Football: Premier League inquiry reveals football's dark side

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The Independent Online
Football is not corrupt, but it has a shady underbelly in which motorway service stations, cardboard boxes full of cash and North Sea trawlers each play a part.

That is the leading conclusion from the long-awaited Premier League's "bung" inquiry, which finally reported yesterday, three years and 10 months after being set up.

The report, which interviewed 66 witnesses in person and 24 by telephone, implicates a number of people as involved in either "improper behaviour" or infringement of Football Association regulations. They include Terry Venables and Brian Clough, a number of other club officials and several agents.

No one has been charged as the Premier League do not have that authority. The FA does and they pledged an "urgent and serious investigation" with "a decision on charges" to be "taken shortly".

In view of the weight of evidence - the report runs to more than 300 pages, 145 of them on Teddy Sheringham's 1992 transfer from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham - it would be a grave neglect of duty if no one follows George Graham into the dock.

The most serious allegations centre on Ronnie Fenton, the former Nottingham Forest assistant manager. The inquiry concludes that he received pounds 50,000 cash from the Sheringham deal, with the consent and knowledge of Venables, his former assistant Ted Buxton, and Tottenham chairman Alan Sugar. They suggest some of this money was passed on to Forest employees, possibly including Clough, and that a substantial sum was used by Fenton to pay for his daughter's wedding.

This money is said to have been exchanged at a service station on the M1 at a meeting between Sheringham, Fenton and Frank McLintock, who was acting as an agent for Sheringham and Tottenham. All three are said to have deliberately misled the inquiry.

In another case, involving the signing of two players from non-League Leicester United, the report concludes: "There is direct evidence of a fraudalent arrangement by which Mr Clough and/or Mr Fenton acquired a substantial sum of money from the two transfers."

Steve Burtenshaw, George Graham's former assistant at Arsenal, is also said to have "knowingly received payments...derived directly from from transfer fees paid by Arsenal to Brondby in connection with the transfer of John Jensen." That was one of the transfer deals which led to Graham's sacking at Arsenal and a one-year ban from the FA. Burtenshaw survived but left Arsenal this summer.

The report states that regulations concerning agents, "created a cult of dishonesty". After noting two cases where Tottenham, then managed by Venables, paid agents by means of "disguised invoices" for transfer brokering, it adds: "we do not believe Tottenham were unique or exceptional" in this behaviour.

Many of these rules have now changed as the game has come to accept agents. More regulation is clearly required, however. Several agents are listed among those who did not co-operate as the enquiry would have liked and the Spurs fullback Justin Edinburgh is quoted expressing his dissatisfaction at discovering Eric Hall represented both him and Tottenham when he joined them from Southend.

Edinburgh, who paid Hall pounds 5,000 cash for brokering the deal, said: "I felt Eric had let me down, that he had said to me he was working in my best interests, that it seemed that he was always working for the club...I felt he had taken me for a ride." It is clear that several agents have exploited the amateur administration of some clubs, especially since the explosion of overseas signings.

Despite their comment about a "cult of dishonesty" the commission did not believe the game was corrupt. Robert Reid QC, who presented the report with Peter Leaver, the chief executive of the Premier League, said he did not believe players were bought and sold for gain, but "improper payments" were sometimes made in conjunction with transfers arranged "in the interests of the club"

Reid formed the commision with Rick Parry, Leaver's predecessor, now at Liverpool and Steve Coppell, then head of the League Managers' Association, now managing Crystal Palace. Reid said "we did not speak to everybody we would have liked to. Some of those we did requested legal representation. Others only co-operated in part." Among those was Clough who, said Reid, had refused to appear but did "give me valuable information on the telephone, possibly involuntarily".

He did not, however, support Kate Hoey MP's call for a Statutory Inquiry. "It would be nice to be able to pull people's fingernails out until they answered but it is not practical. They had statutory powers in Norway and did not get much further," he said. Hoey, incidentally, was not prepared to repeat her allegations about Venables, made under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, to the commission. "Nothing surprises me about politicians," Reid said.

Reid added: "I'm sure there are cases we have not uncovered. It would be astounding if there were not. There are also some loose ends. Improper dealings usually involve cash and we have had trouble tracing money."

The commision uncovered one case where a transfer did not go through because a "bung" was not paid but there was no evidence of match-fixing.