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By George, they've sacked Graham!
Jim Johnson

At some point during most Tottenham games a familiar chant will begin from one corner of the stadium. ‘We want Graham out, we want Graham out!’ The degree to which this chant will be taken up by the fans depends on the team’s performance at that moment. Generally, if Spurs are losing or drawing while playing tedious football, the chant will become very loud indeed. On 16th March the fans finally got what they were demanding. George Graham was sacked, completely out of the blue.

That Spurs fans would never take to a manager so closely associated with Arsenal was no surprise. Especially when Graham had been key to orchestrating the continued superiority of their North London rivals. But his track record as a manager with Leeds and Arsenal is very impressive and some supporters were willing to give him a chance. I was one of that minority.

In many ways I wish I wasn’t a Spurs fan. One of my earliest memories of following Spurs was watching them getting hammered by Ipswich. Even as a child I knew that changing your football team, despite their poor performances, was something that you just didn’t do.
There have been many heartbreaking moments, none greater than our defeat in 1987 to Coventry in the FA Cup final. They had no right to win really. Spurs had never been beaten in a Cup final till then. I can clearly remember Gary Mabbutt’s own goal that gave Coventry the lead right at the death. He raised his foot to try and block an incoming cross, making contact and giving the ball a fatal deflection that sent it flying past his own keeper. So cruel.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been good times; the 1981 FA Cup final in particular, especially the magic goal by the Argentinean, Ricardo Villa. Spurs fans regard this goal and the player who scored it with cult status. We even decided to name our new puppy after him, shortening it to Ricky, as Ricardo seemed a bit poncy for a dog.

Since the early nineties Spurs haven’t produced much to get excited about, languishing mid-table season after season. Ironically, despite this, ticket prices have gone through the roof and it has become one of the most expensive clubs in the country. It’s costing me £34 to go and see the Chelsea match next month. It’s not like paying to see a gig. There you’re pretty much guaranteed some entertainment, provided you’ve done your research and checked out the reviews beforehand. Last time I paid over £30 to see Spurs we were treated to a nil-nil draw against Man City. We were desperate for the referee to blow the full-time whistle and end our ninety minutes of boredom.

The sacking of George Graham is the latest thing that has caused me to despair. I know a lot of the White Hart Lane faithful disagree with me on this. I admit that the Arsenal man wouldn’t be my first choice for manager. But he is a professional. A manager with a proven track record. Of course he’s also associated with a boring tactical game, the opposite of the Tottenham ethos, whose fans still demand exciting passing play. I just think that the football we have been playing over the last few years has been so far removed from this ideal that we may as well try something else. At least if Spurs became stronger defensively we might be able to build towards playing inventive football. Graham brought us our first cup for eight years. Eight long uneventful years. That’s got to be worth something.

If getting rid of Graham doesn’t bother most Spurs fans then surely the manner of his dismissal must raise alarm. Graham knew that Tottenham needed to strengthen their squad to avoid a repeat of this season where so many inexperienced young players have had to be tested. Graham also felt that it was vital to hold on to talented players like Sol Campbell, Les Ferdinand and Darren Anderton. At a meeting on March 14th Graham discussed with David Bulcher, the vice-chairman of the club, the amount of cash available to do this strengthening and to hang on to players whose contracts are running out. Graham told the press after this meeting that far from being given the £50m that earlier this season he claimed was necessary to make Spurs a championship-winning side, he was to be given only a fraction of that amount. “Only time will answer whether there will be some action,” said Graham. “All I can do is recommend players, and I’ll soon find out if I’m going to get those players.”

These comments cost Graham his job. By the end of the day Bulcher had sacked him. He was so incensed that Graham had leaked what he considered confidential information. Bulcher said that Graham had been fired for breach of contract and for not having the interests of the club at heart.

To me it seems Bulcher is the man with the club’s interests furthest from his heart. He has dismissed a manager who has just brought the club to the FA Cup semi-final. The cup-tie is to be against the old enemy Arsenal. Psychologically Graham was our best weapon. Arsenal fans know better than most the success that Graham can bring to a club. He has shown with Arsenal, Leeds and Spurs that he has an ability to prepare a team for a one-off big match. Now he’s gone and Arsenal will start the match without that fear, they’ll be no magic worked by their ex-boss to gear Tottenham up from a mediocre side. Arsenal are by far the strongest side on paper, and Bulcher has just thrown away our one trump card.

It looks like the new owners of Spurs will be as tight as Alan Sugar ever was. Graham’s annoyance with them over the lack of funding shows that massive regeneration is not about to start. Buying more players is seen by the money-men as a risky investment. An expensive outlay that may not necessarily yield sufficient financial returns. It seems to me that it is these people who aren’t putting the club first, happy to take whatever short-term action will best line their pockets.

There is no doubt that George Graham will survive the sack, his CV proves his worth and there will be many clubs desperate to put him in charge. I am more concerned about Tottenham’s chances of surviving. If we get knocked out of the FA Cup in the next round it will mark the end of another uneventful season. Future managers may be hard to find now Graham has told the truth about the lack of funding available. This will deter any big names from wanting the job. It will also encourage players like Sol Campbell to leave. He has already said that he is frustrated by the club’s lack of ambition. For how much longer will he resist Man United's call? They can offer him a much greater chance of success that a player of his calibre deserves.

The first game since Graham’s departure revealed a lot. The Spurs fans that would usually chant ‘Graham Out’ were not celebrating. In fact the Spurs fans appeared to be suffering collective amnesia about the whole affair. Coventry didn’t forget though; “There's only one George Graham!” they mocked throughout the match, to no response. I bet that the Arsenal fans will enjoy singing that same song during the upcoming semi-final. Only a victory will bring an end to their torment, let’s hope we get one.

© Jim Johnson 2001

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