Uefa ban stuns Spurs and Wimbledon

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Football

PHIL SHAW

Tottenham Hotspur and Wimbledon, staggered by yesterday's one-season ban from Europe for failing to enter into the spirit of last summer's Intertoto Cup, will have the backing of the Association and the Premier League in their appeal to European football's governing body, Uefa.

The suspension - the third punishment imposed by Uefa in response to the under-strength teams fielded by Spurs and Wimbledon - will be active for five years. If either qualifies for any European competition within that period, they will not be allowed to enter.

After a hastily convened meeting with FA officials, Sam Hammam, Wimbledon's owner, and Peter Barnes, the Spurs secretary, announced their intention to fight the ban. Both Hammam and Spurs' chairman, Alan Sugar, reacted with incredulity rather than anger to the Uefa's bolt from the blue, each suggesting it must be the result of a misunderstanding.

An FA spokesman pledged legal and moral backing for Spurs and Wimbledon, although he argued that Lancaster Gate could not be blamed. "We can't be held responsible for what Uefa has decided to do," he said. Rick Parry, the Premier League's chief executive, offered "full support" to the clubs.

According to Sugar, Spurs had only entered the Intertoto "by way of a favour" to the FA and Premier League. They understood they had permission from the FA to field sides comprising loan players and reserves in the games, which were staged in June and July when most of their first-team squad were on holiday. With the pitch at White Hart Lane being re-seeded, they were also allowed to play at Brighton.

"There must be a major misunderstanding and I'm sure it'll be cleared up very shortly," Sugar said last night. He said the FA's sanction was confirmed in writing and that Spurs received an assurance from Uefa by phone that "nothing would happen if we proceeded on that basis".

He added: "Therefore, the wires have been crossed somewhere and I'm sure it will be resolved. I'm sure the FA and Premier League will back up exactly what I have said. All the other chairmen know this was the case as it was agreed at a Premier League meeting at which Rick Parry and Graham Kelly [the FA chief executive] were present."

Wimbledon also played at Brighton with a team reinforced by "outsiders". Hammam said: "I'm sure there's a misunderstanding. We went into the Intertoto not because of money but because of a threat that all English clubs would be banned from Europe if we didn't. We were proud to do that at the time."

Hammam was "optimistic" that the "honourable and able people in Uefa" would listen sympathetically to their appeal. "This isn't a case for Wimbledon to deal with. It is for the whole of English football to be united."

Uefa had already withheld the financial reward the two clubs were due for entering the Intertoto. Then last month it reduced from four to three the number of places for English clubs in next season's Uefa Cup because of the "poor attitude" of Spurs and Wimbledon. "We knew Uefa were unhappy," an FA spokesman said. "They felt the clubs hadn't entered into the spirit of the competition."

Spurs' captain, Gary Mabbutt, was "devastated" by the ban. Wimbledon twice missed out on Europe because of the ban that followed the Heysel disaster. The third English entrants, Sheffield Wednesday, escaped with a Uefa reprimand, having finished second in their section.

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