Relations between Manchester City and Everton hit a new low yesterday when Garry Cook, the City chief executive, found himself at the centre of a row over a directors' box confrontation with one of the Merseyside club's multimillionaire guests.
The Everton chief executive, Robert Elstone, faxed Cook yesterday morning claiming that the guest, a long-standing friend of the club, had been ejected from Eastlands after City's 2-0 defeat on Wednesday night and asking for an explanation.
Elstone's strongly worded fax also detailed 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 second goal with five minutes to go. The guest 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 also investigating an incident in the tunnel after the game involving comments by Craig Bellamy -- possibly to City manager Roberto Mancini -- and will today continue to establish what happened. There are suggestions that Bellamy, angered by City's defeat, might have made comments in support of the Everton manager, David Moyes, over his clash with the Italian.
The club are bemused by Everton's allegations, robustly challenging any suggestion that Cook asked anyone to leave.
They state that the chief executive, responding to behaviour not befitting 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 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 wealth.
But Everton, who expected an apology from Cook yesterday morning, are nursing a grievance of their own and there are suggestions that Downing is prepared to take up the issue with Cook's Arab employers if he does not receive an apology.
Everton's icy relations with City have their roots in the £24m acquisition of defender Joleon Lescott last August against the wishes of Moyes -- a controversy which contributed to the Merseyside club's poor 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.