Mark McCammon And The Gillingham ‘Race Case’
In the past year, Luis Suarez, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Emmanuel Frimpong have all been charged with racially related offences – I think it may have been mentioned in the media once or twice.
I’m not going to go too deeply into the rights and wrongs of those cases – frankly they’re irritating enough the first time you hear about them. All four cases – and I’m trying not to be dismissive here – essentially all boil down to accusations of name-calling. What was in dispute in each was whether the named person momentarily acted in an uncivilised way, and used terms that the law (and significant portions of society) consider unacceptable.
The employment tribunal brought by Mark McCammon against Gillingham FC has looked at a much more serious allegation – that a company tried to force out a contracted employee, possibly because of the colour of his skin.
McCammon claimed that on one occasion he and two other black players were ordered to come into training on icy roads, while white players were allowed to stay at home. It’s difficult to tell the truth from a distance, as the bare facts are generally coloured (no pun intended) depending on which side tells the story. Even after a verdict has been reached, and it is a fact in the eyes of the law Gillingham DID victimise McCammon, we can’t be certain WHY McCammon was mistreated.
Personally – and this is based purely on gut instinct – I find it hard to believe that in this day and age, Paul Scally and Andy Hessenthaler (Gillingham’s chairman and manager at the time respectively) discriminated against a player because of his race. I could buy the more understandable (but still devious) possibility that one or both of the pair chose to make his life unpleasant as a way to get out of their financial commitment.
Coverage of the McCammon case has focused on the racial angle – not surprising, as racism in football seems a sure-fire way to get readers at the moment. And by classifying his client’s treatment as the result of racism, McCammon’s lawyer will have kept the spotlight away from his client’s behaviour. McCammon has previously clashed with Dennis Wise, Mark Stimson and Mark McGhee when they were his manager, hinting at least that he may have a confrontational attitude. His argument with Stimson – the man who signed him for Gillingham – was over his reluctance to come in for extra training.
McCammon doesn’t seem popular amongst Gillingham fans in general. He went through the 2009-10 season without scoring, and has drifted around a number of clubs across his career. He’s only played more than 25 games for three of his clubs, having only just broken the 50 mark at two of those. Based on my own experience I’d describe him as an Emile Heskey type – a big, hugely muscular centre forward, but who didn’t dominate the opposing defenders as consistently as someone of his size would be expected to.
Of course, none of that proves that Hessenthaler was justified in whatever actions he took, but McCammon doesn’t seem to have been competing to the best of his ability. Bear in mind that I’m willing to accept the judge’s verdict that McCammon was mistreated, just not the media’s reporting that it was done because one of his bosses hates blacks. Various stories have stated that McCammon was ‘racially victimised’, suffered racial victimisation in a race case (or racism case) in either their headline or subheading. Given how incredible this claim is, it doesn’t seem too much to ask they back it up.
The fact that the judge found in favour of McCammon means that, in the eyes of the law, Gillingham DID discriminate – I have no problem with that part of the reporting. But I’ve yet to see any sort of statement from anyone other than McCammon and those arguing for the principle of racial equality from a distance to back up the claim. At the very least, as a reader I’d like to know if those three were the only black players at Gillingham at the time, what the other players and staff thought of them and why McCammon’s team-mates decided against launching a tribunal. It appears more likely (again as an outsider) that the three would be called in for reasons of discipline, fitness or underachievement, rather than their race.
I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of the case – though it’s worth stating that Gillingham are looking at appealing the “bizarre, extraordinary and wrong decision.” I don’t know any more than the reader does whether Paul Scally or Andy Hessenthaler reached the point where they decided to give up on McCammon, and either decided to ‘frustrate him out’ to save money, or interfered with 11 different moves away, with “the intention of sabotaging my career,” but a court has found that they discriminated in one of these contradictory ways.
The discussion of racism allegations tends to go to extremes – Suarez’ claim that his conviction was orchestrated by a Manchester based conspiracy against him is probably the low point, but there’s been plenty of others.
The owner and manager of a Football League club have been accused of abandoning their contractual obligations and duty of care toward their player, motivated either by a desire to save money or personal bitterness. That’s a serious enough allegation, of the type employees in any industry should be protected against, without being mixed in with apparently baseless allegations of racial discrimination.