A brief history of Alan Sugar’s time at Spurs and his impact on football

Quick Reads
Lord Alan Sugar

Autumn. The leaves are falling from the trees, your team are falling down the table, and lots of dopey sociopathic narcissists in business suits are falling over themselves to be humiliated by Lord Alan Sugar on The Apprentice.

Younger readers might, perfectly reasonably, think that Shugsy’s only link with football is his incessant Twitter commentary on each and every Tottenham game, but without him, Spurs, the Premier League and the whole of English football would be an extremely different place.

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the most pivotal moments of his football life.

Earning his Spurs

It used to be said that whenever the year ended in a one, Tottenham won the FA Cup. The world’s greatest Spurs fans, Chas and Dave, even named their 1991 Cup Final tune after that idea.

But while Spurs were a decent outfit on the pitch in 1991 – what with Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne and, er, Pat Van Den Hauwe in the squad and Terry Venables in the dugout – off the pitch they were considered a mess.

They were a then-ludicrous £11million in the hole. Or, as we like to call it, £6million shy of a Paulinho. The Listening Bank (Google it) wasn’t listening to Spurs’ pleas, and Tottenham very nearly went under.

Enter Sugar. Venables had invested £3million of his own money into the club, and Sugar agreed to match it.

For a while, it looked like a dream team – Sugar looked after the business, Venables the football, and at the start of the 1991-92 season, the future looked bright for the new FA Cup winners. Even if Peter Shreeves was put in charge of the team…

Blowing them out of the water

It seemed Sugar had landed at the right club at the right time. The ‘Big Five’ clubs in the First Division – Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal and Spurs – had, in the previous TV deal, managed to grab themselves a bigger piece of the ITV money pie.

Before, the money was split between all the teams in the First Division, but now the five clubs had negotiated themselves 75% of the money, with the other 25% being split between the rest.

This deal indirectly led to the formation of the Premier League, and clubs decided that the broadcasting money earned by the new league would be split 50/25/25 – 50% split equally between the teams, 25% based on where they finished in the previous season, and 25% based on how many times each team was on TV.

ITV thought they had the deal to cover the Premier League home and hosed. And they might have done, had Venables not been pulled from the bid discussions to deal with some personal business. Sugar, whose Amstrad company had a deal to supply the majority of Sky receivers, deputised.

Upon finding out the size of ITV’s bid, £262million over five years for essentially a game a week, Sugar called Sky boss Sam Chisholm. The hard-nosed Cockney forcefully informed the hard-nosed Aussie to “get your fucking arse over here and blow them out of the water”.

At the time, Shugsy claimed he was talking to his girlfriend, which is quite the excuse. If he was talking to his girlfriend, blow what out of the water exactly? Don’t answer that.

Anyway, Sky offered £303million over five years for 60 live games, and a route back to nearly every Saturday night for Match Of The Day.

Sugar had offered to abstain from voting because of his relationship with Sky, but he was allowed to cast a vote after the other clubs, Arsenal and Manchester United aside, allowed it. The Sky bid won by one vote.

Splashing the cash

Armed with the Sky money, Spurs brought in Darren Anderton, Neil Ruddock and Teddy Sheringham, despite Venables apparently telling Sugar that Brian Clough, Sheringham’s boss at Nottingham Forest, “liked a bung”. Sugar insisted Spurs, under his stewardship, would never pay a bung. But Sheringham still joined the club.

However, despite the new signings, Spurs were once again horribly inconsistent in the 1992-93 season.

Ray Clemence and Doug Livermore were in charge, and though they beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home, Spurs veered wildly all over the place like a drive with Prince Philip. The always-successful two-man management team was somewhat shunted out of the way, again like a drive with His Royal Highness, and Venables took a more hands-on approach to coaching.

This saw an upturn in Spurs’ fortunes: they battered Southampton, with four goals in four minutes and 44 seconds; they crushed Leeds, the champions, 4-0 at White Hart Lane, and despite losing a north London derby at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, they handed title-chasing Norwich a good whack 5-1. The Spurs faithful sniffed success.

It wouldn’t happen. Between whatever had gone on with the Sheringham transfer, plus Spurs’ purchase of Gordon Durie (Sugar said the club couldn’t afford him – El Tel went and bought him anyway), Sugar decided that Venables was a liability. He wanted to pay him off.

Venables being Venables, he leaked the story to the press at that year’s Footballer of the Year awards in an attempt to gain ground in the court of public opinion.

A furious Sugar held a secret board meeting and fired him, but by 6pm that same day, Venables was back, reinstated in his role by a judge. So very Spursy.

The majority of supporters backed their coach, as did several of the players, including Ruddock and Sheringham. Sugar was spat on and called Judas outside the High Court, but inside it, he quickly won the case. The judge wasn’t impressed by “Cloughie likes a bung”, and Sugar was victorious. Yet for the club as a whole, was it the right move?

Venables, of course, became England head coach. Alan Sugar’s next trick was…

On the attack

1993-94 was a strange season at White Hart Lane.

Ossie Ardiles was in charge, and attack attack attack was the mantra. Sheringham managed to finish top scorer despite being injured for much of the season, and at one point, Spurs went on a seven-match losing streak. They finished 15th.

The worst was yet to come. Financial irregularities from the 1980s finally caught up with the club, and the FA came down hard: a £600,000 fine, a ban from the following season’s FA Cup, and harshest of all, a 12-point deduction in next season’s league campaign. (After an appeal, the fine went up by 150%. The points deduction and FA Cup exclusion were lifted).

Ardiles, faced with defensive frailties and potentially starting the campaign so far behind everyone else, did what any manager would do in these circumstances. He bought more attackers.

He already had Sheringham, Anderton, Barmby and now Ilie Dumitrescu. And now…Jurgen Klinsmann?

How that transfer happened varies depending on who you believe. Klinsmann says that Sugar made the first move, while Sugar claims in his autobiography that the German’s lawyer rung him to ask about the possibility of joining Spurs when he was farting about on his boat one day.

Why did Klinsmann want to leave Monaco? He wasn’t impressed by the manager, Arsene Wenger.

Whatever the truth, Sugar was astonished to be in with a shout of signing Klinsmann. In his book, he says he tipped off Sky Sports to film him shaking Klinsmann’s hand outside of Monaco’s stadium. Should the deal fall through, he then had proof of their verbal agreement.

Although the transfer was undoubtedly a huge coup, it’s hard now to understand just how unpopular Klinsmann was in England at that time.

He was a cheat. A diver. A German, for crying out loud. A German fucking cheat who had helped break English hearts in their last World Cup campaign. Yes, he was a huge star, and a great striker, but he was still a fucking cheat.

With a goal against Sheffield Wednesday and a self-deprecatory dive straight afterwards, all that was gone.

As previously described on these pages, Klinsmann success in his season at White Hart Lane had a seismic effect on English football.

He helped break down sceptical attitudes towards foreign players, showed that big names could be tempted to the bright lights and big money of English football and encouraged managers to be more adventurous with their scouting and transfers.

Not their man

At a gig in the North East in July of 2000, Chas and Dave took questions from the audience. It was the day Spurs had sold David Ginola. When they were asked about it, a visibly deflated Chas turned to the mic, sighed, and said: “George Graham…he ain’t the man for us.”

The managers appointed under Sir Alan are a puzzling bunch. Shreeves, Livermore, Clemence, Francis, Graham. Francis was considered a good appointment at the time, but the rest? Odd. For a start, Graham seemed to be appointed just to spite Arsenal.

Ah, the Gunners. Arsenal were a club transformed under Wenger so once Francis left, Spurs followed in their rivals’ stead. They scoured all of Europe, high and low, to find a glamorous continental coach, one that would bring glory and success. Then they made Christian Gross manager.

From the moment he whipped a travelcard out of his pocket and declared it “the ticket of his dreams”, Gross was doomed. He had travelled from Heathrow Airport to White Hart Lane on the tube to signify he wanted to be just like the fans. A worthy idea, and similar to the trick that had Liverpool fans eating out of Jurgen Klopp’s hand when he first arrived at Anfield, but Gross’s idea backfired. The assembled press began to laugh, like he was some kind of simpleton.

Here’s how Football Focus reported Gross’s arrival. (Warning: Contains long-forgotten jaunty theme tune.)

This bad start got worse. Spurs lost 1-0 against Palace, picked up three points against Everton, and were then walloped 6-1 against Chelsea and 4-0 against fellow relegation strugglers Coventry City.

Some phrases don’t make sense in English. “Yeah, going into town on New Year’s Eve is a good idea.” “Let’s not go to the pub tonight, we have to be up early.” “A Premier League relegation battle between Tottenham and Coventry…”

Klinsmann’s return saved the club from going down, but the reign of Gross – which included making Les Ferdinand train while injured and elongating the striker’s lay-off, signing Paulo Tramezzani and trying to inspire a team with John Scales by using phrases like “today is Tottenham weather, we must not wave the white flag today, we must be strong” – ended in September 1999.

They are total scum

For a man that owned a football club, Lord Sugar doesn’t like football players all that much. As well as describing the overseas players that came to England en masse as ‘Carlos Kickaball’, he talked about players in general like this: “Scum, total scum. They’re bigger scum than journalists, don’t you understand? They don’t know what honesty or loyalty is. They’re the biggest scum that walk on this planet and, if they weren’t football players, most of them would be in prison, it’s as simple as that.

“Do not believe a word that comes out of their mouths. All they’re interested in is themselves. And, if something doesn’t go right, they’ll go behind you and stab you in the back. If you ever had to go into the trenches and you had to rely on people, don’t ever rely upon footballers.”

It’s probably best to sell your club if you feel that way. Luckily, Lord Sugar already had.

Taking the piss

Sir Alan is now the classic Twitter fan, knowing best about tactics and players and management. But unlike the vast majority of Twitter fans, Shugs has actually owned an enormous football club and, you know, allowed George Graham to spend £5million on Ben Thatcher.

He still goes to Spurs on occasion and was very happy to receive a tour of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (a name surely grabbed from PES) before it opened and was more than pleased to empty his bladder in the director’s box in the new ground before anyone else.

You’re fired

Not quite. Despite calling his time at Tottenham “a waste of his life”, he managed to sell his first slice of the club for £21.9million in 2000, and the rest in 2007 for £25million. £46.9million for a waste of life. That’s Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min with a few quid left over.

Given the option to give your club those two and keep the change, most wouldn’t consider that a waste. However, Lord Shugs does. He knows best after all. He’s better than you.

Still, can’t be more of a waste of life than watching EastEnders on a 90” telly, can it? And then tweeting Adam Woodyatt?

Also, did we really need to see the man’s feet?

By Joel Young


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