PFA apologises for deserting Gillingham player involved in race row

Gillingham sacked striker because he complained of racial discrimination but union urged him to take pay-off

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The Independent Football

The Professional Footballers' Association has apologised to a black player who was sacked by his club because he complained that they had racially discriminated against him, The Independent can reveal today.

Mark McCammon was advised by the players' union that it would not pursue his case against Gillingham, who dismissed him in January after he alleged he had been victimised because he is black. After he sought his own legal advice to pursue the case, an independent industrial tribunal not only upheld his complaint but ruled that his accusations of racism against the club formed part of the reason for his dismissal.

"[Gillingham] was in no position to assert that the accusations were false… because there was no investigation whatsoever into the accusations," the tribunal stated in its findings, seen by The Independent.

The PFA chairman, Clarke Carlisle, said tonight that the organisation's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, had apologised to McCammon, though the union's advice against taking the case to tribunal had been in good faith. The PFA encouraged the player to take a £15,000 pay-off from Gillingham, rather than incur the far greater costs of a tribunal. But Carlisle said that in future greater weight would be put on an individual's desire to pursue such a case on a point of principle.

McCammon, a former Barbadian international and 2004 FA Cup finalist with Millwall, tonight added to the growing tide of calls for the football establishment to take the issue seriously. The 34-year-old, who has now quit the game, said: "The assumption is that if you make the allegation you must be causing trouble and that you are labelled that way before anyone is willing to investigate it."

The first detailed examination of the case comes as Lord Herman Ouseley, chairman of Kick it Out, declared that he believes there has been "a collective failure on the part of people running the game" to come up with a plan to tackle racism in its many new forms. Lord Ouseley yesterday praised the way that Jason Roberts, the Reading striker, had articulated his concerns two months ago about the assumption that football considers racism to have been expunged from its midst. Roberts, who expressed concerns about the PFA's resources for addressing racism, has withdrawn from the public debate while he waits to see if the organisation will make good on its six-point plan to answer black footballers' concerns about complacency on the issue.

Mr McCammon’s claim against Gillingham centres on what the tribunal found to be the club’s failure to investigate his allegation – a statutory duty under race relations legislation - rather than any specific acts of alleged racial discrimination against him during his playing career at Gillingham. His relationship with the club broke down after relegation to League Two led the chairman, Paul Scally, to reduce his salary by 15 per cent. After rejecting Scally's offer a £35,000 pay-off to leave Priestfield and also joining the injury list, the striker became involved in a heated dispute with his manager, Andy Hessenthaler, in November last year. McCammon claimed, "You're discriminating against me", on the basis that he and his two injured team-mates, Josh Gowling and Curtis Weston, who are both black, were being ordered into training on a day of snowfall when others were not.

Rather than investigate whether the claim was justified, Gillingham initiated a disciplinary procedure which concluded with a dismissal letter in which Scally told McCammon: "You acted in a manner that was aggressive, violent and threatening towards the team manager and made very serious accusations of racism against both the manager and the assistant manager [Nicky Southall]."

The tribunal observed that the letter was not even qualified to refer to "false allegations" or "accusations which you did not believe to be true" or "accusations made in bad faith".

Carlisle said: "We acted in good faith but Gordon [Taylor] is very hands on. He has apologised because one of our members was unhappy with the service that was offered to him. Even if we have methods which are in the best interests of our members, there is always an exception to the rule."

Gillingham yesterday declined to discuss the case, because they won the right to appeal against the tribunal's findings.