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Football: SACK THESE BUNGLERS; Millwall chief blasts League fiasco.

Byline: IAN EDWARDS and TONY STENSON

FURIOUS Millwall chairman Theo Paphitis yesterday called for the mass resignation of the Football League Executive Committee following the collapse of their legal battle with ITV Digital.

The High Court ruled that Carlton and Granada, the parent companies of the collapsed digital channel, were not liable for the remaining two years of their pounds 315m TV contract with the Football League

It has cost Nationwide League clubs pounds 178million. And now there are growing fears that many clubs could be forced out of business.

Paphitis blasted: "It should never have got that far. We were offered pounds 89m as a compensation package and we should have accepted it. Then we could have gone out and negotiated own own deal with another TV company."

Football League chairman Keith Harris said that mistakes were made and chief executive David Burns said he would not rule out doing business with Carlton and Granada again one day.

Burns pointed out that neither he nor Mr Harris were in their posts at the time the deal was struck but denied their predecessors had failed to read the small print.

But Paphitis said: "The Football League executive should do what they do best... run a kebab shop.

"There is no way we should have started this battle. It was a case of the tail wagging the dog. They should all resign."

The Millwall chairman will now lead a campaign for a major restructure of the Football League, starting with the next chairmans' meeting on August 12.

He said: "I and others were considering a vote of no confidence before the court case but decided it wasn't the right time. But I will call for one now.

"The Football League have stumbled from one disaster to another, with first ITV Digital and then renegotiating the contract with Sky.

"The League must be totally restructured. It's archaic and amateurish and needs to get professional."

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally claimed Carlton and Granada had "shafted" football.

He said: "I don't know the terms of the judgement but it was a legal situation and once you get into that anything can happen.

"It's a very, very sad day for football. Many clubs will now look at their situation and it could push them over the edge.

"Carlton and Granada have basically shafted football and shafted clubs good and proper, and if clubs collapse fans should lay the blame firmly at their door."

Chairmen of dozens of clubs, including celebrity chef and Norwich City major shareholder Delia Smith, have picketed the broadcasters' London offices.

She admitted her club have been left with a huge shortfall.

She said: "The decision means we have been left with a pounds 2m hole in our budget for each of the next two years. There will be no sale of players at Norwich City, but any new players' contracts signed from now will have to be at a much lower level."

York City chairman John Batchelor predicted 20 clubs could still go out of business and revealed he is considering suing the Football League for failing to negotiate the ITV deal on his club's behalf.

Batchelor claimed if other clubs joined him in legal action it could bankrupt the League and provide the perfect chance to restructure the way the top three divisions are run.

Third Division strugglers Lincoln - one of the Football League's poorest clubs - are around pounds 200,000 worse off under Sky's new pounds 95million deal than under the original ITV Digital package.

Chairman Rob Bradley said: "It's a watershed in football. There will have to be a great deal of careful rethinking about the finances of football clubs over the next few years.

"A dose of realism needs to come into clubs and players. We're extremely disappointed as we'd hoped for a reasonable settlement of this sorry mess and haven't got anything like that."

CAPTION(S):

UNDER FIRE: David Burns and Keith Harris (below); TV HELL: Forest v Birmingham .. and only 1000 watched on ITV Digital; MIRROR SPORT - March 22
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2002
Words:674
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