent”, with one of the club’s sponsors severing ties as a result and another warning it will follow suit.
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 an announcement on Thursday, with a two-and-a-half-year deal being suggested for the 26-year-old Wales international striker.
A club spokesman confirmed they hoped to make a statement on Thursday, prompting a negative response from sponsors.
One, Verlin Rainwater Solutions, announced it was cutting ties with the club immediately.
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.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“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.”
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.”
The club have been aware that some sponsors and the local council are unhappy at the prospect, but look determined to push ahead with the signing, while major sponsor Sports Direct - owned by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley - has remained silent on the issue.
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 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 decision over Evans has divided fans, and even Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman has said that, as footballers are role models, clubs should “weigh their decisions very carefully”.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS