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Fans stunned as Hope seeks transfer

GILLINGHAM captain Paul Smith and Barry Ashby will decide today whether to follow Chris Hope in demanding to leave Priestfield.

Smith and Ashby met with advisor Andrew Mills at his London office last night to discuss last week's decision by chairman Paul Scally to fine and discipline the pair for attending and accepting trophies at the Gillingham Independent Supporters' Club annual Player of the Year presentations.

Smith won the award while Hope was runner-up. Ashby went along to collect Marlon King's third place prize. Hope responded by slapping in a transfer request yesterday. Smith and Ashby are expected to announce their intentions today.

Mr Mills said: "We've had a meeting but there is no comment to make at this stage."

Hope's transfer request, so soon after Sunday's final match at Watford, rocked the club and stunned supporters.

Since his arrival from Scunthorpe for a bargain £250,000 in July, 2000 he has made 104 consecutive appearances while becoming a model of consistency. The centre-back was furious at the decision to fine and discipline him over something he believes has been blown out of all proportion.

His wife, Lisa, is rumoured to be ready to take their home in the north of England off the market ready to move back. Hope had also been involved in negotiations over a new contract after indicating that he wanted to stay.

After equalising in Sunday's 3-2 win at Watford, Hope and his team-mates indulged in an unusual goal celebration which saw the defender admonished for being a naughty boy.

In a statement issued on Gillingham's official website, Mr Scally explained that Hope had taken the decision for family reasons. "Chris loves the football club and I believe he took the decision reluctantly. The manager has told me that Chris did explain that it was purely for family reasons.

"I am bitterly disappointed, but I also understand the predicament Chris is in. The club will do everything in its power over the next few weeks to persuade Chris to change his mind.

"He has played a vital role in the club's progress. He is an outstanding player and a great character. I have spoken to the Hope household and I'm hoping to meet with the player and his wife either today or tomorrow.

"Should Gillingham Football Club be unsuccessful in persuading Chris to stay, we will be demanding a substantial fee for what the club considers to be one of its greatest assets."

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