Breakaway warning by Coppell

Football
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The Independent Online
TREVOR HAYLETT AND PHIL SHAW

Steve Coppell has warned that the First Division is ready to go it alone and break away from the existing Endsleigh League structure. The Crystal Palace technical director says it is unrealistic to expect clubs to share television money with those in the lower divisions when it is they whom ITV want to feature on Sunday afternoons.

"It is a logical conclusion," said Coppell, "the same argument as when the big clubs left to form the Premier League three years ago. Chairmen are saying to themselves: why should we give money to the Second and Third Divisions?"

Coppell's warning comes two days before First Division chairmen meet to discuss becoming their own masters, and also to hear details of a television deal put together by the Football Association said to be worth pounds 200m over four years to include Endsleigh League games, Coca-Cola and FA Cup ties.

The existing ITV contract, worth pounds 32m over four years to the Football League, expires at the end of this season and has encouraged an attempt by the Football Association to buy out the League's television and commercial rights. The FA's commercial director, Trevor Phillips, believes incorporating the Football League within Lancaster Gate would lead to enhanced marketing opportunities.

"There is a continuing dialogue with the FA but at the moment it is nothing more than that," Lee Walker, the League's Controller of Broadcasting, said.

First Divisions clubs are concerned about the increasing gap between themselves and the Premiership in both playing standards and financial terms. However, Coppell does not agree the breakaway would signal the death of the lower divisions or a move towards part-time football.

Wolverhampton Wanderers hope to raise cash towards the pounds 1.5m purchase of Mark Atkins, the Blackburn midfielder, by selling David Kelly, last season's top scorer, to Sunderland for pounds 950,000. The Republic of Ireland striker travelled to Roker Park last night to discuss terms.

As well as Atkins, Blackburn may be ready to part with the defender Nicky Marker, who is a target for Preston North End, as is the Bolton utility man Neil McDonald.

Dave Bassett, the Sheffield United manager, has enquired about the Birmingham City winger Ricky Otto, an pounds 800,000 buy from Southend.

The Reading striker, Trevor Morley, is seeking legal advice after a tackle by Portsmouth's Jon Gittens which has left him with a fractured skull. He needed four hours of surgery to repair a depressed skull fracture and now has a line of 38 metal staples across his forehead. The former West Ham and Manchester City player now plans to consult lawyers after studying video evidence of the challenge by Gittens in the match at Fratton Park on 26 August.

The 34-year-old Morley, who could be out of action until Christmas, still suffers with blinding headaches after the operation to insert two metals plates above his sinuses.

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