Football: Spurs saga set to run and run: Sugar and Venables may have to wait until 1994 to settle their power struggle

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The Independent Online
THE battle for control of Tottenham Hotspur may not be settled until next year, leaving the club in limbo for another six months, it was indicated in the High Court yesterday. This was an 'appalling prospect', in the words of Vice Chancellor Sir Donald Nicholls, the judge in the Terry Venables v Alan Sugar court case.

Venables' QC, Martin Mann, felt that the hearing of Venables' Companies Court plea for the right to buy out Sugar's 47.8 per cent holding in Spurs would be in October, a date denied by his opposite number in the Sugar camp, Philip Heslop QC.

Heslop argued that because of the quantity of evidence to be gathered the possibility of an October trial was 'remote'. New Year 'at the very earliest' was his prediction - a suggestion that astounded Court 35. 'That is an appalling prospect,' the Vice Chancellor said. 'Nobody knows who is in control of the club.'

Heslop's case is that because of the lengthy time gap, the interregnum - the issue currently under consideration - must end, for the good of the company. Venables is seeking the continuation of an emergency injunction against his dismissal as chief executive by the Tottenham board.

Venables' brief read out a collection of affidavits, claiming the team would be 'wrecked' if a man called 'a giant of football' was not allowed to remain in his post. His close relationship with the players was of paramount importance to the club with eight contracts up for renewal, Mann said.

The most emotive statement came from Neil Ruddock, Spurs' centre-half. 'It would be absolutely tragic if Venables left,' Ruddock said. 'If he were to leave I would go, too. Teddy Sheringham and Jason Cundy said to me that they would leave as well.

'He has a real understanding of players. With the greatest of respect to Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence, no one understands the players like Terry. His door is always open.'

Other sworn statements of support came from Vinny Samways, Gary Mabbutt, Frank McLintock, Bill Nicholson, Jonathan Crystal (Venables' sole boardroom ally) and minor shareholders. Venables said there was no one better equipped to do his job. If he were sacked, 'there would be a void which could not be filled, a drop in support and loss of morale. The prospect of other players putting their names up for transfer is an appalling one for Tottenham.

'There has never been any time in my career when I have put together a better team. I have almost got the ideal team. Stopping now would risk the team splitting up with players putting themselves up for transfer.'

'Life without Terry' was only part of Mann's case; he also questioned Sugar's conduct over the BSkyB deal, the alleged alteration of board minutes, a rights issue and the 'way in which a (Amstrad) computer system was introduced without board approval'.

The decision to sack Venables was not just Sugar's but that of the board, Heslop said. 'The company appointed him and the company dismissed him. The evidence of the majority of the Board is that they no longer have any confidence in his ability to discharge his function.'

Later Tony Berry, a pro-Sugar board member, said: 'Terry Venables is a great football manager but he is not exactly an ideal chief executive of a public company. As a director these days you have all these new responsibilities to shareholders under corporate governance and I think it's right he should not be on the board.' The case continues on Monday.

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