The story of George Graham is of an ambitious, determined and fixated man, who sadly lost his dream job when it was revealed that he took unlawful payments for his involvement in a number transfer deals which included John Jensen and Pal Lydersen.
In 1995, he was promptly sacked by the club who had been deeply embarrassed by his actions and he spent some time on the sidelines licking his wounds, wounds which ran deep. He would never be as successful again and his dismissal from Arsenal was the end of a promising managerial career that could have scaled the heights.
The fact that the payments were said to total around £400,000, when his wages were £300,000 a year made it all seem ridiculous but this was a time when the bung culture was generally overlooked by the FA who wanted to avoid a scandal. It wouldn’t last but a great deal of it went by the wayside. George Graham was just unlucky, wrong place, wrong time.
Game fixing, players betting against their own team and bribes (sweeteners) were all part of the landscape, especially in the 70’s with Leeds’ Don Revie apparently at the head of the line. Nothing was proved.
George Graham’s appointment as Arsenal coach in 1986 was greeted with a mixture of incredulity and bewilderment. The former Arsenal player known as the stroller had practically found his way into management by accident via a coaching role at the request of his good friend Terry Venables at Crystal Palace.
At the time of Arsenal’s announcement, George Graham was in charge of Millwall which hardly made him a contender in the eyes of football snobs who expected a big name appointment but Arsenal appeared convinced that they had their man.
George Graham introduced a discipline that had been missing for sometime, football was still in the dark ages to some degree regarding fitness levels and tactics. The beer and pie culture was still at large and it wasn’t uncommon even during Graham’s reign for players to take to the pitch grossly hungover and out of shape. This was literally a hangover from the when players looked forward to a cigarette and a bottle of pale ale at half time.
Paul Merson recalled lagging behind on a run, Graham told him to hurry up, Merson laughed and received a frosty look. He didn’t play again for weeks: “He never said a word”
George Graham had a big job ahead of him to get Arsenal back on track on his arrival. He was given money to spend on his underachieving, under performing side but he was going to have to spend it wisely and combine existing academy talent.
Sound familiar ?
He decided to shop in the lower divisions to assemble the legendary Arsenal back comprising Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams. This plus a few adjustments bought Arsenal a string of success in the years to come including
FA Cup (1993-05-20), League Cup (1993-05-18), League Cup (1987-05-05), European Cup Winner’s Cup 1994, League Division One Champions 1989 & 1991, but success came at a price over time with the departures of high profile fan favourites such as Graham Rix, Kenny Sansom, Charlie Nicholas and David Rocastle.
Those departures were understood but not really forgiven by a section of fans and Rocastle’s departure seemed to coincide with Graham’s dwindling fortunes. At the time, a number of players voiced their opinion that the soul of the club had gone and that the place lacked a smile, such was Rocastle’s impact and influence at his adopted home.
Arsenal and George Graham soldiered on but form deserted the side and like Wenger, his Midas touch in the transfer market also deserted him. Then came the bung allegations and it’s fair to say that Graham is justified in his opinion that the FA made him their official scapegoat, even when equally big names were guilty of the same thing.
The stern Scot has avoided the many questions about the infamous bungs over the years. He denied the claim and the term by deeming the payments as “unsolicited gifts”. He also accused Arsenal of conducting a “kangaroo court” judgement and described the allegations as “nonsense” stating that he deserved far more loyalty.
When the mention of the payments emerged in subsequent interviews, Graham became defensive and it’s said that a look deterred the journalist from expanding in the subject. No doubt, he was guilty of embarrassment and defending an indefensible position from which he would never recover.
Worse was to come in 1998 when Graham tried to get back at the Arsenal board for his dismissal by joining Spurs but by 2001, he was gone. He had managed to undermine his legacy in the eyes of the Gunners’ devoted fans by joining their rivals. It was his final throw of the dice as a manager and he never sought another job in football.