Football: Bungs inquiry ends in a sham

TWO MONTHS short of five years after the instigation of the bungs inquiry, during which evidence from 66 people was taken covering over 10,000 pages and at a cost of over pounds 1m, the Football Association yesterday finally delivered its eagerly awaited verdicts on those charged with misconduct - or rather it did not.

With the alacrity and resolution that one has come to expect of English football's governing body, it was decided to defer the sentence on the former Arsenal chief scout Steve Burtenshaw, who pleaded guilty to accepting an unauthorised payment, until "probably" today, while the verdict on Ronnie Fenton has been adjourned while investigations concerning his former club, Nottingham Forest, continue during "the next few months".

Burtenshaw apologised to yesterday's three-man disciplinary hearing after admitting that he received an illegal payment of pounds 35,000 from the Norwegian agent, Rune Hauge, following the transfer in September 1992 of John Jensen from Brondby to Arsenal. Burtenshaw, now chief scout at Queen's Park Rangers, was charged after the Inland Revenue was alerted that a large sum of money had been deposited in an off shore account.

"The unauthorised payment is outside FA rules," the FA spokesman, Steve Double, said. "It was accepted by the FA commission that the payment was not solicited and counsel representing him said that other than this incident he had an unblemished 50-year record in football. He added he was guilty of misjudgement for which he was deeply sorry."

In the case of Fenton, the allegations concern a pounds 45,000 payment from Hauge and a missing sum of pounds 46,000 from the transfer of Neil Lyne and Tony Loughran from non-League Leicester United to Forest.

Fenton, who until recently was coaching in Malta, failed to attend the hearing and claimed he was outside FA jurisdiction because he had retired from the game. No mention was made of monies being refunded.

So peters out one of the great scandals of the modern game, which most definitely peaked with the sacking and one-year suspension of George Graham, the former League championship-winning manager of Arsenal - and he was back at work more than two years ago. Since when most people have either forgotten that there ever was a bungs inquiry or long since given up caring.

The Labour MP Kate Hoey, whose speech in the House of Commons in January 1995 did much to highlight the question of corruption in football, wished to have nothing to do with the matter yesterday.

"I haven't been involved in it for a year so I'd rather not comment. It's not my area - ask the Minister of Sport," she said.

Having withdrawn the charges against Brian Clough on the grounds of ill health and with the inquiry team unable to establish that there was any case to answer against Terry Venables, Graeme Souness and Dave Bassett, the FA was left with very much Second Division figures in Burtenshaw and Fenton while the charge against Premier League Nottingham Forest involves an administration which is no longer in place at the club.

The inquiry team had claimed they could find no evidence of deep-rooted corruption in the game.

"No matter which way you look at it, the report highlighted that there were very few irregularities," John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association, said yesterday.

"With the involvement in football of plcs has come better business practise, which has tightened whatever loopholes were possibly there."