The Monday Profile: Paul Scally

Posted by on Sep 25, 2011 in The Monday Profile | One Comment
The Monday Profile: Paul Scally
Image available under Creative Commons © Leo Reynolds
Having insisted in July that Gillingham’s budget should provide enough wherewithal to challenge for promotion this year, the early signs have been encouraging for chairman Paul Scally. Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Burton Albion was comfortably earned and Danny Kedwell, uprooted from AFC Wimbledon with the promise of a return to his native Kent, scored twice to take his tally for the season to four.The Gills sit sixth in a division that no club has taken a true grasp of yet so have as good a chance as any to step up into League 1. Scally was busy over the Summer – allowing 11 first teamers to leave from last season’s under performing side and paying off unwanted contracted players to ensure a happy ship. However, it was off pitch matters with which he was most concerned. As reported by The Guardian’s Matt Scott in July, the now renamed MEMS Priestfield Stadium was sold in May 2008 to a company trading under the name of Priestfield Developments Ltd – a company linked to another of Scally’s concerns, GFC Holdings Ltd; a deal funded by the Bank of Scotland which, lest we forget, is largely funded by United Kingdom taxpayers and totalling in the region of £10 million.This amounted to a total indebtedness in the region of £14 or £15 million depending on which report you read – clearly a parlous state of affairs, albeit one shared between the club and Priestfield Developments.After 3 tough years that saw the Mark Stimson regime end and the club tumble into the bottom tier, Scally announced this Summer that the ground was to be sold back to the club for approximately a tithe of that £10 million, with the figure most quoted standing at £1,050,000. The chairman, a man who perhaps as much as any other owner in Britain personifies the fortunes of the club he represents, seemed to have pulled another rabbit out of the hat. As reported by Simon Head of Gills365 in our season preview with The Seventy Two, this left a still not unconsiderable sum of £3 to £4 million to pay off – serious, but a more acceptable amount in the short term.

Scally himself pronounced the month leading up to the start of the season as perhaps the most significant in the club’s history and Gills fans flocked to salute him.Scally is one of football’s most flamboyant chairpeople. He took over in 1995, paying a penny for the ownership of a club in a poor state – using the proceeds gained from a photocopier business after his attempts to purchase his beloved Millwall were repulsed.Initially, he oversaw a dramatic reversal in fortunes under the management of Tony Pulis although relations were always stormy. The manager’s militarism would never sit easily with Scally’s interfering and an attempt to be allowed to play as a 40 year old in the final game of a season went down like a copper balloon with the unsmiling gaffer. The intention had been to win a bet with a pal that would have financed an end of season beano for the players in Barbados – Pulis was unamused.Having lost a never to be forgotten encounter with Manchester City in the 1998-9 play off final, Pulis was sacked for gross misconduct – a decision that was to lead to an unseemly court battle – and, to this day, Scally describes the now Stoke boss as “evil and despicable”. Scally himself was fined £10,000for correctly predicting City to beat his side in the showpiece game, albeit before the season started.Nor was this the only enemy made – Alan Liptrott, Chairman of the Gills Independent Supporters Club, suffered a six year ban from Priestfield after refusing to sell a domain name and the Kent Messenger group of newspapers also fell foul of the stadium bouncers (they now sponsor the Medway Stand).

But Gills also enjoyed their best years under Scally. Promotion was achieved the year after Pulis left with Wigan defeated at Wembley and Peter Taylor keeping the pot boiling. An historic eleventh place in the Championship was also achieved and current boss Andy Hessenthaler proved to be a true leader both on and off the pitch. There were also major improvements to infrastructure – Scally had bought £6 million’s worth of fixtures and fittings for £600,000 at a Millennium Dome clearance sale and a ground that he pronounced had been “a derelict khazi” when he arrived now had three shiny all seater stands and one temporary one for away supporters to get rained on.

Clearly, this first Chairman to feature in our Monday Profile series is a larger than life character and true entrepreneur. Now residing in Dubai, he has made no secret in the past of a desire to move the club to another part of Kent. The Medway towns, the centre of Rochester apart, constitute a curious pocket of low income neighbourhoods in a county and region that is one of England’s wealthiest and perhaps Scally feels a move to a richer locale will ultimately boost gates.

Either way, he probably has the wherewithal to make this happen. in advance of the club’s Annual General Meeting in August, he tabled a motion to alter the company’s articles of association in order to remove the requirement to hold AGMs at all – and he has been less than forthcoming on the details of that astonishingly inexpensive stadium buyback. Hands up those who would like to buy something for a tenth of the price you originally sold it for three years ago! Unanswered questions remain.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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