Football: Broccoli and bicycles: my part in Arsenal's success

THE GAFFER TAPES
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The Independent Online
I HAVE, in the past, been accused of being egotistical, self-centred and conceited, sometimes all at the same time. Now, Barry Gaffer's not that kind of guy and to prove it, even though Barry Gaffer is facing a traumatic weekend Barry Gaffer would rather concentrate on the magnificent achievement of one of Barry Gaffer's many friends in football.

Step forward "Arse of the Arse", as Monsieur Wenger is known to his closest friends, and congratulations on your imminent championship. I can take particular pleasure in your success, not just because my old man is an Arsenal fan, as the song goes, but because, in a small way, I had a little part to play in it.

Well, maybe not that little. I can remember when David Dein, the power behind Herbert Chapman's bust, was looking for a new manager. "Barry," he said, "obviously I would choose you, but we're looking for someone foreign - any ideas?"

Naturally I suggested Arsene, who I knew had forged a massive reputation in Japan where his innovative use of sushi and teryaki sauce had caused a stir from the Kashima Antlers to the Yokohoma Flugels.

Arse and I hit it off immediately and he quickly confided in me. "Zees is a beaucoup job, but when it comes to Eengleesh football je ne sais quoi. I have all zeese old Arsenal types around me, but no one I can truly trust. Will you be my eyes and my ears Barry?"

First I explained about Herbert and George Graham, both championship winners, both involved in dodgy accounting, one a hero the other a villain. It was important to get the distinction right. I told him Chapman equalled Platini (God-like status, no criticism allowed), Graham equalled Tapie (forgiven by most fans, some media, none of the board).

Then I found him some players. Having spent so long in Japan he was a bit out of date, but I convinced him Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars were a better bet than Papin, Tigana and Johnny Rep.

The main thing was persuading Arse that sushi and rice was not going to go down well at the club canteen. "Battered fish and chips, they'll eat that," I told him, "but raw fish and Uncle Ben's? Mais non."

We ended up going round to my mum's house and, after trying a few possibilities like barbecued cauliflower and roasted spinach, we settled on the grilled broccoli which has become so famous*. The boys love it, especially since we allowed them to have ketchup with it.

After that it was largely plain sailing, although I had to have a word when he considered playing Martin Keown in the hole during Dennis Bergkamp's suspension. The only other dispute was over his Tour de Circular Nord idea.

Arsene's a big cycling fan - it explains his lean frame - and he thought the team would benefit from a weekly cycle race around the A406. I took him down to Neasden in the rush hour, said: "See you in Gants Hill in half an hour", drove down there and waited.

When he arrived, two hours later, his face covered in grime, his knees bloodied, his back wheel mangled and barely able to breathe for carbon- monoxide poisoning, he agreed I had a point. Instead they now go for a quick pedal round Chigwell's millionaire's row, and they all make sure to ring their bells going past Alan Sugar's house.

Obviously I would like to keep my part in Arsene's rise quiet. Fergie might not be too chuffed for one, and my own chairman will probably use such "outside activities" as an excuse for giving me the bullet - although it is not as if I've stooped to advertising Pizza Hut.

Alternatively, I might need a bit of publicity as he might just point to the league table instead. If we don't win today we're down. It's very disappointing after all the hard work on the training ground.

We've got the cleanest cones in the Premiership and eight different types of coloured bibs, some of them fluorescent. It's taken me a long time to get such a collection together but it's been worth it - when the sun's shining the two-a-side matches really catch the eye.

We're almost at full strength for today's showdown, although Shaun Prone and Ivor Niggle are both out with broken jaws after an unfortunate start to the club cricket season. Prone had his broken trying to pull the local tearaway quickie, Niggle had his broken after trying to pull the local tearaway quickie's girlfriend.

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