Football / Tottenham in Turmoil: Venables' bitterness at sour end to Sugar alliance: The club's guiding light pays the price after running into an obdurate and ambitious businessman. Ken Jones reports

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The Independent Online
IT DOES not take much to imagine the scene in the board room at White Hart Lane yesterday when a vote was taken to dismiss Terry Venables as Tottenham Hotspur's chief executive.

Venables is shaking his head, and probably there is a wry smile on his face. The move that could develop into a bitter legal wrangle has not come as a shock, but he is thinking: 'I don't believe this guy.'

Since forming an alliance with Alan Sugar that saved the club from ruin two years ago, borowing heavily to take up 22 per cent of the shares, Venables has turned around a debt of pounds 2.8m and influenced the development of an exciting young team.

But by the time Venables attended the annual dinner of the Football Writers' Association on Thursday it was clear that Sugar had so ruthlessly set about plotting his downfall that it looked a formality until last night's court decision to reinstaste him.

In choosing to break cover on Thursday night, Venables knew there would be questions, lots of them, and yet he had no answers that explained the situation fully. 'I honestly don't know why Sugar wants to do this,' he confided. But a short while ago, when Sugar, the chairman and major shareholder, ordered the club's computers to be moved from White Hart Lane to his Amstrad headquarters, Venables knew things had reached crisis point.

Sugar's intent was evident in hostile outbursts at board meetings which pushed Venables to the limits of restraint. Then he made an offer for his shares which Venables considered 'derisory'. On Tuesday, when driving home from Tottenham's match at Arsenal, he told a friend that his future probably hung on yesterday's meeting. 'My guess is that I can't count on enough support to hold off Sugar,' Venables said.

But why? Every time the question was repeated Venables shrugged and shook his head in genuine puzzlement. Aware from their first meeting that Sugar is a hard man, he nevertheless believed they could work together, and, in spite of warnings from friends, never suspected it would come to this. Venables believes that Sugar 'wants to run the whole thing himself'.

People stood up staunchly for Venables, and one of them made a little joke about Sugar's perceived ignorance of the finer points of the game. 'The man isn't interested in football and knows so little about it that when he hears the word 'boots' he thinks about chemists,' he said.

As recently as last weekend Venables thought he could ride out the storm that was threatening his confident attempt to establish a unique status in the game, the chief executive with an important role to play in team affairs.

In order to keep a business appointment in London he left before the end of the game at Liverpool with Tottenham behind 4-2, but not overwhelmed.

'We had a lot of young lads out there and had been unlucky, so I wasn't alarmed,' he said. 'Then on my way to the airport I heard on the radio that we'd lost 6-2, so I went back to Anfield just in case some of our youngsters were demoralised. Demoralised? When I got there the dressing- room was empty. The players were still out on the pitch waving to the crowd. That was it, a good young team growing up with a new generation of Tottenham supporters.'

It was Venables' idea to form the Legends Club at White Hart Lane, bringing together at home matches many of the great figures from Tottenham's past to watch from a special box in the East Stand. From one of them, Cliff Jones, the Welsh international, Venables received a heart- warming tribute. 'It made me tingle when Cliff came up and said he hadn't seen Tottenham play better since he was in Bill Nicholson's teams.'

One or two of Venables' friends have advised him to salvage what he could from the situation, but pride prompts a determination to fight back. 'This business is going to provide a lot of entertainment for people,' he joked on Thursday night. 'It will run for a while because I'm not guilty of anything other than doing what I feel is best for Tottenham. If you look at what we've achieved over the past two seasons I must have been doing some things right.'

After yesterday's extraordinary developments, Venables is now at the most crucial stage of a career that has seen him rise to a position of prominence as a manager and coach while pursuing other business interests.

When he lost confidence in Irving Scholar, who brought him back from Barcelona to manage Tottenham, he seriously considered an alternative career, sensing that football could not satisfy his entrepreneurial instincts.

The frenzied activity that followed victory in the FA Cup final two years ago, and was actually taking place on the eve of the game, restored Venables' enthusiasm. By the start of this season he had a new coaching set- up in place and talented youngsters coming forward. Attendances have been among the best in the League. The supporters were chanting his name, as they did again yesterday.

----------------------------------------------------------------- BRIEF HISTORY OF VENABLES ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1943: Born in Dagenham, 6 January 1958: Joined Chelsea as an apprentice 1960: Signed as a professional 1964: Won first of two full England caps 1966: Transferred to Tottenham for pounds 80,000 1969: Transferred to QPR for pounds 70,000 1976: Appointed manager of Crystal Palace 1980: Appointed manager of QPR 1983: QPR win Second Division 1983: Became major QPR shareholder and managing director 1984: Appointed manager of Barcelona 1985: Barcelona win Spanish League 1987: Sacked as Barcelona manager 1987: Appointed Tottenham manager 1991: Tottenham win FA Cup - Venables became chief executive after he and Sugar won takeover battle with Robert Maxwell -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- BRIEF HISTORY OF SUGAR ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1947: Born in Hackney, 24 March 1958: Fails 11 plus 1964: Joins civil service as statistics clerk 1965: Joins electrical firm as salesman 1966: Becomes self-employed, selling car aerials 1968: Sets up Amstrad 1980: Floats Amstrad on stockmarket 1984: Wins Guardian's young businessman of the year award 1986: Sells 5 per cent of Amstrad for pounds 26m 1987: Amstrad's market value hits pounds 900m 1988: Amstrad's profit peaks at pounds 160m. 1989: Computer problems emerge, shares slide 1991: Sells 7.5 per cent of Amstrad for pounds 34m 1991: Puts pounds 7m into Spurs and becomes chairman 1992: Amstrad makes first ever loss of pounds 15m 1992: Attempts unsuccesful buy-out of Amstrad 1993: Amstrad makes surprise pounds 6m profit -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photographs omitted)

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