Arsenal back Graham's battle

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The Independent Online
Arsenal put themselves "unanimously" behind their manager, George Graham, last night and said they had instructed their lawyers to advise if his fight to clear his name at the investigation into alleged secret payments had been prejudiced by comme nts printed in Sunday newspapers.

At the same time the Arsenal board of directors revealed they had so far been given a clean bill of health by the Inland Revenue, which has been looking into the purchase by the Highbury club of three players from Scandinavia. However, that statement makes no reference to Graham, who continues to be the focus of a tax inquiry into claims that he received £285,000 from the Norwegian agent Rune Hauge following John Jensen's transfer from the Danish club Brondby in 1992.

The accusation is under investigation by the Premier League's commission of inquiry, which last Thursday sought evidence from Graham and the Arsenal chief executive, Ken Friar. The probe will continue into the new year and Graham was alarmed to read Sunday newspaper reports that he had already been found guilty as well as comments from Steve Coppell, who is part of the three-man inquiry team.

Coppell, speaking in advance of Thursday's meeting, was quoted as saying: "It seems as though George accepted the money and repaid it. The facts seem clear-cut. Now it's just a question of determining intent. What he took it for."

Graham's angry response was to declare that the commission's credibility had been damaged. He called for Coppell's removal from the investigation and has instructed lawyers to see if he has grounds to challenge legally Coppell's position on the commission and the validity of the commission with the chief executive of the League Managers' Association remaining on it.

Yesterday Arsenal, who say they are "astounded" by Coppell's comments, publicly backed Graham's stance. Privately, they say Coppell has acted "irresponsibly".

Coppell remains a member of the commission but has been rapped over the knuckles and warned by Rick Parry, the Premier League chief executive who also heads the inquiry, not to make further comment.

The Arsenal statement said: "Having co-operated fully with the inquiry, Arsenal FC and George Graham are extremely disturbed by some of the statements and comments in Sunday newspapers which completely prejudge the outcome of the inquiry. Arsenal and George Graham will be discussing with their advisers the effect of these reports on the inquiry process.

"The Premier League have assured Arsenal that no conclusions have been reached and reaffirmed that no club and no individual has been charged with any offence. The suggestion therefore that anyone has been found guilty is wholly without foundation. In the light of these comments the board unanimously wishes to reconfirm its support for George Graham."

Arsenal's second statement, approved by the Inland Revenue, said that the Revenue has indicated that on the basis of its investigation to date no evidence has been seen to indicate any impropriety or taxation irregularity by any member of the board relating specifically to the transfers of Anders Limpar, Pal Lydersen and John Jensen.