Cowling hits back at Norwich City chief's claim

Colchester United chairman Robbie Cowling yesterday moved to contest Canaries' counterpart Alan Bowkett's assertion that Norwich City made a 'lawful approach' for the former Us boss ahead of a potential disciplinary tribunal hearing next month.

Colchester United chairman Robbie Cowling yesterday moved to contest Canaries' counterpart Alan Bowkett's assertion that Norwich City made a 'lawful approach' for the former Us boss ahead of a potential disciplinary tribunal hearing next month.

The Colchester chief also refuted suggestions that his club were making unrealistic compensation demands after Bowkett told City's packed annual shareholders' meeting that Norwich's offer was 'over generous'.

City officials declined to comment on the latest twist in the battle between the East Anglian clubs which was triggered by Lambert's cross-border switch in August.

“It surprises me that they are still saying they made a lawful approach because in the latest correspondence between our solicitors they have admitted a breach of rule 20,” said Cowling. “I don't want to comment on the compensation figures being discussed, but needless to say I disagree that they have been over generous. We'll just have to wait and see what the tribunal comes up with. A set of dates are close to being agreed and we should be able to sit down at some time in March.”

Cowling has already publicly demanded the Football League disciplinary tribunal impose a points deduction on the League One leaders.

The disciplinary body has a sliding scale of powers - including the potential to dock points or even expel a club - but rule 72 clearly states they must deal with cases in ways that are 'proportionate' to the issue.

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Canaries' chairman Bowkett reiterated to shareholders this week that any disciplinary hearing into Lambert's Colchester switch would also double as a Football League test case. Tom Sharpe, from Norwich based law firm Howes Percival, believes that lack of legal precedent could be a factor.

“Without any precedent to fall back on it's difficult to gauge what possible punishments there might be,” he said. “There are specific clauses, rules and regulations for players and disputes arising from movement between clubs but none for managers - other than under general staff which is covered in rule 20.

“They could seek to use those guidelines for players as a starting point but you can't really predict that and having done a little research I can't find any previous case of a manager going before a tribunal in a similar way. Effectively the commission can choose to impose anything from a slap on the wrist to expulsion from the Football League but given there is no previous example of a club being expelled you feel it's unlikely and even if that was the case they have leave to appeal.”

Colchester maintained from the outset that City had breached Football League rule 20 over Lambert's exit which relates to the movement of personnel between clubs.

Cowling turned down Norwich's initial request to appoint Lambert following Bryan Gunn's departure after failing to agree a satisfactory compensation figure with City chief executive David McNally.

The Colchester chairman, however, then allowed Lambert to speak to Norwich officials but stipulated compensation would have to be agreed between the two parties.

“If the chairman says he gave permission for his manager to speak to another club it may have been on the understanding that he also imposed certain conditions,” said Sharpe. “As a result, perhaps he feels they were not adhered to. Both clubs clearly have a compensation figure in mind and of course if you are Colchester in this particular case then you could get a lower figure offered or even nothing at all.

“Without knowing the specifics of the case I would be surprised if it does go all the way to a tribunal - for that simple reason. It could just be a case of last minute brinkmanship. You have to factor in the nature of the clubs, their close proximity to each other and the fact they are both in the same league which are all elements you might not find in similar cases elsewhere.”

t RULE 20

Regulations of the Football League Limited. Section Four Clubs, rule 20 states:

Rule 20.1 No Club shall take any steps (either directly or indirectly through any third party, including the making of statements to the media) to induce or attempt to induce another Club's employee to terminate his contract of employment with that other Club, whether or not such termination constitutes a breach of that contract.

Rule 20.2 No Club shall (either directly or indirectly through any third party) make contact with or enter into negotiations relating to the employment of another Club's employee.

Rule 20.3 The only exception to this Regulation is where the Club has obtained the prior written permission of the Chairman (or in his absence, a director or the Secretary) of that other Club. Any such permission must set out any conditions attaching to it.