BOOK REVIEW / How Irving Scholar won and lost his Spurs: 'Behind Closed Doors' - Irving Scholar & Mihir Bose: Andre Deutsch, 14.99 pounds

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The Independent Online
THE FRONT cover of Irving Scholar's account of his 10 years in charge of Tottenham Hotspur football club gives the reader a fair warning of what to expect. The title hints at an expose that will open up the club to expose its smelly insides. Then there is the photograph. Scholar, with his bushy eyebrows, alligator grin and expensive but styleless suit and tie, raises a glass to the camera. Next to him is the plump, boyish frame of Paul Gascoigne, whose purchase, lionisation, injuries and ultimate sale were a critical episode in the final months of Scholar's rule.

Scholar is an interesting character. A self-made man, rich enough to live in Monte Carlo for tax reasons, he is an obsessive football fan. And not just a football fan, a Spurs fan. He has a train spotter's knowledge of the club's history, and a love for it which at times has blinded him to his own interests and those of people around him. He took control of Spurs in 1982, wresting control from the Richardson and Webb families, who had owned the club for decades despite clauses in the contacts which allowed the chairman to disenfranchise any shareholders. He then joined forces with Paul Bobroff, a sophisticated and successful property developer. They decided to float Spurs on the Stock Exchange. These were the giddy Eighties, when anything seemed possible. Spurs diversified into leisure-wear and computer systems. But the stadium at White Hart Lane needed a new stand, and the club needed new players. Both cost too much, though the former was more serious than the latter, and as the Nineties started, Spurs were in trouble.

Bobroff and Scholar fell out as the recriminations began. The club was being kept alive by personal loans from its rich directors, and needed new finance. In the summer of 1990, with Barcelona threatening to repossess Gary Lineker, Scholar turned to Robert Maxwell. It was a fatal mistake. Maxwell agreed to back a rights issue, but reneged on the deal. He lent Scholar pounds 1.1m so that Scholar could lend it to Spurs. But the deal had to be kept secret. Among those who didn't know was Bobroff, the chairman of the company. When he found out, all hell broke loose.

In the months that followed, Spurs scrambled for finance. Maxwell came back and went away. City firms tried to restructure the group, but it came down to Terry Venables, the club's manager, who went through five different backers before he found one who would do the deal - Alan Sugar, of Amstrad fame. In the end Maxwell tried to wrestle the club away at the last minute. But Sugar won through, installed himself as chairman and not only kicked Scholar off the board, but also banned him from the club as well.

All these events are described - rather inaccurately, alas - in Chris Horrie's book, Sick as a Parrot, which came out earlier this year. Whether Scholar's account adds anything depends on your interest in the minutiae of running the club. Most of this is pretty tedious - his views on the various Spurs managers, for instance, and the question of who is the best chairman in the league. Then there are the chapters on the financial crisis at Spurs, which have apparently been severely censored by lawyers. What is left is largely a defence of Scholar's action, plus various reports of gormless comments by Venables and Sugar, most of which have been denied by the men in question.

For those acquainted with the situation, large parts of Scholar's account are simply laughable. He spends a great deal of time blaming others for errors which led to him being admonished by the Stock Exchange - though elsewhere in the book he shows a good working knowledge of company law - and then admits that he agreed to an announcement to shareholders which he knew was misleading. Does he not realise that this is an offence under the Financial Services Act?

Irving Scholar's ghost writer, Mihir Bose, is a good choice, being a distinguished journalist not only in finance but also in sport. Even his talents, however, cannot save Behind Closed Doors from being a tedious apologia for yesterday's man.

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