BOSSES at a Wearside League football club insist they still want to sign convicted rapist Ched Evans - despite 18,000 people signing a petition urging them not to.
On Saturday the Echo reported online how Ashbrooke Belford House FC had launched a shock bid to sign the forward, who was released from prison late last year after serving half of a five-year sentence for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in 2011.
An online petition launched on the change.org website in response to the announcement attracted more than 18,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
And many more took to our Facebook page and website to air their view.
The Sunderland-based club – who play seven leagues below the professional football pyramid – say the forward deserves “a second chance” to rebuild his career.
Manager Asa Dobbing and assistant Lee Harrison say that their squad have already given their blessing for the controversial signing.
The management team contacted a national newspaper over a month ago to see if they could help to broker a deal.
And while negotiations with the former Manchester City and Sheffield United striker have yet to take place, the club are hopeful they can bring in the 25-year-old.
Asa Dobbing, who runs Aspect Garage in Ryhope Road, as well as managing Ashbrooke Belford House, who play at Welfare Park in Silksworth, said: “We would give him a chance.
“We’re surprised the petition has got that many signatures, we knew it would be controversial, but we stand by our belief that everyone deserves a second chance. We don’t condone anything like that, but he’s a great player, and we are desperate for a centre forward.
“We would imagine there would be a big turn out at the ground if he played for us.”
But Jean Hatchet, from London, who launched the petition says Evans should not be allowed to play for any football club, no matter what the size, in the future.
She said: “The size of the club is unimportant. The significance of his return to football, whilst still traumatising his victim by refusing to acknowledge his crime, outweighs the needs of your club for a striker. Women should be more important than goals and money.
“Ched Evans carries more than a sponsor’s name on his back. He carries a message that obtaining consent for sex is not important.
“He went to jail for not understanding this. His victim lives a life of ongoing horror. It is wrong that he should be cheered whilst still denying the harm he has and continues to cause her by denying his crime.”
Peter Maguire, chairman of the Wearside League, said: “There has been no contact from the club to the league in relation to this matter. If a registration form was presented to the league we would take a view on it, but until that time it’s just a pie in the sky idea.”
Ashbrooke Belford House are currently 11th in the Wearside League after losing 2-1 to Redcar Athletic on Saturday.