The Dark Side takes over
Last week I wrote about how we won the European Cupwinners Cup on May the Fourth. I, and many other Gooners were hoping that we have disturbed the force that is Manchester United and are ready to be Arsenal again. George Graham could surely now come up with the tactics to hit us into warp drive. We had the players, we could put out an entire England team and it would be nearly as good as the actual one. We bought Stefan Schwarz, John Hartson, Chris Kimomya and Glenn Helder. Surely Darth Vader (Alex Ferguson) couldn’t stop us now?
Certainly Man City couldn’t. 3-0 first match. Your Death Star is about to be demolished, Mr Ferguson, the Arsenal are back. Except we weren’t. Defeats to Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle along with draws to Norwich and Blackburn meant we were going to be confined to the farther reaches of the galaxy, more likely. What it is to be an Arsenal supporter. Finally on 25th September we beat West Ham 2-0. We never got going after that and didn’t play like contenders, let alone champions.
Dark rivers of cash
Ah, but there were rumours appearing, enquiries into irregularities, and something was going on behind the scene. Not with the Arsenal, surely? We were squeaky clean, not like many others, with Don Revie and Brian Clough regularly in the frame when such allegations appeared. All us football fans believed that there was a river of bungs, underhand payments, and brown envelopes streaming through clubs. Many articles and books speculated on this but it was George Graham who was caught, tried in an FA inquiry, and found guilty.
The details were simple and undisputed. Graham had received £425,00 from Rune Hauge for services supplied. He claimed he helped him to operate in England, providing consultation and advice when required. He described them as gifts which he never asked for. It is perhaps best put in this extract from the Guardian here
”The "bung" details are complicated, but, in simple terms, George accepted two lumps of cash, totalling £425,000, from a Norwegian football agent with whom George, as manager of Arsenal, had been involved in various transfer deals. He had also helped this agent, giving him advice and contacts in British football in general. George, therefore, so he says, looked upon this money as an unsolicited gift. He didn't see it as having strings attached, either before or after. At the time, he didn't appear to see anything wrong at all. Arsenal, the club, didn't lose out. His "gifts" had come out of a middleman's pocket. No one, so he maintained, was cheated.”
Hey, it's capitalism
It is fair to say that in business, such arrangements are normal, you scratch my back and I scratch yours. Capitalism is built on such things. But sport is different, and should be. There are sporting rules that you shouldn’t break, both on and off the arena. In golf and snooker, the highest standards are maintained, and players are expected to call foul on themselves, but football is probably the dirtiest sport of all. Professional boxing? Maybe, but it is very much a minority sport in terms of participants.
So George was banned for a year, he lost his job at Arsenal, his reputation was thrashed and he lost a lot of money as he handed it all back and had to pay high legal fees. Arsenal struggled on the pitch as players were in shock. Graham had always seemed so straight, he was tough, but they liked him, mostly. They understood what he wanted, what he valued, how he dealt with them in general. One has to understand that a football manager can only pick 11, and must piss off players every week and the skill is getting them to understand their role and value to the team, even if it is a peripheral role. But also helping them through difficult times, Tony Adams with alcohol and Paul Merson with gambling are examples of this.
Paul Merson, this season, came out about his severe gambling, alcohol and cocaine addiction. 3 months rehab was offered and George Graham welcomed him back into his role, but shortly after was fired. Merson recovered his career and Graham played his part. He obviously understood human frailty.
The good and the bad of George Graham
Graham had been the best manager of my time with Arsenal till now. For a shortish period we were the best team in England. He had a distinct belief in how football should be played and the type of footballer he wanted in every position. He ran Arsenal as a tight ship and must have been a dream for the directors, always being canny in his dealings, keeping plenty of money at home for them. He believed he had a deal with them that he could return but the Arsenal board, being representative of the higher echelons of British society, decided that they did not wish to be tainted with the unsavoury aspects highlighted by the FA, and threw him to the wolves.
So, what is my view on the matter? George Graham was caught, he did wrong and got a fair enough punishment in my opinion. Put in context, though, I feel he was a small fish in a murky pond, and countless others participated in a lot more dirty dealings. It is still going on, probably a lot worse now as there is a lot more money floating around. Football seems to be irredeemably corrupt, from FIFA downwards and nothing really happens despite periodic exposes. Qatar, anyone? The squeaky clean home of the next World Cup? Yeah, sure.
Can it be fixed?
What can be done? I would start on the pitch. Make it an offence not to admit to a foul. In other words, no arguing with the ref, the cameras can see what happened. No claiming anything, from throw ins to penalties, the cameras and the officials can see what happened. Players forced to be honest, on penalty of far worse punishment if they are not, would be a start. No deliberate kicking or pulling of a player to stop them moving. No diving, falling down holding your face when you weren’t even touched on the face and such things like that to be replaced with being punished severely for it.
Cleaning up on the pitch, I believe, would be the first step necessary to cleaning things up off it. Would fans be happy with my proposals? I have a feeling no is the answer. Often fans are blind to their own teams failings and over sensitive to the oppositions.
What next for Arsenal?
For George Graham, he had succumbed to the dark side of the force. Arsenal were knocked back in their attempt to tackle the Man Utd empire and the Premier league trophy was turning out to be in a far distant galaxy which Arsenal had no hope of reaching.
But as always with Arsenal, there are grounds for hope and next week I will talk about matters on the pitch in this season. Could we rescue it at all? And who would come after George Graham?