Football: Spurs are 'staggered' by punishment: Tottenham escape relegation over illegal payments but FA sanctions send a shudder through White Hart Lane

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The Independent Online
ALAN SUGAR, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, last night felt like the man who has avoided the death penalty only to be given life imprisonment. The Football Association's punishment for Spurs' financial irregularities included the deduction of 12 points from next season's Premiership campaign, suspension from the 1994-95 FA Cup and a record pounds 600,000 fine plus costs.

It amounted to the most severe sentence meted out by the English game's ruling body to one of its members. In the circumstances, simple relegation - Spurs' greatest fear - might have been a blessing.

Sugar deemed it a 'bitter pill' to swallow, especially since Spurs had themselves told the FA of the offences. 'I was always brought up to believe honesty is the best policy, and have followed that throughout my career,' Sugar said. 'I have been assured by the FA commission that there is no personal vendetta against Spurs and that we are being dealt with on a level playing field.

'That being the case, and in view of the Inland Revenue inquiries into most Premiership clubs, my suggestion to the chairmen of other clubs is to follow my lead and disclose any irregularities. This is because if the punishment dealt out to us as a result of being honest is anything to go by then God knows what could happen to them if the FA were to stumble across irregularities.'

Tottenham players and supporters were 'staggered' at the sentence, even though relegation had been avoided. That may now come anyway. Next season four clubs will be relegated as the Premiership is pared down to 20 and Spurs will be competing at a huge disadvantage. They only avoided relegation in the season just ended by four points. 'Slow torture' was how David Howells, the Spurs midfielder, described it. 'They might just as well have gone ahead and relegated us. I'm absolutely staggered.'

Steve Davis, of the Tottenham Independent Supporters Association, said: 'It's a disaster. Next season we will be fighting to stay in the Premier League with 12 points deducted. The FA Cup is the trophy associated with Tottenham and it's probably the only thing we have a chance of winning next season.'

Rough justice or not, it was a day of disgrace for one of England's most famous clubs at the Wembley Conference Centre, only a stone's throw from the old stadium they have graced so often. Pleading guilty to many of the 40 charges of malpractice, Spurs' six- man delegation spent six and a quarter hours trying to convince the commission that they deserved leniency.

The total cost of the punishment inflicted upon Spurs is impossible to estimate accurately, but it is likely to run into several million pounds if Spurs are in fact relegated next season. Loss of revenue from gate receipts and television in the FA Cup would, of course, be dependent upon how far they travelled in that competition.

The fine alone is six times more than the previous record one of pounds 105,000 imposed on Chelsea for alleged irregular payments to three players three years ago.

So much then for the allegations made in some quarters, notably in the county of Wiltshire, that the FA would go easy on its illustrious member (Swindon were relegated two divisions, a sentence commuted to one on appeal, for similar offences four years ago). In the event the mitigating circumstances pleaded by Spurs in a 1,000-page presentation appeared to amount to very little.

The five-man commission found them guilty as charged of breaches of transfer regulations and were apparently unmoved by Spurs' protests that they were the crimes of a previous regime; perhaps not previous enough for the FA's liking since two directors, Douglas Alexiou and Tony Berry, and Peter Barnes, who is now secretary, still remain from the earlier one.

The FA also seem to have viewed unfavourably the fact that Spurs, though fully cooperative, did not bring the irregularities to the attention of the FA until some two years after they came to light in 1991.

The main charge centred on Tottenham's purchase of three players, Mitchell Thomas, Chris Fairclough and Paul Allen. Spurs allegedly made a 'loan' which it was never the intention the players should repay to Thomas and Fairclough and an ex-gratia payment to Allen, prior to their fees being fixed by the tribunals but without the tribunals' knowledge. A player's income is taken into account when this body assesses the fee and in these cases it might otherwise have fixed a higher figure. The selling club could therefore claim that the fees were not settled fairly.

Spurs felt, however, there were crucial differences between their case and Swindon's. Unlike Swindon, where criminal proceedings resulted in the conviction of their chairman, Brian Hillier, Spurs had declared all their transactions to the Inland Revenue, who have given them a clean bill of health.

Sitting on the commission were two lawyers, Keith Wiseman, a Southampton director, and Frank Pattison of Durham FA, two club chairmen, Jack Wiseman, of Birmingham City and John Reames, of Lincoln, plus Ray Kiddell, of Norfolk FA.