Chairman gutted by Gills exclusion

Gillingham 1 Fortune-West 21 Scarborough 0 Attendance: 10,421
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The Independent Online
It is a truth universally acknowledged that football chairmen are in it because they wished they could have made it as a player. The theory was tested to the full yesterday as the Gillingham manager, Tony Pulis, had the tough task of leaving his chairman, Paul Scally, out of the team.

Speculation had been rising all week that Scally, a tubby, bespectacled 40-year-old who has been credited with turning Gillingham's finances around this season, would exercise a droit de seigneur and get himself into the team in order to win a pounds 20,000 bet with friends.

Unfortunately for Scally, the Gills, though guaranteed promotion before yesterday's game against Scarborough, needed a point to confirm their second place above Darlington, thereby securing pounds 10,000 in prize money. Pulis, in a reversal of football's usual power game, put his foot down and confined his chairman to the stands.

"It wouldn't have been fair on the players if somebody like Paul came and took a place," Pulis said. "The publicity has been fun, but I pick the team, and Paul knows the situation."

Scally, who had gone to the trouble of registering himself as a non-contract player before the transfer deadline, took his demotion on the chin. He contented himself with jogging along the touchline in a tracksuit, signing autographs for the fans in a packed stadium.

Despite Scally's rejection, the referee probably double-checked the pre- match mascot for excessive facial hair and might have been alarmed by the presence of a David Puttnam in the Gills' line up. What might have been next? Oasis turning out for Manchester City or Damien Hirst replacing David at Sheffield Wednesday?

Traditionalists will certainly prefer their chairman doing what comes naturally, sacking managers, as the Scarborough chairman John Russell had threatened to do with Mitch Cook yesterday.

Nevertheless, at half-time, a crestfallen Scally visited the press box to announce, tongue in cheek, that he was "gutted" by his manager's decision.

Scally would have been doubly consoled by the result however - a narrow victory, secured by Leo Fortune-West's first-half header, and a scrappy game, which proved just how much the team needs him. He joined them for a lap of honour at the end, then it was all off to the Casino Cabaret Rooms in Rochester for the Player of the Year dinner. Mr Scally was not expecting to win.