Column: Spireites taking a gamble on controversial, divisive figure Ched Evans
Chesterfield Football Club have taken a huge gamble with what will be one of the most talked about signings of the summer.
Ched Evans, who had a rape conviction quashed earlier this year and will have a retrial in October, is a Chesterfield player.
A more divisive addition to the Spireites ranks you will not find, perhaps ever.
The news was barely a few minutes old and social media was ablaze with fan reaction, from disgust to excitement and everything in between.
The one-year deal, with an option for a second year, put the Spireites in the national sporting headlines.
His off-field situation aside, Evans is a 13-cap Welsh international who was once bought for £3million by Sheffield United.
He scored a phenomenal number of goals for the Blades in his last season at Bramall Lane.
With Lee Novak signing for Charlton, Danny Wilson’s squad was crying out for a proven, prolific frontman.
His arrival is big news for a club whose two previous summer acquisitions were players from non-league.
The only thing Evans has in common with his fellow new boys is that he hasn’t played any League One football lately.
In fact he hasn’t played professional football for over four years – that in itself a remarkable footnote for any football transfer.
How much time will it take to get the 27-year-old match fit, back into the groove of life as a professional Football League player?
Of course he’s likely to ‘do a job’ and find the back of the net but imagine taking a four-year break from your job and spending some of that time locked away from your friends and family, never mind your colleagues.
A period of readjustment might be considered a priority, and most of us don’t go to work in front of thousands of people every week.
Will pre-season provide that readjustment? Will the summer training sessions and a few friendlies grant Evans enough time to get back up to speed before the competitive stuff begins?
And consider this – eight weeks after the first League One game of the season, Evans will be back in court, on trial for rape.
Even if the Welshman has hit his stride, it will be a stuttering start to his stint as a Spireite, to say the least.
Consider, also, the welcome that Evans, and by association his team-mates, will get in the grounds they travel to and from the away supporters.
Make no bones about it, there will be vile chants, abuse and ridicule aimed at the striker and his new club.
There are home supporters who have already made clear they cannot and will not cheer for Evans.
I’ve taken a call from one fan who has asked for a refund on his season ticket, such is his disapproval.
Many others have welcomed the front man’s arrival and can’t wait to see him score goals in a blue shirt.
When Chesterfield say that they have thought long and hard about this signing, it’s reasonable to suggest that the feelings of their own fans was part of that deliberation.
The discussions and conclusions made at the top level of the club’s hierarchy would have been fascinating to behold, for the simple fact that it’s such a complex issue.
It’s a transfer that sparks more what ifs than any other deal Wilson could have secured this summer.
It’s the what ifs that make it such a risk.
Evans is a controversial figure and the outcome of his pending retrial could have consequences for the club.
The club’s reputation, dressing room morale and the balance of their squad are now inextricably linked with court proceedings.
Is this a risk worth taking?
The club evidently feels so.
They obviously believe the media circus and the splitting of the fanbase opinion are factors they can deal with.
Of all the managers who could have signed Evans, Wilson is perhaps best placed, having managed him at Sheffield United and reportedly visited the striker in prison.
This is as much a risk for Wilson as it is for Chesterfield Football Club and he doesn’t come across as the kind of man to gamble for the sake of it – he will have considered it in great depth.
Regardless of the fiery debate that will undoubtedly burn from now until the day Evans’ off-field situation is resolved, he is now a Spireite.
He and everyone else connected to the club will have to grow some pretty thick skin to cope with what is sure to be thrown their way.