'Whole story around Ched Evans doesn't make for pretty reading' says Durham lecturer after not guilty verdict

Highly paid young footballers with their fast cars, big houses, pampered lifestyles and celebrity status are not the ideal group to win the nation's sympathy.

Friday, 14th October 2016, 2:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:21 pm
Footballer Ched Evans, who has been found not guilty or rape by a jury.

They are compensated handsomely to have a career that many can only dream of and as such have become role models for many fans.

Never a week seems to go by without a footballer making headlines for their off-the-field activities rather than their performances on it.

Many people believe professional footballers should behave like the role models they have become.

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But Dr Martin Roderick, a former professional footballer turned social scientist, has sympathy for today's players as they are constantly under scrutiny in the 24/7 social media world we now find ourselves living in.

He spoke after Ched Evans, 27, was found not guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Premier Inn near Rhyl, North Wales, in May 2011.

The footballer was linked to Hartlepool United after serving half of a five-year prison sentence before being released but the move collapsed after a public outcry.

A jury of seven women and five men found Mr Evans not guilty today following three hours of deliberations after the eight-day trial at Cardiff Crown Court.

"Young players coming through at Premier League clubs live an extraordinary life," Dr Roderick, a senior lecturer at Durham University, said.

"That's not to excuse some of their behaviour but if they manage to get through to a first professional contract at 18 most of them are probably on a good middle class salary, of £30,000 or £40,000 a year. For an 18-year-old that is a staggering amount of money."

Although riches can be found at the top of the game, contracts at the lower level are not always generous and players struggle from one contract to another, season after season.

Add to the mix the pressure to perform week in week out, as well as the problems of deciding who can be trusted, and it is clear footballers - especially the younger players - often inhabit a lonely and uncertain world.

"They find their behaviour is constantly under scrutiny. Everywhere they go people have mobile phones and at every turn someone can be filming them," he said.

"The 'new conditions' of their work involves being mindful of everything they do once they step outside of the workplace and if they do transgress in any way it becomes a media story.

"I find I have some sympathy for many of the players I have spoken to. They are pretty ordinary and they are just trying to make a living from one year to the next."

He does not believe money is a corrupting influence.

"The argument is that if they behave badly it must because they are spoilt and they earned too much, too quickly," he said.

"Some of the behaviour is indefensible, there is no question about that. The whole story around Ched Evans, as it unfolds, doesn't make for pretty reading on any level.

"Even in higher education we hear that first year students are being given lectures on being respectful to women.

"We do a lot of research at Durham into victims of abuse and no one here would argue there is a connection between the perpetrators of those crimes and money, in a way that we seem to try and do in relation to footballers."

Players in the spotlight can miss out on learning the life skills that many people take for granted and can struggle once their careers are over, with some becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling.

"Some of that is because they don't have routine access to what I am calling a 'normal life'," Dr Roderick said.

"They don't walk around the street. I have been speaking with some very high profile players and they say to me that everywhere they go they assume everyone is filming them.

"I ask myself what the consequences are of living a life in that kind of spotlight.

"For some of them they won't be able to handle it and they are going to get themselves into problems and you can easily see how some of them end up with addiction type problems and mental health issues and they have a very chequered history of behaviour."

Dr Roderick said that the football world has a responsibility to look after the welfare of the game's players.

"I do think football generally, the clubs, the FA, have forgotten some responsibility to look after the welfare of their employees better," he said.

"Players are not staying put in one place very often and I don't think there is much support for a more journeyman player like that.

"I don't think there is much incentive for clubs to look after players when they are know most of them will be gone after one or two seasons and they will get someone else in.

"Maybe there is some onus on these agents, who are tapping up players at a very young age, to also cast an eye in that direction. They have some responsibility there as well."