Ched Evans's move to Oldham has collapsed with the convicted rapist blaming 'mob rule' for preventing the League One club signing him.
Evans, who also apologised for the first time to the woman he was found guilty of raping, claimed a new stand at Oldham would have been put at risk had he joined.
The club’s chief executive Neil Joy insisted they pulled the plug on a deal following “vile and abusive threats, including death threats” to fans, sponsors and staff plus “unbearable pressure” on the club’s finances with sponsors threatening to sever ties.
Greater Manchester Police said, however, that no reports about death threats or other serious threats had been received.
Evans said in a statement on his website: “It is with great sadness that today I have withdrawn from talks with Oldham Athletic.
“I would like to thank the club, and those who have supported me in my lawful quest to find work. I apologise to the club’s supporters, sponsors and all those affected by the last 72 hours.
“Sadly the ‘mob rule’ tactics employed by the more radical elements of our society and the constant media reporting has had the desired influence on some sponsors and the club would face significant financial pressure if I joined them.
“The most significant issue for me was that owing to the threat of funding opportunities being withdrawn which may jeopardise the building of Oldham’s new stand, it would mean that workers would lose their jobs and others would be put at risk – that would simply not be fair.”
Evans was released from prison last October, halfway through a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011.
He has now condemned social media attacks on the woman and for the first time issued an apology while still maintaining his innocence.
His statement added: “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 apologise 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.”
It is the second time Oldham have pulled out of a deal to sign the striker, whose chances of finding a team willing to take him on now appear limited.
Sheffield United also decided against giving him a contract after initially agreeing to let him train with the club.
Oldham's chief executive Joy confirmed any deal was now off – the club has also denied reports that chairman Simon Corney has quit.
Joy said: “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.
“The whole issue has divided opinion and the club has been put under unbearable pressure as a result.
“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.”
Oldham Athletic Supporters’ Trust also issued a statement saying staff at the club had been subjected to threats and attacks.
It said: “This is an emotive issue and as such we would ask that all members and fans respect the views of their fellow supporters in the general debate. You certainly have a right to free thought and free speech, but we would ask that you please try to avoid abusive comments and conduct.
“We would especially ask all fans and others to respect the staff of the club who have unfortunately been subjected to extreme and unnecessary attacks and threats whilst doing no more than their jobs.”
A police statement said, however, only a small number of complaints had been made about comments on social media.
It said: “Greater Manchester Police would like to make it explicitly clear it is not currently investigating reports of either death threats or threats of a sexual nature made to anyone associated with Oldham Athletic FC.”
The PFA has also issued a statement to clarify its position in supporting Evans’ search to find a club.
It said: “We have had some discussions with Oldham Athletic regarding the interest they expressed in signing Ched, although we feel it is important to make clear that, contrary to what has been reported, we were not ‘driving’ any deal.
“The PFA’s position remains the same, as we have expressed previously, that any club which decides to sign him would receive our support.
“We fully recognise that this is a delicate and emotive case and entirely respect that there are opposing views.”