Oldham Athletic, a club still reeling from the disastrous decision to consider signing rapist Ched Evans, are facing a possible £100,000 legal action for sacking a player over spot-fixing charges which have now been dropped, The Independent understands.
The club’s chairman, Simon Corney, and two of his directors insisted the Colombian winger Cristian Montano be instantly dismissed when the claims surfaced in December 2013. When the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) acted on his behalf at an internal Boundary Park hearing, its representative was abruptly asked to leave the premises.
Oldham, who asked the PFA to lead their efforts to sign Evans until the plan collapsed last week – were the only of the four clubs whose players were accused of spot-fixing by Mazher Mahmood in the Sun on Sunday to sack a player.
Oldham resisted advice that they risked severe financial consequences if the tabloid reporter’s evidence proved unsubstantiated. Blackburn, Tranmere and Preston North End all heeded advice to wait for the National Crime Squad to complete its investigation.
The case has now been dropped, amid concerns about the evidence of Mahmood, better known as the “Fake Sheikh”, whose work has come under scrutiny since the collapse of the Tulisa Contostavlos case last July.
Montano’s lawyer, Roy Ledgister, told The Independent that there were plans to sue Oldham for unlawful dismissal and loss of earnings, as well as for wages owed to the 23-year-old when he was dismissed. As one of Oldham’s higher earners, on around £1,500 a week after his £50,000 move from West Ham United in 2012, Montano may be able to claim £39,000 which went unpaid when Oldham ripped up his contract. If his lawyers can also prove unfair dismissal, he could be due an additional compensatory sum of £76,500.
Oldham’s refusal to consider that the spot-fixing case against Montano might be flawed runs counter to the liberal stance they took in the case of Evans, whom they decided was entitled to an offender’s right to rehabilitation.
Three sources have told this newspaper that the club did not initially want to follow any grievance procedure. When persuaded that an internal grievance hearing must be held, in line with employment law, they did not allow Montano’s barrister to appear. Instead, the PFA’s delegate liaison executive at the hearing read out a statement on the player’s behalf, after the barrister advised Montano not to put forward any evidence, to avoid compromising himself in the police investigation. When the union’s representative broached the question of unpaid wages Montano was allegedly owed, he was forcefully asked to leave.
Sources close to the case suggest that Oldham’s determination to sack Montano stemmed from the fact that he had also faced a rape accusation, while on West Ham’s books, which was still being investigated when he joined the club. Oldham insisted that they had not been provided with full details of the alleged rape when they signed him. But Montano was also cleared of that accusation.
Montano’s decision not to appeal against his dismissal to the Football League was based on the same reluctance to compromise his legal position. Eventually, he left Britain for Colombia, where he has maintained his fitness at a football club.
An industrial tribunal is likely to hear that Oldham’s decision to sack the player made him unemployable for the 12-month duration of the criminal investigation. “Whether he can come back from this I don’t know,” Ledgister said. “We warned the club that they should treat the tabloid story with caution because it might not have been all that met the eye. By dismissing him, it suggested that the club had insight into what lay behind the case. It made his position difficult and damaged his career and reputation.”
David Israel, head of employment and a partner at Wedlake Bell, said that in the circumstances he expected the player’s representatives to pursue the club for loss of earnings and unfair dismissal.
Oldham made no comment. They said in a statement in November that Montano’s conduct “was found to be such as to amount to gross misconduct, irrespective of the ultimate outcome of the criminal proceedings”.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the PFA, said: “Oldham were the only of the clubs affected by these allegations to have acted in this manner. The case should be a reminder to all players out there that if any approach of this kind is made then report it immediately. It is a very serious issue.”Reuse content