The Iron Liddy Column

Raising the curtain on corruption in football - A review of Patrick Marber's new play 'The Red Lion'

As you may or may not have gleaned, Iain has asked me to commit to a regular weekly column to appear on Wednesdays. I have agreed with a degree of trepidation because I’m not a sports journalist or a professional writer, just a claret and blue blogger with West Ham in my heart. I know that I’m prone to epic articles and getting bogged down in detail but I hope that as my confidence and experience grows they will become more succinct, not to mention more quickly produced!

As the rest of Iain’s squad of authors are eminently more qualified than I am to analyse the tactics of the game and the merits of players I have decided to focus on the cultural and social side of West Ham and football in general, with some current football affairs thrown in for good measure. My articles won’t be to everyone’s taste but I hope you’ll appreciate that they’ve been produced with the maximum of effort and the best of intentions to inform and entertain you.

Last week I was invited by my former schoolmate and fellow Hammer Rich to see Patrick Marber’s new play The Red Lion at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank; a drama set within a cash-strapped non-League football club. Rich is already a fan of Marber’s work, having previously seen his acclaimed plays Dealer’s Choice and Closer, but as I was unfamiliar with his oeuvre I decided to do a bit of background reading beforehand.

I discovered that despite his success as a playwright and comic writer in the 1990s (his work on The Day Today and with Steve Coogan on the Alan Partridge shows preceded a move into high-end theatre) Marber had suffered an extreme case of writer’s block and had almost given up on writing completely after failing to produce anything for several years. During this protracted fallow period Marber moved out of London to rural Sussex with his wife and children. Unfortunately the peace and isolation of the countryside only served to compound his creative block and he was in real danger of a permanent place on the literary subs bench. To distract himself from his frustration he decided to take his son to The Dripping Pan to watch Lewes FC, although he is actually an Arsenal fan. It proved to be a turning point for both Marber and the struggling football club.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2010 Marber describes how he reconnected with the essence of the beautiful game and the effect it had on his life and the future of the club:

“We came to our first game at the beginning of last season and I just had the best time I’d had at a football match for years, in terms of a very pure footballing experience.

“Obviously, I’d enjoyed greatly supporting Arsenal for years and still do but in terms of the game it just reawakened my love, reminded me why as a kid I’d loved watching and playing it.

“And being close to the pitch: I’d forgotten what it was like to be close, and to hear the players and the ref and the linesman, and feel the atmosphere in a completely different way, because I realised that sitting at the Emirates Stadium you experience the atmosphere by proxy, through the crowd, because you’re one of them, whereas here you’re kind of in it.

“So I thought: ‘Great, we’re going to carry on coming, we’re going to support Lewes FC as well as Arsenal, this is a good thing.’ I went on the website to find out more about the club I was now going to support and found out it was in dire peril. It owed HM Revenue & Customs about a hundred grand at that point and there were messages on the website from the owners saying please contact us if you can help. Please contact Steve Ibbitson the manager if you can help.

“My first thought was I could afford to donate a bit of money to the club: a couple of grand or something, if that would be of help, so I phoned Steve Ibbitson and said: ‘Look, I’m just a bloke who’s started supporting your club and I don’t want to see them go under and I do know a few people with some money who might be able to help.’

“We had a three-hour cup of tea on a very rainy day and he took the time and had the courtesy to explain to a complete stranger how the club works and how they got in this financial strait. At that time it looked in serious shit, it was going to go under.

“Once I’d met with Ibbo I was in for life. There was nothing I could do. This is a man who loves his club and he’d been working around the clock, had given his own money to the club, wasn’t being paid and was just doing it for love. And I thought: ‘I want to get involved with this man, with this club. I’m in.’ I just couldn’t stand aside. I went home to my wife and said: ‘I have some bad news.’”

Marber’s enthusiasm for non-League Lewes was to help add their name to the growing legion of community-owned clubs. He threw himself into an ambassadorial role, persuading his showbiz friends and local Lewes people to join him in investing in the club. As a result, in their 125th year, the Rooks swerved bankruptcy to become Lewes Community Football Club.

Marber went on to say:

“We need plumbers, we need electricians – we certainly need more supporters – and we need people to come and make sandwiches, we need sponsorship, we need more stewards: the whole club is a volunteer club. This could be a disastrous experiment and go tits up, and just be a silly dream, or it could work fabulously, and become a model for other clubs to follow, just as we’ve followed AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester.”

At the time of his interview in 2010 Marber revealed that his creative juices had thankfully started to flow again and that he was working on two new screenplays, while simultaneously helping to manage the football club. He insisted then that his foray into club management was not background for a prospective drama.

“There’s a fabulous play to be written about this takeover. I could write it tomorrow. It’s not research but there’s been fantastic material, as you can imagine when there are six blokes who don’t really know each other at the beginning, get together to take over a football club and have to negotiate with the owners. It’s very rich. But I’m not going to write about it. It’s too good.”

True to his word he didn’t go on to write the story of Lewes’ takeover but he was clearly inspired by his rekindled passion for non-League football and the result is his latest play The Red Lion, which opened to very good reviews earlier this month.

Armed with this background information I hopped on the Fenchurch Street line with Rich last Tuesday, keen to see how the story of a small time semi-pro football club would translate to the stage. The only other staged football events I’ve seen before have been several Hammers Heroes shows and a West Ham fans forum, where the audience has always been predominantly male. I fully expected the theme of the play to attract a similar gender bias but could immediately see that Marber’s reputation as a playwright has transcended the subject matter to attract a demographic more typical to the National Theatre than a football stadium.

The first thing we noticed as we took our seats in the stalls was the smell. The set designer Anthony Ward has cleverly used the distinctive odour of horse liniment to instantly evoke the musty, fetid atmosphere which has pervaded men’s football changing rooms for generations. Not that I’m in the habit of frequenting such places you understand but I’ve stood and shivered outside enough of them to be immediately transported back to a cold wet side line at the slightest whiff of white horse oil. I was sure that I could also detect undertones of sweat and damp mud but that might have just been the realism of Ward’s dank and dilapidated dressing room where the story unfolds.

The play is a chamber piece populated by three characters instantly recognisable by football fans and they’ve been very well cast.

Peter Wight’s aging and overweight Yates is a faded, gently paternal figure whose former status as the club’s star player has been gradually eroded by a humiliating spell as their manager and personal tragedy. Despite dedicating his life and soul to the club, he now cuts a lonely and rather sad figure as the lowly kit man, comforted only by his match day rituals and memories; making his nickname ‘Lege’ as a former club legend all the more poignant.

By contrast Daniel Mays plays the vain and strutting manager Jimmy Kidd, whose inflated view of himself as some kind of non-League Jose Mourinho is matched only by the size of his ruthless ambition. Despite his bravado Kidd’s insecurities and desperation in the face of his crumbling marriage and mounting personal debts are clearly visible just below the surface.

Calvin Demba is equally convincing as rising football star Jordan, with a physique that wouldn’t look out of place on any Premier League pitch. He perfectly captures the paradox of self-conscious lack of confidence and defiant arrogance that comes at the cusp of manhood. His character is both morally idealistic and corruptible and we see him wage an internal war influenced by both Yates and Kidd.

As the play opens Yates and Kidd seem to have a difficult and strained relationship but as it progresses it’s obvious that there’s also an underlying affection and respect. Their relationship is tested in full as the The Red Lion’s winning streak is jeopardised when a rival club poaches their best player and Kidd is under pressure from the board. Potential salvation appears in the shape of Jordan, a young player with exceptional promise, and his arrival reignites both men’s passion for the game. It hits Kidd like a drug as he envisions not only glory and success for himself and the team but also a way out of his personal problems. Yates’ response is much gentler and his fatherly concern for the young player is driven by his dream of reviving the spirit of the club’s glory days before they were corrupted by the unscrupulous ethics of Kidd. Over the course of the next three games we see the two older characters battling for control of this boy’s future and, ultimately, their own. Kidd employs Machiavellian tactics to achieve his aims while Yates relies on his word of honour. What neither of them realise is that Jordan is harbouring a secret and troubled past which could wreck the future of all three of them.

At this point of the play I couldn’t help but be reminded of our own wayward and damaged player of recent times, Ravel Morrison, and I felt a new level of sympathy and understanding of the pressures these young players face from diametrically opposed controlling influences.

The first half of the play begins fairly slowly and by the interval it was still difficult to see where it was going. Inevitably Rich and I discussed our views on what we’d seen thus far and I was surprised to learn that he thought there were homoerotic undertones and that Yates’ looks of longing at Jordan were sexually charged. I didn’t get that at all and I thought his yearning was caused by his romantic idealism of the game and a longing to relive his glory days vicariously through the boy. It made me realise that we live in a culture where the sight of an aging, overweight man massaging the lithe muscular body of a young boy in a sporting context can still cause discomfiture among some men and I wondered if that was a typical response? The second half of the play is much more dramatically charged and the tension between the three characters builds, with tragic results.

While I couldn’t fault the authenticity of the performances I found Marber’s plot fairly predictable, to the point of being hackneyed in places and the best plot twist is revealed too early, which impacts on the tension. It is a character driven play and the dialogue sounds genuine to the football fans’s ear. Mays’ intense and manic performance is mesmerising and the perfect foil to Wight’s finely nuanced delivery. It’s clear that Marber is writing about a world he knows intimately and his play is imbued with his passion for the beautiful game. A noticeable leitmotif is the absence of father figures and the pain and scars that the characters bear because of difficult and abusive father/son relationships.

I noticed that some of the audience found the script comical in places but realised that I didn’t share their mirth. I suspect that had something to do with the fact that I’m so deeply inured in the frankly sometimes ridiculous drama of football and that I’m immune to the comedy of its discourse.

During an interview Daniel Mays was asked if non-football fans would relate to the play and he replied:

“Absolutely. I can’t stress that enough. Football is just the gateway. When you get into the second act, it really becomes about these three individual men and the very universal themes of betrayal, loss and ambition. We see how co-dependent they are and how much vulnerability they have. Patrick [Marber] is a master at shining a light on certain aspects of ourselves that we probably wouldn’t share. It’s about how men can wound or heal each other – I find it a profoundly moving and poignant piece.”

Whilst I agree with him on one level I also believe that football fans will find the play more rewarding than those who have no love for the sport. Everybody knows that football is a never ending source for moral debate and this can be used as a metaphor for life. However, I believe that only those who truly love the game are really able to understand its hold over us. These characters speak more deeply to us than to those who are not fans and I think perhaps only we will truly appreciate Marber’s double layer of meaning.

Initially I wondered at Marber’s choice of name for his team and the title of the play, it seemed more redolent of a pub side than a semi-professional club. At the play’s conclusion I realised that the name and heraldic crest is meant to represent Britain. Our glory days are past, our board have sold all our assets to the highest bidder and we are now a feeder club in a morally corrupt system.

Marber’s timing is perfect, as FIFA implodes amid corruption claims this play shows that bribery, exploitation and dishonesty have now reached grass roots and non-League football. It’s a timely reminder that something needs to be done before football reaches the same tragic fate as one of his characters. I fear it could be too late.

Ultimately the essence of the play is a clash between those who pursue an activity because of a belief in its inherent worth and those who regard it simply as a means to an end. Marber doesn’t make the moral judgement, he leaves that to us.

The play isn’t without its faults but the final verdict of two West Ham fans at the end of the evening is that we would recommend it for an entertaining and discussion provoking night out.

The Red Lion is showing at the National Theatre until 30th September

Talking Point

Football Mad: The story of mental illness and suicide in the beautiful game

When I look back at the past two seasons as a West Ham fan in years to come sadly the word that will define them for me will be ‘abuse.’ I feel as though my senses have been battered by an incessant stream of vitriol aimed at our owners; our manager; some of our players, one in particular; and at fellow fans.

I looked at Carlton Cole’s face as he sat on the sofa on Goals on Sunday last weekend and I saw a very unhappy man. His mouth was smiling but his eyes weren’t; his time at West Ham has extinguished some of the spark in of one of the sweetest, funniest men in the game. Football’s Mr Nice Guy was forced to sit there and admit that he has been fined £40,000 for losing his temper and retaliating in kind to an abusive tweet from an opposition fan. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although he is a favourite among many West Ham fans he has also had to endure constant criticism and abuse from other factions of our fan base and beyond. You really hope that the love that he receives from his supporters helps to cushion the pain of the virtual blows that he’s subjected to on social media; a subject which brings me on to our most vilified player in the past couple of years, Kevin Nolan.

In his recent interview with Dave Evans in the Newham Recorder Kevin said:

“It has been a tough couple of months ….. people talking about me and saying things about me, it has been hard, I am not going to deny it, but the only thing I have ever known is playing football. That is the only thing I can do now. I have got nothing to prove to anyone. I have done a lot in my career and a lot of what has been said has been unfair, but that’s life I suppose.”

Anybody who regularly follows West Ham’s fortunes will know that Kevin Nolan’s response to the vicious and personal abuse he has been subjected to for months on end is an understatement. For somebody not in the public eye it’s difficult to comprehend what it must be like to be exposed to a daily barrage of abusive and crass criticism. As a woman I also feel for his wife and try to imagine how upset I would be at having to watch my husband endure such hatred and venom simply for trying to do his job; not to mention the stress of trying to ensure that it didn’t reach the ears and eyes of my children.

Nolan went on to say:

“I’ve come to the stage in my career with all the negativity surrounding me and I have just taken it on the chin. It’s water off a duck’s back for me. Sometimes it hurts of course, but I’ve got a fantastic family, fantastic support system and not just with family and friends but also within the club.”

So Kevin is still smiling and still coping, at least he seems to be. Anyway, isn’t he fair game for all the critics and abusers given his dream job and huge salary? Maybe, maybe not. A popular consensus seems to be that professional footballers, as well as other people in the public eye, are exempt from the consideration afforded to ‘regular’ people. It’s as if a proportion of society considers that their wealth and celebrity makes them somehow immune from the frailties of the human condition and that they can either just absorb or repel any abuse without it affecting their mental and physical wellbeing.

As the cruelty and contempt that they have had to tolerate reaches its height both Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan have also arrived at a stage in their careers as professional footballers where they need to take stock and ask themselves the question “what next?” It sounds like a lovely problem to have doesn’t it? All that money in the bank, not too many medals granted, but scrapbooks filled with memories of a job that most people can only dream of, what have they got to worry about? In fact they are probably at a very vulnerable stage of their lives and you can only hope that they have the mental strength and support networks that will enable them to navigate it successfully as they continue to deflect the scorn and bile that is heaped upon them every day.

For the majority of these relatively still young men football has been the only way of life that they’ve known since they were children; it defines them as human beings and shapes their self-worth and self-identity. When they come to the end of their footballing career they are in danger of losing so much more than a big income and the chance to play football in front of thousands of people. Unfortunately no amount of money, fame or privilege can protect mentally vulnerable people from the irrationality and despair of depression and mental illness; conditions which are exacerbated by external circumstances and the stresses of abuse and criticism.

A few weeks ago Clarke Carlisle, the former Burnley and QPR defender and one-time Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, left hospital following his second suicide attempt.

He told The Sun newspaper that he had been left severely depressed by the end of his football career, financial problems and the loss of a TV punditry role. Seeing death as the only escape from his despair Carlisle stepped in front of a lorry on the A64 on the 22nd of December and hoped for oblivion. As it turned out he survived the impact and was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary suffering from cuts, bruises, internal bleeding, a broken rib and shattered left knee. On Christmas Day 2014 he was admitted as an in-patient to a psychiatric unit in Harrogate before his release in January this year.

Carlisle’s battle with depression has been well documented in the media and in 2013 he made a poignant semi-autobiographical documentary for BBC3 called ‘Football’s Suicide Secret’; which told the story of his final season before retirement – a season which, like much of his playing career, was marked by periodic bouts of depression. His first suicide attempt came at the age of 21, just as his team Queens Park Rangers had been promoted to the Premier League. Here was a young professional footballer apparently approaching the zenith of his career and about to enjoy the prestige, accolades and wealth that entails, when he decided to take his own life with a handful of pills on a shabby park bench. In an article that Carlisle wrote for the BBC in 2013 he said:

“Everyone else thought I’d made it, that I had the dream life. And I did. I was a 21-year-old professional footballer for QPR and the England Under-21s. I had a nice flat, a nice car and a loving family. My irrational mind had made me think suicide was a rational action though. So I went to a park near my home in Acton armed with lots of painkillers and thought “I’m going to take all these pills and kill myself, because I’m no use to anyone”. I’d just suffered a severe knee injury and had convinced myself that without football people would see me for what I really was, which was nothing. I sat on a bench in that park, washed the pills down with a can of beer, and waited for it to happen. In the end I was incredibly lucky, because my girlfriend found me and I was rushed to hospital in time to have my stomach pumped. I survived and didn’t tell another soul about the incident for years and didn’t ask for any help. I just locked this suicide attempt away in Pandora’s Box.”

The film also highlighted the tragic and shocking death of former Premier League and Welsh international player Gary Speed. Despite his glittering playing career and his recent appointment as Manager of the Wales team Speed’s wife Louise found his lifeless body hanging in the garage of their luxury home in November 2011. At the inquest into his death the coroner reached a narrative verdict but stated that cause of death was by “self suspension.”

On the morning of his death he had appeared full of smiles as a guest on the BBC One TV programme Football Focus, with presenter Dan Walker later describing 42 year old Speed as being in "fine form.” After the programme finished Speed joined former Newcastle United team-mate and friend Alan Shearer to watch their old club play against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Although he never discussed any possible mental health issues with anyone, he had told Shearer that the pressure of management had put some strain on his marriage and that he and Louise had argued the night before his death. Four days before he hanged himself he had also texted Louise about the possibility of suicide, but he dismissed such an action because of the importance of his wife and two children. At the inquest his mother Carole Speed described him as a “glass half-empty person.”

During his documentary Clarke Carlisle spoke to Speed’s sister Lesley and she said that if somebody had asked her whether Gary was suffering from depression before that, she would have said absolutely not. She went on to say:

“He hid it from us and it stopped him asking for help ….. we were just so sad that we couldn’t help him through….. that’s a huge regret that I didn’t get him to one side and say ‘is everything alright?’”

Carlisle commented:

“I know only too well that most depressives are great actors who can put on a different persona, a facade. What you need to be able to do is open up, yet the cruelty of the illness is that it won’t let you.”

Speed’s sister Lesley also made the telling point that now that she knows more about the condition she knows that people suffering from depression are not just fighting an illness but also dealing with the stigma that comes with it. During a short interview for the film, Aidy Boothroyd, Carlisle’s manager at Northampton, reinforced the view that depression and mental illness are not something that you admit to in professional football. He said that he had tried to protect his player by telling the team and the press that Carlisle was suffering from flu when depression had forced him to miss work.

Carlisle spoke to other young footballers about their experiences with depression, including Simon Jordan, Lee Hendrie and Leon McKenzie and he tried to show that depression, just like a physical illness, can strike even those who have found their dream jobs and adulation. While it may not always be helpful to view depression as something triggered by circumstances, there is no doubt that a footballer’s career cycle contains plenty of triggers. Carlisle investigated the effect of that first rejection with a visit to an academy full of young players who hadn’t begun to consider that they might not hit the big time; and also looked at how injuries and defeats can drag a player down and what awaits them after retirement.

As my research continued I was shocked at the prevalence of suicide and attempted suicide within the professional game. No doubt most football fans are aware of the tragic case of Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first million pound black footballer and the first professional footballer in Britain to openly ‘come out’ and admit he was gay. His courage drew many admirers among the wider audience, but some observers said it was less appreciated in parts of the football world. He suffered both homophobic and racist abuse during his time as a player, with even his own manager, Brian Clough, labelling him “a bloody poof” His personal torment took its toll professionally and his promising football career had already nose-dived by the time he came out in 1990. Fashanu embarked on a new career coaching the US football team Maryland Mania but in 1998 he fled back to England amid allegations of sexual abuse by a 17 year old youth. On the morning of 3rd May he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage he had broken into in Shoreditch, London, he was 37. Fashanu’s suicide note denied the charges, claiming that the act was consensual and that he was being blackmailed by his accuser.

Whatever the truth of those allegations, Justin’s suicide was a culmination of a lifetime of rejection. That rejection began when he was given up by his parents as a child and placed in a Barnardo’s Children’s Home. It was compounded by the racist jibes he suffered on the football pitch, and by the homophobic abuse inflicted on him at Nottingham Forest by his manager Brian Clough.

A more recent high profile case is that of the former national German goalkeeper Robert Enke. On 10th November 2009 32 year old Enke committed suicide when he stood in front of a regional express train at a level crossing. In this highly emotive video Robert’s widow Teresa Enke describes how the pressure of being a professional footballer contributed to Robert’s depression and death. She says:

“Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person, you shouldn’t just reduce them to a performance. It’s nice if he performs well but you should respect that people make mistakes. I wish there was more understanding of [being] a professional sports person.”

Sadly self-awareness is no guarantee of protection from the effects of mental illness. Another former German professional footballer committed suicide in July 2014 after a long battle with depression. Andreas Biermann, who started his career at Hertha Berlin, took his own life after struggling against the illness for five years. The 33-year-old last played for FSV Spandauer Kickers, based in Berlin and he had published a book called ‘Depression: Red Card’ where he discussed his struggle. Biermann had initially revealed that he was suffering from the illness after the death of Robert Enke and he had previously tried to take his own life on three occasions.

You might be forgiven for thinking that suicide within professional football is a relatively modern phenomenon due to media pressure and the added stress from the abuse inflicted by fans via social media. You may also think that suicide has never touched West Ham. Sadly neither is true.

This list of professional and ex-professional footballers and managers who felt driven to take their own lives makes very sad and shocking reading. Footballers who committed suicide

Among them you will find Syd King, Thames Ironworks’ and West Ham’s star full back from 1899 – 1903; who went on to become West Ham’s manager, a position he held for 30 years from 1902 until 1932.

Syd King was considered one of the best full backs in the Southern League and he recorded 16 appearances in Thames Ironworks’ first season in the Southern League Division One in 1899, also making seven appearances in the FA Cup that year, an impressive run that ended in a 1-2 home defeat against arch-rivals Millwall Athletic. In 1900 he was retained as a member of the squad after the club’s transition to West Ham United, and continued to play for them until 1903, recording 59 league and 7 FA Cup appearances in total.

At the start of his last season as a player he was appointed club secretary, although he was already considered to be a ‘manager’ of the club. His tenure at West Ham included our election to the football league in 1919 and in 1923 he took West Ham to the FA Cup Final for the first time, losing to Bolton Wanderers but also assuring our place in the top division finishing as Division Two runners up. An edition of the local newspaper East Ham Echo proclaimed in 1923 that:

“Syd King is West Ham and West Ham is Syd King.”

Following promotion King implemented a period of consolidation for West Ham in the First Division, the highlight of which was the 1926-1927 season when West Ham finished in 6th place in Division One. This performance was not equalled by the Hammers until the 1958-1959 season during Ted Fenton’s tenure. This consistency was partly made possible when King signed players who went on to become West Ham legends and record holders, as well as England internationals, including Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton and Vic Watson.

Syd King was appointed a shareholder of West Ham United in 1931 but the team was relegated in the 1931-32 season back to Division Two. On 5th November 1932 West Ham lost their ninth game of the next season, against Bradford Park Avenue, and at the same day’s board meeting, according to one board member, during the discussion of the team King was “drunk and insubordinate.” It was no secret that King ‘liked a drink’ but he had already appeased the board many times over the issue. On the following day they announced that:

“It was unanimously decided that until further notice C. Paynter be given sole control of players and that E. S. King be notified accordingly.”

It was also suggested by the board, but never confirmed, that King had been syphoning off West Ham funds for himself. He was suspended for three months without pay and also banned from entering the Boleyn Ground. Following a board meeting on 3rd January 1933 his contract was terminated permanently, and he was given an ex-gratia payment of £3 a week.

Although comparatively rich for an ex-player working in football, King’s reputation and career were in tatters. Within a month of the sacking he sadly committed suicide by drinking alcohol mixed with a corrosive liquid. The inquest into his death declared that he had taken his life ‘while of unsound mind’, and had been suffering from persecution delusions. According to his son his depression had begun when West Ham were relegated in the summer of 1932, and that his paranoia had followed on from that.

In his book ‘At Home With The Hammers’ (1960) Ted Fenton, West Ham United player (1932-46) and manager (1950-61) wrote:

“The boss at West Ham was Syd King, an outsize, larger-than-life character with close-cropped grey hair and a flowing moustache. He was a personality plus man, a man with flair. Awe struck, I would tip-toe past his office but invariably he would spot me. “Boy,” he would shout. “Get me two bottles of Bass.” Down to the Boleyn pub on the corner I would go on my errand and when I got back to the office Syd King would flip me a two-shilling piece for my trouble."

Isn’t it sad and unthinkable that a man with such a big personality and who had achieved so much at West Ham felt compelled to take his own life when he lost the support of the board and consequently his position? It really highlights the fact that nobody is immune from depression, even those with long and successful careers.

Given the stigma that often comes with mental illness, it’s perhaps no surprise that footballers and managers who suffer from depression often do their utmost to hide it instead of asking for help; and there are undoubtedly current and former professional players and managers still suffering in silence today.

In 2013 Football Association chairman David Bernstein admitted that the issue of mental illness in the sport has been “badly neglected in the past.” He said:

“This is not something that’s been high on my agenda – maybe it should have been higher.”

A spokesman insisted that the FA regards the issue as "vitally important” and Scott Field, the FA’s head of media relations, said:

“The mental well-being of players, managers and indeed all participants in football is vitally important to the FA, from grassroots to the professional game.”

He said that the FA had helped to produce a handbook for professional players tackling the subject of mental illness, as well as organising awareness workshops for coaches in 2011. The FA has also provided financial backing to the Sporting Chance Clinic, which treats sportsmen with behavioural problems.

Let’s hope that they’re taking it as seriously as they say. The latest suicide statistics reveal a disproportionate rise in the number of male suicides. In the UK, the male suicide rate is approximately three and a half times higher than the female suicide rate and the highest rate of male suicide in the UK is in the 40-44 age group.

The circumstances behind the depression and suicides of these professional footballers and managers are as varied as their careers but the one thing they all have in common is that their status within the professional game didn’t protect them from their mental torment; they were just human beings with the same vulnerabilities as the man on the street. In fact they may be more vulnerable than the average man on the street. FIFPro, the World Footballers’ Association, conducted an international study into the extent of Mental Illness in Professional Football More than 300 current and former professional players and six national unions participated. The first paragraph of the report’s conclusion states:

“The results of our study show that mental illness seems to occur among former professional footballers more often than in current players and more often than in other populations. Consequently, mental illness among former professional footballers cannot be underestimated and should be a subject of interest for all stakeholders in football. Attention to career planning in an early stage of a football career might significantly help to prepare the post-sport life period and to avoid potential problems after retirement (Alfermann 2007).”

If you’ve reached the end of this article then you’re obviously a thinking West Ham fan and probably not prone to outbursts of personal abuse where only professional criticism is required. You’re probably also already cognisant of the issues surrounding depression and mental illness and understand the fragilities of all human beings, including professional footballers, and how unwarranted and spiteful personal attacks on a player or manager could contribute into pushing a vulnerable person over the edge. The point I’m trying to make probably won’t reach those who could benefit from it the most. Those who won’t read have no advantage over those who can’t; so there’s little hope of educating either.

I’m not suggesting that professional footballers and managers should be wrapped in cotton wool and that they shouldn’t have to bear professional criticism but I wish all football fans would stop to think of the words of German goalkeeper Robert Enke’s widow the next time that they feel compelled to write an abusive comment and ask themselves if it’s really necessary or fair and to consider the impact it could have on a mentally vulnerable person struggling to cope with a barrage of abuse.

“Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person, you shouldn’t just reduce them to a performance. It’s nice if he performs well but you should respect that people make mistakes. I wish there was more understanding of [being] a professional sports person.”

Book Review

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Williams: A Valediction to The Boleyn

When Iain emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would like to review Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky: A Farewell to Upton Park I was both flattered and nervous. I haven’t been asked to write a book review since I was in my Headmistress’s Good Readers Club when I was 8. I said yes straight away as I’m already a fan of Brian’s writing and I anticipated a funny, clever and interesting read. I wasn’t disappointed, it was such a good read that I finished it in a day; my only hope now is that I can do it justice.

I suppose the first thing that a prospective reader might want to know is which literary genre this book falls under. To be honest it could easily be categorised as a tragicomedy, a memoir or even a history of sport. The one category I wasn’t expecting was romance.

Nearly Reach the Sky is more than just a collection of one West Ham fan’s musings on his life as a football supporter; it is a billet doux, a letter to his love of more than 50 years. It’s an explanation of his feelings for his club, which moves through the widest range of emotions – devotion, disappointment, hope and ambition, joy and elation, grief and anger, humour, impatience, self-reproach and resignation. They’re all there.

It is also a valediction. A claret and blue thread has been a part of the fabric of Brian’s life since 1964 and as he weaves and embroiders his personal love story of West Ham United it becomes apparent that a snag has appeared in the cloth. Throughout the book there is the stark realisation that the club is on the verge of leaving the ground that has been its physical and spiritual home for more than 100 years. Very soon that small tear will become a gaping hole and it’s clear that a part of the author’s heart will be ripped away forever.

Ultimately this is a paean to West Ham United but the other love of Brian’s life, his wife Di, also appears regularly in the book, together with her East End family. He has obviously enjoyed a harmonious, if polygamous, relationship with his two amours. Even so, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t shocked and a little horrified to read of Brian’s first ménage à trois. In fact it wasn’t a ménage à trois at all but a foursome! West Ham may have easily seen off other women in Brian’s life, including the girl who distracted him from Tonka’s performance on the penalty spot in the 80s and the lissome 17 year old Sharon and her hotpants; but the admission that I read in chapter 9 is nothing short of scandalous. Brian is now full of contrition and guilt for playing away and fortunately for him Di is obviously a very forgiving woman. I’m not sure that fellow West Ham fans will let him off quite so lightly and if I were Di I’d keep him on a very short leash. Despite his repentance he’s still singing love songs to other ‘birds’ to this day, and right under the nose of his true love too!

Not being born within the sound of Bow Bells has obviously caused our hero some consternation in life and he makes no secret of his delight that Cupid’s arrow landed smack bang in the middle of Beverley Road in East Ham. Here we meet Brian’s future in-laws, including the inimitable Sid, who is possibly the man originally responsible for the term ‘the elephant in the room.’ Fortunately for Brian he’d already lost his heart many years before to the aptly nicknamed ‘Ticker’ when he scored twice in the 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, so his claret and blue credentials stood up to Sid’s suspicious scrutiny. Having passed the test with flying West Ham colours he was welcomed into the bosom of Di’s family as an honorary East Ender. He had found his dream woman who not only shared his love for West Ham but also lived just streets away from his beloved Boleyn. Love blossomed and it was clear that it was going to be a match made in heaven when their marriage was given the personal blessing of John Lyall.

If you are beginning to worry that Brian has written some kind of Mills & Boon novel or worse, Sixty-Four Shades of Claret and Blue, fear not! As a member of the fairer sex I’m perhaps more inclined to focus on the more human elements of this story but there are more than enough match reports and reminiscences of seminal goals, games, fouls and finals to dissuade the average woman from reading it. Equally, if you are one of our more youthful West Ham fans and you think that this is a tome that would appeal only to the more decrepit members of our fan base who like to bang on about how much better it all was in their day, you would be wrong. Whilst this is a very nostalgic collection of anecdotes the author has seamlessly woven stories of past glories and defeats with accounts of recent players and games to create a narrative that every West Ham fan will be able to place themselves in at some point and say “I was there.”

Brian is obviously not a fan of the linear approach, this is not one long hoof from 1964 to the present day. Instead he weaves nimbly in and out of the decades, moving from one story to another and back again with a clever little one-two and some nifty back passes to yesteryear without ever losing his reader along the way. His story is inevitably populated with all the West Ham icons, heroes and villains that we all know and love … or hate; but we are also introduced to some of the people who make up the true heart of West Ham United ….. the fans. It’s these people that elevate this tale from being ‘just another West Ham book.’ Of course you’ll be expecting to read of Brian’s adulation of Billy Bonds and even the emotional moment when a Wolves fan broke ranks during the wreath laying ceremony for the late, great Bobby Moore. But the real pleasure of this book is being able to identify with the joy and pain of Brian’s West Ham supporting family, friends, colleagues and passing acquaintances. Their stories are as much a part of our club’s history as yours are and they all deserve to be recorded alongside the oft told tales of the people on the pitch.

This is essentially a very funny book but, like all West Ham fans, Brian also has a talent for pathos and there is an ever present poignancy between the lines of humour. His anecdotes evoke the whole gamut of emotions and I laughed out loud and shed some tears several times before I turned the final page. As I wiped away the last tear and the final smile faded from my lips I was left feeling proud and grateful. Proud because I was born a Hammer and grateful that all the wonderful characters in Brian’s book are my kith and kin. I realised that I am also a part of the same story, we all are. That sense of belonging is priceless and I can’t help but feel that something will be lost when the doors of The Boleyn are finally closed for the last time. No matter how positive any West Ham fan feels about our impending move, I challenge them to read this witty but poignant book without feeling wistful and nostalgic for a time that will never come again.

For the benefit of any newcomers to the site Brian Williams has supported West Ham United for the past 50 years and for the last 25 of those years he has been a journalist for The Guardian newspaper. He also writes a regular Tuesday column for West Ham Till I Die. This is his first book.

You can order a copy of Brian’s book NEARLY REACH THE SKY from…

Biteback Publishing for £8.99 in paperback (Use promotional code WESTHAMBW)

Biteback Publishing for £9.99 as an eBook

Amazon for £12.99 in paperback

Amazon Kindle for £10 as an eBook

Parish Notice

Were you at the Burnley game? You may be able to help a fellow West Ham fan.


I had a call from a friend last night to ask me to reach out for help from our fellow West Ham fans. He and his daughter were at the Burnley game on Saturday and unfortunately when they were celebrating our first goal his daughter’s white iPhone 6 flew out of her pocket. They only realised that it had been lost at the end of the game and subsequently found out that a young lad had picked it up and was waving it at the crowd trying to find out who the owner was. It wasn’t handed in to the stewards so they’re hoping that whoever found it will hand it in to the club but if you could share this with anybody that you know who went to the game on Saturday it would be very helpful.

They were sitting centrally 3 rows from the front. As we all know it’s not just the price of a replacement phone at stake but all the photos, contacts and other bits and pieces of our life that we entrust to our mobile devices. If you could share this on any other West Ham forum that you frequent and let me know if you have any information we’d be very grateful.

Lids x

Talking Point

Crime and Punishment: Should a convicted rapist be allowed to resume his career as a professional footballer?

Convicted rapist and former Sheffield United and Wales international striker Ched Evans was released from prison at 5:00 am today after serving just half of his 5 year prison sentence. The case has sparked a media furore and furious public debate on whether Evans should be allowed to return to his privileged position as a professional footballer.

Evans was jailed in 2012 for raping a 19 year old woman. The woman had gone back to a north Wales hotel with Clayton McDonald, a friend of Evans and fellow footballer. At the time she was drunk, so drunk that she could barely stand. McDonald texted Evans to tell him that he had ‘got a bird’ and Evans joined them at the hotel. After McDonald had sex with the incapacitated teenager Evans also took advantage of her vulnerable state and had non-consensual sex with her while other friends of Evans attempted to film the act through the window of the ground floor hotel room. The footballers left hours before she regained consciousness; Evans via the fire exit.

Both men were subsequently charged with rape. McDonald was acquitted, presumably the jury reasoned that agreeing to go to his hotel room was some form of consent, despite the fact that she was not in control of her faculties. Evans was convicted of rape and sentenced to a 5 year prison sentence. During his trial the jury heard that Evans told police:

“We could have had any girl we wanted in that nightclub. We were drinking, having fun there. It’s not uncommon we pick up girls ….. Clayton’s an attractive guy. We are footballers, that’s how it is. Footballers are rich, they have got money, that’s what the girls like.”

Since his conviction Evans has continued to protest his innocence, claiming that the act was consensual. Consequently he has never expressed any remorse or regret for the young woman’s ordeal. His girlfriend has stood by him, claiming that the only thing he is guilty of is cheating on her. Her millionaire father has bank rolled a website proclaiming Evans’ innocence, as well as a legal team including a specialist appeals barrister and a firm of private investigators. Despite their efforts judges have refused to give leave to appeal and Evans is now taking his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

In the meantime his victim has suffered a two and a half year internet hate campaign which has reached a new crescendo in the weeks leading up to his release from prison. She has been illegally named on social media, with a number of people being prosecuted for the crime. As a result she has been forced to leave her home town and to change her identity. So as Evans returns to the security of his family his victim has been forced into exile.

At the time of his conviction in April 2012 Sheffield United did not sack Evans but one month later they said that they would not be renewing his contract. However, it has been reported that they continued to pay Evans £20,000 week following his conviction and imprisonment until his contract expired, including the one month’s salary players are contractually entitled to if they have not secured a contract with another club.

Since then the club have maintained contact with him and the Blades’ Manager, Nigel Clough, and the club’s co-chairman, Kevin McCabe, have recently been to see him in prison, fuelling rumours that he will be allowed to return to his former position as striker. Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah bin Mossad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, one of the world’s richest men and co-owner of Sheffield United, is said to have given a nod of approval for Evans’ return.

Clough was not the Manager of Sheffield United when Evans was imprisoned, so he played no part in the decision not to sack him. It seems that he will also play a very minor role in deciding whether Evans should return to the club:

“We have had one or two discussions, we are awaiting a decision and the owners will make that in good time.”

Clough said at his pre-match press conference previewing his side’s League One trip to Bradford on Saturday:

“I have been involved in decisions, but it is very much a decision for the owners and when the time is right to say something as a club we will do that. It is that sort of decision – it’s above football level. It’s my decision whether to put him in the team if he comes back, it’s not my decision whether he comes back in the first place – that’s theirs. Until the decision is made there is no point talking about it.”

Evans signed for Sheffield United in a £3 million deal in 2009. Prior to his imprisonment he scored 48 goals in 113 games for the Blades, including 35 in 42 games during the 2011/12 campaign which was cut short due to his trial and conviction. Many Blades fans have called for him to be rehabilitated, but almost 150,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Bramall Lane club not to welcome him back.

It is a situation that continues to divide opinion. While Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor insists Evans should be allowed to return to his former position, Sheffield United came under yet more pressure to reject Evans when deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, joined the debate yesterday.

In an interview with LBC Radio Mr Clegg, who is a Sheffield MP, said:

“I think the owners need to think really long and hard about the fact that when you take a footballer on, you are not taking just a footballer these days, you are also taking on a role model.

“You are taking on a role model, particularly for a lot of young boys who look up to their heroes on a football pitch in a team like that, and he has committed a very serious crime.

“It is for the football club to decide, but I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people.

“I’m sure that will weigh heavily in the decisions made by the owners of Sheffield United. Rape is an incredibly serious offence, an unbelievably serious offence.

“He has done his time but I just don’t believe that the owners of a football club can somehow wish away the fact that that has happened.”

Ex Sports Minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn said the convicted rapist needs to show remorse if he is to resume his career. Blades fan Mr Caborn said:

“If he publicly apologises, or if his appeal is successful, he should be given a second chance.”

Former Blades boss Neil Warnock added:

“When you have served your time you are allowed to get on with your life – that is the law.”

But Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre is outraged. Manager Meera Kulkarni said:

“A convicted rapist who has shown no remorse should not be reinstated to his club.”

Labour sports spokesman Clive Efford said it was “not appropriate” for Evans to return to professional football after his release. Mr Efford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

“I think there are many areas of employment where, when you’ve committed a crime like that, you are not allowed to be employed in that form of employment, and I think football is one of them, because you are a role model within a community.

“I know this is sad for Ched Evans, who’s been to prison and paid a price, but I think that in these circumstances it’s not appropriate to have someone with that record in a profession where you are idolised by young people.”

The ex-Manchester City player has been capped 13 times for Wales and inevitably Chris Coleman has also been drawn into the debate. Back in August Coleman revealed that he will have earnest discussions with his FA of Wales bosses before deciding whether to select a convicted rapist during the looming Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Coleman, who needs to find a goal scoring centre forward as the final piece of the jigsaw in his young Welsh team, did not rule out the prospect of Evans appearing at some point during the 10-match campaign. However, he says he would need to sit down with the FAW hierarchy, as well as holding face to face talks with Evans himself, before giving the green light for the Sheffield United striker to return to international duty.

He went on to say:

“Someone from the FAW was quoted the other day as saying Ched is a goal scorer and that’s what we desperately need.

“But look, that’s more than a five minute conversation for me. It’s one we would need to look at in great detail because of the magnitude of the situation.

“I’ve not had the conversation with anyone yet, although yes I have thought about it myself.

“Normally the manager picks the squad. This one is different though and I would have to discuss it with officials at the FAW.

“If Ched were to return to a club and do well, then it’s a conversation for us to have. Once you mention someone’s name with the words ‘convicted rapist’, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

“I don’t know Ched himself, but I would have to sit down and talk to him, too.”

Asked bluntly if he would be prepared to pick a convicted rapist in his team, Coleman answered:

“I’m aware there is already an online petition against him playing football again.

“I’m also aware that if you are a carpenter, say, or a plumber and you come out of jail you are permitted to get back on with your career.

“Because of the high profile nature of the sport, football is different. That’s why I would have to sit down with the FAW first before this could possibly happen anyway.

“Then I would have to sit down with Ched, too. I couldn’t discuss whether he thought was not guilty. He was found guilty of a horrible crime.

“Because of that, I’ve been put in a horrible position myself, if I’m honest.

“But what I must also say is that even if he were to return to a club, you can’t just expect him to pick up where he left off. He’s been away from the game for two and a half years and you can’t just find your form straight away.”

Former Wales football manager Terry Yorath has said that he would select rapist Evans if the player successfully resurrects his club career. Yorath said that if he was in Wales boss Chris Coleman’s shoes he would meet the player and, if convinced he was over his prison ordeal, urge the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to let him pick Evans. But Yorath, who called Evans’ crime “abhorrent” and an “affront”, said as the father of two daughters he would “150% accept it” if the request was turned down. He said:

“Probably at the back of my mind I would be thinking we need a Ched Evans in the side so I’m going to go in that committee and say ‘Listen we could do with him in the squad’.

“If they turn around to me and say ‘No’ I would absolutely 150% understand where they’re coming from.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult time for the boy and I’m looking at it from a football point of view. But you have to look as well at the girl and her family. It’s been a difficult time for them as well.”

Yorath said it would be difficult for a Wales squad short of striking talent to ignore an in-form Evans. He added:

“We’re not endowed at the moment with strikers that score lots of goals. When Ched was playing he looked as if he was going to become a good centre forward.

“Obviously he has been convicted for a crime, which is a horrible crime, but he’s always maintained his innocence. Now he’s served his time for that do the FAW, or does Chris himself, say ‘We think he’s served his time’ as Sheffield United seem to be saying and let him get on with the rest of his life?

“Or do you go down the road where obviously people will think the crime is abhorrent, which it is, and they say he should never ever play again?”

Yorath, the father of TV presenter Gabby Logan, 41, and former Las Vegas acrobat Louise Yorath, 40, said if Evans had any other job no-one would question his right to go back to work. Preventing him playing again would effectively punish him twice, he said.

“If that was a guy who was outside football, outside sport, he would be able to come back into life and get himself a job somewhere.

“That’s where people get divided. They get divided between sport and other employment. All his life all he’s done is play football. He’s been brought up to play football.”

Evans wouldn’t be the first footballer to re-build his career after spending time inside for a serious offence – there are plenty of other examples. Blackpool striker Nile Ranger, 23, has convictions for robbery and assault while Marlon King, 34, is serving the latest of several stints behind bars. Now inside for dangerous driving he also has convictions for violence against women. King has always found a club after being released for his previous offences. Former West Brom striker Lee Hughes signed for Oldham Athletic in 2007 after being sentenced to six years for causing death by dangerous driving. Forest Green Rovers forward Hughes, 38, was also convicted of assaulting a woman in May 2012.

Yorath said the decision on Evans’ Wales future should not be left to Coleman but sorted by the FAW behind closed doors. He added:

“There’s going to be lots of people outraged if he does go back to Sheffield United and if he does play for Wales. But what I don’t want to see happen is for the FAW to turn round to Chris Coleman and say ‘You make that decision’ because that would be unfair on Chris.

“Chris behind closed doors might say ‘I need him’. All through history we’ve never had a big squad anyway. So any player who is good enough to play for Wales you have to consider them being in the squad.

“So if he’s not considered to be in the squad that’s another way of hitting him. They (the FAW) should go behind closed doors and talk it over with Chris – but the FAW are the ones who have got to make that decision. It’s up to them.”

Rape Crisis England and Wales responded by saying that they are concerned about reports of Evans’ possible return to football. The organisation does not usually comment on specific cases, but has made a rare exception in his case.

Director of communications Katie Russell said:

“It is of course any convicted criminal’s right to serve their sentence and then go back into employment. We absolutely stand by that.

“But at the same time we would urge Sheffield United to think very carefully about the message that they send when they immediately re-employ someone who’s been convicted of such a very major crime.

“If they choose to do that, which is their right, we urge them to strongly consider the impact that will have on huge numbers of their supporters and we urge them to make a very strong statement condemning sexual violence, condemning violence against women and making it clear that misogyny, sexism, violence and sexual violence in particular won’t be tolerated within football.”

Footballers themselves are divided on whether they should be perceived as role models for society. In 2011 Blackpool boss Ian Holloway cited Paul Scholes as the epitome of a good role model in professional football when he said:

“People within football need to be good role models and, in fairness, most of them are. You won’t find a better one than Paul Scholes, who went through his whole career without even a whiff of an off-the-field issue. Wherever footballers go, they need to act in a proper manner and send out a message to young people: “That’s how you behave.”

“I accept it is more difficult in this ridiculous era when the world has been taken over by social networking sites. Blimey, everyone has a camera in their hand, because even phones can take pictures.

“So what these players have got to realise is that they are in the limelight 24/7, and they have to behave in the right way all the time. People look up to players. We hold the dreams of so many in our hands so we have to lead and set an example. But we haven’t been doing so for years and it is driving me crazy.

“At the end of the day, though, it comes down to individuals taking responsibility. That’s how my mum and dad brought me up and if I had ever done wrong, they’d have dragged me down to the police station themselves.

“No one should disrespect the law because without the law there is nothing. Without discipline there is nothing. I try to do my bit at Blackpool. I demand my players behave. After we had been away to Portugal in pre-season, the hotel sent a letter thanking us for the behaviour of my players. That’s pleasing, but it shouldn’t even be in question. My lads know that if they don’t behave, they won’t be here. I don’t care what sort of footballer they are, or how good they are, they’ll be gone.”

Holloway’s view is shared by former Hammer’s striker Jermain Defoe who has previously said that:

“Footballers have a duty to behave decently – on and off the field. Footballers have to be aware they are role models for kids. We’re all human beings and people make mistakes.”

Teetotal Defoe says a strict upbringing on a tough council estate in Beckton, East London, helped to point him in the right direction. His dad Jimmy, an alcoholic, left when he was just a toddler. So, Jermain, his mum Sandra and sister Chante, 22, had to move in with his grandparents. And his mum encouraged his football skills to steer him away from crime. He went on to say:

“I don’t drink or smoke and I’ve never touched drugs. All I wanted to do was be a footballer, but I had to be disciplined. My mum drove me to football and watched me every weekend – she was brilliant.”

Friends he grew up with were less lucky. He says:

“A lot I used to play with have ended up in prison. It’s very sad.”

Conversely, when he was writing about the riots in England in 2011, former West Ham goalkeeper David James said that the idea that professional footballers should be role models for society was a misnomer. He went on to say:

“I still believe that parents should be the main role models for their children. I’m not sure that the youth of today relate to footballers. While it is true that most of us have had a council estate upbringing, most now live away from those communities, enjoying a lifestyle that is light years from the kids we are talking about.”

My personal view is that Ched Evans should not be allowed to resume the privileged life of a professional footballer. He was soundly convicted of the crime of rape and his request for appeal has been rejected. However, he continues to protest his innocence and has shown no regret or remorse for his crime. He has allowed his friends and family to use their wealth to mount a high profile campaign to try to clear his name, riding rough-shod over the emotional well-being of his victim. His supporters have also hounded his victim with an internet hate campaign, forcing her to change her identity and effectively lose the life she had before Evans decided to use her body without her consent for a glorified form of masturbation. Therefore he has proven that he is a very poor candidate for rehabilitation.

Whether footballers should or shouldn’t be expected to be role models for young people in our society is a moot point. The crux of this matter is the message it gives regarding the crime of rape. Ched Evans will now be on the Sex Offenders Register for the rest of his life. He will be on that Register for a reason; because he has committed a serious sexual assault against a woman. Whether we like it or not, professional footballers are revered and idolised by our society. If you were a Sheffield United supporter with young sons and daughters would you expect and encourage them to cheer and celebrate the goals of a convicted rapist who had shown no regret for his crime? Neither would I. If Evans does return to his former role as a highly paid striker in the face of all these facts, then professional football has degenerated to a whole new level of moral corruption.

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