'After five years of abuse, I'm back where I belong - playing football:' Ched Evans speaks for first time about rape trial ordeal
Sheffield United striker Ched Evans has spoken for the first time about his rape trial ordeal, the abuse he suffered and how he has put the experience behind him to focus on playing football after his conviction was overturned.
In an exclusive interview with Talksport presenter Jim White, Evans, 29, has spoken candidly about his time in prison, the toll his conviction and later acquittal took on his family and personal life and the 'vile' abuse he still receives from rival fans around the country.
He said: "After five years of abuse and scrutiny, I'm back where I belong, playing football."
Evans was convicted of rape of a 19-year-old woman at a hotel in Wales in April 2012 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
However, during his time in jail, he maintained his innocence and after a retrial in October 2016, he was found not guilty and the conviction was quashed.
He said: "I maintained my innocence throughout. People used to say 'why not say sorry and you can get on with football.'
"But apologising for something you didn't do is a sign of guilt and I'm not guilty.
"I've not spoken to anyone about this previously and its nice to be speaking as an innocent man under no pressure. It's definitely something I needed to do."
Following his release after serving half his sentence, Evans struggled to find a new club with supporters of several clubs interested in signing him critcising the moves to sign him up.
After his conviction was quashed, he eventually signed for Chesterfield before returning to the Blades in May 2017.
He said: "I think I'm a better player now, although injuries this season have not helped at all.
"I'm physically and mentally in better shape and I want to kick on and repay Sheffield United and the fans who have been absolutely amazing with me. I can't thank them enough."
Evans admits that he will never be able to fully put his ordeal behind him and told radio host White: "You can never really forget. You keep it at the back of your mind. It is always there but the right verdict came out in the end."
He also spoke of his time in prison and how he coped with the mental effects of his incarceration.
"It was one day at a time. It was very difficult and the pressure on my family and friends wasn't particularly nice.
"When I got the not guilty I'd been living with the anxiety for four and a half years. I found it mentally tough. There was a transition from one day being a convicted rapist, the next day, everyone had forgot about it."
Evans, who has struggled to make an impact on the first team at United this season due to injuries, has also said he doesn't hold any bitterness about his experiences since 2012.
He said: "I didn't believe anger or bitterness would help me in any way. I had to get on with it and be happy. I've got the rest of my life to live after football and to live with bitterness and anger is worthless."
He says he still receives abuse from away supporters - and described some of the insults as 'horrible' and 'vile.'
He said: "I don't get abuse at all stadiums, maybe 70%. Fans shout stuff like 'rapist,' stuff like that - personally it doesn't affect me.
"It's quite unbelievable to be honest. There's nowhere else you would publicly go and shout such horrible, vile comments at somebody. Football brings out emotions in people."
The Wales-born star also spoke of the intense media scrutiny he came under following his release and ahead of his conviction being quashed.
"I look back to when I first came out, the headlines were absolutely vile - really upsetting. Your mum and nanna, family and friends, driving past the petrol station and my face is on the front page with a vile headline.
"From been acquitted to retrial to not guilty to nothing was really good. All I ever wanted. Why not put that on the front page and make a song and dance about that?
"I want to be on the back pages."
And he hopes that he can help the Blades' Championship promotion play off push and added: "I'd love to be selected for Wales and play in the Premier League. The ultimate goal is to get back to scoring again and get back to where I belong, playing football."