Football: Forest plan vigorous defence to FA 'bungs' charges

Brian Clough, Ronnie Fenton, Steve Burtenshaw and Nottingham Forest yesterday found themselves in the dock, charged by the Football Association with misconduct relating to transfers.

Of the accused, Forest have the most to lose if found guilty and as Jon Culley reports, the First Division club are determined to fight all the way.

Nottingham Forest are preparing for a legal battle with the Football Association over the misconduct charges yesterday levelled against them and their former manager, Brian Clough.

The First Division leaders are accused alongside Clough and his former assistant, Ronnie Fenton, of accepting unauthorised payments in relation to the transfer of two players to Forest from non-League Leicester United in 1989 and Alfe-Inge Haland from the Norwegian club Byrne in 1992. They are further charged with "failing to properly supervise their employees".

Steve Burtenshaw, the former Arsenal chief scout, was also charged with misconduct over unauthorised payments in relation to the transfer of John Jensen from Brondby to Arsenal in 1992. The accused have 14 days in which to respond.

If found guilty, Forest face the possibility of a substantial fine, the loss of League points and even automatic relegation, the fate which befell Swindon after they were found to have made irregular payments to players in 1990.

The Forest chief executive, Phil Soar, indicated last night that the club, which changed hands last year, would fight any punishment on the grounds that the new owners - Nottingham Forest plc - could not be held responsible for the alleged wrong-doings of a previous regime.

"The charges referred to in the letter we have received from the Football Association all occurred long before the takeover of the club by Nottingham Forest plc," Soar said.

"We are seeking clarification from the FA and it is our intention to vigorously defend any charges made against the club."

Forest believe the FA's action against George Graham, who was banned from football for a year after being found guilty of accepting unauthorised payments amounting to pounds 425,500, should be the precedent for their own case. Graham's employers, Arsenal, escaped sanction.

The FA took a tougher line when Tottenham were found guilty of unauthorised loan payments in 1994, docking 12 League points and barring the club from the FA Cup. However, both penalties were ultimately rescinded after the Tottenham chairman, Alan Sugar, began legal proceedings.

The FA's action follows the submission last September of the findings of the Premier League's so-called "bung-busting" commission. Its report, which together with supporting documents added up to 10,000 pages, took more than four years to prepare.

The FA's spokesman, David Davies, in announcing the charges, spoke of "significant changes" in the way clubs are run since the alleged incidents took place, but stressed that allegations of past wrong-doing had to be properly addressed "in the interests of the national sport".

Davies said that rules on agents, that have fallen into disuse, have been revised and that more clubs are operating under the stricter financial regimes demanded of plcs. Rule changes insisting on higher standards are on the way.

"But we have concluded it must be in the interests of the national sport that serious allegations of wrongdoing in the past are properly considered by a disciplinary commission where sufficient positive evidence may exist," Davies said.

"The FA is not looking for scapegoats. But for too long the image of the national sport has been tarnished by serious allegations and now charges must be answered. The time has come to bring these matters to a conclusion."

Clough and Fenton, both now retired from football and therefore outside the FA's jurisdiction, are likely to escape sanction, even though their reputations will be damaged if the FA's disciplinary committee finds against them. Clough led Forest to the First Division championship and twice won the European Cup.

However, Burtenshaw, now 61, still has an active role in the game as chief scout at Queen's Park Rangers. He initially kept his job at Arsenal after Graham was sacked but left when Bruce Rioch gave way to the present manager, Arsene Wenger.

Forest's stance against the threat of punishment was supported by Mel Hart, the Forest Supporters' Club chairman.

"It would be unfair if the club would have to suffer for events that allegedly went on under a previous regime," he said. "The club is just starting to get back on the right track after the power struggle of 12 months ago."

Chris Bowron, editor of Forest fanzine "The Tricky Tree", said that the allegations against Clough would sour the memories fans had of him. However, he added: "If true, what it was doing, in effect, was taking money out of supporters' back pockets. People who have been paying hard-earned cash to watch their team."

The sports minister, Tony Banks, who had previously warned that he would act if the Football Association did not, welcomed its "speedy response" to the Premier League report.

David Mellor, the chairman of the Football Taskforce, said: "Football has got to be seen to be straight. The exchanging of brown envelopes is as offensive to football supporters as was a similar problem over MPs."

Nottingham Forest

FA Charges:

Making payments outside FA rules. Misconduct for failing to properly supervise their employees.

What the Premier League's inquiry alleged:

During Brian Clough's spell as manager, the business structure at Nottingham Forest under the then chairman, Fred Reacher, was not up to the job.

The inquiry's conclusion:

"The control over the manner in which business was conducted was wholly inadequate. Mr Clough and Mr Fenton were allowed to conduct matters without proper supervision or control by the board. In our view Mr Reacher was careful to avoid interfering in the way in which the club's management was conducted by Mr Clough and Mr Fenton".

Brian Clough

Age 62. Nottingham Forest manager 1975-1993.

FA charge: Misconduct for allegedly accepting an unauthorised payment on the transfers of players.

What the Premier League's inquiry alleged: Two non-League players with the now defunct Leicester United, Anthony Loughlan and Neil Lyne, were to be transferred to Forest for pounds 15,000 in August 1989. Ronnie Fenton, Clough's assistant, then came to an arrangement for the fee to be doubled and the difference returned in cash to him. He subsequently met a United official at a service station on the M1 and collected an envelope allegedly containing pounds 17,000 in cash. Four months later a United director complained about missing money and a further payment of pounds 20,000 was made by Forest in addition to a another pounds 3,500 "donation".The Forest secretary, Paul White, admitted the matter "had been brought to my attention."

The inquiry's conclusion: Forest appeared to have paid United on three separate occasions a total of pounds 61,000 for two players who should have cost pounds 15,000. "We consider the responses received from Mr White and others... have been unreliable, partial and deliberately misleading. There is direct evidence of a fraudulent arrangement by which Mr Clough and/or Mr Fenton acquired a substantial sum of money for the two transfers."

Ronnie Fenton

Age 57. Nottingham Forest reserve team manager 1977-87. Brian Clough's No 2 1987-93.

FA charge: Misconduct for allegedly accepting an unauthorised payment on the transfers of players.

What the Premier League's inquiry alleged: A pounds 150,000 fee was agreed between Nottingham Forest and the Norwegian club Bryne for Alf-Inge Haland in October 1992. The agent Rune Hauge brokered the deal. However, by the time the transfer went through in December 1993, the fee was pounds 350,000 - with Bryne still only expecting pounds 150,000. Three months later, Fenton, having left Forest when Clough retired in May 1993, received pounds 45,000 from Hauge as "commission" for the Haland transfer - pounds 30,000 of which Fenton deposited in a bank account in St Tropez. Asked to produce documents relating to the payment, Fenton declined to do so because the relevant documents were in the hands of the Inland Revenue.

The inquiry's conclusion: Fenton knowingly struck a deal with Hauge to benefit from the transfer. "None of the witnesses can be regarded as wholly reliable. Paul White [the Forest secretary] and Fred Reacher [the chairman] professed total ignorance... We find it difficult to accept the chairman and secretary of a Premier League club were left so much in the dark."

Steve Burtenshaw

Age 61. Served Arsenal for a total of 22 years, including caretaker-manager at end of the 1985-86 season. Chief scout under George Graham. Now on the coaching staff at Queen's Park Rangers.

FA charge: Misconduct for allegedly accepting an unauthorised payment on the transfers of players.

What the Premier League's inquiry alleged: Burtenshaw, while chief scout at Arsenal, made a deal with the agent Rune Hauge whereby he would be paid up to 25 per cent of the fee Hauge received for the transfers of Scandinavian players recommended to British clubs by Burtenshaw. A sum of pounds 35,000 was paid into Burtenshaw's bank account in September 1992, two months after Arsenal's signing of the midfielder John Jensen from Brondby.

The inquiry's conclusion: Burtenshaw "knowingly received payments" from Hauge with no formal contract to explain them, including some payments "derived directly from fees paid by Arsenal to Brondby in connection with the transfer of John Jensen".

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