The Mail on Sunday newspaper was yesterday facing a public backlash for printing damaging comments by the former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman which have jeopardised England's chances of staging the 2018 World Cup.
The Press Complaints Commission said it had received 55 complaints about the story revealing details of a covertly recorded conversation between the former Labour minister and Melissa Jacobs, an economics graduates who claims to have had a six-month affair with the peer.
Lord Triesman, who immediately stepped down from his role as FA chairman and head of the 2018 bid, told Ms Jacobs over coffee that Spain and Russia, two of England's main rivals, were suspected of corruptly colluding. He has denied his relationship with Ms Jacobs is anything more than a friendship.
Radio phone-ins and websites, including the online version of the newspaper itself, were bombarded with complaints from England fans, who questioned whether a story based on private comments should have entered the public domain.
An online poll by the TalkSport radio station found that 84 per cent of its listeners believed the paper had been wrong to publish, while a Facebook page was set up calling for a boycott of the title.
The page carried the statement: "In publishing details of Lord Triesman's conversation with Melissa Jacobs, the Mail [on Sunday] has undermined England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals. The Mail needs to understand that England is more important to us than the sordid celebrity gossip and tittle-tattle that appears in its pages, and that we will punish the rag for publishing this anti-England story in pursuit of a salacious headline and a quick buck."
The Mail on Sunday declined to comment on the criticisms.
The episode is the latest chapter in the history of the "kiss-and-tell", a Fleet Street institution which is becoming increasingly mired in legal difficulties in the face of attempts to develop a law of privacy in Britain. When the Mail on Sunday first put the allegations to the FA on Saturday night, the organisation briefly attempted to obtain an injunction to prevent publication of the allegations about Lord Triesman, who has rapidly found himself dubbed "Lord Treason".
From the Grand Old Duke of York, whose mistress Mary Clarke stood up before a Parliamentary inquiry in 1809 to accuse him of corruption in return for sexual favours, to Roderick Wright, a Roman Catholic bishop who sold the story of his love affair with a divorcee for a "five-figure" sum, British papers have long thrived on the revelations of those prepared to tell all in the name of cash or just plain revenge.
Popular titles, who are happiest to wield the cheque book in the cause of a circulation-boosting story, and broadsheets, who are not averse to repeating salacious details, have long argued that the revelations allow matters from hypocrisy to potential criminal wrongdoing to be published in the public interest.
But media groups are increasingly concerned at attempts by former motor racing boss Max Mosley to put publishers under a legal obligation to give at least two days' notice if they intend to expose misbehaviour by a public figure, saying it would suppress legitimate journalistic investigation.Reuse content