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Football: Carling backs Premier League

FOOTBALL'S elite clubs have finally agreed to drink from the lager glass they were first offered last summer and turned down. From next season the flagship competition will be known as the FA Carling Premier League via a pounds 12m sponsorship package.

The four-year deal was accepted yesterday by the 22 chairmen without a vote, though that is not to say there was complete harmony. Liverpool, whose tie-up with Carlsberg is the most lucrative shirt sponsorship in the game, are concerned over its implications but reluctantly have accepted they could no longer play King Canute against the tide of support.

Three attempts were made last year to seal a partnership. Last night the sceptics were happy to raise a toast to Rick Parry, the League's chief executive.

'We are delighted to have secured a deal with Bass (the brewers) at long last,' Parry said. 'The money will be important as we look to upgrade grounds and take the game into the next century. Time is a great healer and instead of haggling, clubs are now committed to pulling together.'

So much so that the deal would appear to signal the death of the so-called 'Platinum Eight' who came together, with Liverpool as the chief protagonist, to scupper the original proposal. Gradually the other seven have concluded they could no longer afford to say no to the money, which works out at pounds 136,363 per club per season.

Apart from Liverpool, three other clubs - Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest - have shirt contracts with brewers and Parry said talks will continue to make sure those deals are not disrupted.

Bass has close links with sport and is involved in the Tennents Charity Shield, the Tennents Scottish Cup and the Stones Rugby League Championship.

Disappointing viewing figures on satellite television were thought to be a barrier to a major Premier League sponsorship but Simon MacDonald, the Bass marketing director, said the success of the BBC's Match of the Day made this arrangement 'good value'.

'We are delighted to be associated with what has always been recognised as the most fiercely competitive and exciting League in the world,' he said.

Neil Webb, the Nottingham Forest midfield player, is to undergo exploratory surgery on his Achilles tendon injury on Monday.

Joe Lovejoy, team news

Football Diary, page 50