Football: Doubts over viability of Venables' fight: Sugar applies for security for costs which could be pounds 1m but former Spurs chief executive insists he will fight on

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The Independent Online
THE legal dispute and ill-feeling between Alan Sugar and Terry Venables showed no sign of diminishing yesterday. After criticising Sugar's 'innuendoes' and attitude to fans, an ebullient Venables looked forward to a full trial for control of Tottenham Hotspur. But his ability to afford a month-long court campaign was questioned by Sugar, who has lodged an 'application for security of costs'.

Venables, whose dismissal as Spurs chief executive was upheld on Monday, now has to prove he has the requisite resources to conduct his Companies Act petition to buy out Sugar's 48 per cent shareholding. Sugar's camp, who claimed Venables was already lumbered with costs of around pounds 300,000 (a figure disputed by his aides), said that extended court action could cost up to pounds 500,000 - per side.

Venables retorted that he had the money. 'I was able to show the court I have the financial backing to buy the shares,' he said. 'I am advised I have a strong case.' Venables refused to name his backers, saying only that 'they are a company of a high nature'.

Venables had intended to take Sir Donald Nicholl's judgment 'on the chin' until he read comments made by Sugar in the wake of the ruling. The Amstrad entrepreneur said Venables was 'finished at the club' and that his position as non-executive director was under threat (although this contradicts an undertaking given by Sugar's QC in court).

Venables moved quickly after hearing Sugar's veiled threats of further allegations of 'foul play' in the running of the club. 'When I see these unreliable, irresponsible comments, it strengthens my resolve to go forward with the case,' Venables said. 'He can mud-sling, try to save his face, do anything to try to turn public opinion against me - but I'm strong enough to say: 'Say it, don't make innuendos.' I don't think I'd be going to court if I had anything to be concerned about. He says he doesn't screw his employees - he made an exception in my case.'

Also leaving White Hart Lane was Venables' daughter, Tracey, who has been dismissed as national membership secretary, but Sugar said he hoped to keep the only two players who had so far sought transfers, Neil Ruddock and Nick Barmby. 'They're firmly not up for sale,' Sugar stressed. 'As for the Cundys and Sheringhams, no one else has asked to leave.'

After a meeting with the two coaches, Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence, Sugar said: 'I absolutely hope they will be staying.' Talk of Ossie Ardiles returning as manager was 'press speculation' he added. Ardiles's employers, West Bromwich Albion, said they would resist any attempt to lure away the Argentinian.

Despite the turmoil arising from his dismissal, Venables urged the players 'to play to the best of their ability' and requested supporters not to boycott matches.

The Vice Chancellor was less well disposed to Spurs fans yesterday, saying that their behaviour while the court was in session had been 'exemplary' but it had been 'a serious contempt' at other times, when Sugar was hissed at and threatened. Venables, who strongly denied sponsoring such outburts, said he understood the depth of feeling. 'You are messing with people's religion and people are not going to accept that easily.'

The judge made his comments after accepting an 'unreserved apology' from Sugar for contempt of court in trying to interfere with one of Venables' witnesses, Jonathan Crystal. But Sir Donald said that it would be 'inappropriate for me to take further action' because Sugar was 'sufficiently scarred by their (fans') vilification, abuse and threatening behaviour'.

The Vice Chancellor, then Lord Justice Nicholls, sat on the Nuneaton Borough Association Football Club Ltd case at the Court of Appeal on 21 December 1988, when a precedent was set which may prove central to Venables' next trip to court, which will not be before 11 October.

In the Nuneaton case a smaller shareholder succeeded in buying out a larger one under section 459 of the Companies Act because 'the company's affairs are being conducted in a manner prejudicial to some of the members'. Venables, who will miss his first pre-season training in 35 years, will no doubt spend his time reading up such cases.

(Photograph omitted)

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