Bungles of a serious affair The investigation into George Graham's dealings raises questions about the FA's ability to stem the game's tide of scandal

Ian Ridley discusses ways forward for football's beleaguered rulers
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The Independent Online
THE FOOTBALL Association, it can exclusively be revealed here, have banned the sacking of managers in mid-season and declared a two-week amnesty for all clubs who have erred financially, players who have taken bribes or drugs, and managers who hav e beenbunged. They hope that the moves will return attention to matters on the field so that the traditionally absorbing Christmas and New Year programme can be properly observed.

More details were promised, but then the alarm clock went off and it was time to wake up and sniff the Colombian, coffee that is. The latest scent of scandal concerns the Arsenal manager George Graham and the matter of £285,000 he is said to have received from the Norwegian agent Rune Hauge after he bought the Danish midfield player John Jensen from Brondby. This is an issue that goes beyond the further erosion of the myth that Arsenal are pillars of propriety. The problem for a game and its followers blunted by revelation upon allegation is recognising the seriousness of this case.

It appears that Graham believed it was a gift, in which case what lies beneath the Christmas tree at his own Hampstead house and in Hauge's is clearly different from what lies beneath our own trees. Graham is said to have returned the money with interestto Arsenal when made aware of its significance. But why to them and not Hauge if it was not part of the transfer deal?

It is one of many questions for the Premier League's inquiry team of Rick Parry, Steve Coppell and Robert Reid QC to consider, as they began doing last week when Graham amplified to them his denial that he had not made a penny. That may be true, since hehanded the money back, but the real questions are whether and why he took it in the first place.

Graham has promised his co-operation, which is scarcely magnanimous since he should have no choice, but one fear is that the inquiry which is already widening to other Scandinavian transfers will drag on and lose impact. The investigation into the Teddy Sheringham "bung" affair delivered little and neither have the Premier League reacted to Brian Little's controversial move from Leicester City to Aston Villa with the alacrity they showed when Everton poached Mike Walker from Norwich.

If guilty, Graham must face serious consequences, no matter the sympathy of his chairman Peter Hill-Wood or the widespread admiration for the manager's achievements at Arsenal, if not always the team's attitude. The FA, as overall governors of the game, will need to oversee carefully now that they have a break from dealing with this winter's other symptoms of sickness.

Panorama's delving into Terry Venables's affairs has been overtaken by other scandals; the Bruce Grobbelaar affair awaits a police decision; Paul Merson enters the third week of addiction treatment. The question of Tottenham's punishment has been resolved, albeit acrimoniously, with a decision to be made on Tuesday on the destination of the £1.5m fine, probably to the Football Trust for stadium improvement.

Lancaster Gate, with the scaffolding of neighbouring buildings symbolic, has been under siege. None of its 55 employees usually busy with commercial matters, coaching, determining disciplinary measures in more than 2,000 leagues, desperately seeking international fixtures and preparing for the 1996 European Championship finals has previously endured such a time.

It all raises the question in this turbulent period and which the holiday period is likely to interrupt only briefly: are the FA equipped to govern?

"We would have preferred that this period hadn't happenened but what has struck me as a new boy is how much people are in touch," says David Davies, director of public affairs for the past nine months. "People here are football fans."

Well, yes, but how are decisions taken? The chief executive Graham Kelly decides how to proceed, says Davies, in consultation with his deputy Pat Smith and the executive commitee which comprises 11 of the FA's 89 councillors, including the chairman, the octogenarian Sir Bert Millichip. "I am confident that we have officials of the highest calibre," says Davies.

Yet their authority was clearly undermined in the Tottenham case and their judgment in Merson's, though announcing that the duration of his treatment was in effect a suspension, might have allayed some criticism. "If there is wrongdoing in the game it must be rooted out," adds Davies. "But we have not got in the building a police force or an investigating body. We want to look with the Professional Footballers' Association and Premier League at regulating financial affairs and we want a joint agreement as soon as possible." And in that, there might be a measure for the FA to consider.

Davies concedes that the FA have been forced into the role of fire-fighters, distracting them from matters central to them as guardians of development; the appointment of a technical director, discussing with government more playing fields to accommodatea growing number of players, and the development of the women's game.

With the increasing intensity of the professional game, perhaps it is opportune for the FA to set up a body with teeth devoted to dealing with issues solely at the top level. It need not comprise entirely football fans. Then the FA might be freer to concentrate on improving the quality of the national team and their strategy for what Davies calls "the precious product".

While the crises which have confronted the FA all differ, there is a common core: money. Last week the Premier League announced an increase in turnover from £45.66m to £54.24m; it is obvious that the interests of higher echelons are not necessarily thoseof its lower orders. The effects of burgeoning wealth at the top might come under the remit of any liaison group.

"I think you will see a more aggressive FA in 1995," says Davies, who adds that he has never heard it said that the organisation is overstaffed. The establishment of an experienced trouble-shooting department - set up perhaps from all that money washing around - could be an encouraging development.