Arsenal's obligation to do the right thing

Glenn Moore believes that swift action is called for both at Highbury a nd Lancaster Gate in order for the game to rise above the recent scandals that have damaged its reputation
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When Terry Neill was sacked as Arsenal manager shortly before Christmas 1983, the timing made it appear a particularly mean piece of boardroom work. Only later did it emerge that it was a humane decision - Neill, some years earlier, had asked that , if he was ever to be sacked, could Arsenal do it before Christmas so he could enjoy a rare Yuletide break.

A similar act may be required from Arsenal now, but for the good of the game rather than the man. Less than a fortnight ago George Graham, their manager, was a much-admired and highly respected figure in the game. Now his image, and that of the club, is besmirched with allegations that he took a "backhander" equivalent to about 15 years salary for the average North Bank fan to facilitate the transfer of John Jensen.

The money, £285,000, is alleged to have been paid to him by Rune Hauge, the Norwegian agent who brokered Jensen's transfer from the Danish club Brondby, and only returned by Graham to Arsenal after the club were alerted by the Danish media and Brondby officials. The allegations have been met not by a flurry of writs but by a few carefully worded denials and an attempt to deflect the heat by turning the attention on Steve Coppell, one of the men who will judge Graham, who made some ill-advised comments as to his guilt.

Briefly, it worked, but the spotlight has quickly returned to Graham despite a number of other football figures being drawn into the Premier League's inquiry. Last week his private life became public property (as it had with Bruce Grobbelaar and Paul Merson before him); yesterday a senior figure at Uefa, the governing body of European football, said he believed Graham was unfit to manage. Rene Eberle, the head of Uefa's disciplinary department, was reported to have said that "if I was a chairman of a club I would definitely not employ Graham and I hope a lot of chairman feel the way I do".

While Arsenal have never been quite as respectable as they pretend, they had successfully built a marble veneer of refinement. This is now cracking. The Graham allegations follow Merson's confession last month to a cluster of addictions - drugs, drink and gambling - which made him the latest of a disgracefully long list of Arsenal players to be touched by scandal.

The suggestion that a manager benefited financially from transfers will inevitably lead to the suggestion that he bought them for the good of his bank account, not for the good of the team. It is not quite as damning an allegation as the match-fixing ones aimed at Bruce Grobbelaar but it is in a similar vein.

The Football Association have been forced to delay over the Grobbelaar affair because the police have become involved. With Merson they acted promptly and effectively, but the Graham case has been long coming and inadequately prepared for. There have been rumours about transfer "bungs" for some time and they have been in the public domain ever since Alan Sugar, 18 months ago, linked them to Teddy Sheringham's transfer from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham. The FA have, apparently, been investigating ever since without any concrete conclusions being reached.

Rightly or wrongly there is a sense of drift, and, perhaps more damagingly, that no one in authority is very keen on the inquiry taking place at all. Faced with the most serious allegations made against the sport for a generation, it is a completely inadequate response.

Given the possibility of further disclosures, and the regularity of recent scandals, both Graham and Arsenal may feel that if he can just keep his head down for the moment - and he has shown exemplary cool - the heat could be on someone else next week.

If so, the club are evading their responsibility. Arsenal, surely, know if Graham has behaved wrongly. If he has not, they should not be so coy about supporting him; if he has will they sack him - or wait to see if they are forced to?

For the moment they have a club which, inevitably, will drift until this case is resolved. If the courts become involved it could go on for months and the Premier League will feature a manager accused of corruption, a player accused of match-fixing, and several others whose transfers here are under investigation.

It is an unedifying situation and, while one sympathises with the FA's reluctance to take hasty action after their legal defeat by Tottenham, it is one that cannot be allowed to continue. While football is too big to be fatally harmed by scandal, a few quick resolutions are required in the new year, at Highbury and at Lancaster Gate.