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The Dark Side takes over 1994-95 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 Rune Hauge: Did this smiling man really cause all the trouble? ”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. A long tough battle for Paul Merson 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. Graham, doing what he does best 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?
George Graham lays down a marker Heroes appearing under Graham 1986-87 How to write about George Graham’s first season in charge? It was a tumultuous time with no single thread to tie it all together. But I will give it a go. The most important thing is that he had done wonders at Millwall, who were jumping up the divisions. They were well drilled and that became obvious fairly quickly, that Arsenal would be the same. He knew what he wanted and players came in from inside and out. Some only diehard Arsenal fans will remember, others became legends, still talked about today. Unfortunately, one of them was Niall Quinn as this was his only big season, appearing 48 times. He only scored 12 which I guess Graham wasn’t happy with. Gus Caesar and Martin Hayes were others who didn’t manage to thrive under George. I believe he had a vision of who he wanted in every role and ended up with that type of player. But Paul Merson, Michael Thomas and Perry Groves did appear, all to become totally different types of heroes. Merson had a long career, scored many important goals and was an integral part of George Graham’s plans. Michael scored the most magical goal in Arsenal’s history, downing the monster Goliath Liverpool at Anfield to win the league, but that is a story for another day. Perry Groves? Well, the fans just loved him, he was wholehearted, he came on as a sub, he stayed, and always gave his all for the Arsenal. He was rewarded with his song – “We all live in a Perry Groves World” still sung by fans to this day. In a Perry Groves World Could David Really beat Goliath? I feel, though, that it was not the players that defined that season so much as to how George Graham shaped up to the 2 headed monster of Liverpool and Everton. If Liverpool were Goliath, then Everton were the Midgard Serpent and they were battling for supremacy. Everton almost won the double under Howard Kendall in 1984-85 and Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish became the 3rd team to win the double in the 20th century in 1985-86. Graham should really have been called David, because he planned to take them on and down them, send them back to Scouseland crying. Could he do it with the team he mostly inherited from Don Howe? Let’s see what happened. He had a bit of a mixed start, beating Man Utd 1-0 which was to become his signature score and another constant song still sung to this day, then beating Coventry 2-1 before succumbing to Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield. He had a few draws and then lots of wins which had him up at the top in December and staring glacily at the Scouse giants below him. Maybe he was David. But the second half of the league didn’t go so well and 4th was our final position. The Midgard Serpent had won with 86 points and Goliath a well beaten second. Unfortunately some team from North London finished 3rd to take the gloss off what was a good start to Graham’s time. Spuds, on top of us again? Surely he knew that he had to stamp on them at least? And so the Fa Cup? We were beaten 3-1 by Watford in the quarterfinals but we did have a 6-1 against Plymouth in the 4th round. So not too good there. Knocking over Giants The League cup? Here is where we laid down a marker. George showed he meant business. We beat Huddersfield 3-1 over 2 legs, then Manchester City 3-1 over one leg, then Charlton 2-0 and Forest 2-0 to set up a semi against? You guessed it, the Spuds. We had to send them home crying to pay them back for finishing above us so often in the 80’s. And we did, although we made hard work of it, 2 legs 2-2 and then 2-1 in the replay. The thing was we had never led in any of these matches, always coming back at them. And Clive Allen, who we had bought and sold without playing him years earlier, scored and we were behind again. And with 15 minutes to go they were going through, until Ian Allinson popped the ball through legs to score and then David Rocastle was involved in a scramble to score a very late goal. Bye bye Spuds, try and find your way home through your tears. The match was actually played at White Hart Lane as they had won the toss for the replay so they didn’t have far to go, lucky for them. A Tough Opponent But Liverpool in the final, and Goliath was in our way. George realized he had to be David, he had to show them we were Arsenal and we were back. They were full of top players but we had good emerging players too. But to be honest, Liverpool looked better than us, they had all the chances and finally scored through their talisman, Ian Rush. They story goes that they never lose when he scores. Our George never heard that story and neither did our Charlie. Nicholas popped up to score our equalizer, and then later on, Perry Groves knocked the ball across from the wing, Charlie did it again, via a deflection from Ronnie Whelan. Goliath lay dead on the floor of Wembley, as our steely eyed David looked on. He laid down a marker for Kenny Dalglish, we can beat you, we can hurt you, we are the Arsenal and don’t you forget it. Winners of our final domestic trophy Our first League Cup, the first Littlewoods Cup, and all in George Graham’s first year. Beating the Spuds in the semis at White Hart Lane was great, but showing Liverpool we had arrived was even better. Oh and by the way, that 1-0 to the Arsenal in the first match against Man Utd was the only 1-0 in all competitions. 71 points to play for. A few weeks ago at the halfway stage I predicted that around 64 points would be our final total, and not enough for Champions League but probably enough for Europa League. That is still possible as we have maximum 71 points to play for but it is not looking good. I am still optimistic, though. Every week until the end of the season I will run down the clock on the maximum points we can achieve.