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Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Stoke dream could have been Gillingham's - Tony Pulis

Tony Pulis
Pulis's Stoke will face Valencia in the last 32 of the Europa League

By Gemma Sterba
BBC Sport

When Gillingham fans see former manager Tony Pulis return to Priestfield with Premier League Stoke City in the third round of the FA Cup, many could be forgiven for wondering what might have been.

The 53-year-old was still learning his trade when he arrived at Gills from Bournemouth in 1995.

During his four seasons in charge, it was Gillingham, rather than Stoke, who were on the march up the football pyramid.

In 1999, he took the Gills to within touching distance of what is now the Championship. But, in the Division Two play-off final at Wembley, they famously let a 2-0 lead slip against Manchester City, and went on to lose on penalties.

That game marked the end of Pulis's spell at Priestfield, as he was controversially sacked by chairman Paul Scally for gross misconduct over an issue that would later be settled out of court.

The bad blood between the pair continues to flow to this day.

In the lead-up to Stoke's FA Cup final appearance last May, the Gillingham chairman described his former manager as the most "evil and despicable person I have ever worked with".

But despite his bitter departure, Pulis is relishing a return to the Kent club. "I'm pleased to go back. I had four great years there," he told BBC Radio Kent.

"I enjoyed the football club, it came out of administration and we built three teams. We built the initial team to get promoted out of the old fourth division, with some great characters and some great players.

It's a cracking draw for us as a football club and for us as individuals

Tony Pulis

"We then put together a team that stabilised our position in the third division, and then finally the team that eventually got promoted and went on and had some great years in the Championship."

The two Manchester clubs being paired together may have grabbed all the headlines in the third round draw, but for others, the chance to see Pulis and his old adversary Paul Scally come face-to-face again is more intriguing.

But Pulis, who also had short spells at Bristol City, Portsmouth and Plymouth, does not like the game being billed as a grudge match.

He insisted: "That's nothing to do with the majority of my fond memories there.

Paul Scally
Paul Scally has been Gillingham chairman since 1995

"I'm a football man, I think what happened with myself and the chairman has been well documented. I've moved on and he's moved on as well.

"I've also always been a person who will stand up and fight my corner and I've done that at every club I've been at.

"I'm fortunate that at Stoke City I've been given the opportunity and the chance to build a football club and that's what we've done.

"It's built along the lines we worked on when I was at Priestfield - and that is getting real genuine, honest players in, get the ball rolling, and add a bit of quality."

Pulis's experience at handling matters on the pitch is easily matched off it, and when quizzed about how he would react if Scally was to offer him a handshake on Saturday, he simply reiterated: "It's a football match and not a match between two individuals.

If I'd led Gillingham into the Championship - and maybe had a few more years at the football club - I'd certainly have been sitting there thinking why can't we do it?

Tony Pulis

"I'm managing Stoke and when the whistle goes, I'll want Stoke City to win - I'll understand and expect the Gills' supporters to want Gillingham to win."

Thirteen years on from the last time the Stoke boss took charge of a Gillingham team and so much has changed for both sides.

Pulis has not only guided the Staffordshire club to the Premier League, he has brought European football to the Britannia.

Gills meanwhile are back where they began under Pulis, trying to climb out of the bottom tier.

"It's a shame really to see them back where we started, but that's the way it goes," said Pulis.

"As a manager, I learnt a lot at that club - how to build teams, what to try and get from people, how to handle players, some of whom had played at the highest level."

So could Pulis have brought the same success to Priestfield as he has to the Britannia, had he been given more time, and the type of support he has received from the Coates family at Stoke?

"If I'd led Gillingham into the Championship - and maybe had a few more years at the club - I'd certainly have been sitting there thinking why can't we do it?

"Other clubs have done it - and that's what I've done at Stoke."

BBC Radio Kent will have commentary of Gillingham v Stoke on 96.7 and 104.2 FM and at bbc.co.uk/kent



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see also
Cup draw delights Gills chairman
05 Dec 11 |  Gillingham
Pulis plays down talk of signings
29 Dec 11 |  Stoke
Pulis holds fond Gills memories
04 Nov 08 |  Gillingham
Pulis gets Stoke job
01 Nov 02 |  Stoke City


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