How legend was turned into myth : FOOTBALL

CLUB IN CRISIS: Arsenal's dismissal of George Graham leaves open wounds and unanswered questions Ian Ridley traces the roots of a scandal that may have further fall-out
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The Independent Online
AVID student of Arsenal history that he is - or perhaps was - it seems strange that George Graham missed the Herbert Chapman guide to transfer dealing.

The man who established the legend of Arsenal as a club of integrity once summoned the then secretary Bob Wall to his office and said he was going to show him how to conduct a transfer; one that turned out to be the first five- figure deal in the English game. It was 1928 and Chapman had agreed to meet the manager and chairman of Bolton Wanderers at the Euston Hotel to discuss the purchase of David Jack. Bolton wanted £13,000.

"We arrived at the hotel half an hour before our appointment," Wall recalled in his book Arsenal from the Heart. "Chapman immediately went into the lounge bar. He called the waiter, placed two pound notes in his hand and said: `George, this is Mr Wall, my assistant. He will drink whisky and dry ginger. I will drink gin and tonic. We shall be joined by guests. They will drink whatever they like. But I want you to be careful of one thing. See that our guests are given double of everything, but Mr Wall's whisky and dry ginger will contain no whisky and my gin and tonic will contain no gin'.

"When the Bolton pair arrived, Chapman ordered the drinks. We quickly downed ours and he called for the same again. The drinks continued to flow and our friends were soon in a gay mood. Finally, when Chapman decided the time was opportune for talking business, they readily agreed to letting him sign Jack - and for £10,890, which we considered a bargain."

Chapman, a visionary in both the game and its marketing, appears also to have invented the nudge-nudge footballing phrase "there's a drink in it for you". Chapman was no angel. He served a ban after the First World War for his part in irregular payments at Leeds City but went on to insist on the highest standards at Arsenal. He once sacked a player for kicking an opponent and being sent off. Another lacking in table manners failed to make the grade.

For his achievements, Chapman has his bust given pride of place in the marble hall behind the listed art deco faade of Highbury's main entrance. Graham, with six trophies in eight years, was close to having his own niche alongside until the betrayal of that legend. There is irony aplenty in the fact that Arsenal are the first club to be brought to book in the "bungs" inquiry.

It was Brian Close, who played for the club in 1950-51, who best summed up the Arsenal effect: "The place was like a palace. You were immediately conscious of belonging to something really big, really important. Everyone at Highbury lived, breathed, talked, ate and drank Arsenal. Everyone believed in the club; everyone was proud to be part of it. It was like playing cricket for Yorkshire."

An air of metropolitan haughtiness has grown up around Arsenal. Their former manager Don Howe, now an England coach, always refers to them as the Arsenal. They have been resented by the rest of football; more probably envied. And with his own hauteur, Graham seemed perfect for them when he took over from Howe in 1986. "Graham is honest, straightforward and strong on discipline," said Tony Shaw, the chief executive of his former club Millwall.

In private, Graham may well have been a disciplinarian. It is hard to know as the Glaswegian adopted the mentality that you should never explain, because your best friends don't need it and your enemies don't understand. He allowed little access to players and to the training ground; refused interviews of any consequence except to the News of the World, who this season are paying him £45,000.

It became the prevailing attitude of the club. The players learnt of his sacking last Tuesday from the radio. At that night's game against Nottingham Forest, the public address told supporters only that the manager tonight would be Stewart Houston. Dignity? Don't tell it to the fans.

Graham's teams eroded Arsenal's self-image. There were the brawls against Manchester United and Norwich, Paul Davis breaking an opponent's jaw and Tony Adams still being paid while he was in prison for a drink-driving conviction (Liverpool had not done the same with Jan Molby). There has been the spitting image of Ian Wright and the Paul Merson case.

Aresnal's modified standards have now included waiting to sack Graham until 10 days after the Premier League relayed its findings to them even though it had known for almost three months that Graham had received £425,000 from the Norwegian agent Rune Hauge's company Interclub Ltd following the transfers of Pal Lydersen and John Jensen. Given Graham's record and the power he held within the club, they had lost sight of their duty.

Graham's efforts had produced much of the wealth, after all, and indeed his legacy will be considerable: the trophies and the stadium - "a model for anybody to aspire to", Rick Parry, chief executive of the Premier League and the man whose commission has confirmed the expos of the Mail on Sunday, once said. Graham himself has become wealthy from it, too, with a basic salary of £250,000 a year.

He once declared that he wanted to become a millionaire from the game. After the match against Manchester United in November, he talked about the passionate, need-to-prove-yourself mentality of a Scot in England - "We have produced a lot of inventors, you know" - and followed this by saying: "What keeps me motivated is the brown envelopes I keep getting. They're called bills."

He also leaves an ageing team, one overtaken in style and results by Manchester United, Blackburn and Newcastle. This season's more rigorous implementation of the laws of the game have also caught out his side. No longer are the central defence able to tackle from behind with such indulgence; no longer can they play the offside game with such practised monotony. "You can see the manager in us more than you can in other teams," the striker Alan Smith said.

More than anything, Graham leaves a bitter taste. Graham twice met with the "bungs" inquiry panel - Parry, Robert Reid QC and Steve Coppell - on 16 December last year and last Friday week, when he refused on legal advice to respond to the inquiry's finding. It stated: "We are satisfied that the two payments to Mr Graham arise in direct consequence of the purchase of Lydersen and Jensen by Arsenal, were made out of the monies received by Interclub Ltd as a result of these transfers and would not have been made but for the transfers taking place. We have great difficulty in accepting that Mr Graham did not know that the payments derived directly from the transfer fees paid by Arsenal." On 1 December last year, when the inquiry was gathering momentum and the Inland Revenue were taking an interest, Graham paid the £425,500, plus £40,000 interest, to Arsenal.

The club received the conclusion from the Premier League on 10 December. Finally, three days before the inquiry was to make public its conclusions, the decision to sack Graham was taken at a board meeting last Monday night. On the Tuesday morning he was called to Highbury and the chairman Peter Hill-Wood performed his duty. Arsenal's prevarication is something the FA should take into consideration in their deliberations on disciplinary action over the next week.

The Premier League, keen to seize more power over their own affairs from the FA, took the initiative in setting up an inquiry but knew that they could not discipline. Though apprehensive after the Tottenham case and with lawyers lurking, the FA now need to find some courage of their own to back up the inquiry with punishment.

The "bungs" inquiry continues and would welcome evidence, says Parry. Perhaps he could set up an 0800 line. New rules and a scale of penalties for breaking them should be in place for next season, he adds. It is being done with the consent of the FA, who would then become a court of appeal.

Last Thursday, the clubs and the League Managers' Association agreed in their proposed code of conduct that managers must account for benefit derived from any transaction. Beyond the licensing of agents, Parry also sees merit in Uefa acting as a clearing house for foreign transfers and clubs stating in writing that percentages of fees will not go to third parties.

None of this is of the remotest interest to fans, I was told at Highbury last Tuesday night. They care only about results and George was a winner. Sod the style. That, though, seems at odds with many wanting Alan Ball as manager if he could bring Matthew Le Tissier with him from Southampton. (Ethically, Steve Coppell should not be in contention for the job.) Idealism, I was also told, is nave.

These arguments are to insult the intelligence of fans and the honesty of most people within the game. Though there may well be other bodies in the box besides Graham, that cannot excuse his case.

Football badly needs a bout of the idealism for which Arsenal once stood. Are honesty, integrity and trust not what we were taught to give and expect from team-mates when we were learning the game? Because of these modified times - not despite - the game has a duty again to reinforce and pass them on.

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