Football: Chelsea claim Fleck prize

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The Independent Online
CHELSEA'S waiting game paid off yesterday when they spent pounds 2.1m on Robert Fleck, the 27- year-old Scottish international striker who had walked out on Norwich City earlier in the week.

The Stamford Bridge club have now spent almost pounds 3m on strikers this week, with Fleck arriving in west London hot on the heels of Mick Harford from Luton and John Spencer from Rangers.

'It's a great deal for us,' Ian Porterfield, the Chelsea manager, said. 'He (Fleck) was always top of our list, he was always the man we wanted. This club has been starved of success for 20 years. This deal shows our determination and our ambition.'

Chelsea have been chasing Fleck for most of the summer, with the Carrow Road side rejecting a lesser bid last month. Mike Walker, the Norwich manager, said earlier this week that his club did not want to keep an unhappy player, and Fleck took direct action on Tuesday, when he walked out on the Norfolk team.

'I decided yesterday that enough was enough. I just packed my suitcases and came to London,' Fleck said. 'Chelsea are a big club and I always wanted to come here.'

Fleck becomes Chelsea's record signing, displacing Dennis Wise at pounds 1.6m from Wimbledon, but Porterfield denied that he now needs to sell to finance this week's activity. 'We don't want to sell Andy Townsend. He is the best midfielder in the country and we want him to be playing for Chelsea,' he said.

Andy Payton, Middlesbrough's former Hull City striker, is expected to sign for Celtic today after only 19 games for the Ayresome Park club, who will gain two international defenders - Derek Whyte (Scotland) and Chris Morris (Republic of Ireland) - in exchange. Payton has agreed terms with the Glasgow side, while the Parkhead pair head for Teesside this morning for further talks.

Steve Coppell, the Crystal Palace manager, admitted yesterday that he may not be able to hang on to his England midfielder, Geoff Thomas. The Eagles have already rejected a pounds 2.5m offer from Arsenal for the former Rochdale and Crewe player, but Blackburn - who visit Palace on Saturday - are likely to come in with a bid of over pounds 3m.

'The player (Thomas) has become unsettled because of speculation,' Coppell said. 'I don't want to sell him but I accept Blackburn might be difficult to turn down financially.'

David James, Liverpool's new goalkeeper from Watford, is in line to play at Nottingham Forest on Sunday, displacing Bruce Grobbelaar, who has chosen to make his first international appearance for his native Zimbabwe in eight years. He will play in the African Nations' Cup qualifier against South Africa in Harare on the same day. 'It's a must that I go,' Grobbelaar said. 'This is something I have been fighting for for years.'

Arsenal seek blend, page 28