League breakaway threat recedes

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The Independent Online
Football

The League survived the latest threat to its future last night, when the 24 First Division clubs backed away from mass resignation. Norwich, Crystal Palace and Oldham had led the protests, after the League's extraordinary general meeting in London had thrown out a proposal which would have given the top-flight clubs a greater say in the running of League affairs.

All but three of the First Division clubs had earlier abstained when chairmen voted through proposals relating to the new five-year pounds 125m deal with Sky TV. That lucrative contract - a lifeline for many clubs - would have been worthless had Ron Noades, the Palace chairman, and his fellow hardliners persuaded the clubs to hand in their notice to quit the League before tomorrow's deadline.

The clubs had gone into emergency session immediately after the EGM, but Noades, Ian Stott of Oldham and Norwich's Robert Chase had trouble convincing many of their fellow chairmen to take such drastic action. After three hours, the League president, Gordon McKeag, was told the resignation threat had been removed.

The decision brought relief for the 48 members of the Second and Third divisions, with the Bradford chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, claiming: "The moderate clubs in the First Division have won the day. A breakaway would have scuppered the Sky deal and made the future of our clubs extremely bleak."

McKeag said that he hopes clubs will "start the New Year united together and with a joint will to make the League even stronger than it is today.

"There have been protracted discussions and negotiations. Those have been productive and will continue, and I have every confidence that notices of provisional resignation will not be handed in before the deadline," he said. "There will be further discussions about a number of issues, but we have reached agreement about two or three issues."

The proposal wanted the First Division to be allocated 50 per cent of places on the League's board of directors. McKeag said: "We have given no assurances, but we have undertaken to consider the whole question of representation at our next meeting."

Ironically, only three First Division clubs voted on the cash-split proposal, which will mean many of them receive over pounds 1m a year from next season. The club which finishes top of the First Division will get a basic pounds 891,200 and the bottom side pounds 631,300.

Sky will screen 60 games live on Friday nights and Sunday lunchtimes, with the Second Division clubs collecting between pounds 365,088 and pounds 302,712 each and those in the Third from pounds 235,312 to pounds 211,055. Around pounds 35m will be distributed to clubs - but that would have been in doubt had the First Division clubs resigned.

n Jan Molby, the Liverpool midfielder, has joined Norwich City on a month's loan and goes straight into the side for today's home game with Reading. Bolton are giving a trial to Ralph Haselhuttel, a 28-year-old Austria and Casino Salzburg striker.

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