Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill today accepted a public apology and ‘substantial’but undisclosed libel damages at London’s High Court from a football gossip website that alleged he had “tapped up” Artur Boruc, keeper at his former club, Celtic.
In a case that will have been watched closely by football managers and back-page journalists, 365 Media Group plc formally settled O’Neill’s libel claim against it, agreeing also to pay his legal costs and publish an apology on its transfer gossip site.
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At a brief hearing, O’Neill’s solicitor, Paul Hackney, told judge Mr Justice David Eady that his client sued over the Football 365 article headlined: “O’Neill looks to feeder club for keeper”, quoting a newspaper article that Polish international goalie Boruc had accepted an invitation to watch Villa play from an agent who had also brokered the transfers of two other Celtic players to the Birmingham club.
He continued: ‘These allegations were published on a website which claims a monthly audience of around one million. They were understood to mean that the claimant had engaged a football agent to attempt to induce a Celtic player to break his contract and to join Aston Villa without he permission of his club in breach of the clear rules of FIFA, the Premier League and the Football Association, and being guilty of what is known as ‘tapping up’.
”Tapping up’ has become a subject of intense media interest in recent years and those associated with it have been the subject of opprobrium.
‘Further, the allegations were understood to mean that the claimant regarded his former club as a ‘feeder club’ for his present club.
‘These allegations have caused the claimant severe damage to his reputation and serious embarrassment and distress.”
However, he said that the defendants now accepted that the allegations were totally without foundation and should not have been published.
He said that 365 had agreed to pay O’Neill ‘substantial damages’plus his legal costs.
Kathryn van Gelder, for 365, added: ‘Through me, 365.com confirm their acceptance that the allegations made in the article are without foundation and offer their sincere apologies to Mr O’Neill for the distress and anxiety caused o him and his family.’
Artur Boruc remains a Celtic player.