Troubled Newcastle United plunged into crisis as directors quit

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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE United appeared to be in crisis last night as two directors walked out of the troubled football club after apparently losing out in a power struggle with multimillionaire businessman Sir John Hall.

The departures have sparked a fresh bout of controversy at the end of what has been one of the most dismal seasons - both on and off the pitch - the club has ever endured.

Newcastle United plc - the holding company for the football club - announced last night that Sir Terence Harrison, a respected industrialist, was stepping down as chairman of the board. John Mayo, a senior executive at GEC, the electronics giant, has also resigned.

Sir Terence is believed to have left after clashing with Sir John, who returned from semi-retirement last March following the scandal involving his son Douglas and Freddie Shepherd. The two directors resigned in shame after the News of the World newspaper caught them making derogatory remarks about the club's players and fans.

Initially, Sir John said he would only stay until 31 March. However, he has now indicated that he would like to carry on as chairman of the football club.

Sir Terence's departure is likely to spark a fresh crisis of confidence in Newcastle United in the City. On the Stock Exchange yesterday, shares in the club, which were priced at 135p when the club floated last year, slipped 1p to 85.5p. All but one of the directors who were brought in when the club decided to float on the stock market have now left..

However, Newcastle United Plc's board denied the resignations were the result of a major rift with Sir John Hall.

In a joint statement, they claimed it was "constructive" for them to step down to pave the way for a "new non-executive team."

The disunity at Newcastle United can be traced back to before the turbulent season. On 7 January last year, the night Kevin Keegan cleared his personal effects from the manager's desk, it was clear that all was not well at St James' Park.

In five years as manager, with the help of Sir John's large chequebook, Keegan took the club from the brink of the old Third Division to second place, behind Manchester United, in the FA Carling Premiership. He left acrimoniously, later citing the club's preoccupation with a stock market flotation as the reason.

"The flotation had taken over everything," he said, "even the most important part of Newcastle United - the team."

Disgruntled supporters were initially placated by the signing of Kenny Dalglish, who piloted "the Magpies" into the European Champions' League and to the heights of a famous victory against Barcelona last September. Since then, however, the club has been in free-fall.

Struggling to score goals, even when Alan Shearer returned after surgery, the runners-up of last season missed relegation by just four points. The Toom Army, as the suppoers like to be known, also saqw their team lose the FA Cup final to Arsenal with a woefully negative performance, but Newcastle travails on the pitch have only mirrored those off it.

Last January the club became a national laughing stock for protesting about having to play an FA Cup tie away to the non-League club Stevenage Borough. "Is Kenny Dalglish a big girl's blouse," Jeremy Paxman pondered on the BBC's Newsnight programme.

Then followed a fracas between Shearer and Keith Gillespie on a team "bonding" trip to Dublin, which ended with the latter in hospital.

The scandal of the Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall's scoring spree around the brothels of Europe was followed by uproar when Shearer escaped punishment by the Football Association after kicking the head of Leicester City's Neil Lennon in a game.

After yesterday's upheaval at St James' Park, the bewildered fans must be wondering where the next blow is going to come from.