Convicted rapist's search for soccer club goes on

    Story highlights

    • Oldham Athletic confirms deal to sign Ched Evans is off
    • Evans released from prison in October after serving rape sentence
    • Club say death threats have been made to staff and sponsors
    • Player maintains his innocence and wants to clear his name

    (CNN)An English soccer club has abandoned an attempt to sign a convicted rapist after death threats were made to its staff amid an atmosphere of "unbearable pressure."

    After days of speculation, Oldham Athletic confirmed Thursday it wouldn't be handing a deal to Ched Evans, who was released from prison in October after serving half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman.
      The third-tier outfit said "vile and abusive threats" as well as "significant financial pressure" placed on the club from sponsors had prompted it to backtrack on the deal.
      Oldham's owner, Simon Corney, had previously said there was 80% chance it would hire Evans as it appeared undeterred by condemnation from fans, politicians and the police.
      Evans -- who insists he is innocent and is appealing against his conviction -- released his own statement Thursday, apologizing "for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned."
      And after Oldham's snub there are serious question marks as to whether any club will offer him a route back into the game.
      "The whole issue has divided opinion and the club has been put under unbearable pressure as a result," read a statement on Oldham's official website.
      20,000 sign petition to keep rapist out of football
      Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.


        20,000 sign petition to keep rapist out of football


      20,000 sign petition to keep rapist out of football 00:10
      "Proceeding could have placed significant financial pressure on the club and continued to be a divisive influence. As a consequence the deal could not go ahead.
      "As a club we condemn all crime including rape and irrespective of any appeal procedure it was always the case that we were prepared to withstand the barrage of abuse that is evident within the country and on social media.
      "We deplore and condemn the vile and abusive threats, some including death threats, which have been made to our fans, sponsors and staff whilst this process has been in the public domain."
      Despite Oldham's claims, Greater Manchester Police said nothing more than "low level abuse" had been reported to them when contacted by CNN.
      Oldham's climbdown represents the latest setback for Evans, who has been trying to resurrect his career since leaving jail in October.
      Evans started out at current English Premier League champion Manchester City, before joining Sheffield United in 2009.
      Upon his release from prison, the club's plan to allow Evans to train with them provoked a public backlash, with 160,000 people signing a petition against the move.
      A proposed deal with Hartlepool was also dropped following a similar outcry, the town's Labour MP calling Evans a "pariah."
      And when a potential move to Maltese club Hibernians was mooted, the UK government's Ministry of Justice said its conditions for monitoring sex offenders effectively ruled out working abroad.
      Prior to confirmation the deal was off Evans released his own statement through the Professional Footballers Association, in which he apologized for the effect the case has had on his victim's life.
      "Upon legal advice I was told not to discuss the events in question," he said. "This silence has been misinterpreted as arrogance and I would like to state that this could not be further from the truth.
      "I do remain limited at present by what I can say due to the ongoing referral to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and whilst I continue to maintain my innocence I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologize for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned.
      "Finally it has been claimed that those using social media in an abusive and vindictive way towards this woman are supporters of mine. I wish to make it clear that these people are not my supporters and I condemn their actions entirely and will continue to do so."
      As an online petition protesting against Oldham acquiring Evans' signature joining nudged past 70,000 signatures, the town's council leader said the saga had created a culture of "intimidation, abuse and harassment."
      "The whole episode has divided the town and public opinion and there are no winners in all this -- not least of all the reputation of our club and town," Jim McMahon said.
      "In recent days we've seen an horrendous 'trial by social media' with intimidation, abuse and harassment on a scale that has cast a terrible shadow.
      "I am urging people on all sides of this debate to please now take stock, show some restraint and calm."
      "I've always believed in rehabilitation but felt that both club and player should have allowed Mr Evans' appeal to run its course before agreeing a contract," McMahon added.
      "As it stands Mr Evans has been found guilty in a court of law and has not yet completed his sentence. However, I take no pleasure in this outcome."
      The case has reached the highest level of British politics, with Prime Minister David Cameron repeatedly asked to comment on Evans' potential return to football.
      He said he "understood" the view of Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill after she told Sheffield United she wanted her name removed from one of the stands at its stadium should Evans play for it again.
      And Cameron waded into the controversy again on Thursday when he told LBC: "My view is it is not for politicians to pick football teams, it should be for football clubs to pick their teams.
      "But as they do that, they have to recognize that football players are role models for young people and they have to think about what will the impact be on the club, what will the impact be on young people.
      "As for people who are in this position, surely the position is to recognize when you have done something wrong and you have been punished, rightly punished, you've got to work your way back.
      "That might mean doing more voluntary work, putting more back in, in order to demonstrate to the public, the football-loving country we are, that you are really sorry about what happened and you want to atone for what you have done."