Football: Spurs board within their rights 'to hire and fire'

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TERRY VENABLES lost his campaign to remain as chief executive of Tottenham Hotspur because Sir Donald Nicholls, the Vice Chancellor and Head of the Chancery Division, ruled that the Spurs board had the right to 'hire and fire' whom they wished, writes Henry Winter.

Venables, who was ordered to pay costs estimated at pounds 100,000, must now consider whether he can afford to continue to a full trial later this year, for a hearing of his Companies Act petition for the right to buy out the majority shareholding of Alan Sugar, the club chairman. This will still prove 'difficult', the judge said.

Venables had gone to court to win a renewed injunction against his dismissal by a majority board decision on 14 May. The Vice Chancellor, noting that Venables and Sugar were 'at daggers drawn', ruled against Venables' restoration because it would 'merely postpone the date at which all concerned must face up to the fact that his appointment, for better or worse, has been terminated.

'There is nothing to suggest the board of directors did not have the normal right to hire and fire the company's chief executive, or that there was an understanding that, if he and the chairman fell out, they were nevertheless bound to continue to support each other indefinitely.

'I appreciate that Tottenham is a very special type of company. Its shareholders were attracted, not by commercial considerations, but by the wish to become more closely linked with the club they support, even passionately.

'I don't think it would be right or sensible for me to make an order having the effect of overriding the majority decision of the board and restore to Mr Venables his functions as chief executive.' Sir Donald's desire was to end the 'paralysis that cannot be in the best interests of the club'. Put simply, 'there was simply no longer room for both of them at the club.

'Clearly both are forceful, strong- willed, determined men. The acrimony reached the stage where it became impossible for these two talented men to work together any longer.' The judge had received 700 letters 'expressing support for Mr Venables'.

Venables' suitability as a chief executive had been questioned in court by Sugar's QC. Philip Heslop told the court that Venables failed to give a 'full and frank' explanation of how pounds 58,750 in cash was withdrawn from Tottenham's bank account during negotiations to buy Teddy Sheringham.

The money was paid to Frank McLintock's First Wave Management and the invoice showed it was payment for 'distribution, network, travel and merchandising' for Tottenham in the United States.

But, according to Sugar, both McLintock and Venables had said the payment was for the part First Wave played in organising Sheringham's transfer from Nottingham Forest. The court was told that McLintock said he used the Sheringham deal as a lever for getting paid money owed to him.

The court heard that at Venables' request McLintock returned pounds 8,750 of the money in a brown envelope to Peter Barnes, the club secretary, to put in the Spurs safe.

'Plainly on that evidence money has been paid to Mr McLintock pursuant to an invoice which does not reflect the services which, according to Venables and McLintock, the firm had rendered,' Heslop said.

'This is a serious matter. One of the primary duties of any director is to ensure that proper accountancy records are kept.

'Mr Venables has not provided a full and frank explanation and the board regards that as a matter which gives rise to serious concerns about his competence and ability to perform his duties as chief executive.'

Venables, who owns 23 per cent of the shares to Sugar's 48, remains on the board as a non-executive director.