Graham's defence team set for long run

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The Independent Online

It was all a long way from Highbury's art-deco chic, let alone Genoa or Sardinia. While his successor as Arsenal manager was lavishing another pounds 4.75m on David Platt, George Graham strove yesterday to save his career and reputation behind closed doors in a humdrum hotel on the outskirts of Watford.

Graham, facing a Football Association misconduct charge relating to alleged transfer "bungs" totalling barely a tenth of the Platt fee, stole a march on the media by arriving nearly two hours before the hearing was due to start.

At 6.30pm, nearly 10 hours later, he emerged, still tight-lipped but far from ashen-faced. The FA have the facilities booked until tomorrow evening, at a cost of pounds 300 per day, so whatever the eventual outcome the 50-year-old Glaswegian will have the satisfaction of lasting longer than England at Edgbaston.

In the "courtroom" - the hotel's staff training centre on the second floor - the participants had taken up their positions as if it was 3 o' clock on a Saturday afternoon. Awaiting Graham's explanation as to how and why pounds 425,000 came his way from the Norwegian agent, Rune Hauge, sat the FA's disciplinary committee. In the chair was Geoff Thompson, of the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA, supported by the Football League president,Gordon McKeag, and John Reames, the Lincoln chairman.

Chastened by their legal humiliation at the hands of Tottenham's Alan Sugar, the FA trio were being advised by an independent QC, Michael Brindle, as well as by Lancaster Gate's own solicitor. To the left of the top table, putting the case against Graham, were a four-strong team of lawyers under Brian Leveson QC.

On the right sat Graham's "back four". Until his dismissal by Arsenal in February, days after a Premier League commission of inquiry ruled that he had a case to answer, this unit was usually led by Tony Adams. Now the armband had passed to Anthony Arlidge QC, a leading criminal lawyer whose CV includes the defence of several prominent Irish republicans.

With a stenographer also in attendance, the hearing spent the first few hours attempting to establish the rules of engagement. It was the afternoon before the first witnesses - two officials of the Norwegian club from whom Graham brought Pal Lydersen - took the stand.

IK Start claim that, having agreed to sell Lydersen to Arsenal for pounds 190,000 in 1991, they received a cheque for pounds 500,000. The understanding, they maintain, was that the balance would be paid to Interclub Limited, a Guernsey- based company in which Hauge has an interest. Interclub later allegedly made a cash payment of pounds 140,000 to Graham.

In the summer of 1992, soon after Arsenal had signed John Jensen from Brondby for pounds 1.57m (of which the Danish club later said they had received only pounds 900,000), Hauge allegedly paid Graham pounds 285,000 by bank transfer. Graham has always stressed that the money was an unsolicited gift which he repaid with interest last December.

The Arsenal board of directors maintained it was unaware of Hauge's largesse until the Inland Revenue asked why tax had not been paid on the money. Three senior Highbury officials - Peter Hill-Wood, the chairman, David Dein, the vice-chairman, and the managing director, Ken Friar - are thought likely to give evidence against their former manager today.

Graham's star witness, according to some on the press picket line, will be Hauge himself. Whether or not he appears, FA spokesmen were warning yesterday that the case may run and run.