Ched Evans resurrects his career with Chesterfield but faces a defining October court date
Ched Evans fired Chesterfield to the summit of League One on Tuesday evening, with his quick-fire double against Walsall earning The Spirerites a vital three points and taking his personal tally to four goals in as many games.
The former Welsh international, who appeared thirteen times for his country, has been incessantly followed by controversy, debate, and abuse over the duration of the last five years. In 2011 Evans was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman, resulting in a five-year jail sentence, public vilification, and, seemingly, the end of his career as a professional football player following the termination of his contract by Sheffield United.
However, Evans publicly never wavered in his insistence that he was innocent. He was released from prison after serving half of his sentence and in April 2016 the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction after new evidence, which cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, came to light. This has left Evans in limbo – not innocent and yet not guilty either – and on October 4th 2016 he faces a re-trial, which will provide a decisive conclusion to the case.
It is neither sensible nor advisable that sports journalists delve into the legality and morality of Ched Evans’ conviction and forthcoming retrial. In truth, we are sports journalists, not experts in law, and therefore it is more relevant that we discuss and analyse the sporting and athletic consequences of his return to professional football. There is a legal system in place to determine his guilt or innocence and, until a court of law has definitely concluded his case, it is more suitable for comments to be focused on his influences on the football pitch.
During a career which has seen the 27-year-old appear for Manchester City, Norwich and Sheffield United, Evans has maintained a goal scoring record which has seen him find the net roughly once for every two games that he plays. Therefore, it came as little surprise that his release from prison and his subsequent success in the Court of Appeal lead to a renewed interest among football clubs who were seeking a quality forward player.
However, Evans’ return to professional football was shrouded in controversy and his reappearance provoked a widely mixed response within the public and media, alike. In 2015 both Oldham Athletic and Sheffield United made tentative inquiries about acquiring the service of the Welshman but were forced to step away from any potential deal following widespread condemnation which included protests, sponsors willing to end their contracts, and threats towards club staff.
It came as something of a surprise when Chesterfield signed Evans in June 2016 on a 12-month contract, which reportedly earns the striker in excess of £2,000 per week. A certain amount of controversy surrounded his signing, but the abuse and threats that were present in the previous year were much more subdued following the overturn of his conviction. The transfer was certainly a gamble on the behalf of the football club, a striker who has not made an appearance in five years and comes with a tainted public image is no guarantee to be a success, yet the faith that The Spirerites have demonstrated in Evans has already started to pay dividends.
On his debut, Evans scored a sublime 25-yard freekick to earn Chesterfield a draw against Oxford on the opening day of the season. He then produced a man-of-the-match display in the 3-1 victory over Swindon, scoring one goal and playing a hand in the other two, before he added two more strikes to his tally on Tuesday evening against Walsall. The striker is showing the form and eye for goal that made him an international football player, and his early season performances have helped Chesterfield to take an early lead at the top of League One.
The story of Ched Evans provokes many different reactions, emotions, and thoughts which will differ from person to person. For some, his return to professional football is seen as the perfect opportunity for redemption because of the belief that he is innocent. Others will vehemently oppose his reappearance because of the (now quashed) guilty verdict from 2011 and the perception that his occupation in the public limelight affords the wrong message to onlookers. In truth, no one has ever denied or questioned the ability of Evans as a football player and his recent performances suggest that his prolonged absence from the game has not dulled his goal scoring instincts. The question is one regarding legality, justice, and morality.
On October 4th, under two months into the new football season, Evans will face his re-trial. A guilty verdict will, more than likely, hammer the final nail into the coffin of his football career and will leave Chesterfield needing to replace one of their key players. An innocent verdict will finalise his resurrection and resurgence, leaving many football clubs wondering ‘what could have been’. Evans will undoubtedly continue to score goals until the day of his latest trial and it will be in a courtroom, not on a football pitch, that his future as a football player will be determined.
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