LONDON (AP) — English third-tier club Oldham is prepared to face a growing backlash by going ahead with plans to sign convicted rapist Ched Evans.
While Oldham said it was conducting due diligence into hiring Evans, a sponsor severed ties with the northern club citing the "imminent signing."
Evans, a former Sheffield United and Manchester City striker, was released from jail in October after serving time for raping a 19-year-old woman in his hotel room in 2011. A plan to train with United fell through recently after protests from sponsors and celebrity fans.
"There are ongoing negotiations with regard to signing Ched Evans," Oldham director Barry Owen said Wednesday at the club's Boundary Park stadium. "Unfortunately, quite a lot of due diligence still needs to be completed. We are still in talks with the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) and other agencies ... and I don't anticipate that it is going to be done over the next few days."
Oldham owner Simon Corney was quoted as saying that there was an "80 percent chance" of Evans joining.
"There might be a cost implication, but you have to stick to your principles," Corney told the website of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper. "We weren't surprised by the backlash."
When Oldham's interest in the 26-year-old Evans emerged earlier this week, the club became the target of opposition from politicians and fans but has resisted external pressure to continue talks.
Sponsor Verlin Rainwater Solutions, which makes gutters, announced that it did not want to be associated with a team featuring Evans in the squad.
"After receiving the news regarding the imminent signing of Ched Evans it is with great regret that Verlin Rainwater Solutions will no longer be associated with Oldham Athletic," company director Craig Verling said.
"We feel that Mr. Evans should be able to lead a life without further punishment after serving his sentence, although our feelings remain the same that this should not be within the public domain where his previous behavior may influence the next generation."
Another Oldham sponsor, stationery supplies firm ZenOffice, warned it would end its deal if Evans joined.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris