Millward sacked as St Helens cite 'unacceptable behaviour'

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St Helens have sacked Ian Millward, the most successful coach in their history, for gross misconduct.

St Helens have sacked Ian Millward, the most successful coach in their history, for gross misconduct.

Millward was suspended last week and the club announced yesterday that it had "no option" but to dismiss him with two-and-a-half years of his contract to run - a move that will inevitably trigger a hostile reaction from fans who demonstrated in his favour last Friday night.

"The decision to terminate Ian's employment has not been taken lightly," said the Saints chairman, Eamonn McManus. "Unfortunately, given events, the club has been left with no option. No one person is bigger than St Helens rugby football club. The long-term name and reputation of the club is paramount and cannot be sacrificed to accommodate the kind of unacceptable behaviour displayed by the head coach, no matter what his coaching skills and reputation."

Millward last night described himself as "hugely disappointed with the news". His solicitor, Richard Cramer, said: "Ian has immediately launched an appeal and he remains cautiously optimistic that it can be overturned and he can be reinstated."

McManus detailed the three charges which have cost Millward his job after five years in charge. They were, he said, "an unprovoked aggressive, foul-mouthed attack against a young employee of St Helens, a sustained, intimidatory aggressive and foul-mouthed tirade at a young, female employee of Warrington" and "swearing at the fourth official at the Bradford Easter Monday game." McManus said that the "combination of them is pretty overwhelming.

"It is beyond question that these matters have brought the good name of St Helens into disrepute." The chairman also revealed that "other matters of alleged misconduct - some potentially more serious than those already decided upon - are currently being investigated by the club." McManus said that those matters could be taken further, if Millward decided to contest his dismissal in court. "We are very, very confident that he would be wasting his money," he said.

McManus said that it was not a time at which he would have wanted to change the club's coach. "But if I didn't, I would be a coward, because I'd be avoiding a decision that had to be made.

"I would love any other employer to look at this and say they would have made a different decision." McManus said that it was "beyond doubt that the trust and confidence between the club's principal officers and Ian has now irrevocably broken down.

"The club is simply not prepared to tolerate this kind of behaviour from any employee, let alone its head coach." McManus also said that since his suspension Millward had been "deliberately trivialising serious charges and conducting a comprehensive media campaign which has caused the club serious and unfounded embarrassment."

More than 2,000 fans stayed behind after the game last Friday in protest against Millward's suspension. "We've had a backlash but it was against a background of a lack of real information," McManus said.

Millward's assistant, Dave Rotheram, will be in charge for the game at Hull on Friday, but the New Zealand Test coach, Daniel Anderson, who comes out of contract this year, is the early favourite to take over.

"We've had some unsolicited applications from some of the best coaches in the world," McManus said. "I've been amazed at the number and quality of applications."

Whoever does take over, however, will have a hard act to follow. Since taking over from Ellery Hanley, another popular sacked coach, Millward has won two Challenge Cups, two Super League titles and the World Club Challenge.

He has never been far from controversy, though, culminating in last year's betting scandal which saw two players suspended, and one of them, Martin Gleeson, sold to Warrington.

"I've been at this club three or four years and every year there seems to be some massive controversy. I'm sick of cleaning up this rubbish and I hope this is the last piece of rubbish I have to clean up," McManus said.

Last night, as a crowd of St Helens fans gathered outside Knowsley Road, the editor of the Saints supporters' website, David Lyon, said: "Having read the statement, I feel the club had no choice but to sack him."