Allardyce set for legal battle over BBC's bung claims

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The Independent Online

Sam Allardyce, the Bolton Wanderers manager, came out fighting yesterday against the allegations of corruption made against him in Tuesday's BBC Panorama investigation and - having admitted that his son, Craig, lied on the programme - indicated that he is ready for a legal battle to clear his name.

The day after the broadcast of the BBC programme"Undercover: Football's Dirty Secrets" saw the Premier League and the Football Association launch a joint investigation into the allegations that Allardyce accepted "bung" payments in transfers. But the Bolton manager said that he was "very angry at the lies told about me".

In his rebuttal Allardyce deals with the issue of his own son, Craig, a former agent, who is alleged to have taken secret payments in Bolton transfer deals, and was filmed bragging of his influence with his father. It was with a touch of emotion, but with absolutely no doubt where the blame lies, that Allardyce accused his son of lying in order, he said, to impress the BBC investigators posing as potential investors.

"As a father, of course, it is painful to watch your son talk tall and exaggerate his influence for financial gain," Allardyce said in a statement. "If there is any real evidence - and there won't be, as I am utterly innocent of any wrongdoing - I would expect the BBC to give that evidence both to the FA and the [Premier League's] Quest inquiry."

Within English football yesterday it appeared that the gloomy mood about Allardyce's future had dissipated and Panorama's failure to prove its allegations beyond any doubt suggested, according to many insiders, that his career would survive. In what looks set to be a legal battle with the BBC, the Bolton manager seems already to have discredited three of the strongest witnesses for broadcaster's case.

Allardyce said that Peter Harrison and Teni Yerima, two agents secretly filmed alleging that he had accepted bribes, as well as his son, Craig, had since given him testimonies that they were lying in order to impress. Those admissions of falsehood will prove crucial in Allardyce's case.

"The individuals who appeared in the programme making accusations against me have already confirmed in writing to my lawyers that they lied to the BBC," Allardyce said. "They lied in the hope of being able to make millions offered by the BBC undercover reporter to buy their sports agency businesses. Those individuals never thought their lies would be exposed in the way that they have been and have apologised to me. As a result of their greed, my good name has been tarnished by deceit and innuendo."

Yesterday, the Newcastle United assistant manager, Kevin Bond, who was investigated by the BBC while working at Portsmouth, also announced his intention to sue the Panorama programme. Bolton also said they would launch "a thorough and robust investigation" into the allegations.

The FA and the Premier League have divided up a wide-ranging brief, pledging to investigate seven individuals including Allardyce, the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, and Chelsea's director of youth football, Frank Arnesen. They will also look into three transfers related to the documentary and the actions of Liverpool and Newcastle United over the proposed transfer of Middlesbrough's 16-year-old England youth international Nathan Porritt.

The key to the FA's inquiry is that the BBC will be handing over all their evidence. While the BBC said in a statement yesterday that it would cooperate,it is understood that the broadcaster may not be able to give all of it to the governing body for fear of compromising certain sources.

Panorama alleged that Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle were each involved in "tapping-up" meetings concerning Porritt. The FA will look into this but it seems increasingly unlikely that any of the clubs will face disciplinary action because the prime mover was Porritt's agent, Harrison. Middlesbrough will make a formal complaint only about Harrison - who touted the player around and arranged the meetings - and not the clubs.

In the programme, Harrison told Chelsea's Frank Arnesen that the player was "99.9 per cent sure he's leaving Middlesbrough." Middlesbrough privately accept that Harrison was at fault for misleading the clubs he approached. It is also understood that brief footage of Arnesen offering £150,000 to the player was taken out of context from a long meeting at which Arnesen tried to clarify the player's status and availability.

Middlesbrough's chief executive, Keith Lamb, said: "It was quite clear from the footage shown on the programme that he approached other Premier League clubs to offer Nathan Porritt to them... Clearly, Peter has a lot to answer for to the game's authorities and this football club."

Harrison's career as an agent is as good as over. It seems unthinkable that a man who bragged on camera about being willing and able to facilitate bungs will escape without censure. His claims alone, even if not proved, are likely to provide a basis for a misconduct charge, and having his licence revoked. Beyond that, it is hard to imagine anyone in football wanting to be associated with him in future.

The BBC insists that comments made by Bond during a secretly recorded phone call with Harrison constituted an admission that he would consider discussing receiving illicit payments. Bond strenuously denies any wrongdoing and says his remarks were presented in a "completely misleading manner".

His solicitor, David Price, said: "The short extract from my client's conversation with the reporter was taken out of context and presented in a completely misleading manner. It was all smoke and mirrors. It seems that my client was only included because after one year of working on the programme the producers were struggling to fill the one-hour slot."

The tone of Bolton's statement was supportive of Allardyce. "The club takes the allegations very seriously but owes it to its fans, Sam and all of its players and staff not to overreact," it said. "It is our duty to act only on facts and hard evidence. The club is committed to conducting a thorough and robust investigation into the allegations which were made in the Panorama programme. As part of that process the club will work with Sam to establish the facts. Bolton Wanderers has assisted with the Stevens inquiry [into football corruption] throughout."

Brian Barwick, the chief executive of the FA, said of the joint FA-Premier League inquiries: "If we find evidence of corruption we will act on it. We recognise our responsibility."

Gregory back at QPR after 'harmful innuendo'

John Gregory claimed last night that unproven allegations about his transfer dealings had stopped football clubs employing him. On the day he took over as Queen's Park Rangers' manager after a three-and-a-half-year absence from the sport, Gregory said he believed his reputation in football had been affected.

In December 2002, the Football Association investigated Gregory's transfer activities while he was manager of Aston Villa, with the deals for the defender Alpay from Fenerbahce, and the forwards Juan Pablo Angel ­ the club's £9.5m record signing from River Plate ­ and Bosko Balaban from Dynamo Zagreb coming under scrutiny. Gregory was never charged, but insisted the allegations had damaged his career.

"Were my job prospects harmed by the innuendo? Yes, absolutely," the 51-year-old said. "A lot of people were put off, but what can you do? I was given the cold shoulder by most of the football world, when not long before that I had been linked with the England job. Because of rumour, people would not take me on."

Gregory also derided the BBC 'Panorama' programme, which investigated alleged widespread corruption within football. "The 'Panorama' programme was an absolute waste of the licence fee," he said.

Bungs scandal: Key developments

* The Football Association asks 'Panorama' for evidence and launches inquiry into claims. Some of the investigation to be conducted jointly with Premier League.

* Bolton launch own investigation into allegations against their manager, Sam Allardyce.

* Allardyce says he is 'utterly innocent'.

* Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp unlikely to face action over his appearance talking to an agent about Blackburn defender Andy Todd, which he denies was 'tapping up'.

* Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle unlikely to face Premier League action but could face FA action over alleged illegal approaches to Middlesbrough's Nathan Porritt.

* Newcastle assistant manager Kevin Bond to sue BBC for libel.

The fallout: What they said in the wake of the 'Panorama' programme

* Obviously I'm denying all allegations... I am instructing my lawyers to take the appropriate action.

Sam Allardyce, Bolton manager, on the 'Panorama' investigation

* If we find evidence of corruption we will act on it. We recognise our responsibility.

Brian Barwick, chief executive of the Football Association

* All that happened was two people talking together like idiots. I have never had a manager offer so much as a cup of coffee.

Barry Silkman, agent

* As the organisation which represents professional football managers in this country, we were very disappointed with the BBC 'Panorama' programme. There was a complete lack of substance and evidence to the pre-programme assertions and claims.

League Managers' Association statement

* Football is going through a "deal, deal, deal" culture where some agents think it is all about deals. Surely it is about a player joining a club and honouring his contract. If he wants to stay he stays and if he wants to go he goes.

Sky Andrew, agent

* The big issue from the programme is a lack of regulation. The FA's regulations do not work and are not enforced properly, and no one gives a damn about them. In fact, we don't think they are legal. Until they get real and get proper departments to deal with this, then there will always be allegations.

Jon Smith, football agent

* The players are what the game is about and at the moment they find themselves stuck in the maelstrom amid all the complicated manoeuvres of a transfer... The game must also deal with the serious social problem of agents hawking young players around at increasingly younger ages.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association

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