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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 16:40 GMT
Jealous wives 'forced out' coach
Laura Church arrives at the tribunal
Laura Church said the text message was sent to congratulate the player
A fitness coach at a First Division club was sacked because footballers' wives were jealous of her, a tribunal has heard.

Laura Church was dismissed from Gillingham FC after she sent a midnight text message to player Chris Hope.

Miss Church said she sent the text to congratulate Mr Hope after his performance in a game last July.

The 40-year-old champion bodybuilder, of Hempstead, Kent, is claiming unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination.

But Gillingham chairman Paul Scally told the tribunal he had terminated Miss Church's contract because she had behaved inappropriately in sending the text - not because it angered Mr Hope's wife.

There is no female, or wife or partner that has any influence on the decisions I make at the club
Paul Scally, Gillingham chairman
Coming after a 7-0 victory for the side against Canvey Island, the message read: "Well done, brill game, brilliant player."

Mr Hope told the tribunal he had raised the text message, which he said ended with "xxx", with team manager Andy Hessenthaler after it caused a big row with his wife.

He said: "I was thrown out of the marital bedroom. My wife was still not speaking to me in the morning.

"If you get a text at that time of night with kisses on it alarm bells start ringing."

Mr Hope claimed Miss Church had left an "abusive" message for his wife on their telephone answering machine.

I asked to meet the wives and he refused, saying they would scratch my eyes out
Laura Church
Mr Scally told the tribunal it was "laughable" to suggest the players' wives governed his actions.

He said: "There is no female, or wife or partner that has any influence on the decisions I make at the club.

"Wives would find it laughable. It would never happen and it will never happen."

Mr Scally also denied claims by Miss Church that in early meetings he had commented on her good looks and said the wives might be jealous of her.

Miss Church said she had been praised by players for improving their fitness after she started at the club on 3 July 2003.

'Too much grief'

But after sending the text she was told by Mr Scally on 12 August that the players' wives were giving him grief.

Miss Church told the tribunal: "Paul said to me, 'I'm going to have to let you go. I'm getting too much grief from the wives and the text message is causing lots of problems'.

"I asked to meet the wives and he refused, saying they would scratch my eyes out."

Miss Church said when she texted the player she did not realise how late it was.

Former Gillingham player Ty Gooden told the tribunal he had experienced "cliques" made up of certain footballers' wives - and did believe they could influence Mr Scally.

The case continues.


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