Relations between Manchester City and Everton hit a new low yesterday when the City chief executive, Garry Cook, found himself at the centre of a row over a directors' box confrontation with one of the Merseyside club's multimillionaire guests.
The Everton chief executive, Robert Elstone, faxed Cook yesterday morning claiming that the guest, a long-standing friend of the club, had been ejected from Eastlands after City's 2-0 defeat on Wednesday night and asking for an explanation.
Elstone's strongly worded fax also detailed how the individual – believed to be property magnate George Downing – found himself involved in a verbal altercation with Cook shortly after Mikel Arteta had scored Everton's second goal with five minutes to go. The guest and his wife were asked to leave the ground by Cook and a security guard when they entered the directors' lounge, Everton claim.
City are also investigating an incident in the tunnel after the game involving comments by Craig Bellamy – possibly to City manager Roberto Mancini – and will today continue interviewing players and officials in an attempt to establish what happened. There are suggestions that Bellamy, angered by City's defeat, might have made comments in support of the Everton manager, David Moyes, over his clash with the Italian.
The club are bemused by Everton's allegations, robustly challenging any suggestion that Cook asked anyone to leave. They state that the chief executive, responding to behaviour not befitting someone in a directors' box, was taking the only reasonable course of action available to him by making a verbal challenge and that the Downings later left of their own accord. City believe they are becoming the repeated victims of low shots from those who are embittered by the club's new wealth. Senior management are understood to have been the subject of barbed comments in several directors' boxes this season. But Everton, who expected an apology from Cook yesterday morning, are nursing a grievance of their own and there are suggestions that Downing is prepared to take up the issue with Cook's Arab employers if he does not receive an apology.
Everton's icy relations with City have their roots in the £24m acquisition of defender Joleon Lescott last August against the wishes of Moyes – a controversy which contributed to the Merseyside club's poor start to the season. Moyes was clearly still unhappy this week, suggesting that Everton had a "collective" spirit which none of City's Arab riches could buy.
Arteta's goal prompted Everton fans to sing "Two-nil and we've spent fuck all," a chant which was a source of some amusement among the Everton contingent in the directors' box. Everton's version of events has it that one of the directors joked that the club had spent considerably more than the fans had suggested to maintain their place in the upper reaches of the Premier League. Elstone believes Downing then chipped in to say words to the effect of "everything's relative – perhaps we have spent fuck all." At this point, Cook intervened.
Though the two versions of events differ radically – City insist that Cook was in the toilet when Downing appeared in the directors' lounge and was later in friendly conversation with the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright – the disagreement compounds the drama of a night on which Mancini was also involved in a touchline tussle with Moyes. Both were sent off and the Football Association is expected to reveal today whether either will receive a fine or ban for that incident, sparked by Moyes holding on to a ball which flew into his technical area towards the end of the game.
City were not initially aware yesterday of who the aggrieved party is, but Downing, who has made his home in Verbier, Switzerland, has built a large commercial property portfolio worth over £500m having started out with a share in a Liverpool snooker club. He has been linked with a takeover at Everton, though has not taken his interest in the club that far. An Everton spokesman said: "I can confirm that we have written to Mr Cook, asking for his observations on the incident."
City have felt since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan took over the club in 2008 that they have been a target for abuse from those who resent their wealth and that Cook has been placed under a microscope like few other chief executives. He has been maintaining a far lower profile since he was recorded in a New York bar claiming City would eclipse United shortly before the Carling Cup semi-final second leg between the two clubs in January and the view from Abu Dhabi is that he has needed a larger staff to ensure that a talented commercial operator is not tripped up.
That is why the latest episode is particularly unwelcome. It belongs to a seven-month history of empathy between the clubs, starting with Mark Hughes' persistent pursuit of Lescott after that summer's John Terry deal fell through. Moyes accused City of having "no respect", suggesting that Hughes should have telephoned him about Lescott. The issue was "all about respect between clubs and managers, and also about style," and "City aren't showing any," Moyes said. Hughes countered: "I could have lifted up the phone and asked David if he would sell his centre-half and he would have said 'no'. So where do you go from that point?"
Arsène Wenger yesterday said the Moyes/Mancini spat should be kept in perspective. "I had some [similar incidents]. Thank you for reminding me," the Arsenal manager said. "We are all under pressure and at one specific moment during a game it can happen in a fraction of a second that we lose it. It can happen to anybody. It just shows that we are human like everybody else and that we care." But the Everton/City story is part of a bigger picture.
Garry's gaffes: When Cook made City cringe
"This club will be without doubt the biggest and best in the world. People don't like to hear it but I'll make no excuses for saying it, and I will never stop because I truly believe it with the resources and capabilities that we have – and when, not if we're at Wembley having beaten Man United yet again!"
Addressing City fans in a New York bar in January, ahead of a League Cup semi-final. The speech was leaked – and City went on to lose the match
"In my opinion they bottled it. He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet the player, the behaviour of Milan got in the way."
On the breakdown of the proposed transfer of Milan midfielder Kaka in January 2009
"I'd like to welcome Uwe Rosler into the Manchester United Hall of Fame."
A slip of the tongue that was met with a chorus of boos at a Manchester City supporters' dinner last November
"Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Does he have plenty of money to run a football club? Yes. I really care only about those three things. Whether he is guilty of something over in Thailand, I can't worry too much about. Morally, I feel comfortable in this environment."
S peaking on his appointment in June 2008 about working under former City owner Thaksin ShinawatraReuse content