Relations between Manchester City and Everton hit a new low yesterday when City chief executive Garry Cook found himself at the centre of a row over a directors' box confrontation with one of the Merseyside club's multi millionaire guests.
Everton chief executive Robert Elstone faxed Cook yesterday morning claiming that the guest, a long-standing friend of the club, was ejected from Eastlands after City's 2-0 defeat on Wednesday night and asking for an explanation.
Elstone's strongly worded letter also details how the individual — believed to be property magnate George Downing — found himself involved in a verbal altercation with Cook shortly after Mikel Arteta had scored Everton's 85th minute second goal. He and his wife were asked to leave the ground by Cook and a security guard when they entered the directors' lounge, Everton claim.
City are bemused by the allegations, robustly challenging any suggestion that Cook asked anyone to leave.
They state that the chief executive, responding to behaviour unbefitting of someone in a directors' box, was taking the only reasonable course of action available to him by making a verbal challenge and that the Downings later left of their own accord.
City believe they are becoming the repeated victims of low shots from those who are embittered by the club's new found wealth.
City's senior management are understood to have been the subject of barbed comments in several directors' boxes this season. But Everton, who expected an apology from Cook yesterday morning, are nursing a grievance of their own and there are suggestions that Mr Downing is prepared to take up the issue with Cook's Arab employers if he does not receive an apology from Cook.
Everton's icy relations with City have their roots in the £24m acquisition of Joleon Lescott last August, against the wishes of manager David Moyes — a controversy which contributed to Everton's lamentable start to the season.
Moyes was clearly still unhappy this week, suggesting that Everton had a “collective” spirit which none of City's Arab riches could buy — an assertion seemingly underlined when Arteta put them 2-0 up.
This prompted Everton fans to sing “2-0 and we've spent f*** all” — a chant which was a source of some amusement among the Everton contingent in the directors' box.
The Everton version of Wednesday's events has it that one of the directors joked that the club had spent considerably more than the fans had suggested to maintain their place in the upper reaches of the Premier League. Elstone believes Downing then chipped in to say words to the effect of “everything's relative — perhaps we have spent f*** all.” At this point, Cook intervened.
Though the two versions of events differ radically — City insist that Cook was in the toilet when Downing appeared in the directors' lounge and was in friendly conversation with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright before the Merseyside contingent left — the disagreement compounds the drama of a night on which City manager Roberto Mancini was also involved in a touchline tussle with David Moyes, which was seemingly almost simultaneous to the Cook/Downing disagreement.
Moyes and Mancini were both sent off and the Football Association is expected to reveal today whether either of them will receive a fine or ban.