Only in football would a rapist get a round of applause
23:08 GMT, 24 April 2012
The brochures were printed. What else could they have done There it was, glossy as you like: Professional Footballers' Association League One team of the season, strikers Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield Town) and Ched Evans (Sheffield United).
You can't let the small matter of a five-year rape sentence interfere with a big moment like that. And so it was that, at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Sunday, the name Ched Evans echoed across a room of football's great and good, read out and saluted as if nothing had happened. Hero to rapist and back to hero again, all in a matter of days. Truly this is the best of all possible worlds.
David Jones, the Sky television presenter, ran through the third tier XI to continuous applause that did not rise – thankfully – or falter, even when he reached the name of the PFA member who had left Caernarfon Crown Court for a prison cell just two days previously.
Three cheers: Evans was applauded at the PFA awards after being handed a five-year sentence for rape
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'It would have drawn more attention had we pulled him out of the team,' said Bobby Barnes, the PFA's deputy chief executive. We do not condone the offence, but when the voting took place nobody had any knowledge of pending convictions. The award was based on merit. It was voted for by the players and based on his performances on the field.'
'That was a football judgment by fellow professionals,' added chief executive Gordon Taylor. 'It was not a moral judgment. If he had been removed from the team it would have created more of a storm and manipulated the vote. In no way does the PFA condone the offence for which he was convicted.'
And if football keeps saying that, perhaps we will believe it. But you know what It did condone it, ever so slightly, because convicted rapists do not tend to receive the solace of public shows of respect and admiration from their most exalted peers.
Other peers, just 12 of them and not an Armani tux in sight, have already given their appraisal in the courtroom, in Evans' case after only four hours and 52 minutes' deliberation – and there is nothing comforting in their conclusion.
Only in football would a rapist be afforded a round of applause two days after his trial. Those must have been some really expensive brochures. So what could the PFA have done differently For a start, they could have tried behaving like a trade union.
You know, an organisation that leans left by nature and makes decisions based on a loose set of socialist principles, rather than what will look weird on the Sky transmission.
There are female members of the PFA – England's women's team have been in since January 1, 2007, although Fulham's women were the trailblazers, admitted on turning professional in the 2000-01 season – but even now the annual Player of the Year dinner remains a male-dominated affair, eyewitnesses estimating that men accounted for between 85 and 90 per cent of the turn-out.
Maybe had there been a greater feminine presence the decision to lionise Evans would have met resistance. Maybe in a less testosterone-fuelled environment, someone might have pointed out that any decision that necessitates a follow-up statement clarifying the organisation's position on rape is probably the wrong one.
Even if the proofs had been signed off
at the printers, the video montage compiled and the script written, it
is hard to imagine the Unite union being conflicted in similar
circumstances. It is hardly political correctness to withdraw
endorsement of a convicted rapist, and if a trade union cannot be
politically correct, who can
Taylor says that to overlook Evans, or
withdraw him, when the evidence of his commendation was already in the
brochure would have created controversy, but how so Who exactly would
have condemned the PFA for failing to give a very recently convicted
rapist his moment of glory Any war of words would have been mercifully
short, with the weight of public support and sympathy behind the union.
Fans' favourite: Many have different view on the judgment
'On the night, we felt it appropriate to leave Evans' name out of the announced team in the light of recent events. We did not wish to alter the vote, which was made prior to the trial, but firmly believe this small acknowledgement of changed circumstance was the right and responsible thing to do,' said a PFA spokesman in my fictional press release.
And who could object to such basic decency Instead, football forged ahead, oblivious to wider sensibilities, again creating the impression that the PFA's members are not so much trade unionists as privileged beneficiaries of an exclusive club. No precedents would have been set by Evans' exclusion, no millstones tied, because this was clearly a unique event.
Instead, the sport's relationship with half the population appears more skewed than ever; as, increasingly, does the stance of the unequivocal, unquestioning modern supporter. On Tuesday, Sheffield United suspended one of Evans' team-mates, Connor Brown, for a particularly repulsive outburst on Twitter.
Following the verdict, he called the
victim a 'moneygrabbing tramp'. 'If u r a slag, u r a slag, don't try
get money from being a slag,' he posted, semi-literately. Brown having
pushed the boundaries of acceptability, the gates opened and a tidal
wave of slurry poured through.
'In a Premier Inn with 2 footballers
after a night out. Expecting tiddlywinks And ruin a poor blokes life !
#golddigger #chedevans #freeched… How can there be any evidence if
the silly bitch can't remember anything… There's some birds in this
pub who would defo get the #ChedEvans treatment…think.
#ThereButForTheGraceOfGodGoI… If nailing a tramp who is too w****red
to say no is a crime then the old bill need to get down to mine with a
set of cuffs… I hope that silly tramp gets properly raped one day…
#chedevans going to jail shows that women will come up with any excuse
to get their 15 minutes of fame. . . #ChedEvansinocent !! #DrunkenSlag -
moneygrabbing whore!!… Nobody knows facts the girl has done this
before! There are now videos of her going around getting smashed by diff
Outburst: Brown has been suspended for comments he made on Twitter
Excuse the English. It does seem like primitive code at times. Personally, I find those who quite cheerfully consider themselves rapists on the sly the most worrying social specimens, but you probably have your own favourite.
And there is more where this came from. Plenty more. Plenty of other people who think because a woman went back to a hotel with one man, she should be expecting to accommodate several, plus a camera, or that getting anonymously raped equates to an especially desperate quest for celebrity.
And she's had sex before! Well, that's
just asking for it. 'Locked away for 5 years for lack of consent,' one
Einstein mused, mystified. Yes, that would be the rape part. If you've
got consent, it's sex. If you haven't, it's rape. It's not exactly a
nuance. The girl Evans raped was drunk. So drunk she fell over in a
kebab shop before agreeing to accompany another footballer, Clayton
McDonald of Port Vale, back to his hotel.
Evans arrived because McDonald spoke to
him on a mobile telephone and announced he had 'got a bird', like he had
been out trapping them with nets. Evans arrived and had sex with the
girl after McDonald, while others attempted to film what happened. The
vulturous McDonald was charged with rape but acquitted, Evans got five
We presume the jury
reasoned that, despite being in an advanced state of incapability,
agreeing to go to the hotel with McDonald was consent, of sorts, and she
may have even initiated the one-night stand. Evans was no part of that
conversation; hence his behaviour was not consensual.
'Supportinghas become anextreme sport'
It can be a minefield, this stuff,
and the evidence from all quarters was rather sordid. Nobody would argue
the young woman was wise, but you will notice the hashtags: #freeched,
#justice for Ched. Now there's an irony. Evans got justice; that is what
unfolded at Caernarfon Crown Court before and during last Friday.
Evans' case was processed through the Crown Prosecution Service.
jury considered evidence – more detailed than is publicly available –
and gave its guilty verdict. Judge Merfyn Hughes QC then passed
sentence. That's justice, right there: except football prefers its
as Joey Barton arrogantly believed the rules of sub-judice impaired his
right to free speech rather than enshrining the right of others to a
fair trial, so the most entrenched supporters treat a courtroom or
tribunal verdict as the start of the debate, not its conclusion.
Considering the fall-out from the
Luis Suarez affair it would be possible to believe the panel appointed
by the FA had returned an open decision, not one of guilt resulting in
an eight-game ban; and whatever happens to John Terry this summer, his
innocence of aiming a racial slur will be disbelieved, or his guilt
unaccepted, according to allegiance.
A courtroom trial no longer provides
closure but is merely the prelude to the inevitable trial by phone-in.
Evans was judged by a jury of his peers, who heard many hours of
evidence. Not enough, apparently. There is another jury, peopled
entirely by fans in red and white stripes, encouraged by our reality
vote, internet messageboard, interactive age to believe that no subject
is concluded until they have had their say.
Not all Sheffield United fans are
blindly loyal in the face of the evidence, but there are enough out
there to make a commotion, or at least demand a retrial – including
3,000 on a Facebook site – because the default position for any
footballer found guilty of anything is to go to appeal (Evans is
considering it, according to his legal team).
Cleared: McDonald was not charged
That is where we are these days. Supporting has become an extreme sport. You don't just follow your team any more, you get behind rapists, racists, cheats and violent thugs; a free pass is always on offer providing you wear the right colours. The majority of those wanting Evans free do not extend that latitude to any desire he may have to freely play elsewhere on his release.
This relationship is conditional on his continued devotion to one club and one cause. Many of those crying freedom loudest do not base their views on a painstaking analysis of the minutiae of the case, either; they want Evans released because he is their man and it will benefit their club. Any argument is then tailored to fit that agenda.
Just as half of Merseyside suddenly became authorities in Rioplatense Spanish when the interpretation of this dialect was crucial to the exoneration of Suarez, so the motivations and character of a teenage girl will now be inspected and found wanting. In fact, they already have.
The identity of Evans' victim is out there, on Twitter – and courtesy of some clod, on Sky News, too – because nothing is taboo to a football pressure group with a well-honed sense of injustice. It used to be that your team got the worst referees; now they get the most trumped-up rape charges or the poorest interpretations of South American racial epithets.
The lip-reading community should brace itself for a blue storm if Terry's case goes against him this summer, while the admirable decision of the Manchester United fanzine Red Issue to denounce Ashley Young for diving became nationally newsworthy because of its unfamiliar departure from traditional party lines.
And, of course, to be biased is the nature of the fan. Loyalty, support, standing together is the essence of the role. Yet who did Evans harm, beside his victim His club. The club they all profess to love: Sheffield United. They have enjoyed a good season but go into this weekend in second place, just a point clear of city rivals Sheffield Wednesday with two games remaining.
To this end, they could really do with one of the best strikers in the league, particularly at home to useful, promotion-chasing Stevenage on Saturday. Evans has really let them down. Experience indicates, however, that far from opprobrium in his absence, far from being required to take responsibility for his behaviour and its consequences, Evans will receive vocal support.
Only one Ched Evans That's the problem. The last few days would suggest in his attitudes at least, he is far, far from alone.
You can rely on Robben
There were three Rs at the European Championship in 2004: Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Arjen Robben. We tend to think of Robben as the poor relation because his time at Chelsea is remembered as much for theatricals and injuries as flashes of brilliance and five medals in three seasons (two Premier League, one FA Cup, two League Cup).
Increasingly, it seems, he is unsettled at Bayern Munich and no Barclays Premier League club with ambition should think twice. Older, wiser and already accustomed to English football, Robben remains arguably the finest conventional wide player in Europe.
His goal tally has reached double figures in each of his past three seasons in Germany – with Chelsea, he never got above nine – and Manchester United's wings are already occupied by Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ryan Giggs, so there is no wriggle room at Old Trafford.
Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool: for what are they waiting
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Things An England Manager Could Have Been Doing This Week Had The Football Association Got Its Finger Out And Bothered To Appoint One, Part Five:
He could have been compiling his own provisional team for Euro 2012 to be named on May 10; because I know of one candidate for England manager who would consider a player for his starting line-up who wasn't even in Stuart Pearce's last squad, against Holland. Still, never mind.
UK Sport wish to point out that the
143million funding for Olympic sports in 2012 mentioned in Monday's
column includes exchequer as well as lottery money. Happy to oblige.