By Tony Attwood
On 29 April 1995 Arsenal and Tottenham drew 1-1 at Highbury. An Ian Wright penalty gave him 18 for the season and left him top league scorer for the club. I’m sure he was pleased.
But in the league Arsenal were 10th, 36 points behind a team that had not won the league for 80 years. We had played 40 games, and as if that gap was not bad enough Blackburn, the league leaders, had two in hand.
Now this is not an article that should have been published on the Arsenal History Society website and somehow got here by mistake, because there is a real relevance in recalling that moment of just under 21 years ago.
That year we came in 12th, and the manager for much of the season was George Graham. On the day he was sacked for corruption we were 10th, 25 points behind the leaders from 29 games, so the ratio was virtually identical – we didn’t slip back after Graham left under such a cloud, but rather kept matters pretty much the same.
Blackburn are now 16th in the Championship and owned by an Indian family whose leader, on taking over the club said that her aim was to win the league. After all, she added, “how hard can it be?”
And that is the question I want to consider: winning the league under a new manager – how hard can it be?
Under Wenger we have had no such slide into the lower portions of the top division, as we had under Graham. On a year by year average Graham did indeed give us more trophies, but he also took us to being the lowest scorers in the League (1992/3) and gave us a run of scoring four goals in 14 in that same season, not to mention nine without scoring in 1987. It wasn’t always good to watch and in the end he was banned from football for corruption for a year.
But maybe that is what some people want. A league trophy no matter what depths we have to sink to from time to time.
However there is reason to think that even with a George Graham character at the helm, with the corruption and the occasional drops to being some distance behind the upstart of the day (36 points behind Blackburn as against 10 behind Leicester with us both having played the same number of games) all might not be wonderful.
I have been wondering in recent posts (first here and then here) why the PGMO is set up as it is – with its hyper-secrecy, its deliberate policy of not following Fifa agreed rules (“fans like to keep the game flowing – we have far fewer stoppages in the Premier League than in Europe”), and its processes which are so utterly different from any other major league in the world.
If you study the history of organisations you will see they always exist as they do, for a reason. It might be to protect the people in the upper echelons of the organisation, to maximise profit, to maintain the power structure… Structures and rules never happen by chance.
So PGMO is not as it is – a hyper-secretive organisation that is utterly different from the refereeing bodies in the rest of the world – by chance. There is certain to be a reason, and I’ve been trying to edge the discussion towards what that reason is.
I’ve struggled to think of many reasons why it should be as it as – and the most obvious is to ensure that Premier League football is not revealed to be caught up in an Italian type match fixing scandal Calciopoli.
At the end of that it was argued that Juventus’ conduct was not straight match fixing (as we saw with Liverpool and Man U in 1915) but rather payments to referees (often in terms of gifts such as the use of a villa for the summer etc) for the influencing of not necessarily their match results but the result of one of their rivals.
This approach (the Type III match fixing of our earlier analysis) is much much harder to spot than straight gambling on a match or series of matches (which is generally picked up with much fanfare by “irregular gambling patterns”), and it is this which the PGMO structure and secrecy seems designed explicitly to make possible.
If I am wrong, and PGMO’s structure is not there specifically to help referees get a few little extras from Type III match fixing, then given the hyper-secrecy, low number of refs etc etc is so unusual, why doesn’t PGMO change, and so remove all suspicion?
Now let’s move on.
This morning, Blacksheep posted an excellent article which made the point that just wanting a manager to change doesn’t really help. You have to find a good manager who can win the League. Liverpool! and Tottenham have been trying to do that for years – indeed it seems Tottenham have had 24 managers in 36 years as they have tried their luck. Just because they seem to have got it right at the 24th attempt, doesn’t mean Arsenal will get it right at the first.
The Tiny Totts won the league 55 years ago, Liverpool! 16 years ago. They have money, ambition and a feeling that they have the right to win the league. But even with lots of managers, they haven’t.
But here’s a thought. Supposing just for a moment that my meanderings on the subject of referees, PGMO and match fixing are right, then getting a new manager isn’t actually going to help.
Today in England the fashion is not particularly to put forwards any arguments to show why PGMO should not stay as an ultra-secretive refereeing organisation, which changes international football rules and imposes gagging orders on ex-refs.
But if this organisation is indeed making it possible for Type III match fixing to take place (and I say yet again, I have no evidence, I merely ask the question, “why is PGMO so different from the referee organisations in the rest of the world in all these regards?”) then Arsenal changing managers will not make a blind bit of difference.
The only thing that will make a difference is for Arsenal to start paying the bribes or for someone in the mainstream media to challenge the PGMO and its hyper-secrecy, low level staffing, and decision to runs its affairs in a way that is utterly different from the way refereeing is run in the rest of Europe.
The problem is, the scandal that would result would have a major impact on the Premier League. The money from broadcasting would collapse – and that would destroy the current set up. So everyone keeps quiet.
Is it a conspiracy theory to say all this? Not at all, for a conspiracy theory always has explanations that contradict accepted understandings without evidence. In the case of PGMO the reverse is true. The accepted understanding is that it is a highly secretive organisation, run in a way that is completely different from referee bodies in other countries, which deliberately keeps the number of referees low (thus enhancing the chances of undue influence as one ref gets the same club multiple times in a season), which encourages referees not to follow Fifa guidelines on protocol, and which issues gagging orders against ex-members. The accepted understanding is that there is no explanation for this.
If you can find an alternative explanation for PGMO being as it is, then it would be good to hear it and Untold will publish it. But in the meanwhile, the reality is that a change of manager on its own is unlikely to take Arsenal back to the top of the league. To do that under the current circumstances we need to join in Type III Match Fixing, and if I ever started to see evidence of that, then I would give up my season ticket.
Anniversaires – the full index is to be found here
- 10 April 1897: Arsenal 1 Arsenal Reserves 2. Such games were common for many years at the start of the season, and occasionally near the end of the season, and the reserves were not supposed to win!
- 10 April 1919: The Committee of the London Combination ordered the game between Fulham and Arsenal to be replayed on this day. However a set of appeals and counter appeals resulted in a final Fulham appeal being heard without Henry Norris being told about it.