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Football: Royle quits as chairman blocks signings

Joe Royle resigned yesterday as Everton manager after a day of behind- the-scenes wrangling over signings and the future of the Goodison club. Turning the team round could now become Bobby Robson's problem.

Royle informed the chairman, Peter Johnson, of his decision after a transfer deadline day of intrigue during which three prospective signings were blocked. He had wanted to bring in a pair of Norwegians, Tore Andre Flo and Claus Eftevaag, and re-sign Barry Horne from Birmingham City. However, Johnson stopped the deals.

Reportedly, Johnson was attempting to contact Robson, but the 63-year- old former England manager, who turned down the chance to take over from Kevin Keegan at Newcastle two months ago, could still take Barcelona to both the Spanish league title and the European Cup-Winners' Cup this season. Even if he was interested in the Everton job, a summer move would be the most likely.

The problems at Goodison began in the morning when SK Brann of Bergen demanded more money for Flo, claiming they had to give a percentage of the striker's fee to his previous club. Johnson felt the combined price of just under pounds 3m for the pair was fair and would not increase the offer.

Royle wanted the money paid and planned to bring in Horne as both a player and a prospective member of staff. The Welsh captain had agreed a three- year deal with Royle who was willing to pay pounds 250,000 for him, but Johnson saw this as a backward step. That proved the last straw.

With his planning in tatters, Royle clearly felt he had no option but to leave in circumstances similar to Howard Kendall's departure when the board stopped him from signing Dion Dublin three seasons ago.

In a statement, the club said the departure was with "mutual consent", but the pressure had been building on Royle. Only one win in 12 Premiership games from mid-December had raised fears that the Goodison side would be dragged into a relegation scrap, although those were partially allayed by the 1-0 home victory over Derby 11 days ago. But the Everton fans' indignation was clear again as the side slumped to a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Manchester United on Saturday.

Royle's decision to drop his veteran goalkeeper, Neville Southall, twice for Paul Gerrard also mystified the board and some senior players as rumours of discontent grew.

However, the timing of Royle's departure is awkward as Everton still face a potential relegation struggle at the end of a poor campaign. It will be a difficult job for the next management team, which could include Dave Watson, the club's veteran defender, in the short term.

Royle, who had been one of the fans' favourite centre-forwards, was considered the Messiah of Goodison when he guided them to their FA Cup triumph over Manchester United in 1995, but the view had grown among the fans that he had to go.

The editor of Everton's main fanzine called Royle's departure "necessary''. Graham Ennis, who edits "When Skies Are Grey", said Evertonians had begun to voice concern about whether Royle was up to the job but he described the timing of his departure as "appalling''.

"I think everyone thinks it was necessary. Our postbag has been full of letters about Royle recently and very few of them have been in support of him," Ennis said. "I think there has been a reluctant acceptance of the fact that Joe Royle wasn't up to the job."

Ennis said that Royle's departure had left the club in the lurch. "I think it was inevitable that it would happen in the summer and I think it would have been better to leave it till then."

As one vacancy was created yesterday, another was filled. John Ward made a quick return to Bristol when he was confirmed as the new manager of Bristol City.

Ward left Bristol Rovers at the end of last season when they declined to offer him a new contract and has been working as assistant to Adrian Heath at Burnley, who like City are involved in the Second Division promotion race. He has signed a two-year contract at Ashton Gate.

"I'm delighted to be back. I made a lot of friends in the area and enjoyed the rivalry between the two Bristol clubs," said Ward, adding that nothing would please him more than for both City and Burnley to go up.

Ward will take charge of City for the first time when they entertain Gillingham on Saturday. City lie just two points off a play-off place.