Tottenham threaten to sue after sick team are forced to play

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The Independent Football

The Premiership football season ended yesterday, with despair, coupled with physical sickness for Tottenham, joy, and with misty-eyed celebration for Arsenal, but the campaign may not be over. Tottenham are to hold an emergency board meeting this morning at which they will consider taking legal action against either, or both, the Premier League and the Marriott Hotel, Canary Wharf.

This follows the extraordinary events of yesterday in which Tottenham, who claimed to have 10 players suffering from food poisoning after eating in the hotel on Saturday night, were, they feel, forced into playing West Ham United. They lost 2-1, a defeat which enabled Arsenal to leapfrog above them into the final Champions' League qualifying position with a 4-2 win over Wigan Athletic. Thierry Henry signed off from Highbury with a hat-trick.

Tottenham go into the Uefa Cup but Martin Jol, their manager, admitted a fine season had been "spoiled" by its denouement. He stressed that, personally, he did not believe foul play was involved. He also refused to blame his players' debilitation for their defeat. But key players had played though ill, notably Michael Carrick who lasted only 63 minutes before being withdrawn.

"The doctor [Charlotte Cowie] woke me at 5am," Jol said, "saying there were seven players already ill. Three others then fell ill. It was an awkward situation but the game should not have been played. We asked the Premier League to postpone the match by a day. They are footballers, they are fit, after one day they would be OK. Then we asked for four hours, so we could get some food and fluid into them."

The police, nervous at the prospect of West Ham and Spurs fans drinking for four extra hours before kick-off, vetoed that, offering a two-hour delay. This, Spurs felt, was insufficient. Aware that Middlesbrough were docked three points (and relegated as a result) for failing to fulfil a fixture in 1997 after suffering a flu epidemic, Tottenham decided to play, the final decision being made barely 90 minutes before kick-off.

They had already called Premier League officials, the Metropolitan Police and environmental health officers to the hotel, decisions made jointly by Jol, who said he felt ill himself, Cowie and Daniel Levy, the chairman. Police officers travelled on the team bus and blood and urine samples were taken.

With four reserve-team players summoned to augment the squad, Jol decided to wait until after the warm-up and see who felt able to play. Six affected players started: Michael Dawson, Aaron Lennon, Teemu Tainio, Michael Carrick, Edgar Davids and Robbie Keane. "You hope for the best and we started with a reasonably good team," Jol said. "Some couldn't finish the game but I was very proud of them."

Over at Highbury, Arsène Wenger had followed the events on television. "I thought we must play our game and win it whatever happened at West Ham," he said. "I feel sorry for Tottenham, but sport is like that.

"Today it felt like fate. We gave everything to get in the Champions' League. We won three matches this week, two of them away, scoring 10 goals. We can now go into the final with less pressure."

Arsenal can now travel to Paris for the Champions' League final with Barcelona knowing their continued participation is not dependent on winning it. That could be a critical factor when it comes to securing Henry's signature for another year.

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