There are those, who feel quite rightly, that like most people released from prison, Evans should not be allowed to pick up where he left off by resuming his career as if nothing had happened. After all, how many teachers, solicitors, policemen, social workers etc who have been convicted of a sex offence been allowed back into those respective careers?
Then there are those who just because they saw a couple of episodes of “Crown Court”, the ITV drama of the 1970s, while playing truant from school, they completely exhonorate Evans from the crime that he committed – rape – on the grounds of a lazy hunch they might have despite not being in the courtroom when Mr Evans’ case was brought to trial (not that such a matter gets in the way of whatever half-baked theories that bar-room lawyers, complete with kangaroo costumes, like Hull City manager, Steve Bruce, wish to spew forth).
While there is a case to be made for the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners, the fact is that those released from gaol resume life in society in menial, lower paid jobs than they were doing prior to them committing the crime that saw them forfeit their right to liberty in the first place.
Supporters of Heart of Midlothian football club will have been watching this affair and be reminded that it wasn’t that long ago that their team decided to not only think of what Oldham were planning to do with Evans, but to actually go through with the plan and appoint a sex offender of their choosing – Graham Rix.
The former Arsenal and England midfielder in the late 1990s was part of Chelsea’s coaching set-up under the management of first Ruud Gullit and then Gianluca Vialli. However, during that time, Rix was convicted for having underage sex with a 15-year-old and was sentenced to a year in prison (of which he served six months).
However, Hearts would not be the first football club to offer him an avenue back into the game. Chelsea gave him his old job back and Rix only lost that due to new manager Claudio Ranieri wanting to bring in his own backroom staff when he took over from Vialli. From there, the convicted sex offender got himself another break in the world of football when Portsmouth offered him the manager’s job itself. His eventual departure did not come from any controversy surrounding his crime but because results were poor. The same scenario played itself out at his next posting at Oxford.
And then there was Hearts….
In the summer of 2005, the Tynecastle club had been taken over by Russian-born Lithuanian, Vladimir Romanov, and after a string of quality signings and the appointment of George Burley as manager, Hearts were top of the table after 10 games following their best start to a season since 1914. Then out of the blue, Burley was sacked following a blazing row with Romanov which former chairman, George Foulkes, revealed months later in a documentary on Romanov that the owner in a fit of paranoia had got it into his head that Burley had thrown the game against Celtic (a match that finished 1-1 at Parkhead).
Hearts promised a big name to fill the vacant role and had spoken with the likes of Ranieri, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Bobby Robson about taking the job on. Only what happened next left supporters both gobsmacked and furious.
Even if Rix had not been convicted of a sex offence, a coach who had not had much success was a step down from Burley (who had achieved a degree of success with Ipswich) but the fact that he had spent time in prison for the crime that he had committed made him a toxic appointment as far as the vast majority of Hearts supporters were concerned. An online petition, which actually crashed due to the vast numbers who tried to log on in order to sign it, was set up protesting against this move. It read:
”Do not appoint Graham Rix for any role at Heart of Midlothian. The man is a step in the wrong direction and is not the type of man or manager we want to represent our great club. As well as his well-documented private life, he has achieved very little in his past managerial posts and has been dismissed from his past two employers after only a short time in charge.
“Do not appoint this man. Every signature on this petition agrees with the points stated above. Every person who signs this petition will be bitterly disappointed if this man were to be appointed in any role.
“Please Hearts, do not appoint Graham Rix.”
Former Hearts owner, Wallace Mercer, in setting a template for the likes of Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp today with their defence of Ched Evans, launched a blistering attack on those supporters labelling them as “hypocrites” and going onto say:
“Graham Rix should be judged solely on his coaching abilities. He made an error of judgement and paid his debt back in the 1990s.
“The reaction in Scotland to his appointment is completely unjustified and certain Hearts fans are guilty of hypocrisy and double standards. Show me anyone who has not made a mistake in life.
“I fully expect the Hearts players to dismiss all the criticism they have heard over the past few days. Rix was given another chance in England and we should do the same in Scotland.
“Sometimes people’s failures can bring positive results in terms of a learning curve. Chelsea gave him his job back and he went on to be a very successful coach.
“He has been appointed as No.2 at Hearts to a director of football and he has shown he can work well in that role in the past. And that is how he should be judged – as a coach and nothing else.
“I’m sure he will work very well with (then coach) John McGlynn and I’m confident they will take the club forward.”
The chairman at the time, Roman Romanov (son of then-owner Vladimir) said when unveiling Rix as the new manager:
“Graham is a very honest and open man and we talked to him about it. “He made a mistake and was punished. He has learned from this mistake and definitely can become a better man.
“Let’s not exaggerate what really happened with Graham in 1998.
“After he came out of jail he worked with Chelsea, Portsmouth and Oxford. If they didn’t have a problem I don’t see why there would be a problem here.
“We listen to supporters (sic) and the majority of them want us to win. That is why we have brought Graham Rix here. He is a great coach with great experience.”
Roman’s father, the main puppet master himself, was more robust in defending his new appointment, going so far as to belittle the girl who had suffered Rix’s crime and even heaped praise upon the latest addition to his payroll. In a bombastic TV interview, Vladimir Romanov said:
“I cannot understand when a girl comes and tricks a hero such as this coach and says she’s older than she is and then sells the story for hundreds of thousands.”
In the eight years of the Romanov reign, Hearts’ PR was not the greatest due to many wild-eyed conspiracy theories offered by the owner about Scottish football and the media. Yet this episode stands head and shoulders above any gaffe made by Vladimir Romanov. Such pre-historic, chauvinistic views showed this Baltic buffoon for the crass, misogynistic idiot that he is. Never mind the female supporters who followed Hearts and never mind the male supporters who held a collective sense of decency that they felt that what Rix did was completely unacceptable.
Romanov, after dealing with the independently-minded Burley, wanted a manager he could bounce around and dictate terms to. Rix being a man that very few clubs would touch with a bargepole, was suited to the role of being Vlad’s ‘patsy’ to a tee. And so it proved as he was bounced by Romanov who brought in players behind his back, told him what team to pick and told who he could and couldn’t bring on as a substitute and at what time of the game to do it in.
Rix lasted until March 2006 when after a 1-1 draw with Rangers at Tynecastle, he was sacked. Not because of the controversy surrounding his initial appointment, not because the board realised they had made a crass error in choosing a convicted sex offender to be the manager, no, it was because Rix had leaked to the press hours before a game at Dundee United that Vladimir Romanov was indeed interfering with selection.
What was also revealing was the then-Hearts captain Steven Pressley’s reaction. Silent over the appointment itself, did he comment on what a relief it was to be no longer working under a man of such dubious character when Rix was sacked? No, instead he said this:
“He became a very popular manager. Roman Romanov spoke to the squad this morning and explained that Mr (Vladimir) Romanov had not been entirely happy with results and he felt that change was required.
“I am bitterly disappointed for the manager because we formed a good relationship with him and we hope between now and end of the season that we can achieve Champions League football. We believe we can also achieve Scottish Cup success and we really wanted to deliver that for Graham.”
Hearts fans though were breathing a collective sigh of relief. When looking back on that season, they will recall the players, the start under Burley, the Champions League place that was won as well as the Scottish Cup success. Rix is blacked out from memory.
In 2011 the club found itself in another storm when the team’s right-back, Craig Thomson was convicted at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after admitting ‘lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour’ towards two girls aged 12 and 14. He admitted to showing them male genitalia, asking the older one for sex and engaging them in sexual chat. He was fined £4,000 and placed on the sex offenders register for five years.
Hearts fans took to the airwaves and online to demand Thomson be sacked. Schools and youth groups who were bringing kids to the club’s training ground for summer coaching sessions refused to turn up if Thomson remained a Hearts player. Romanov, initially dug in his heels and defended the player. Either he was being consistent with his backward views on women’s rights, as was shown with Rix, or having set the precedent in employing a sex offender in the first place, his hands may have been legally tied. Who knows, but the affair again showed the club in a poor moral light. Thomson was farmed out to Lithuanian club Kaunas until his contract with Hearts expired and he was released by the Tynecastle side.
Like the two men convicted of sex offences who were previously employed at Hearts, Romanov has long since gone from Tynecastle with a new regime now in place. The Rix and Thomson episodes are ones that no Hearts supporter in their right mind wants repeating. As Ched Evans’ attempts to land himself a contract with Sheffield United, Hartlepool, Maltese side Hibernians and now Oldham have all failed, should he try and knock on the door at Tynecastle, given what’s happened in the past when the club has employed sex offenders, he should be told that there is no room at the inn.