Football: Crystal may be price for peace at Spurs: Venables could lose his last White Hart Lane ally for sake of detente while Lazio refuse to release England's main attraction for US trip

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The Independent Online
THE White Hart Lane power game, as absorbing as any television soap opera, took another twist yesterday which could even result in Terry Venables keeping his job as chief executive at Tottenham Hotspur without recourse to law.

In an about-turn as sharp as that which had temporarily dumped him overboard last Friday, there were moves afoot to achieve a reconciliation between Venables and his chairman, Alan Sugar - but only at a price.

Having successfully rid himself at Monday's board meeting of one Venables confidant - the consultant Edward Ashby - Sugar now wants to remove Venables' only remaining ally on the board, Jonathan Crystal. In such an event, Sugar would apparently consider making his peace with Venables, providing he plays his part in the sacrifice.

This represents a softening of Sugar's position, possibly brought on by the mounting hostility towards him following his dismissal of Venables, a decision which was to be overturned the same day when Crystal, who is a barrister, successfully won an injunction. The two men are scheduled to reappear in the High Court next Tuesday.

Nick Hewer, a spokesman for the Sugar camp, had on Monday dismissed the idea of the one-time partners in Tottenham's salvation ever seeing eye to eye again, but said yesterday: 'If Jonathan Crystal was to resign it might ease the situation between Alan and Terry Venables. It certainly wouldn't harm it any.'

Hewer said that Crystal's position had been discussed in his absence at Monday's board meeting and that the question of his resignation had been put to him. 'Opinions on the matter were sought around the table and whether or not it would be necessary to call an EGM,' he said. 'The general view was that an EGM would be expensive and time-consuming. It would be in the club's best interests - and possibly Terry Venables', too - if Crystal resigned.'

Crystal refused to comment last night, on the grounds that he might prejudice Venables' case at the hearing.

There can be little doubt that the removal of Crystal at a shareholders' meeting, which would take 21 days to call, would be a straightforward business. His 5,000 shares (.031 per cent) make him a nominal shareholder, even though the fourth biggest. Sugar has 47.8 per cent of the shares and can apparently rely on the support of Tony Berry, his vice-chairman, who has five per cent.

Crystal is a close friend of Venables and was the only member of the board to vote against his sacking last Friday. It is he who has advised Venables to fight on in his dispute with Sugar, who was deeply critical of Crystal over the weekend.

Crystal has been involved in several prominent libel cases. He represented the Face magazine when it unsuccessfully defended a libel action against Jason Donovan and acted for Richard Branson in recent dealings with British Airways.

Since joining the Spurs board at the time of the take-over two years ago, he has taken on clients from the world of football, acting for the Tottenham player, Terry Fenwick, in his drink- driving case and for Barnet when they faced FA hearings for financial irregularities.

Demonstrations against Sugar outside his Chigwell home yesterday by Tottenham players, wives and children were in vain. Sugar was not at home. Nor was his wife. 'Alan said it was a bit of a shame,' Hewer said. 'If they had told him that they wanted to come round, he would have invited them on Wednesday when he was at home. He said he would have been only too happy to invite them in for tea.'

(Photograph omitted)

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