WHEN England hosts next year's European Championship, it will be the ultimate test of their status as an acceptable, paid-up member of the football community. Excommunicated following the Heysel disaster, re-admission merely marked the beginning of England's period of probation - and they will be restored to a state of grace only with the trouble-free staging of Britain's largest sports event since the 1966 World Cup.

As manager of the national team, it is essential that Terry Venables be above reproach, free from any whiff of scandal. Despite repeated reaffirmation of FA support, the intensifying scrutiny of his controversial career may yet force the conclusion that even an innocent Venables represents the unacceptable face of international football management.

The Department of Trade and Industry, following an 18-month investigation, has concluded that Venables should not face any criminal proceedings. However, the DTI is pursuing him over the activities of four of his companies during his term as Tottenham Hotspur chief executive.

They have sent the England coach a 10-day letter detailing their intention to commence proceedings which could result in him being barred from holding office as a director of a limited company for up to 15 years. The letter expires next week, whereupon court proceedings will start with the issuing of a summons.

One-time dance-hall singer Venables insists he will fight the action, and the Football Association has vowed to stand by their man. ``Terry Venables is employed as coach to the England football team and will continue to be so. Our position remains unchanged,'' said an official statement yesterday.

Venables' solicitor, Ian Burton, believes there will be no court appearance before next autumn - until after the tournament. ``It's inconceivable that this litigation will distract from his preparations for the European Championships and he has told the FA that,'' said Burton.

Defiant against mounting public and media criticism, Burton added: ``It has been suggested that he should not have been chosen for the job or should not be allowed to continue.'' Such allegations, he says, should be ``scotched.''

Despite investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, the Metropolitan Police, and the Department of Trade and Industry, no evidence of criminal wrong-doing had been unearthed, insists Burton.

Yet once again, Venables was under tabloid assault this week, with a story alleging that he had admitted to authorising a #50,000 payment to Frank McLintock's First Wave Sports Management agency involved in the #2.1m deal which took Teddy Sheringham from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham in 1992.

FA rule 36 (c) states: ``All transfers and registrations shall be arranged directly between the clubs concerned (and the player) and not through or by an agent.'' According to the Daily Mirror, Venables broke that stipulation. The Sheringham transfer has been the subject of an FA inquiry for the past two years. Venables asserts: ``It is definitely not my signature on that invoice.''

He has proved adept at brushing off tabloid rantings in the past. He was vitriolic about the campaign to deny him the England management: ``All of a sudden I'm a crook, I'm naive, I'm a fraud, and I'm out of the running for the England job. That's hard to take.''

However, he was effusive and forgiving when he announced he had landed the England job.

The clash of East End egos with Spurs chairman Alan Sugar, which saw Venables voted out as chief executive in May, 1993, was followed by two TV programmes, Panorama and Dispatches, which made potentially ruinous allegations regarding how he had raised his #1m share of the funds which rescued Spurs. The police could find no evidence of any irregularity.

Sugar remained adamant he would not cross the White Hart Lane threshold until FA president Sir Bert Millichip intervened, saying Sugar had a duty to let the England manager in.

When assaults came, as they twice did recently, from the bastion of the business establishment, The Financial Times, the heat has intensified however.

Venables' knowledge of the game and his talents as a coach are beyond reproach. The enigmatic manager is acknowledged to have a special way with maverick players.

He has been known to describe himself as a sharp cookie from Dagenham, and much of what he has touched has turned to gold. But his first entrepreneurial effort was pure Tel Boy. The Thingummywig - an improbable a hat with artificial hair aimed at housewives who wished to shop while wearing curlers - was not a success.

Yet within a year, aged 18, he became the first professional footballer to turn himself into a limited company.

Venables was on the stage at four, with the Happy Toppers dance troupe. He sang with the Joe Loss Orchestra while playing with Chelsea and negotiating every rank of international football from schoolboy cap to full England internationalist. TV panellist, pub and club owner, novelist, TV scriptwriter - he has done it all, usually with panache and style.

When he was interviewed for the Barcelona management, and the president, Jose-Luis Nunez, was embarrassingly out of cigars, Venables, with a flourish, pulled up his trouser leg and produced two from his sock.

He was brought up three streets away from where Alf Ramsey was raised - seen almost as a blue-chip reference - but his appointment by the FA was much debated, hailed as deeply disconcerting, with the credibility of the game effectively dependent on his probity. Though nothing has been proved against Venables, an even greater disquiet exists today.

Tel Boy has now assumed aspects of the personna of the fictional East End character, Arfur Daley: within the law, but ducking and diving, trying to put a brave face on adversity, and stoutly defending what some allege is indefensible.

The Football Association can do little about the potential for damage by England's hooligan supporters, but can they afford a maverick ringmaster controlling the show?


January 28: Appointed England manager. January 30: News emerges that he is being investigating by DTI.

February 3: His former solicitor issues writ claiming unpaid #8000 bill. February 10: NatWest Bank issues writ claiming #66,493. Venables denies all knowledge.

February 23: He seeks time to contest a compulsory winding-up order brought by Tottenham owner Alan Sugar against his company, Edennote. Sugar claims unpaid legal bills arising from Venables' unsuccessful action to gain reinstatement at Tottenham.

February 26: High Court date set (February 19, 1996) to recover #150,000 which Venables claims he is owed by a former business partner, FA councillor Paul Kirby, who threatens counter-claim for money owed to him.

March 9: England 1, Denmark 0. March 12: Served with #312,000 bill by a former lawyer. Venables issues writ claiming negligence.

May 12: Edennote wound up over unpaid legal fees of #183,000 awarded to Spurs and Sugar following Venables' unsuccessful attempt to gain reinstatement.

May 17: England 5, Greece 0. May 22: England 0, Norway 0.

June 14: FA finds Spurs guilty of financial irregularities, some during Venables tenure as manager. August 12: Fraud inquiries into bribery allegations involving the #2.1m transfer of Teddy Sheringham are dropped.

September 7: England 2, USA 0. October 12: England 1, Romania 1.

October 28: Panorama screen second programme alleging business irregularities. Venables denies allegations and issues libel writs against this and the earlier programme. FA chief executive Graham Kelly says: ``The programme presented no evidence to cast doubt on his qualifications to be the England football coach, or on his capacity to do the job.''

November 2: Venables' former solicitors withdraw a High Court bankruptcy petition when he pays #8000 bill. November 10: Liquidator of Edennote removed by court order when it emerges he sold the company's sole substantial asset to Venables without consulting other creditors.

November 16: England 1, Nigeria 0. November 23: Venables' former PR adviser reiterates claim for payment of long-outstanding bill for #7500. December 2: PR adviser drops bankruptcy action when bill is paid.


February: Brewers Whitbread go to court attempting to wind up another Venables company, Depthsubmit, claiming unpaid debt of more than #20,000.

February 15: Ireland 1, England 0 (abandoned after 27th minute, riot). March 29: England 0, Uruguay 0. June 3: England 2, Japan 1. June 8: England 3, Sweden 3. June 11: England 1, Brazil 3.

July 15: Venables says he will sue John Birt, the BBC director-general, claiming he ignored warnings that the Panorama programme was based on copies of allegedly stolen documents. July 19: Whitbread again sues Venables over #20,000 debt.

July 19: Company which produced a Venables video seeks to have him declared bankrupt in respect of a #10,000 bill. Venables settles debt.``All we are concerned about is who he picks for England and how they play,'' says FA spokesman.

September 6: England 0, Colombia 0.

October 2: Venables reaches out-of-court settlement with Tottenham deputy chairman Tony Berry over libel in Venables' autobiography. The book's publisher and the newspaper which serialised extracts pay six-figure costs and damages.

October 10: Norway 0, England 0. October 13: London solicitors Finers issue High Court writ claiming #10,000 debt. Bill understood to have been paid that day.

October 19: Eddie Ashby, former Spurs general manager and Venables' business associate arrested over allegations of conspiracy to defraud. Bailed to reappear.

October 27: Labour MP Kate Hoey reveals that DTI is still investigating Venables. November 2: Venables solicitor wins unqualified apology, damages and costs from The Sun over story alleging the solicitor's application to become an agent provided a conflict of interest for Venables.

November 11: Unidentified member of the FA international committee expresses ``disquiet'' regarding all the allegations concerning Venables. November 12: FA confirms that the police are investigating Venables's claim of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Noel White, chairman of FA international committee, backs Venables.

November 15: England 3, Switzerland 1. Graham Kelly says: ``Our support for the England coach remains unchanged.'' November 21: Tabloid details of entertainment bills, some in excess of #1000 per night, at Venables' club, being charged to Spurs. Venables says he repaid them.

November 30: It is confirmed that DTI will not initiate criminal proceedings, but could still have him barred from holding directorships.

q Between August and October HM Customs and Excise are understood to have visited Venables' club over alleged VAT arrears. A repayment deal has allegedly been agreed.