Football: Filbert Street farce as board schism deepens

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The Independent Online
LEICESTER CITY'S off-the-field problems were exacerbated yesterday when it was announced on the Stock Exchange that the club's chairman, John Elsom, and its plc chief, Sir Rodney Walker, had resigned. Within minutes, however, Elsom had issued a counter statement, denying that either he or Sir Rodney had stepped down at the Midlands club, who are caught up in a boardroom power struggle.

Then came another twist to the intrigue when it emerged that the club's Manchester-based stockbrokers, Bell Lawrie, had severed its association with Leicester City.

The original statement to the Stock Exchange was issued at 2.08pm by the Leicester City plc spokesman, Paul Barker, via the promptings of the club's so-called Gang of Four. They consist of the Leicester chief executive, Barry Pierpoint - a bitter rival of the City manager, Martin O'Neill - and club directors Roy Parker, Gilbert Kinch and Phil Smith, a quartet who are in opposition to Walker and Elsom.

They were advised by the club's stockbrokers not to issue the statement but it was still released and read: "Leicester City plc announce that on Friday September 10 Sir Rodney Walker and Mr John Elsom resigned as directors."

That angered the club's stockbrokers and the firm immediately tendered its own resignation. Then came the denial that Elsom and Walker had resigned. Elsom said: "I can emphatically deny that neither myself nor Sir Rodney Walker have resigned from Leicester City."

It is the latest twist in what is fast becoming an ugly confrontation between the various factions at Filbert Street. Sources close to the club insist that the four only want O'Neill to remain at Leicester City on their terms.

It is a throwback to last summer when Pierpoint, Parker and Smith tried to set up a five-man committee to run the footballing side of the club. That would have meant O'Neill having just the one vote out of five, and no overall control. The plan collapsed when O'Neill, then wanted as manager by Everton, stood firm and the intervention of Walker brought some stability to a volatile situation.

Now the Filbert Street Gang of Four are trying to wrest control from Elsom and Walker - who have an ally in City financial director Steve Kind - which would leave the way open for another push to try to take control, or even oust O'Neill. He has performed wonders on a shoestring budget at Leicester in securing three successive top 10 Premiership finishes and two Worthington Cup final appearances. But the departure of either Walker or Elsom might see the Northern Irishman, who signed a new contract in the summer, leave the club.

A source close to the club said: "The Gang of Four are trying to oust Walker and Elsom to gain overall control of the club plc but they know what that would do to Martin O'Neill. They either want O'Neill out or only want him to stay on their terms. But Martin has made it clear on many occasions that he will not be anyone's puppet."

O'Neill would not comment in detail on the boardroom crisis other than to say: "It is a matter of grave concern."

In another ongoing boardroom struggle, the Liverpool-Walton MP, Peter Kilfoyle, is threatening to involve the Government in Everton's takeover saga. Kilfoyle wants to call in the Department of Trade and Industry over Peter Johnson's continued ownership of two clubs, Everton and Tranmere. Kilfoyle has written to the Football Association demanding action over Johnson's dual role.

The involvement of Kilfoyle, a junior defence minister, comes with football authorities admitting that they are powerless to make Johnson comply with FA regulations and sell one of his controlling interests.

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