Football: Forgiving game where loyalty is a bonus

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The Independent Online
Apart from becoming more entertaining than some of the football, the installation of a new manager has achieved an honoured place among the game's rituals. Not only does the occasion replace the half-time band as one of the more blaring parts of football's paraphernalia, but it also provides moments of natural drama that, at the time of going to press, the television companies get for nothing. It also allows the club leaders and their new acquisition a licence to indulge in the most lurid fantasies, thus making it more a lying-in than a swearing-in ceremony.

I find the most endearing aspect of it all to be the touching faith of the chairmen and directors that this time they have shown impeccable judgment, which will wipe out all memories of past cock-ups in the appointment department. It is matched only by the touching faith the managers have in themselves. To be fair, what else can they bring with them, apart from a large empty bag for the money? They don't come armed with the doctorates, honours degrees, diplomas, certificates or even the odd NVQ that give some tangible evidence of a man's ability.

All they have is a record of trophies gained by other clubs when under their command, to which their contribution is never easily calculated, and the air of men who know the secret. Alas, the cruel realities of the game can soon darken the bright rays of the brave new dawn that each managerial re-birth brings.

The previous circus of the kind witnessed at White Hart Lane on Thursday, when George Graham was strapped by gold chains to the helm of Tottenham Hotspur, took place at St James' Park when Ruud Gullit was installed as manager of Newcastle United. Was that only five weeks ago? It seemed a lot longer if you caught a glimpse of Gullit's face staring with wide- eyed anxiety from the touchline in Belgrade on Thursday evening as Newcastle were pitched out of the European Cup Winners' Cup by Partizan. Another fine Messiah you've got us into.

Even the most impatient follower permits a new manager a longer honeymoon than five weeks, but the well-publicised magnitude of the salaries now involved does not encourage patience. I suspect that Graham may not receive an allocation of forebearance as long as Gullit's because the new Spurs manager is encumbered by a number of ironies that could weigh heavily if the going gets tough.

His previous incarnation as a highly successful manager of neighbouring Arsenal means that he already faces double-barrelled local antipathy. Highbury fans will not forgive their former hero applying himself to the cause of their deadliest rivals and a significant proportion of the Spurs following will consider him tainted for life and beyond for the same reason. They will be less than mollified by the revelation that he still has a room at home packed with Gunners' memorabilia.

Neither attitude is fair on Graham. He did not leave Arsenal voluntarily. He was thrown out in 1995 after being found guilty of misconduct and banned for a year by the FA for accepting an illegal payment from a Norwegian agent arranging transfers. It was the classic "bung" situation and who was the gent who introduced that word into the football lexicon? Spurs' chairman Alan Sugar during his prolonged wrangles with Terry Venables, a good friend of Graham and once manager of Spurs.

Both Sugar and Graham have had to put a lot behind them in order to strike up their new partnership and the result is another manager commandeering limelight that used once to shine exclusively on those occupying the pitch.

Without exception, our major clubs are now in the hands of men whose situations are far more fascinating than the players they control. The aforementioned Gullit is a good example, and Alex Ferguson's already high profile at Manchester United is made more prominent by Sky's attempted take-over. Ferguson's arch rival, Arsene Wenger, in Graham's old role at Arsenal - and eminently capable of creating an even better record - is not easily ignored. Neither can the eyes leave Liverpool's experiment with the twin axis of Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier. John Gregory's engaging leadership of Aston Villa at the top of the Premiership contrasts with the struggles of the respected Roy Hodgson at Blackburn; and will either of the intriguing Gordon Strachan and Martin O'Neill find new opportunity for expression at Leeds? Wherever you look the managers are the focal point.

If Graham's appointment has the edge it is because of Sugar's prominent presence in the equation. His previous appointees have not succeeded, so what is left of his reputation, plus pounds 9m of Spurs' money, is staked on Graham. If his arrival does not produce a revolution in the club's fortunes, Sugar will have to take stock - "to see if the club is doomed or if I'm jinxed. We might need to bring in an exorcist..." That wouldn't be a good idea; ghosts would be all they had left.

It gave me great pleasure on Wednesday night to make my peace with Wallasey Golf Club, who I inadvertently upset eight years ago when I discovered an old newspaper cutting while researching the history of The Glamorganshire Golf Club. The cutting, from the South Wales Daily News, was dated 30 September 1898, and referred to an experiment conducted by a Dr Frank Stableford, who asked his fellow members to take part in a new method of scoring he had devised.

And there it was; the basic formula for what has become the most popular scoring system in the world of golf. We hadn't realised that Stableford was a member, let alone that his system first saw the light of day on our course. Our shock, however, was nothing compared to that of Wallasey, who since the early 1930s had fondly thought they were the home of Stableford. When the good doctor introduced his system to their club in 1931 he made no mention of its earlier airing.

When they read the account of my discovery, the Wallasey members were understandably indignant and relationships between us had been a touch frosty. Bob Edwards, a fellow member at Glamorganshire, devoted himself to a study of Stableford's life, but there is no record of what happened to his system in the 33 years before it reappeared. He was probably too busy. He became an Army surgeon in the Boer War and in the Somaliland campaign against the Mad Mullah. He served in World War One before moving to Merseyside and joining Wallasey.

Apart from giving the club the honour of becoming the home of his system, he was an excellent golfer and a very popular figure, driving a yellow Rolls-Royce and sporting a waxed moustache and a spotted bow tie. His dream, right from 1898, had been to create a scoring system that wouldn't be ruined by one bad hole and he succeeded spectacularly. He remained an active golfer until he was 88, but then he learned he was going and he put a gun to his head.

Few men have contributed so much to golf - he helped to found the Robin Hood club in his native Midlands - and last week we celebrated the centenary of his brainchild by staging a Stableford competition under the original rules. Clubs from far and wide sent teams and the winners comprised representatives of the R & A and the Welsh Golf Union.

But the most welcome guests were eight members of Wallasey, who helped us toast the health of Frank Stableford in raucous fashion until after three in the morning. We will now jointly commemorate his achievement annually and we like to think that it would please him that we have buried the hatchet.

The next day it felt as if it had been buried in my head.

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