Graham given one-year ban over payments

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The Independent Online


George Graham, found guilty of misconduct by the Association, was last night banned from "all football activity" for a year and ordered to pay towards the unspecified cost of the disciplinary hearing.

The former Arsenal manager's suspension is certain to be rubber-stamped by Fifa and Uefa, the governing bodies for world and European football respectively. He has 14 days in which to appeal, although his former Highbury team-mate Frank McLintock suggested after talking to Graham yesterday that financial pressures might force him to let the matter rest.

After three days of purgatory while a three-man FA commission considered allegations that he received irregular payments amounting to pounds 425,000 from the transfer of two Scandinavian players, Graham spent a further 24 hours in limbo before learning his punishment. Once the 50-year-old Scot had been notified in writing of the ban, an FA statement elaborated on the details.

It read: "Mr Graham is suspended from all football until 30 June 1996. In addition he is to pay part of the costs of the case. The disciplinary commission took into account his exemplary football and disciplinary record in considering punishment, as well as the points made in the plea for leniency on his behalf.

"The commission defines 'football activity' as 'any or all involvement in football administration, management or coaching, including the signing and transfer of players'."

The charge against Graham, which he steadfastly denied, related to money he received from a company run by the Norwegian agent, Rune Hauge, in the aftermath of the transfers to Arsenal of John Jensen and Pal Lydersen. Graham maintained that the sums were unsolicited gifts, which he eventually repaid to the club.

Graham was sacked by Arsenal in February following an interim report by a Premier League inquiry into financial irregularities in the game. It had "great difficulty in accepting that Mr Graham did not know the payments derived directly from the transfer fees paid by Arsenal".

To have acquitted Graham would have been to undermine the Premier League investigations, which are ongoing, but even after the charge was found proven he must have hoped for a suspended sentence. The fact that the commission accepted he did not engineer the deals "for personal gain" encouraged such notions, as did speculation that the FA feared being taken to court for restraint of trade if it banned him outright.

However, the three-man panel - chaired by Geoff Thompson of the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA, and completed by the League president, Gordon McKeag, and Lincoln chairman John Reames - bit the bullet after continuing their deliberations and considering legal advice yesterday.

Their decision, barring a successful appeal, consigns Graham to a 12- month exile from a professional game in which he has been almost continuously involved since leaving school in Lanarkshire to join Aston Villa in 1961.

According to McLintock, a close friend who captained the Arsenal Double side in which Graham played, hiring lawyers for the hearing may have already cost Graham up to pounds 300,000. Taking the case further might prove prohibitive, McLintock told Radio 5 Live, although he was confident that if the midfielder once known as "Stroller" did accept his fate, he would have no trouble walking into a job next summer.

"George had the possibility of joining three or four clubs in the last couple of months but couldn't do so," McLintock said. "All the clubs who've contacted him knew he might be found guilty, but they still came forward. I think they'll do the same next year.

"There was an awful lot of pressure which others might have found hard to handle, but he's come through it with flying colours."

The only manager previously banned for misconduct, Don Revie, carried the fight into the courts in 1977. Revie's lawyers argued that his former employer, the FA chairman Sir Harold Thompson, had also sat in judgement of him. They succeeded in having his 10-year banishment from English football quashed, but the former Leeds and England manager never worked in Britain again.

Graham will surely be back, and will doubtless go on protesting his innocence. Yet he must now be cursing the day he ever heard the names Lydersen, Jensen and Hauge.