Venables and Sugar: A match made in heav…hell

Spurs, managed by Terry Venables had just won the 1991 FA Cup against Nottingham Forest, but they were a club in huge financial trouble.  The club were £11m in debt at the end of that season, and the Midland Bank were circling as under the current ownership there was no plan that this debt was going to be paid off. This is where Alan Sugar stepped in.  He rang Venables after the Cup Final and advised him that he would match the £3m invested by Venables and his business partners and they would become owners of Tottenham Hotspur.  Venables would become Chief Executive and be in charge of all football matters, whilst Sugar who was proving himself to be an astute businessman with his technology company Amstrad, would oversee the business side and club finances.

During their first season in duel charge 1991/1992, Sugar’s business expertise not only profited himself but the entire top flight of English football.  During that season top level negotiations were taking place that would see the introduction of a Premier League starting the following season 1992/1993.  Part of this new league were new TV rights.  In 1991/1992 rights for top flight football were split between Match of the Day on BBC and ITV, who were paying around £4m a season to show a few games live.  Clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool attracted the most television coverage, they were in bed with ITV and wanted to keep the next round of negotiations with them.  However Premier League Chief Executive Rick Parry insisted that a proper tender process took place.  This is where Sugar showed his business acumen.  He contacted BSkyB boss Sam Chisholm, and informed him to blow ITV’s bid out of the water.  Sugar offered to abstain Tottenham’s vote, due to his conflict of interests (Amstrad provided 95% of all BSkyB boxes in the country) however despite objections from Arsenal and Manchester United the remaining Premier League chairmen agreed that Spurs should have a vote.  BSkyB got the deal by one vote.  Spurs vote proving vital to not only BSkyB, but also to Sugar’s business interests.  With this businessman pulling the strings behind the scenes, and arguably one of the greatest coaches in English football in the last 15 years Venables in charge of the football side, optimism was high at the start of the 1992/1993 season.

With the clubs now flush from cash from the BSkyB TV deal, Spurs started making waves in the transfer market that summer.  Southampton defender Neil Ruddock was brought in for £750,000 and young winger Darren Anderton was signed from Southampton’s south-coast rivals for £1.75m.  The club transfer record was then smashed when Teddy Sheringham was signed from Nottingham Forest for £2.1m.  Whilst Sheringham was an excellent signing for Spurs, his transfer ultimately led to Venables departure from White Hart Lane.

The season started slowly for Spurs who were being coached by Ray Clemence and Doug Livermore, in fact the side’s first victory was not until the 6th game of the season when Sheringham opened his account for Spurs in a 2-0 victory at home to Sheffield United.  For the remainder of 1992, Spurs despite recording impressive victories over Liverpool and Arsenal at White Hart Lane, they really struggled for consistency, as 1992 came to an end Spurs were entrenched in the bottom half of the table.

Terry Venables decided to have a more hands-on approach with the coaching of the side in the New Year, and his brand of football took a while to bare fruition, but when it did it was sumptuous stuff.  Spurs entertained Southampton in early February 1993 and they laboured through the 1st half, but then in an inspired spell of play, Spurs scored 4 in 4 minutes 44 seconds.  It was amazing.  This proved to be the catalyst for Spurs performances for the rest of the season.

Two weeks later champions Leeds were dispatched 4-0 at the Lane, with Sheringham grabbing a hat trick.  One goal in particular was a delight.  A long raking left footed pass by Neil Ruddock all of 60 yards,  picked out on the on-rushing Sheringham in the Leeds box, and he guided his header into the top corner.  A wonderful goal.  Spurs were buzzing.  The Lane was buzzing. 

This good form coincided with a FA Cup run when Spurs were dispatching teams with a real swagger.  Wimbledon were blown away in a wonderful display of football for 60 minutes and Spurs raced to a 3-0 lead, but it wouldn’t be Spurs without a little wobble as the Dons fought back to 3-2.  However Spurs were onto the Quarter Final’s with a tricky away trip to a Manchester City who themselves were on a great run of form.

Spurs with a great away performance triumphed, as they won 4-2.  Not only were Sheringham, Barmby and Anderton proving effective, but other un-sung members of the team were chipping in.  None more so, than Nayim who bagged a hat-trick at Maine Road that day.

This led to another North London derby at Wembley against Arsenal, Spurs high on confidence banged and banged on the Arsenal door that day, but Arsenal that season were tough at the back, and they held firm.  Tony Adams got the winning goal for Arsenal that day, but despite the defeat Spurs fans were positive about this team’s potential.

If you wanted a game to typify the potential of this side, Spurs entertained high flying Norwich over Easter in 1993.  Spurs were magnificent.  They walloped, and I mean walloped Title-chasing Norwich 5-1.  It was attacking vibrant football.

With names like Tim Flowers, Des Walker and Andy Townsend being linked for moves over that summer, Spurs fans were getting giddy with excitement.  Apart from the Champions Manchester United, no-one else was playing football on a par with this Spurs side.  Adding the steel and ability of Flowers, Walker and Townsend to the mix, could Spurs really push for the title in season 1993/1994?

However all was not a bed of roses behind the scenes.  Sugar was getting exasperated with Venables laissez-faire approach to business.  Venables proceeded with the transfer of Gordon Durie from Chelsea in 1992, despite being informed by Sugar that there was no money in place to make the transfer.  Whilst wonderful on the training pitch Venables was out his depth in the boardroom.  Sugar was desperate to pay Venables off, despite the team’s success on the pitch.  This private matter was leaked to the press by Venables on the night of the Footballer of the Year awards, and then all bets were off!

The club held a board meeting in which Sugar as Chairman had a casting vote, and sacked Terry Venables.  However by 6pm that night, a judge had reinstated Venables.  It was getting very, very messy.  This led to the club’s future being played out in the High Court at the Strand.  Spurs fans taking side with Venables, poured vitriol on Sugar as he arrived at Court, shouting “Judas” and spitting on him and his wife.  During the court proceedings, Venables shot himself in the foot.  As mentioned when Spurs signed Sheringham from Nottingham Forest, Venables approached Sugar and said there’s a problem in the deal “Cloughie likes a bung”.  Sugar informed Venables that Spurs under his chairmanship would have absolutely nothing to do with this kind of behaviour.  Did Venables listen?  Well Sheringham did sign for Spurs in the end, did a bung take place? We will never truly know.

In the High Court Venables' barrister stood up and started to read out the section of Sugar’s witness statement about Brian Clough taking a bung over the Teddy Sheringham deal, that was Venables lot.  The media went crazy.  The judge called a halt to proceedings halfway through the second day, and he upheld Sugar’s decision to fire Venables.  Despite Venables threatening to fight the matter, he then relented and sold his shares to Sugar for £3m, and that was the end of Terry Venables at Spurs.

Alan Sugar; quick to draw a line under the last couple of months, quickly appointed Spurs legend Ossie Ardiles as manager…but that’s a story for another day.