'I've been treated shamefully by Glentoran. This is not the club I grew up loving': Gary Smyth blasts Glens after departure
Gary Smyth has described how he felt sick and disgusted when he opened a letter to inform him that his contract had been terminated at Glentoran.
It's almost one year to the day since Smyth's arrival at The Oval alongside fellow Glentoran legend Paul Leeman was heralded as a bright beginning for the famous east Belfast club.
Little did he know then how dark the end would be - or how soon it would come.
Twelve months ago, Smyth left the helm at Harland & Wolff Welders to become Glentoran's new assistant manager, working under Ronnie McFall and beside the experienced Kieran Harding with Leeman coming in as coach. The quartet were labelled the dream team.
By January, the season had become a nightmare for the legendary McFall due to a series of poor results, and he felt the full force of the fans' frustrations. McFall left his post and Smyth took over as boss.
A Glentoran statement at the time read: "Gary Smyth will take responsibility for first-team matters as outlined in our long-term strategy."
Smyth was assisted by Leeman, and Harding stayed on. Slowly results improved, giving the team a crack at finishing seventh and making the European play-offs.
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The fans were behind Smyth, one of their favourite sons who supported the club as a boy and enjoyed three spells at The Oval as a committed and classy defender, winning league titles and cups galore. In a rollercoaster campaign, things looked on the up.
Then, in March, Smyth was told by the club that he couldn't be manager beyond that month as he did not have the coaching qualifications to meet Uefa licencing requirements. In came Mick McDermott as head coach with Smyth left in limbo.
In the meantime, a takeover from a consortium led by British-Iranian businessman Ali Shams Mohammad Pour, a long-time friend of McDermott and new assistant manager Paul Millar, was taking shape. Last week it was given the go ahead by shareholders at an EGM.
If that offered hope for fans, with talk of millions being invested, this week's events have left a sour taste, with Smyth receiving a letter on Tuesday by recorded delivery to inform him he had been sacked.
That same night, the club issued a brief statement which has been blasted by supporters.
It said: "Assistant manager Gary Smyth has parted company with Glentoran. The board of directors wish Gary the very best for his future both inside and outside the game. As a member of the 250 club, Gary will always be very welcome at The Oval."
Now Smyth, well respected across the Irish League, has had his say.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph in an explosive interview, the 49-year-old declared he was shocked to receive a letter via registered post stating that the board of directors wanted to inform him that his position within the club had been terminated with immediate effect.
"I'm disgusted. The whole situation stinks. I think it is shameful the way this has been handled," Smyth said.
"I had no idea a letter was coming. Nobody from the club or board got in touch and, when I opened the letter and read what was inside, it was a real sickener for me.
"This isn't the Glentoran I grew up loving and supporting, or the club I was proud to play for. I always saw the club as having class on and off the pitch. I certainly haven't been treated that way.
"I sent an email to the Glentoran chairman Stephen Henderson on Friday, May 10 asking for an explanation of what was happening and got no reply. The next contact from the club was the letter by recorded delivery.
"My phone hasn't stopped since the news came out. People have been on asking me how I am and wishing me well and I really do appreciate that, but nobody from the board has got in touch. To be honest that has disappointed me.
"I enjoyed being manager. The players were great to work with and gave me everything. I thought we were progressing. The supporters were also great with me as manager. They always have been, which is something that meant a lot to me over the years because I grew up a Glentoran fan.
"The Glens have been a massive part of my life, and the club I know and love deserves to be up there challenging for trophies every season for our loyal support."
Smyth still had two more years of his contract to run. Asked what he will do now, he said: "I'll weigh things up and see what I'm going to do next. I've seen people suggesting I was offered a new role. I was never offered a new role. After March 31, I was told about various options such as gardening leave or if I could think of a role for myself which, frankly, I thought was ridiculous. The whole thing has been a mess."
When contacted yesterday, Glentoran, who hope the takeover is finalised in the coming days, refused to comment further on Smyth's departure. The future of Leeman is set to be decided this week.