Breakaway threat all but vanishes

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The Independent Online
The prospect of First Division clubs launching a breakaway competition all but disappeared last night when it was disclosed that resignation letters, which had been prepared by all 24 clubs, would not be arriving in time to meet a midnight deadline.

The Football League had been facing the threat of a split over the familiar questions of television money and power-sharing. The chairmen of Crystal Palace, Oldham and Norwich - Ron Noades, Ian Stott and Robert Chase - had persuaded other First Division clubs to prepare resignation letters in a battle of brinkmanship over power-sharing following the capture of a pounds 125m Sky TV contract.

However the League's assistant secretary, Andy Williamson - who has criticised Noades, Stott and Chase for their conduct in the matter and publicly suggested they should all be charged by the Football Association with bringing the game into disrepute - said last night: "The resignation letters will not be arriving. We have that news on impeccable authority from one of the prime movers in this case and it now begs the question of why those letters were prepared in the first place."

Under the rules, notices of resignation had to be lodged in writing with the League by midnight last night if a breakaway was to be made next season. Possible options for the First Division clubs included a bid to form a second division of the Premiership or to stand alone under their own commercial and sponsorship umbrella.

Noades has insisted the issue is much broader than just the distribution of the new television money. He claims the First Division just wants equality with the Second and Third Divisions, who currently have the power to block any new plans put forward with their combined voting strength.

However, the League president, Gordon McKeag, has indicated that talks about the First Division clubs having a greater say in League matters will continue.

An extraordinary general meeting of the Football League in London last Friday reached agreement on distribution of money from the new television contract. However, the meeting voted against a proposal to give First Division clubs more votes on League affairs. After that meeting First Division clubs met to consider their position, and the threat of mass resignations still hung over the weekend.