Graham's publicity masterstroke

Rhys Williams reports on the former Arsenal manager's coup in securing the skills of a gifted tabloid headline creator
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The Independent Online
Fears that the row surrounding George Graham's departure from Highbury would get dirty were confirmed yesterday when it emerged that Max Clifford, the public relations consultant, is advising the former Arsenal manager. It is understood the publicist is engaged in what sources described as "damage limitation".

Last week Graham was sacked as Arsenal manager after a Premiership inquiry into irregular payments arising out of transfer deals found he had received, and subsequently repaid to Arsenal, £425,000 following the signings of John Jensen and Pl Lydersen. Graham immediately went on the offensive saying he would "vigorously contest" the decision and that his loyalty to the club warranted better treatment.

There is informed speculation that Clifford will assist Graham to raise the stakes in the dispute with Arsenal. Graham is reportedly unhappy at being presented as a "sacrificial offering" and is therefore keen to publicise other individuals' involvement in financial irregularities.

In Clifford, Graham has chosen a master of news management, a man who has made a career out of defending the seemingly indefensible - Derek Hatton, the former Labour leader of Liverpool council, for example. His list of former clients reads like a "who's who" of tabloid front-page headlines. He was responsible for feeding the Sun with "Freddie Starr ate my hamster."

Last year, he acted for Bryce Taylor, the West London gym owner who sneaked photographs of the Princess of Wales on a bench press, as well as arranging blanket coverage for Lady Bienvenida Buck, the former wife of a Tory MP who romantically ensnared the chief of the defence staff.

But it will be his efforts on behalf of Antonia De Sancha in the wake of her affair with David Mellor, then Secretary of State for National Heritage, that will unsettle the Arsenal board most. It was Clifford who engineered the revelations that Mellor romped in a Chelsea strip.

Clifford issued a trademark denial yesterday, insisting that he has never spoken to Graham, but it will be a surprise now if the former Arsenal manager's side of the argument is not handled with a certain tabloid flair.