Convicted rapist Ched Evans' return to football has been plunged into fresh doubt with reported suitors Oldham Athletic set to stage a board meeting to consider the signing of the 26 year old after a petition against his signing surpassed 22,000 signatures.
A meeting that will include majority shareholder and chairman Simon Corney, who is currently in America, and president Philip Goldman will deliberate over the imminent signing of Evans following a significant backlash to reports the League One club were ready to sanction the move.
Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor revealed on Sunday 4 January that a club from English football's third tier would be signing Evans, who was released in October midway through his five-year jail term for raping a 19-year old girl in 2012.
Oldham, who have lost their last four league games and scored just one goal in the process, later emerged as the club likely to sign Evans with a press conference expected to be held on Monday 5 January to announce the addition of the Wales international.
Evans was also expected to train with his new Oldham teammates but there is now some doubt over the deal being finalised after substantial criticism of the move from supporters on social media.
The former Manchester City forward has maintained his innocence and has submitted an appeal to the Criminal Case Review Commission to have his conviction quashed. Since his release, Evans has come under fire for refusing to show remorse for his crime.
A petition, addressed to chairman Corney, set up on Sunday has reached more than 22,000 signatures and has forced a re-think within the walls of Boundary Park, which will lead to a showdown board meeting.
"Ched Evans is a convicted rapist," the petition set up by Jean Hatchet reads.
"He does not deserve to return to a high profile and highly visible role in football whilst he still refuses to acknowledge his guilt, apologise to his victim and attempt to make clear his views to the fans who look up to him that what he did was wrong and they should not traumatise her or other rape victims.
"Currently Oldham is said to be considering signing him. This is a damaging message about rape and sexual consent to be giving to your fans. Please think again.
"We do believe he has the right to work. We believe that it does not have to be in a role where he influences views about sexual violence, and his presence on your pitch will do this."
Also among the members of the board who will debate the issue regarding Evans is Trust Oldham representative Barry Owen, who represents the view of the Latics fanbase who hold a minor shareholding within the club.
Owen is coming under increasing pressure to resign as president of the Oldham supporters' group should he assist in sanctioning the signing of Evans, who has already been turned down by Sheffield United and Hartlepool United following significant resistance to the move, while a switch to Maltese side Hibernians was blocked by the Ministry of Justice.
A statement from the Oldham board is expected on Monday regarding the deal to sign Evans but the view of principal partner Sports Direct, who sponsor the club's shirt and stadium, is expected to be consulted before a decision is made.
When contacted by IBTimes UK, Sports Direct refused to comment on the signing of Evans but Rochdale Road End stand sponsor Verlin has already confirmed it will pull support of Oldham should the club sign the forward.