Sugar and Venables stage last stand in the Strand

Battle for control of Tottenham resumes today in the High Court where chairman's case may centre on allegations of transfer malpractice.
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The Independent Online
A 16-DAY ceasefire expires at 10.30 this morning when the two protagonists for control of Tottenham Hotspur return to the High Court in central London. A decision is expected by tomorrow afternoon in the legal duel between Alan Sugar, who owns 47.8 per cent of the shares and is backed by the majority of directors, and Terry Venables, possessor of only 22.1 per cent but also a vast vat of goodwill among punters and players. But whoever wins the last stand on the Strand - Money Man or Football Man - Spurs will remain divided.

It is not just the continued presence of Venables or Sugar at White Hart Lane that Vice Chancellor Sir Donald Nicholls will rule upon. From players like Neil Ruddock to directors like Tony Berry to the ordinary Paxton Road regular - all will be affected by the verdict, which may persuade some to turn their backs on the club.

The essence of the case is this: Sugar claims that Venables is unfit to continue in his pounds 250,000-a-year post as chief executive - and the chairman's affidavit is expected to mention Venables' conduct in the pounds 2.1m transfer of Teddy Sheringham from Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. Venables, in a counter-offensive which began after his brief dismissal on 14 May, has stressed that any individual who could bring turmoil to a company is himself unfit to govern and that Sugar should be forced to sell his stake to him (although whether the fans' hero has access to the requisite funds is unclear).

Whatever comes to light during the hearing - and at the very least it will reveal that the modus operandi for employing footballers is different to that practised in other professions - the fall-out will be considerable.

The conflict has polarised opinions at Spurs and if Venables goes others will follow. Notably Ruddock, the team captain and a vital presence since his arrival last summer from Southampton. Ruddock, an outspoken supporter of Venables, had been renegotiating a new contract when the Sugar-Venables dispute stymied talks, prompting the widely admired centre-half to request a transfer. Eric Hall, Ruddock's agent, said: '(Neil) received a reply from Mr Sugar saying he could go if they were unable to agree terms for a new contract.'

Sugar also wrote to Peter Barnes, the Spurs secretary, asking for details of Ruddock's discussions with Venables. 'The board has never been familiarised with the terms Mr Ruddock refers to in the meeting he had with Mr Venables,' Sugar wrote. 'I would suggest that the board is informed of what those terms are so they can give them immediate consideration.

'Please try to find out from Mr Venables or Mr Ruddock what those terms and conditions are. If it transpires that the terms are beyond the capabilities that the club can afford, then we will inform Mr Ruddock that his transfer request is acceptable.' The future of Sheringham, another Venables advocate who had expected an improved contract after a prolific season that climaxed in England recognition, is also in doubt. Certain sections of supporters, too, have threatened to vote with their feet and boycott matches. The pro-Venables Tottenham Independent Supporters' Association has told fans to resist applying for season-tickets until the smoke has cleared.

Two hundred supporters, in their capacity as shareholders, have signed a petition that has been sent to the Department of Trade and Industry requesting an investigation into the club's business affairs.

The petitioners, led by Stephen Harvey of Hoddesdon, Herts, wants the DTI to look at the circumstances surrounding a board meeting reportedly held on 12 May - the day Spurs overcame Arsenal at Highbury.

Harvey wrote to Sugar, Berry, and another director, Colin Sandy, asking for clarification as to whether the meeting was properly authorised to take decisions because Venables and his boardroom ally, Jonathan Crystal, were not present. He received no reply, so, utilising a little used clause of the Companies Act, he co-ordinated the petition to prompt the DTI to look into what has been termed the 'phantom' board meeting.

Sugar was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his case against Venables - which some see as a straightforward ego clash between self-made men - will be aired in full today. 'Neither Mr Sugar or other members of the board have been at liberty to discuss this case,' Nick Hewer, Sugar's spokesman, said. 'They will be able to do so when the decision is made.'

Since the last hearing on 25 May, which ended in an adjournment, Venables and Sugar have met in public only once, a frosty silence at the Makita Tournament press launch emphasising the growing distance between two men who had linked up to save Spurs in 1991. When the Makita kicks off on 31 July, only one of them will be in the directors' box.

Fears over the future of Marco van Basten were dispelled in Antwerp yesterday after he underwent successful keyhole surgery on his right ankle. But the Dutch international will need four months to recover and is almost certainly out of the World Cup qualifier against England on 13 October. Ruud Gullit, van Basten's Milan team-mate, announced yesterday that he is definitely leaving the Italian champions this summer, following the failure to agree a contract extension.

McGrath an Irish hero, page 39