Ched Evans to Oldham latest: League One club set to pull out of move for convicted rapist after developing doubts amid huge backlash

The club were planning to hold a press conference but have since cancelled it

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The Independent Football

Oldham Athletic are considering pulling out of the move for Ched Evans after having been taken aback at the backlash which has been far greater than when they hired a player who caused death by dangerous driving.

The club have cancelled plans to hold a press conference announcing the signing of the convicted rapist, originally planned for today, and are thought to be 50:50 over whether the footballing value they see in signing the 26-year-old is worth the opprobrium it will cause. The uproar over Oldham signing Lee Hughes in 2007, after he had served half of a six-year prison term for causing death by dangerous driving, pales by comparison with the Evans move.

In a further development today, one of Oldham's main sponsors has said it will be "out of the door" if the club sign Evans. Craig Verling, a director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions which sponsors a stand at Boundary Park, said the company would terminate its involvement with the Latics.

The Independent revealed last night that Oldham’s young manager, Lee Johnson, developed grave reservations about the decision to sign Evans. It is thought that he initially went along with the idea but expressed concerns after he was made aware just how toxic the move would be. But by then the club’s owner, businessman Simon Corney, and co-director Barry Owen had made their decision and Johnson was overruled.

Owen, a retired Greater Manchester Police superintendent, is understood to feel that Evans is entitled to play football again having served time in prison. It was he who brokered the move to sign Hughes. The BBC has reported that an Oldham board meeting will be held today and an announcement on Evans made by tomorrow.

Sources close to the club say that Corney, a shrewd businessman, will have taken a pragmatic commercial view that hiring and rehabilitating a player recently valued at £3m is worth the initial adverse publicity.

Corney’s decision to press ahead with the Evans signing has surprised many at the club because the level of outrage when it was first suggested caused them to issue a statement of denial. Oldham. The club were in the top ten at the time. But four consecutive defeats – including a 7-0 hammering at MK Dons and 4-0 home defeat to bottom club Yeovil seems to have contributed to Corney deciding on a need for bold action. The cliub have flirted with relegation to League two for the past two seasons.

It is thought that Oldham have had reassurances that their biggest sponsor – the Sports Direct retail giant run by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley – will not withdraw their £1m backing if Oldham do move ahead and sign Evans.

The Cheshire-based family of Evans’ girlfriend, Natasha Massey, who are behind the campaign protesting his innocence, have been increasingly hopeful that a deal with Oldham would come to fruition for the 26-year-old. Evans is thought to favour stating in North West England and Ms Massey’s father Karl, who runs a jewellery business, is thought to have agreed to provide some financial support to help him get back into football. 

An online petition against Oldham signing Evans was set up yesterday and received more than 5,000 signatures within 90 minutes - a rate of roughly one signature per second. Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor earlier revealed that an unnamed club would hold a news conference regarding Evans today, although he added that the player has yet to be signed. "We've had a number of steps forward and a number of steps back. I'm not going to count my chickens," Taylor told the BBC.