`It's sad - but it had to be done'

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The Independent Online


The bust of the great Arsenal manager, Herbert Chapman, stands prominently in the marbled halls at Highbury and it was always George Graham's wish that one day he would join him.

That dream perished yesterday, but there was no space either for the idea that the club's fans would like to find another, more uncomfortable, venue for the man's head.

In another great hall of Arsenal belief, The Gunners pub, a free-kick's distance from the ground, there was remembrance of what the Scotsman had achieved for the club.

Even without its name, The Gunners soon makes itself known as a football pub. There are shirts, posters, photographs and pennants all proclaiming the glory of Arsenal FC and many of those carry the grinning countenance of George Graham.

Necks craned to watch television reports of the day's events yesterday evening and forefingers and wry smiles were directed at Graham's opening line in last night's match programme: "Rumours of my impending resignation have proved somewhat premature."

"It's sad to see him go because I still believe he's one of the best managers in the world," Scott Pattenden, from Luton, said, his team shirt topically decorated with a black armband. "But he had to go because he has embarrassed Arsenal football club. He became stagnant like the situation he inherited and then thought he was bigger than the club, that they would forgive him anything. But no one man should make that mistake at Arsenal."

Disenchantment with Graham grew with the suggestion that a six-figure deal had not been for the benefit of the North Bank but his own bank account. This broke the Arsenal code. The die-hards could forgive Tony Adams his drink-driving, Paul Merson his binge of drugs, alcohol and gambling, but Graham's alleged action was different. They thought he might be taking money from the transfer of John Jensen. It may be ironic that Graham's downfall was his alleged big score from the purchase of a man who could not score. "If it's right it's disgraceful and he was getting so much money anyway," Scott said.

Elsewhere talk was of a replacement. Liam Brady, Alan Ball and David O'Leary all had their backers, but only if their appointment was greeted by a player overhaul. All wanted a clearout, and it swiftly became evident that Kevin Campbell is hardly considered a cornerstone of future plans on the terrace.

Wycombe's Martin O'Neill emerged as a surprise favourite to succeed Graham.

Lawrence Gindell, a 28-year-old from Reading, said: "It was only a matter of time, but I am sad to see him go. He was the best manager the club had had since Herbert Chapman. I would like Martin O'Neill as his successor."

At the Highbury Barn, another pub a short walk from the ground, David Pleat was the choice of Phil from Basingstoke, a Highbury regular for 19 years. "I would like George to be remembered as the man who brought a renaissance to Arsenal but I don't think he will be," he said. "Despite what he's done we're all devastated that he's gone.

"But at least the football might change. Over the last two years it has been crap. At the weekend I was really excited about watching Newcastle against Man City on the box but I don't get excited about coming to the Arsenal any more."

"You hope that they're going to turn it on, but it never happens." Phil would like a speck more individualism (even if his tastes do not extend to the martyr who chained himself to Highbury last week). "All my Arsenal mates have said all this was just a matter of time, but they are gutted just like me."

In the corner, Phil's son Adam was playing a pinball machine and he returned to tell of his score approaching one million.

That would be enough to make any manager's eyes boggle.