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Football: Venables sells his Portsmouth stake to Gregory

When Terry Venables bought a 51 per cent stake in Portsmouth for pounds 1, the future looked bright for the south coast strugglers. Reality intruded yesterday, however, when the Australian national coach sold his stake to director Martin Gregory. Chris Maume reports.

Terry Venables, whose tenure as chairman of Portsmouth has brought little or no improvement in the club's fortunes, yesterday sold his shares and agreed to leave the First Division strugglers.

The Australian national coach has accepted a cash offer from director Martin Gregory which will see him sell his 51 per cent controlling interest in the club. The Gregory family will now take control of Pompey with a 96 per cent shareholding in the club, which is losing pounds 150,000 per month.

Venables agreed to a six-figure pay-out after a meeting with one of Pompey's directors, Brian Henson. BBC radio reported yesterday that Gregory had agreed to pay Venables pounds 300,000 for his stake in order to open negotiations with a United States consortium interested in the club.

Venables has controlled Pompey for 11 months but has failed to attract the investment he originally hoped for when he arrived at Fratton Park after guiding England to the Euro 96 semi-finals.

The former England coach was offered pounds 200,000 for his 51 per cent stake in the club last week but wanted to hold out for pounds 500,000 - pounds 499,000 more than he paid for the shares last February.

"The time is right for Venables to go," Gregory, who was in Switzerland on business yesterday, said. "He should walk away. I realise I am not the most popular person in Portsmouth but things were never this bad. We thought we were pulling one of the world's top coaches but it has not worked."

Pompey are bottom of the First Division, two points adrift of their nearest rivals, Bury, and are preparing for tomorrow night's FA Cup third round replay at Aston Villa.

Venables, who has long dreamed of owning his own club, arrived at Portsmouth as Director of Football in August 1996 and became chairman in December of that year.

But, in November last year, Venables' position first came under threat when the club sank to the bottom of the First Division and were reportedly having problems in paying players and staff - a matter only resolved after the Professional Footballers' Association stepped in. This came only three months after Venables' company, Vencorp, received a pounds 300,000 bonus from the club as a "one-off performance bonus."

His future at Pompey was also questioned after Australia failed to qualify for the World Cup finals when they lost in a play-off to Iran.

Venables has enjoyed mixed fortunes in his business career. He was the chief executive of Tottenham from 1991 until 1993 until his contract was terminated by fellow directors. He was reinstated on the strength of a temporary injunction, but defeated after a High Court hearing and ordered to pay costs.

He is due to appear before a High Court hearing in London tomorrow, where the Department of Trade and Industry is seeking to have him disqualified as a company director as a result of his involvement in other companies in the past. The case is complex and is expected to last for at least three weeks.