Clough wanted cash 'bung', Sugar claims

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The Independent Online
A PICTURE of a football world peopled by men on the make, meeting in motorway cafes to swap bags of money, was painted at the High Court yesterday.

The case before the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Donald Nicholls, in a heaving, overheated Court 35 was 'In the Matter of Tottenham Hotspur plc' - the latest stage in the legal dispute between Alan Sugar, the club's major shareholder, and Terry Venables, the chief executive he is attempting to sack.

Matters involved more than two men and a club; allegations in affidavits read by QCs about the sale of the striker Teddy Sheringham by Nottingham Forest point to a murkier side of what Pele called the 'beautiful game'. From foreign fields to domestic deals, English football is taking a hammering.

In his sworn statement, Sugar claimed that Venables had told him that Brian Clough, the Forest manager at the time of Sheringham's move last August, 'likes a bung'. 'Bungs' - a reward in readies for easing a transfer through - have been rumoured for some time but this was their first public airing.

'Mr Venables told me that what actually happened was that people would meet Mr Clough in a motorway cafe and hand him a bag of money,' Sugar claimed. 'I told Mr Venables it was out of the question. It was not the way I like to conduct business.'

Clough and Venables both deny this unusual practice. 'Not a penny was passed between Terry Venables and me,' Clough retorted from his home. 'The last time I was in a motorway service station, I went for a wee.'

In his affidavit, Venables said: 'The allegation that I told Mr Sugar that Brian Clough 'liked a bung' is untrue. I have never used that expression and I have never used those words or words to that effect to Mr Sugar. As to what I am alleged to have said to Mr Sugar about Mr Clough meeting people in motorway cafes to collect bags of money, it really is a lot of nonsense. Mr Sugar is either making it up or is repeating something he heard from another source.'

The mini-mob of pro-Venables Spurs supporters listened spellbound to these allegations of underhand, under-the-table manoeuvres. Were our motorways full of football club employees or agents speeding up and down dropping off 'bungs'?

Spurs' forwards were certainly in the front line. The sale of Gary Lineker, Sheringham's predecessor, to the Japanese club, Grampus 8, was debated in depth. 'Another example of Mr Venables' so-called mastery of the transfer system was when I realised Tottenham were only receiving pounds 850,000 for Lineker - as opposed to the pounds 4m that I understood we were to get,' another Sugar affidavit disclosed.

'Venables laughed and said that the deal was worth over pounds 4m to Lineker but no one could be expected to believe Tottenham would get more than pounds 1m.'

Venables countered: 'There was no question of Lineker being worth pounds 4m. We bought him from Barcelona for pounds 1.2m aged 28 and he is obviously worth considerably less at 31. Tottenham were getting their money back.'

Venables was surrounded all day by well-wishers; Sugar, at one point, by a phalanx of policemen as the supporters voiced their anger at a businessman's attempt to oust a club legend.

The gallery greeted Sugar's arrival for the morning session with hisses and a single cry of 'scumbag'. The scenes when the entrepreneur left at lunch-time were far uglier: abuse rained down on Sugar, cries of 'scum' 'get out' and 'Judas' echoing round the court vestibule.

Outside in the Strand, many drivers hooted in support of those singing 'Terry Venables' blue-and-white army; Alan Sugar's power barmy'.

Sugar had left by the back door, but the 150 supporters did not have long to wait for a target: when two black cabs appeared bearing stickers extolling Arsenal - Tottenham's much- loathed London rivals - the gesticulations and taunts really took off.