Charter plan to clean up game

The Graham affair: Ian Ridley says the Premier League may have to rely on prevention rather than punishment from now on
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The Independent Online
PREMIER League chairmen are to implement a new charter designed to establish a code of conduct between clubs and run the game "to the highest possible standards and with integrity". The initiative is a response to the scandals and sleaze of last season, one example of which culminated last week in George Graham's being banned for a year by the FA for accepting money from a players' agent.

The charter, conceived this summer and awaiting agreement, requires the 20 clubs to respect the contracts of each other's employees and refrain from making "illegal" approaches. Clubs will also be expected to submit to disciplinary measures, where deemed "fair and realistic", without recourse to legal action. Transfer fees must also be paid promptly.

The move is part of the Premier League's present process of updating its rules and disciplinary procedure so that clubs are clear as to what punishments fit what crimes. There is no mention of pegging prices or - yet - transfer fees. Otherwise, it all sounds almost impossibly idealistic from a group of people more usually governed by self-interest though football could clearly do with a bout of idealism right now.

The Graham case ended with a bung rather than a whimper. Too harsh, said the apologists of his punishment, but in reality it probably represented a compromise by the game's authorities between what they might have wanted to do and what they felt they could get away with.

Financially, Graham may have already suffered considerably in the loss of his pounds 250,000-a-year job at Arsenal and in legal costs but any further pecuniary penalty would probably have been taken care of by a combination of his next employers, a book deal and interview fees from a tabloid newspaper. Any more than a one-year suspension and Graham might have been more likely to take legal action.

And football, as was demonstrated in the case of the last manager to be banned by the FA - Don Revie in 1977 - has never looked especially wholesome when exposed to the gaze of m'learned friends. In a hearing two years later that illustrated the game's potential for ridicule, Revie's 10-year suspension for quitting his post as England manager was overturned despite Mr Justice Cantley's condemning his behaviour. Any new court case would provide more fodder for the Labour MP Kate Hoey in her attempt to establish a public inquiry into the game.

Graham has actually escaped lightly. This was a breach of ethics and trust that would have caused people in other professions to be struck off, and one of the saddest aspects of the affair has been the League Managers' Association pointing out that nobody got hurt, that ultimately no money was missing. Nobody and nobody's money, that is, except fans whose ever-increasing contribution demanded by the game may be going on a transfer fee higher than it needed to be. Graham reminds you of the Jack Nicholson character at the end of the film A Few Good Men asking, baffled after being found guilty of a crime: "What did I do wrong?"

Graham can claim that despite finding misconduct proven, the FA accepted his version that he did not ask for the pounds 425,000 from the Norwegian agent Rune Hauge as a result of the transfers of Pal Lydersen and John Jensen, which he paid back with pounds 40,000 interest when the matter came to light and the Inland Revenue began taking an interest. It was, however, more a Scottish verdict, one that he would understand, of not proven. The FA were simply "not satisfied" that he sought the money or that the transfers were made for personal gain.

The original Premier League inquiry did conclude, after all, that the payments resulted directly from the transfers and that they had "great difficulty in accepting" that Graham did not know that. So, too, did Arsenal's directors on receiving the inquiry's findings 10 days before they were made public. They had already heard from Brondby in Denmark that only pounds 900,000 of the pounds 1.57m they paid for Jensen had been received. Now the inquiry told them that the Norwegian club Start had been willing to accept pounds 215,000 for Lydersen when in fact the figure relayed to them by Graham was pounds 500,000.

The Norwegian club do not appear unduly soured against British managers, however, and have appointed the former Tottenham assistant Steve Perryman this summer. Arsenal are more circumspect. They have broken the habits of George Graham's eight-year lifetime with the club and his wage structure by signing Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt for some pounds 12m and sums of up to pounds 20,000 a week, but it was significant to see the vice- chairman, David Dein, present at Bergkamp's signing. The board have regained control of money matters.

Now it is a question of control for the Premier League. This summer of inflation in transfer fees and ticket prices - up to 68 per cent in one new stand - has revealed the amount of money now in the English game and the potential for waste and corruption on a grand scale. It is a problem they recognise. "This is just the start of policing the game in the future," the chief executive of the Premier League, Rick Parry, insisted after the Graham verdict was announced.

The FA expect the bungs inquiry team, which has comprised Parry, Steve Coppell (now director of football at Crystal Palace) and Robert Reid QC, to provide them soon with more reports on up to 40 transfers they have been investigating. The team hope to oblige with most before the start of the new season. They have, Parry says, continued to meet and consider cases despite Graham's assertion that he has been left alone in the penalty box.

The problem for the inquiry has been turning innuendo and allegations into evidence, with co-operation from overseas clubs and associations mixed. With Graham, they were able to supplement the Mail on Sunday's original expose with, for example, sworn statements from three Start directors. Reliable information on other supposed dodgy deals has been less forthcoming.

Any from Hauge, who continues to operate as an agent with a licence from the world governing body Fifa, has apparently not been full and frank. Suggestions, too, that Graham may have dirt to dish on fellow managers have proved only that. To the latter's own disappointment, it may be that no other leading managers can be nailed but some "secondary" figures, such as assistant managers or coaches, may face disciplinary action.

It is probable that the Premier League will largely have to look to the future rather than revisit the sins of the past; prevention more than punishment. The hope will be that the Graham verdict will help "pour encourager les autres". June's annual meeting gave agreement in principle to new rules and the next stage will be detailing specific punishment - in fines, suspensions and points-deductions - for specific misdemeanours, from financial irregularities to contractual disputes.

The FA, meanwhile, will retain control of on-pitch discipline and breaches of its own rules, and become, in effect, an appeals court. They, too, have been looking at their own procedure in the light of such cases as Eric Cantona's last winter where they were unable to act swiftly because of rules about notice of disciplinary procedure being served. Graham Kelly, their chief executive, has now been voted more power to act unilaterally.

Perhaps a new charter will preclude him from needing to act. Breath, though, should not be held.

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