Football: How George can win his Chapman bust

Jason Gee canvasses Highbury views on Graham's move to the enemy
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The Independent Online
BY GEORGE, it must be a confusing time to be an Arsenal fan. On Wednesday night there was the unbridled joy of a Champions' League victory in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. By Thursday morning, George Graham, one of the most influential characters in the club's recent history, had put pen (or was it pencil?) to paper for the old enemy from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road.

The man who once said he had red blood coursing through his veins had suddenly become the great white hope. Few managers in the modern era have become as synonymous with a club as Graham and Arsenal. Not only did the Scot transform the Gunners' fortunes in the late Eighties by coaching them to a full house of national and European honours, but he was also a key player in the 1971 Double winning side.

Following his disgraced departure, the majority of the fans showed their support with an emotionally-charged welcome when he came back with Leeds United. But in six weeks time, when he is due to take his new charges to his old stamping ground, the reaction of the faithful will be far more divided. We asked four well-known Arsenal supporters for their opinions of the latest move in Graham's colourful career...

Nick Hornby

Author of 'Fever Pitch'

"The nightmare scenario is that George wins the league with Tottenham. He is one of only a few managers who could make that sort of difference to a club, changing them from bottom-six material to top six.

"I personally felt let down when George ripped off the fans and haven't had the same feelings towards him since then. He's at liberty to do what he wants now but he does seem obsessed with what happened back then and appears to think that this is his last chance of getting back at the people who sacked him.

"The Arsenal fans are happier now under Arsene Wenger than under George. In the last years in charge, George was just papering over the cracks with the Cup successes. The Cup- winners' Cup takes just four games and you're into the final, and half of those matches are against Norwegian part-timers. The fans had to endure the rest of the time spending their money on league games even though George had clearly given up on the title."

Rory McGrath

Comedian

"Some fans forget so quickly about what happened in 1989. It's fantastic for Tottenham because he is a great manager and a charming man. I'm sure he will receive a standing ovation when he goes back to Highbury. The only person I'd worry about after this announcement is David Ginola.

"I have a theory that George is still desperate to get his bust in the marble halls at Highbury alongside Herbert Chapman's, and by taking Spurs down to the Third Division and presiding over their demise, he thinks he'll finally get there. On top of that George has been to White Hart Lane so many times he probably thinks it would be nice to see Spurs win there finally."

Clive Anderson

Television presenter

"It's a bizarre situation particularly as Leeds are a bigger team than Spurs are. What I think is really sad is that a once- great club like Tottenham Hotspur can only pull themselves out of their incredible mediocrity by plugging into the success of Arsenal. The cheers won't be quite so loud when George comes back."

Tony Parsons

Journalist

"I think George Graham invented the modern Arsenal. I like Arsene Wenger but the backbone of last season's Double-winning side was the team George put together. He was treated incredibly shabbily by the Arsenal board; they didn't give him a fair hearing. They allowed him to become a scapegoat for all the corruption in the game. What I do hope is that he doesn't become a figure of hate, part of the asinine tribalism that was seen at Wembley on Wednesday night. More than Ian Wright, Tony Adams or Wenger, George made the Arsenal we know today. Let's hope he isn't lost to revisionism, like Trotsky being painted out of history by Stalin."

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