Gillingham call racism claim 'malicious'

 

Claims by a black footballer that he was unfairly dismissed after being racially discriminated against at his ex-club were made "maliciously and were without foundation", an employment tribunal heard yesterday.

The Gillingham chairman, Paul Scally, said the League Two side had not had to deal with an allegation of racism in 18 years. He was "absolutely confident" that racism was not a feature of the club and said that any allegations would be taken seriously.

Addressing the tribunal in Ashford, Kent, he said that claims by striker Mark McCammon that he was discriminated against because of the colour of his skin contained "no substance".

McCammon, 33, who has played for Barbados, alleges that he and other black players at Gillingham were treated differently from white players.

The forward claims he was ordered to come into the ground amid "treacherous", snowy driving conditions while some white players were told they were not required. McCammon has also alleged that the club tried to "frustrate him out" by refusing to pay private medical bills to help him regain his fitness following injury.

Instead, he claims he was offered the same operation on the NHS rather than privately, a move he described as "completely out of character" for a Football League club, and that he was fined two weeks' wages when he paid a visit to a private consultant.

In contrast, the former Charlton, Swindon, Millwall and Brighton player said that a white team-mate was flown to Dubai for treatment by an eminent physiotherapist at the club's expense.

In a letter sent to the Professional Footballers' Association outlining his grievances, McCammon also claimed he was told not to blog while others were permitted to.

Yesterday, Mr Scally suggested McCammon "manufactured" the racism allegations to justify his actions a week earlier when it is said the player barged into manager Andy Hessenthaler's room and accused him of being racist. The incident, on 30 November 2010, happened after McCammon and his two house-mates, who were also black, were ordered to attend the stadium amid widespread snow across South-east England when other players were not required. When he arrived at the club, McCammon said in his witness statement that he headed to Hessenthaler's room to confront him about being "racially intolerant" over the decision to order them in.

Dubai-based Mr Scally told the tribunal: "I'm absolutely confident and convinced that there is no racism at the club.

"The incident on 30 November where Mr McCammon said he made some allegations of racism were, I believe, made maliciously and were without foundation." "I can honestly say we have never in 18 years had an allegation of racism to consider but we take racism seriously as a football club.

"I didn't take [McCammon's claims] seriously as I considered it to be a vindictive claim of racial discrimination. "I considered it to be a malicious, vindictive, wild and aggressive comment, not worthy of consideration as racism."

McCammon signed for Gillingham in 2008 on £2,500 a week and was the club's highest-paid player. The first season went well but by his third season the Kent club had been relegated to League Two and he suffered an injury that needed an operation.

Mr Scally said he saw it as an obligation by players to see consultants and medical professionals designated by their football club.

As McCammon did not feature in the manager's immediate plans, it was decided that he would receive treatment on the NHS rather than privately.

Mr Scally denied that this represented a breach of contract, and said it was right to dock him two weeks' wages for going ahead with unauthorised treatment without the club's consent.

McCammon is suing Gillingham and Mr Scally for race discrimination, breach of contract, unfair dismissal and failure of his ex-employer to pay him.

The case continues.

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