Football: Tottenham in turmoil as Venables fights on: Victorious Sugar faces uphill struggle to win over disillusioned players and fans as ousted chief executive retains place on the board

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The Independent Online
ALAN SUGAR, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, yesterday won his court battle to evict Terry Venables as chief executive but he now faces the colossal challenge of uniting a divided club.

Spurs' players and fans spoke out in support of Venables after he failed in the High Court to extend an injunction against his dismissal on 14 May. Venables promised to continue with his bid to buy out Sugar's majority shareholding in a full trial later this year or early next.

Venables, described in court as a 'giant' of the game, received immediate backing from his players. Teddy Sheringham, in the United States with England, called it 'a crying shame'. Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Terry Fenwick said: 'I can't see where Tottenham can go from here.'

Fenwick was in court for all the three-day hearing, sitting alongside the agent Eric Hall, who said: 'I represent 12 of the players, who will certainly want transfers.' Fenwick nodded.

Sugar was unconvinced. 'I don't know him (Fenwick). He is merely a puppet for Mr Hall,' the Spurs chairman said. 'Tottenham is bigger than any one man. It survived before Terry Venables. It will survive now.'

Neil Ruddock, the inspirational centre-half, has said he would go if Venables, his mentor, was forced to quit. Ruddock added in his affidavit that Sheringham and Jason Cundy felt the same way.

Two other first-team players, Gary Mabbutt and Vinny Samways, have both sworn statements in which they talked about Venables' importance to the playing side of the club.

A devastated Venables issued a statement, saying: 'I intend to proceed with the petition unless advised by my lawyers not to do so because I believe that course to be in the best interests of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

'Mr Sugar offered an undertaking to the court today not to take any steps to remove me as a director. I shall therefore be able to continue to look after the club's affairs at board level.

'I am no less confident of my case today than I was when I was wrongfully dismissed as chief executive on 14 May 1993. Obviously the support that I have received from all my friends in court and outside, the huge numbers of well-wishers who have written to me and in my support has meant the world to me and I shall do my best not to let them down.

'I hope that Mr Sugar will not let them down either.'

Venables' nemesis was busy planning. 'I'm going to talk to Mr (Doug) Livermore and Mr (Ray) Clemence and the senior players about the future,' Sugar said. 'The affidavits (from players) were a bit disappointing but it was absolutely normal - he was their guv'nor. Nothing will be held against them.'

A new team manager would be appointed before the start of the season, on 14 August, Sugar stressed, although whether the position would be filled by Clemence and Livermore or from outside was unclear.

Sugar would not be drawn on their future but said: 'We've got excellent people in Mr Clemence and Mr Livermore, who did most of the donkey work. I'm not knocking Terry Venables - he had some strategies - but the donkey work was done by them.'

Sugar's QC, Philip Heslop, told the court that 'indeed even whilst the present uncertainty exists, the board has been approached informally on behalf of a number of top managers and players who would be prepared formally to apply for the position'.

Sugar feels that fears of an exodus of players are without foundation - and that the people who pay money to watch them would return.

The mood among the 90-odd supporters who had sat in the public gallery or stood in the rain sweeping across the Strand was defiant.

Inside, one fan warned police: 'Don't bring Sugar through here. We'll murder him.' Outside, another vociferous fan, who managed to beat the drizzle and set fire to a Spurs shirt, said: 'We're devastated but we'll win. We are going to boycott all the matches from the Makita tournament onwards and raise money for Terry's fighting fund.'

Sugar, who each day ran a gauntlet of abuse from low hisses to shouts of 'Judas' and 'Scumbag', said: 'There were 25 noisy people outside the court but they don't represent the core of support.

'I've put up with different kinds of abuse before but not so violent. The pressure in court was physical, but it made the board more determined. Enquiries are being made into whether they were really fans.'

Judging by the ill-feeling of those present, and the almost messianic popularity of Venables among Spurs fans, Sugar will immediately need to orchestrate a PR campaign - or appoint a famous old boy - to reunite a divided club.

The dissent has hit Spurs financially, with season-ticket sales behind on last year. 'We are going to carry on with our campaign of urging fans not to renew season tickets,' Steve Davies, spokesman for the Tottenham Independent Supporters' Association, said. 'We will continue to support Venables as long as he keeps fighting.'

The business relationship that Sugar had with Venables, which had begun as a 'dream ticket' for Spurs in the judge's estimation, had been destroyed by recent bitterness and he rejected any possibility of buying Venables' shares.

'My offer to him has expired. Given the aggravation I don't feel inclined to buy his shares. I feel deeply aggrieved by his tactics - he was made a fair offer and had an opportunity of walking away with his dignity. But he has put me and my family through a lot of hell and anguish.

'Mr Venables is no longer employed by Tottenham Hotspur plc. We don't want him there,' Sugar said, before being advised that Venables, who still owns nearly 23 per cent of the shares, can still return for board meetings. 'He can come back as a non-executive director.'

Venables' old post may disappear. 'It comes down to a question of whether a chief executive is needed at all. We need a general manager five days a week to ensure that the staff has direction. It would be a commercial person who will understand and appreciate the business we are in.'

Taylor's men profit, page 33

(Photograph omitted)

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