Leading Article: Triple whammy at White Hart Lane

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The Independent Online
'NO PLAYER is bigger than the club' is a common comment when a big name seems to be outgrowing his football boots. The same applies to chairmen and managers. Alan Sugar pleads innocence on the grounds that the illegal payments to players for which his club, Tottenham Hotspur, has been so severely punished, occurred before he took over. But the club is a company with publicly quoted shares. No such legally constituted entity can escape responsibility for its conduct simply by changing its board or management.

As a successful businessman, the Amstrad chairman knows that well enough. His argument that 'it wasn't down to me, Guv' can scarcely have been expected to convince the Football Association; and evidently failed to do so.

None the less, he and all those at White Hart Lane have some justification for their indignation and distress. It is bad enough to be fined pounds 600,000, let alone to be suspended from the FA Cup, which Spurs have won eight times. The most devastating part of this triple whammy is the 12-point penalty imposed on participation in next season's Premier League. This effectively means that Spurs will have to finish in the first half of the league to avoid relegation - as would have happened in each of the past three seasons if a similar handicap had been in force, on the basis of relegation rules applicable at the time.

So next season will be a painful struggle to stave off the seemingly inevitable, with the likelihood of relegation making the recruitment of talented new blood more difficult. It is a bizarre form of punishment that is related to performance on the field. Immediate relegation might have been more humiliating and painful. But it would have looked more like justice and less like slow torture.

There is, furthermore, something excessively arbitrary in the FA's judgement, so imperiously handed down. It comes without any public explanation of the basis on which it was made. Were the offending payments to players deemed to be of a more or less serious nature than the 36 charges that resulted in Swindon's relegation in 1990? On what precise basis were the punishments meted out? Without some elucidation, the suspicion will linger that Tottenham are being made an example of, and have been over-severely punished pour decourager les autres.