Shilton suspended by Argyle on full pay

Peter Shilton's job as the manager of Plymouth Argyle was hanging by the slimmest of threads last night when the club stopped short of delivering a dismissal notice, opting instead to suspend him on full pay.

As an unhappy situation descended into a tangle of legal complications, Shilton himself was left unsure of how long the ban would last. He thinks it will be for a few days; his chairman, Dan McCauley, says it is more likely to be a matter of weeks.

What is certain is that England's most-capped international player will not be in charge on Saturday, when Plymouth visit Nottingham Forest, one of the clubs he represented with distinction, in the FA Cup third round.

Steve McCall, the former Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday midfielder who has been on the injury list at Home Park all season, has taken over as the player-manager on a temporary basis.

Shilton had been threatened with the sack if he could not come up with a payment of £50,000 by yesterday afternoon's deadline, imposed by the club. The money was wanted by Argyle to satisfy the Inland Revenue, who have been demanding the tax outstanding on the £150,000 signing-on fee that Shilton received when he joined the Second Division club nearly three years ago.

He arrived 15 minutes late for his appointment yesterday with the club's board and spent just six minutes with McCauley and his four directors, before returning to his office to collect his briefcase and then driving home.

He said only: "I have been suspended for a few days pending further discussions. After that, I will have another meeting with the board."

McCauley had earlier warned that Shilton could expect no reprieve after the deadline had expired. That the club sharpened the axe but backed down from administering the final cut seems certain to be down to legal constraints.

Shilton suggested as much when he said, before meeting the directors: "I have asked the chairman through my solicitor for proof from the Inland Revenue that the money is due to be paid at this time. And he has not come up with it at the moment. Until that happens, it would not be sensible for me to commit myself."

Shilton has been paying back the money owing to the Inland Revenue on a monthly basis. However, McCauley said that, with penalties and interest, the sum is likely now to have exceeded £50,000. It seems clear that, with McCauley holding the vast majority of Plymouth's shares and his relationship with Shilton considerably strained, it is unlikely that the latter can return to carry out his job as manager.

Shilton is unwilling to resign and McCauley is desperate to avoid any compensation payment. With 20 months remaining on a two-year contract he signed only last September, that could amount to £184,000.

Asked if the 45-year-old Shilton would eventually be reinstated, McCauley replied that it was unlikely. "We have taken advice from a specialist in employment law and what we have done is right," he said. "We have got to talk to our solicitors and will have to see Shilton again."

McCall said he had been taken by surprise with his appointment. "I feel a bit awkward but what happened is between Peter Shilton and the board," he said. One of the first players he will want to speak to this morning is Shilton's 16-year-old son, Sam, a left-winger who has already made his debut in the first team. He is also hoping that Shilton's assistant, Ian Bowyer, will also help him in the preparations for Saturday's game.

Legend laid low, page 38

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