Winner in a camel-hair coat : FOOTBALL

Patrick Marber, playwright,comedian and Arsenal supporter, pays tribute to the man who bought Jimmy Carter; George Graham
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The Independent Online
WE'VE all heard the jokes: what are the three most useless things in the world? The Pope's testicles and Arsenal's midfield.

So let me start with a controversial statement; in the season of 1990- 91, when Arsenal won the Championship for the second time in three years, they played good football. Of course, you don't believe me. Football lore dictates that Arsenal must be perceived as an up-market Wimbledon. If Wimbledon are Woolworth's, then Arsenal must be Safeway. This makes Manchester United Marks & Spencer (full of over-priced goods) and Leicester City are Spar.

Arsenal wouldn't be Arsenal were they not collectively despised. And yet, I promise you, in that season it was bliss to be a Gooner. Limpar and Merson bunging in (forgive the pun) the crosses, Smith and Campbell (I know, I know) knocking them in; a skilful midfield of variously Thomas, Rocastle, Davis and Richardson (OK, point taken) and a back four as solid as the Bank of Norway.

You can't knock a man who won six trophies in eight years. Or can you? Well, for starters, he bought Jimmy Carter. He sold Anders Limpar and then, to rub it in, he bought Eddie McGoldrick, thus prompting the chant "There's only two Jimmy Carters". Things got so bad a few seasons ago that 20 minutes from the end of a grim 0-0 skirmish I found myself authentically yelling: "Bring on Perry" (I refer, of course, to Perry "Pele" Groves). The Flying Pig, as he was sometimes known, entered the fray to irony-free applause. To appreciate the magnitude of this low, imagine you've just lost all your limbs and opened (with your teeth presumably) a get-well- soon present of a Cindy Crawford fitness video. You are genuinely delighted. That's what it was like to cheer on Perry Groves.

Even in this context, I still respect George Graham. Here is a man with millions of pounds to spend on quality players and yet he fielded Gus Caesar. That's the choice of a man who cares - maybe not about football, but it took guts to pick Gus.

Hath any manager greater courage than the man who bought Martin Keown? I have seen Martin Keown shoot from 20 yards and hit the corner flag. He hit the bloody corner flag. Then he trotted back to his own half, bemused by the "otherness" of the opposition's penalty area and looked strangely pleased. You see, for Martin, hitting the corner flag was a good effort.

But now George has gone. I'm sorry it's ended in such an ugly fashion. He was a terrific player, a fine tactician, he was never a yes man - certainly when it came to buying decent midfielders. No one could wear a camel-hair coat like George. And, of course, he was a winner. You can knock the will to win, but when you've gone to Wembley and returned victorious twice in one season you'll understand.

Good luck, George. We'll miss singing: "Get your cheque-book, get your cheque-book, get your f*****g cheque-book out". We'll miss your cheery Presbyterian sense of humour. We'll miss your Dadaist selections. So, one last time: "Ohhh, Georgie Graham's magic, he wears a magic hat and when he saw £425,000 he said I'm having that - for a few years and then I'll give it back, I was just guarding it . . . honest."