Football: Golds keep City options open

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The Independent Online
David and Ralph Gold, with chairman David Sullivan the co-owners of First Division Birmingham City, yesterday said that they were less keen to quit the club than their partner after charges made by season ticket holders, supported in court by Birmingham City Council, led to managing director Karren Brady being bailed at the Crown Court on Friday.

David Gold said yesterday that he and his brother, who own a 50 per cent stake in the club, had made no decision to sell but added that there was an emergency board meeting tomorrow.

"We are depressed and upset by the court's decision," he admitted. "How can this happen to Karren Brady?" Some season ticket holders were aggrieved when the club insisted that they joined its travel club, otherwise access to tickets for away would be blocked. "Maybe we made a mistake with the away travel club last year and perhaps we could have been given a small fine and got on with our lives. But Karren could end up with a criminal record and that's outrageous.

"We have the best supporters in the country but for three or four season ticket holders to bring this case it's devastating.

"We are also upset that the city council is pursuing this at such a high level. We feel that everybody is against us except the supporters. I have considered this a low profile, relatively unimportant issue."

Birmingham and Brady had been charged with five counts under the Consumer Protection Act between April and August 1995 and the managing director will now have to appear before Birmingham Crown Court on November 15. It was after Friday's committal hearings at Birmingham Magistrates Court that the club's board made its threat to quit en masse.

"The owners fully accept their responsibilities and legal obligations as directors but are outraged that on the basis of complaints from a minority of their own season ticket holders the managing director is on bail pending trial and the club and she stands, if convicted, to be liable for unlimited fines. The current costs are running into tens of thousands of pounds."

Despite having put pounds 7m into rebuilding the St Andrews ground and the team that plays there, they could "no longer work in a community where the council and a small minority of their season ticket holders are working against them," the board's statement read.

One spin-off from Sullivan's threat to dump Birmingham came from the ever-inventive Manchester City rumour mill which suggested the soft-porn publisher would acquire a controlling interest at Maine Road. "A load of tripe," the City chairman Francis Lee said. "All three major shareholders of Manchester City will tell you this report is utterly absurd."

Bryan Hamilton, the Northern Ireland manager, took time out from preparing his side for their World Cup qualifier against Armenia in Belfast to issue a circumspect comment after the aforesaid rumour mill named him as the next City manager. "It's an interesting story," he said, not denying it. "I am flattered to be linked with a club as big as City but obviously my thoughts at the moment are focused on the game with Armenia." Hamilton's contract with the Irish FA has two years to run.

Another chairman under fire, Bill Archer of Third Division Brighton, broke his silence over the club's precarious future which on Tuesday night led to two pitch invasions during the match against Lincoln by disgruntled supporters. Similar incursions last season led to an FA suspended sentence (games to be played behind closed doors, points deducted) hanging over them. Now they have a second FA charge to answer.

"It's totally illogical to be accused of destroying a football club when in 1993 we actually saved it," Archer said. "Brighton is safer now than it's ever been. We've sold the Goldstone Ground, straightened out the balance sheet and we're desperately trying to roll over our investment into a new stadium." He said that Dick Knight's takeover consortium did not have sufficient funds to buy the club and his own plans to build a new stadium at Toads Hole Valley in Hove continue.

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