We searched high and low for someone who thinks George Graham is innocent, and found Boyd Hilton, only too happy to put the case for the defence
“February 1995: The weather is surprisingly mild, so it is time to plant my sweet peas. They are especially effective when grown in clumps, supported with cylinders of netting. I am using autumn-sown seedlings which have wintered in boxes. My garden is a joy to the eye… But I feel there is a blast of winter yet to come.”
So begins George Graham’s memoirs, The Glory And The Grief… and sure enough, winter has brought a bit of a blast, from much of the media as it reacts with barely concealed joy to the news that George did indeed receive money from Rune Hauge, Norwegian football agent extraordinaire. To adopt the great man’s gardening metaphor, he is truly reaping what he has sown. Apart from the frosts which are no doubt having a detrimental effect on George’s hyacinths, he has also been frozen out by Radio 5 Live, which no longer wants him to fill that much sought-after role of expert summarizer, which they rather controversially bestowed on him at the start of the season.
Bizarre that they should have decided that it was alright to employ a “disgraced” figure, until such time as he actually admits some wrongdoing and goes on to explain why he feels his doings have not actually been seriously wrong at all. The broadsheet journalists, those moral consciences of the nation, have been swift to dismiss Graham’s attempt to put his side of the saga. The constant cry is that George Graham has effectively stolen from the fans, by taking money allegedly connected to transfer fees paid out by Arsenal. This is pompous nonsense. At worst (and George disputes this), he profited by getting a cut from two particular transfer fees.
No-one is claiming that he negotiated the fees in order to get this money; in fact Graham was notorious for being a tough negotiator and getting clubs to agree the lowest possible prices for their players. And, at a rough estimate, the man helped generate £35 million for Arsenal by winning six trophies during his eight-year reign. Even if he did profit from these transfers, as far as I’m concerned he earned every penny.
Arsenal fans are grateful for all those trophies, all the moments of glory, and if we have had a slightly ambivalent relationship with George over the years, that is more to do with his often enigmatic approach to the art of communication. Indeed, George has a revealing, if rather macho, insight into our feelings for him in the book: “My relationship with the fans had always been strong without being soppy. I never tried to milk their support or play to them, but I know we have a deep respect for each other and I like to think I gave them plenty to feel proud about.”
Actually, my feelings for George are quite soppy, I’m not ashamed to admit, as I ponder the framed picture of him on my wall, looking rather like an Italian film star from the Fifties. The fact is that the Boy from Bargeddie (as he ceaselessly refers to himself in his book) brought light into the lives of thousands of Arsenal fans where once was only Don Howe-style darkness.
George’s supporters argue that the case against him has never really been proven beyond doubt. George has his explanation for why he received money from Rune Hauge, which made perfect sense to me, and the FA have theirs. The FA went to the unprecedented step of issuing all their “evidence” in the case, which was supposed to make clear exactly why they are so sure Graham received the money as a result of the Lydersen/Jensen transfers. But this point is patently not proven and probably never can be. We’re asked to accept that the mere timing of the “gifts” from Hauge to Graham can tie them to the Lydersen/Jensen transfers, but neither payments were made the next day, or even the next week.
Graham’s claim that the money he received from Hauge was as a “thank you” for helping Hauge generally in the British transfer market cannot be disproved. There is no paperwork tying the money to any specific transfers and the logic of Graham’s claim makes more sense than Hauge giving up such a large part of Lydersen’s specific transfer fee: “It makes no sense that Hauge would have paid me £140,500,” Graham writes, “leaving himself and his company with just £34,500 for all his negotiating work”. Where the overall £425,000 in “unsolicited gifts” does make sense is as a small fraction of the profits Hauge must have made from all his British transfer deals.
For many, that Graham took money from a football agent, for whatever reason, is enough to condemn him outright, to call for him to be relieved of his media duties, to banned from football for life. But it’s not enough for me.
He is the one who has brought the success to Arsenal that allowed us to have one of the finest stadia in the country. He is the one who really enabled Dennis Bergkamp, surely the finest player ever to don an Arsenal shirt, to earn his £20,000 per week. Just as the media seem to forget that Arsenal often played attractive, attacking football under Graham, and that it was only in the last few seasons that we became such a moribund force on the field, so they fail to realize that football fans care little about who gets what slice of this or that transfer.
Football fans yearn for a pleasurable escape every Saturday, and for heroes to worship; George Graham provided us with years of practically unadulterated pleasure, and teams full of heroes. His book is all-too grandly called The Glory And The Grief – we’re happy to remember the glory, however much others will enjoy revelling in the grief.
From WSC 107 January 1996. What was happening this month