McCammon axed over racism claim, says tribunal

Ian Herbert northern Football correspondent

Mark McCammon has had his share of ups and downs with managers but there was a time when his place among the footnotes of British football history seemed more encouraging than the one he now occupies – as the first footballer to have been found by an employment tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed because of his race. He was the 75th-minute substitute for Millwall against Manchester United in the 2004 FA Cup final who nicked the ball from Roy Keane as United cruised to their 3-0 victory. He still has Cristiano Ronaldo's shirt from that day.

Football can be a difficult place, however, and it was not straightforward for McCammon, who drifted through four clubs in as many years when he arrived at Gillingham on £2,500 a week in June 2008 – very big money for a player who chairman Paul Scally believed would get them out of League Two for good and for whom it never worked out.

It was after the club had won promotion and come straight back down in 2010 that the breakdown in relations started. Gillingham wanted him out for old-fashioned football reasons. As one of their highest-earning players, he had not proved a good signing. Against this background, Scally was less than impressed when he called the club on 30 November last year to find that McCammon and his two housemates and team-mates Josh Gowling and Curtis Weston – both also black – had not arrived at training because of snow.

The chairman made it known the injured trio that they he would be docked two weeks' wages if they did not turn up by 1pm. When he showed, there was a major row between McCammon and manager Andy Hessenthaler and the striker alleged racial discrimination, on account of it being three black players who had been ordered in.

The evidence on which tribunal found that he was subjected to racial victimisation in the manner of his dismissal was very straightforward. Gillingham stated when writing to the player to say that one of their two grounds for dismissal was "very serious accusations of racism" made against Hessenthaler and his assistant Nicky Southall. "The letter of dismissal clearly stated that a principal reason for [McCammon's] dismissal was [that] he had made accusations of racism," the tribunal found.

Gillingham are unable to discuss this, having successfully petitioned for an appeal.