Birmingham, found guilty after a 12-hour hearing in London on Wednesday, were fined pounds 55,000 for making illegal approaches to the three and ordered to pay pounds 75,000 in compensation to Southend. The previous record penalty was the pounds 105,000 fine levied from Chelsea for making illegal payments to players in 1991.
The Essex club's call for points to be deducted was rejected. The Birmingham board convened last night to discuss their response, before which their managing director, Karren Brady, declared herself 'flabbergasted' by the ruling and said they would almost certainly appeal.
The latest blow will test the commitment of David Sullivan, Birmingham's Essex-based owner, to the club he bought less than a year ago. The multi- millionaire intimated this week that he might sell up. Birmingham are third from the foot of the First Division, while Sullivan and Brady face a libel action by the publishers of one of the city's newspapers.
Birmingham had argued that Fry exercised an opt-out clause in his contract with Southend to take up the pounds 100,000-a-year post at St Andrew's in December. However, the League's three-man commission, headed by the former Newcastle chairman, Gordon McKeag, rejected the claim.
In a recent 'poaching' case, concerning Ossie Ardiles's defection from West Bromwich Albion to Tottenham Hotspur, Spurs were fined pounds 25,000 in December.
Disciplinary problems, too, for Aston Villa, whose assistant manager, Jim Barron, has been reported to the FA by the referee of Wednesday's Coca- Cola Cup semi-final first-leg match at Tranmere. The official, Roger Milford, ordered Barron from the dug-out after he allegedly used 'foul or abusive language'.
Steve Staunton, who limped out of Villa's 3-1 defeat, learned yesterday that he requires a second hernia operation which will keep him out for at least a month. The Republic of Ireland defender, who has missed three months of the season, has been suffering groin pains which will now necessitate further surgery.
Kidderminster Harriers' hopes of competing in the Third Division next season received a boost yesterday when West Bromwich offered to allow the GM Vauxhall Conference leaders to share The Hawthorns until ground improvements are completed at Aggborough.
The Football League had told Kidderminster - who stage an FA Cup fifth-round tie against West Ham tomorrow - that they will be ineligible for promotion because they missed the 31 December deadline for building a new stand. Their manager, Graham Allner, said: 'It's a tremendous gesture but I've told the players it won't mean a thing unless we win our league.'
On the transfer front, Cardiff City's Welsh Under-21 international striker Nathan Blake is expected to join Sheffield United for pounds 500,000. The deal is unlikely to be completed before the Second Division club's FA Cup tie at home at Luton on Sunday.
The Scottish League yesterday confirmed that it is to keep six Saturdays free next season to assist the national team before European Championship qualifying fixtures.
FA Cup Countdown,
Non-League football, page 38