Football: Celtic players in pay dispute

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THE MANAGING director of Celtic, Fergus McCann, hit out last night at three players who refused to attend a publicity event because they were unhappy with bonus arrangements at the club.

Marc Rieper, Regi Blinker and Jackie McNamara were all due to launch a new Umbro away kit at a photocall, but it was called off at late notice following the pay dispute. McCann said the dispute concerns bonus money awarded should Celtic defeat Croatia Zagreb over two qualifying legs this month and reach the Champions' League. The first leg is tomorrow.

"It is very unfortunate, but the players appeared to be claiming they were not being offered enough money in terms of additional bonuses for the next European tie, which I find outrageous," McCann said.

He added that generous bonuses had been paid for winning last season's Premier League title, and even for Celtic's earlier qualifying match in Dublin against St Patrick's Athletic last week. "To be honest, without being disrespectful, in St Pat's we beat a team whose salaries in total did not match one player's weekly tax here.

"We shared the benefits of that game in Dublin quite substantially with the players with a huge bonus 10 times above the standard rate."

McCann admitted the situation might now need to be reviewed and revised, but complained at the players opting to debate the matter around 48 hours before Celtic's most important match for a decade. He said: "The concern I have is this idea of holding the club to ransom. We've shown in the past we will not be blackmailed by an individual player nor will we be by an approach of this kind."

The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, was due to hold talks with the defender, David Unsworth, last night in an attempt to persuade him to return to Villa Park.

Unsworth's move to Everton has collapsed after the Goodison Park side failed to meet Gregory's deadline to complete the deal by 5pm last Friday.

"I shall be reminding him that Villa are the club that want him," said Gregory. "David has got to get back to work and the situation cannot drag on any longer. He needs to start training again if only to make sure that he doesn't get out of condition."

Manchester United unveiled details of their new television station, MUTV, yesterday. The channel, which will broadcast six hours per evening of news, interviews and archive games - but no first-team matches - will be available via cable for pounds 4.99 a month from 10 September.

The Nationwide League's opening games at the weekend attracted the highest crowd figures in over 20 years. Matches in the three divisions attracted almost 350,000 fans in total - a six per cent increase on last season's opening day figures.

The experienced Wolves striker, Steve Claridge, joined Portsmouth yesterday for an undisclosed fee.

Fifa, world football's governing body, confirmed yesterday that Polish clubs were free to compete in Europe this season. Fifa had threatened the clubs with suspension after the Polish FA sacked its board.