The spokesman entrusted with announcing the verdict stopped short of donning the black cap, but the Association Commission of Inquiry last night found George Graham guilty of misconduct on the charge that he received irregular payments relating to the transfers of two Scandinavian players when manager of Arsenal.
After three days in which Graham plus the three-man commission and two legal teams were holed up in a Hertfordshire hotel, the outcome was finally made public in a brief statement at 7pm by the FA's director of public affairs, David Davies. He was followed immediately by Graham, who in an even shorter statement vigorously protested his innocence.
The former Arsenal manager, who looked drawn and sombre, will learn "within 48 hours" what sentence the FA intends to impose. He is unlikely to receive a life ban, a punishment which would almost certainly lead to Graham claiming restraint of trade. A fine and/or shorter suspension, possibly for a year, is more likely.
Graham's lawyers have entered a plea for leniency on behalf of the 50- year-old Scot, which the commissioners will take into account before notifying him in writing of the penalty and reasons for their judgement. However, Graham, having pressed for the inquiry in order to clear his name, may feel partially vindicated by the wording of the FA statement. For while the hearing found the misconduct charge proven, it accepted that he had neither asked for the pounds 425,000 paid to him by the Norwegian agent, Rune Hauge, nor negotiated the deals for Pal Lydersen and John Jensen for personal gain.
In layman's terms Graham has been acquitted of asking for the money - which he has always maintained was an unsolicited gift and which he eventually gave to Arsenal - but guilty of receiving it. He is expected to challenge the verdict, going first to the FA Appeals Board and, if that fails, to a civil court.
The crucial passage in the FA statement, which began by noting that the commission had spent 18 hours hearing the case, read: "The commission was satisfied that when he received the money he must have known it was connected with the transfers. It was not satisfied that Mr Graham asked for the money or that he negotiated the transfers to obtain any personal gain."
Graham's statement was terse. "I am bitterly disappointed with the verdict," he said. "I always said the payments were unsolicited, and this has been proved. The commission decided that receipt of the payments constituted misconduct and that is all I am saying."
Returning later to issue a supplementary statement on the FA's behalf, Davies promised that the Premier League's inquiry into financial irregularities, the body whose initial findings into the Hauge-Graham affair prompted Arsenal to sack Graham in February, would continue. But he pledged that there would be "no scapegoats".
Yesterday's morning session, which lasted nearly three hours, had seen Graham speak for the first time in the course of the hearing. He answered questions from his own QC, Anthony Arlidge, and was cross-examined for 90 minutes by the "prosecuting" barrister, Brian Leveson.
Graham, on whose behalf Hauge had spoken on Tuesday, was supported yesterday by Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds United manager. Wilkinson, who is also chairman of the League Managers' Association, made a 10-minute appearance before the commission. "I'm here to talk about George Graham as a manager and a coach," he said.
The afternoon session ended with the summing-up of the rival QCs. Mr Arlidge addressed the commission for 70 minutes, while Mr Leveson spoke for exactly half that time. The hearing finally adjourned shortly before 4pm, at which point the three commissioners, chaired by Geoff Thompson of the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA, retired to consider their verdict.
The delay in announcing a sentence is certain to have been influenced by the memory of the legal drubbing the FA took at the hands of Alan Sugar and Tottenham Hotspur last season when it was clearly forced into a humiliating climbdown, a repeat of which it is now painfully intent upon avoiding.
The only major figure to be banned from management was the late Don Revie, who was found guilty of misconduct in 1977 after breaking his contract as England manager and secretly negotiating a lucrative post as coach to the United Arab Emirates. Revie was outlawed from the English game for 10 years, but won a High Court case against the FA and was given an injunction quashing the ban.
By curious coincidence, Graham's most illustrious predecessor as Arsenal manager, Herbert Chapman, was banned in 1919 for his alleged part in an illegal payments scandal at the now-defunct Leeds City. Chapman went to work in industry until his appeal was upheld, going on to win two championships with the Highbury club in the 1930s.
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