Gillingham are bound to be the losers, regardless of the outcome, if the case between ex-manager Tony Pulis and chairman Paul Scally ends up going to court. Haydn Parry explains why
Gillingham are currently enjoying something of a golden age. The past five years have seen two promotions, an FA Cup quarter-final, three Premiership scalps and a £3.5 million renovation of Priestfield. This season, the club had maintained a healthy midtable position in the First Division, but there’s now a guaranteed nailbiting climax to come.
On April 24, ex-manager Tony Pulis’s legal action against the club, following his sacking for “gross misconduct” in May 1999, will be heard in the High Court. He’s issued a writ for around £400,000, claiming unfair dismissal and insisting he had a clause in his contract with Gillingham which entitled him to a percentage of profits on the sale of players.
For the fans, like Gillingham Supporters Club chairman Alan Liptrott, the end to the legal proceedings can’t come soon enough. The dispute has divided opinions in the Medway towns: “I think most fans are very sad that the club is being dragged through the mud due to a very acrimonious divorce between two people who have very strong principles. But if you took a straw poll, the fans would be divided down the middle.”
Both Pulis and Gillingham chairman Paul Scally are no strangers to controversy. In December, while on four months’ leave of absence to pursue the court case, Pulis was dismissed for an alleged act of misconduct by Portsmouth. The full circumstances leading to the dismissal have yet to be made public but Pulis has already said he will appeal against the decision, with the League Managers Association backing his case.
Chairman Scally has been fined £10,000 plus costs by the FA for breaching its rules on betting. Scally had placed wagers to cover any possible bonus payments to players in the event of promotion in the 1998-99 season. The FA have stated that the fine still stands following Scally’s recent appeal, although he has said that he will fight on, possibly via the European courts.
Then came the revelation of a “secret dossier” compiled about the club. According to the Daily Express, the files, put together by a private investigator, contain allegations of “financial irregularities” and illegal payments to players at Gillingham – potentially explosive stuff given what happened to Swindon in 1990. But why did the files end up in the hands of Max Clifford? The publicist put the same question to his unnamed client: “I asked him why not go to the FA and he said a newspaper would get to the bottom of it quicker than the FA. He did go to the FA several months ago but, in his words, they showed no interest, which is why he’s now taking the course he is.”
In fact, the files were shown to the FA last year but they decided to take no action over the contents. FA spokesman Nick Barron explains: “While allegations have been made to us about this case, so far nothing supportive has been produced. If anyone can bring substantial evidence we will gladly investigate it.” The Daily Mail is said to have had the files for a couple of months but evidently decided there wasn’t much to them. Nothing of substance has yet been seen in print and if, as some reports have suggested, the private dick was working for Pulis, it seems unlikely that any details of the allegations will be revealed ahead of the court case. Pulis has refused to comment throughout, while Scally strongly refutes any suggestion of impropriety.
Will the form of the Gillingham players be affected by the approaching High Court showdown? Striker Paul Shaw has admitted it is in the back of his mind: “Everyone has worked so hard over the last few years to get where they are. It would be a huge disappointment if we were demoted– but that is out of our hands.”
The court battle promises to be bitter, with the possibility of a great deal of mud being slung. Fans like Alan Liptrott are already wincing at the thought: “Opposing fans and journalists could have a field day. We want to be fondly remembered as the team that went to Wembley two years running and confounded its critics by establishing itself in the First Division. Now we’re going to be known as the club that washed its dirty linen in public.” In that sense, whoever wins in the High Court, Gillingham FC could come out as losers.
From WSC 169 March 2001. What was happening this month