Football: Angry Spurs fans eye new `Double'

Two games into the new season and White Hart Lane is already embroiled in crisis.
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The Independent Online
IT IS NOT the Double long- suffering Tottenham supporters had in mind when they implored their long- failing club to match Arsenal's success. But in their present predicament they will settle for this double occurrence: the departure of Alan Sugar as owner and chairman and of Christian Gross as coach.

Followers of the struggling north London side woke yesterday to learn from some reports that Sugar was involved in negotiations to sell his controlling stake. As always, however, things are not quite what they seem and billionaire businessman Joe Lewis and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, named as likely buyers, were both quick to dismiss suggestions that they were interested in taking over.

There seems little doubt that Sugar will walk out of White Hart Lane if the abuse continues to be as personal and vicious as he encountered from frustrated fans on Saturday following Spurs' second successive three- goal defeat but that will not happen just yet and nor it seems will he be so quick as to end the troubled reign of Gross whose tenure, it has been said, will end with this weekend's game at Everton.

It is more likely that Sugar will give the manager he appointed last November to succeed Gerry Francis - an appointment which stunned the football world - a little longer to turn things round before he finally gives up the ghost. On Monday night Gross went to Elland Road to watch Blackburn, who are Tottenham's opponents in two weeks' time, take on Leeds United, which would be a strange move for a manager who knows he is going to be out of work on Saturday night.

Yesterday bookmakers refused to lay any more bets on Gross getting the sack. Graham Sharpe from William Hill said: "We have taken a lot of bets of amounts up to pounds 500 on him getting the chop even before the first ball has been kicked and once they lost to Wimbledon on the opening day we started to see many more three figure wagers come in. Now, after the defeat by Sheffield Wednesday, we have decided to withdraw."

Most of the White Hart Lane faithful, who have never really forgiven Sugar for ousting Terry Venables in such unseemly fashion in 1992, will be glad to see the back of both these central characters.

It will sting Sugar's pride if public pressure forces him out but that disappointment will be softened by a considerable increase on his initial pounds 8m outlay to buy into the club in 1991.

Likely buy-out figures of pounds 80m have been mentioned for a publicly quoted organisation whose fortunes away from the pitch have been transformed by the chairman even though the current share price is not impressive.

Spokesman for both Lewis and Murdoch were quick to emphatically deny any interest yesterday.

"He is definitely not interested in buying Spurs," said Lewis' representative. "He telephoned me himself to say just that. He was bemused by these stories."

Under existing Premier League rules Lewis, who uses his investment trust ENIC for his involvement in football, would be banned from Spurs without first selling his 25.1 per cent shareholding in Rangers, a stake worth pounds 40m.

As it stands it is not possible for anyone to hold 10 per cent in more than one club belonging to a league represented on the International Football League Board. However, legal experts believe the legislation would not hold up in court.

The Murdoch connection has arisen out of the recent appointment of Sam Chisholm to the Tottenham board. Chisholm was chief executive and managing director of Murdoch's BSkyB and he also negotiated the original deal between Sky and the Premier League for broadcasting rights.

Nick Hewer, a spokesman for Sugar, denied that talks had taken place with either Murdoch or Lewis and added: "I spoke to Alan last night and this morning and there's nothing in these stories at all."

Sugar was seen at the club's training ground in Chigwell again yesterday. Hewer added: "He is very concerned about the team and that's where his focus is at the moment. The club is superb in so many ways but unfortunately it's not so good on the pitch at the moment and that's the frustrating part. Everyone here is dressed up with no party to go to."