Top Premiership clubs reject TV deals

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The Independent Online
With a rare altruism, leading clubs voted themselves out of potential millions yesterday when the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United stood unanimously with other Premier League clubs in resisting changes to television coverage and the European club competitions.

All 20 clubs declared a unanimous determination to protect the current pounds 300m contract with BSkyB, and are to write to Uefa insisting that any extra places in the Champions' League, Cup-Winners' Cup and Uefa Cup should not be awarded on the basis of past records.

Both decisions have implications for the bigger clubs, who could have negotiated individual deals with television companies to screen matches and whose bank balances would have been further enhanced by guaranteed appearances in Europe.

Instead they gave chief executive Rick Parry "full and total" backing for any legal battle with the Office of Fair Trading. It is referring the current five-year deal with BSkyB, which expires at the end of next season, to the Restrictive Practices Court.

The defiant response came a week after the OFT director general, John Bridgeman, claimed the Premier League was "effectively acting as a cartel" by selling rights collectively and exclusively to the highest bidder on behalf of its members.

Premier League rules prevent individual clubs concluding independent television contracts without League permission, but Parry said in a statement that the meeting "voted unanimously to support our current broadcasting arrangements and our rules, which govern the collective selling of TV rights".

On the European competitions there was also a united front. "Whatever happens in terms of expansion, they want Uefa to look at the positions at the end of a season and not base any qualification on five or 10-year records," the Premier League spokesman, Mike Lee, said.

Everton are ready to make a clear-out of players after being knocked out of the FA Cup by First Division Port Vale on Wednesday. The defender Paul Holmes was sold to West Bromwich Albion for pounds 80,000 yesterday, but more will follow.

Speaking after a 2-1 defeat which Joe Royle described as the worst since he became manager 15 months ago, he said: "Even after a night's sleep it doesn't look any better."

Everton, along with Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers, watched Sunderland's 18-year-old striker, Michael Bridges, make his first-team debut at the weekend but Peter Reid, the manager at Roker Park, is unlikely to want to release a player who has an outstanding scoring record at youth level.

Royle had hoped that Marc Hottiger would be reinforcing his defence but the move from Newcastle was blocked by the Department of Employment which refused to give the Swiss international a work permit, because he had played insufficient games at St James' Park.

Yesterday, however, Ilie Dumitrescu, whose move from Tottenham to West Ham was blocked for similar reasons, said he is taking his case to the Europe Court in Luxembourg, a move that will have implications for Everton and Hottiger.

Dumitrescu's agent, Ioan Becali, said: "Only in England do you have to get a new work permit to move from one club to another. If Dumitrescu doesn't get his work permit, we will take the case to the European Court of Justice."

The issue is likely to be something of a test case following December's ruling in the Jean-Marc Bosman case which radically altered the transfer market in Europe.

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