Bitter Sugar gnaws at hand that fed him

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The Independent Football

You might think Sir Alan Sugar, mustering all that ineffable charm which it seems he can draw upon so effortlessly, is breaking new analytical ground when he writes off footballers as "scum, total scum."

Not so. Once, while so selflessly fighting to save the life of Tottenham Hotspur, he gave us a vivid idea of what it was like trying to meet the wage demands of "layabouts" who, if they were not kicking footballs around, would mostly be guests of Her Majesty. "It's like," reported the sweet-talking knight who was, he may not now recall, more or less unheard of outside the dreary corridors of business before he set up his stall, so to speak, in the national game, "drinking prune juice while eating figs." Geddit? Yes, he was suggesting it was a bit like suffering financial diarrhoea.

But is this quite right? Could the saviour of White Hart Lane truly not venture too far from home during his stewardship without risking an embarrassing mishap?

The record says that this is not really true. The great patron of Tottenham was never popular on the terraces - a source of some mystification to him apparently and especially when he compared his rating to that of the Terry Venables he despised so much. But when Sir Alan eventually sold off an £8m investment for a nice little earner of £22m, while retaining a 13 per cent shareholding, valued today at around £4.5m, most people thought he had done well enough. It was not even by his own standards of business success a bad return from a pool of "total scum".

This, by the way, is before any rough accountancy is done on the profits of Sugar's firm Amstrad made from the perfectly proper sale of satellite dishes after football's television rights were sold to Sky, a decision which was crucially shaped by his vote, one which he was able to make after declaring a conflict of interest - which, to his astonishment, the football bosses allowed (we should remember, they are not known to swoop on such conflicts in the fashion of screaming eagles).

In these circumstances why would Sir Alan gnaw so venomously at the hand which fed him so generously? Well, it could just be that he is not averse to a bit more attention, and long-due reparation for all those anonymous days when he toiled from the birth of his ambition - starting his selling career in his north-east London schoolyard while putative scumballs were yelling such pathetic cries as "I'm Cliff Jones, I'm Dave Mackay" - to become one of the greatest money-makers in the land. Possibly his television show - modelled on that soaring prototype fronted by a titan of modern life, Donald Trump, in which desperate young wannabe captains of industry and commerce are relentlessly humiliated - could do with the publicity.

This, frankly, is a matter of some indifference here. What does chill the blood somewhat, however, is the sweeping denouncement of an entire section of humanity in such a crude way.

The holier-than-thou attitude is hard to fathom from a man from the ruthless world of business which is perhaps not entirely recognised for its altruism.

Most remarkable of all, of course, is that this unforgiving assessment of footballers should come from a man, who for all their imperfections, bought so profitably into the excitement they often bring to the marketplace. To be fair, he was honest enough about his vision for the great Tottenham. He once told his then manager Gerry Francis that the model should be Wimbledon, who of course now trade as Milton Keynes Dons without offering a prospective young Sugar a ghost of a chance of making five bob, let alone the best part of £20m.

No, Francis could not go careering around the place spending the Sky dish money. He had to do what Wimbledon did, buy low, sell high. Not exactly the Old Glory game when you come to think of it. Better this, though, he insisted, than the bizarre approach of the late Sir Jack Walker, who, at the age Sir Alan was flogging his sweeties, was sharing his own dream of making business success - he did it in steel - with that of his beloved Blackburn Rovers.

Sir Alan could not understand the style of Sir Jack, which is perhaps not an overwhelming surprise.

Now he talks of football dressing-rooms brimming with grab-all, total scum.

Where does he draw his demarcation line? Does he just limit it to the gang who were so inconvenient when he attempted to sell football as he might any other piece of merchandise? Or does he throw in the men who left him a legacy of such easy profit? Men like the push-and-run heroes of Arthur Rowe's days, or Bill Nicholson's luminaries, or a goalkeeper like Pat Jennings, or such a grafting pro as Steve Perryman, a genius like Jimmy Greaves, an Ossie Ardiles, who won a World Cup and said he was also so proud to play for "Tottingham", or Gary Lineker, who finished one off Sir Bobby Charlton's scoring mark for England and never drew a yellow card?

Speaking of today, does he include a kid like Ledley King, who plays where he is asked and with great heart, and maybe the young arrival Andy Reid, striding into an international career with the impressively organised Irish team?

He did not say. He just said that footballers were total scum. When you think about it it is amazing he spent so long in their midst. But then maybe not when you look at the figures.