Gillingham Football Club wins highest scoring game yet – in court case against ‘bullying and blackmailing’ catering providers Centerplate

Opponents will be kicking themselves for turning down £1.5 settlement offer in 2014.

Gillingham FC has just won a massive payout approaching £1.4 million in a high-stakes court battle with “bullying” catering giant Centerplate UK Ltd over a serious breach of contract.  The case was heard in the High Court in London (Royal Courts of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, before Sir Alistair MacDuff). In addition to the almost £1.4m damages that Centerplate now has to pay the Club, the caterer also has to pay both sides’ legal costs: likely to be an eye-watering further £1 million. The catering bully will now be kicking itself that it refused a £1.5m all-in settlement deal offered by the Club in 2014.  That’s what you call an ‘own goal’.

Gillingham’s court victory comes hot on the heels of more good news for the Club: last night’s draw with Blackpool lifts them outside the relegation zone. Looks like the Club’s fortunes are seriously turning around.

The Court case revolved around Centerplate bailing on a £28k-per-month ‘guaranteed payment’ contract for providing all food at the Club’s Priestfield Stadium from banqueting to burger stands. In March 2015 they simply walked out mid-season in a manner which the Judge described as a moonlight flit, leaving the Club and its supporters completely in the lurch.

The caterers denied liability until July 2016. Following that admission the caterers then proceeded to dispute the scale of damages they should pay the club as a consequence of their breach.

Centerplate was formerly Lindley Catering Ltd and just last week announced that it was being bought out by one the world’s largest multinational companies, Sodexo.

In unusually strong language for a Judge, in his Judgment Sir Alistair MacDuff described the caterer’s behaviour as “disgraceful”, “bullying” and said they had engaged in “blackmail”, stressing these were words he himself was introducing to the case. He said the company’s behaviour was “wholly unprofessional and something of which it should be ashamed”.  In stark contrast he described Gillingham Football Club’s Chairman Mr. Paul Scally as “admirable” and praised him for his running of the Club.

This was a case where the Club has to standup to the catering Goliath.

Mr Scally has been completely vindicated for his decision to persevere with the litigation, which put the Club under significant financial pressure for the past two and a half years.

But this week the Judge showed a red card to Centerplate – and thanks to his Judgment, the Club will now be able to invest in its facilities and staff.

The future is looking much brighter indeed for Gillingham FC.

Tom Lawrence, a London partner at law firm SA Law, who headed the legal team for the Club and specialises in big commercial disputes said:

“From my many years’ experience in the commercial courts I have never heard such strong words used to describe parties in such black & white terms. There’s usually far more ‘grey’ in cases like this. It proves how right the Club’s chairman Paul Scally was to stand up to them and fight them all the way.”

Club Chairman Paul Scally says, “To say the past 2½ years have been stressful and challenging would be an understatement.  Against a background of personal ill health resulting in major open heart surgery last October, I have just about hung onto this case, which has been difficult and draining due to the disgraceful manner in which Centerplate, its UK CEO Adrian Dishington and Chief Legal and Talent Officer in the USA Keith King conducted themselves.

I was never in doubt as to the merits of the case and I would like to thank our legal team, especially Tom Lawrence of SA Law, for all their help and guidance, without whom we would not have achieved the result last week.

I would also like to thank our Director of Events and Facilities at GFC, Steve Ware, who has done an excellent job along with the other catering management and staff in rebuilding the ‘priestfield.com’ brand such that our performance this year is greater than Centerplate (the catering experts) were able to achieve in any year of their operation.

This Xmas, Priestfield has already sold over 4500 covers for its ‘Alice in Winterland’ themed dinner/dances – a record achievement in terms of income and numbers.

Indeed Centerplate, and in particular the management involved in the breach of our catering contract, should hang their heads in shame for the disgraceful and wholly unprofessional manner in which they treated Gillingham FC, one of their catering customers.

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