Belfast Telegraph

Sordid saga of Ched Evans exposes moral vacuum at heart of football

By Janet Street-Porter

The Ched Evans saga continues. Not a day passes without a picture of the disgraced footballer defiantly holding hands with his pretty fiancée Natasha, or a fresh update posted on his website, chedevans.com, insisting that he is innocent of rape.

Two things bug me: why is Natasha's dad Karl Massey, a rich businessman, funding the campaign to rehabilitate his future son-in-law? As Oldham's sponsors dropped away in the face of threats and an online petition signed by more than 70,000 people, Massey told the club he would make up any financial shortfall if they signed Ched. Given that Evans admits watching his friend having sex with an unknown young woman in a hotel room, and then having sex with her himself, is it not a bit weird for Massey to consider him a suitable husband for his precious daughter?

Or maybe Massey loves Natasha so much he can't contemplate that her judgment is flawed. He is keeping a low profile, but I'd like to know more about his thinking when it comes to Ched.

Secondly, football isn't just a big business in the UK; it's central to our culture, something we all grew up with. I spent years as a child with my dad on the terraces at Fulham and both my cousins are lifelong supporters who never miss a game. So I find it extraordinary that since this affair kicked off, there's been a resounding silence from professional players and managers.

No one wants to raise their head above the parapet and talk about setting an example.

Last November, the chairman of the FA, Greg Dyke, described it as "not an important issue" on Newsnight, although this week he issued a statement saying that "it was important" to look at the issue of players' behaviour, adding: "I would encourage the game to consider and discuss this matter and the prospect for future guidelines and codes of conduct."

What a bloody wishy-washy load of flim-flam from my old telly boss Greg, who normally never minces his words. Too little, too late. Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association, tied himself in knots by comparing Ched's campaign to prove his innocence with the plight of Hillsborough survivors - a remark for which he has since apologised. Football deserves better than these clowns.

Evans should take down his website and shut up until his case review is complete. There can't be a pet budgie in the country who doesn't know all about the issues involved now, so the website serves no purpose except to inflame the situation. His "apology" was also a waste of time, delivered too late. He has been released from jail on licence, so his sentence is not complete, and a spot of voluntary work, less shopping and moping about would be appropriate.

Who knows what went on that night in Rhyl, but Evans's public handling of the situation since - and Massey must bear some responsibility for this - has been disastrous.

It's not good enough to say that when footballers have served a sentence for a serious crime they can go straight back into the game with a clean slate. The PFA and FA need to set up strict guidelines about how players can rehabilitate themselves, and inspire the young who regard them as role models.

Yesterday, another convicted criminal returned to his chosen profession. Dress designer John Galliano, convicted for racial abuse in Paris in 2011, unveiled his first collection for Martin Margiela in London.

Galliano - who has since apologised profusely - spent his years after rehab out of the limelight. He has some high-powered supporters, including Anna Wintour.

It will be interesting to see the reaction to his show, and whether the public - as opposed to the fashion luvvies - can forgive and forget.

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