GEORGE GRAHAM chuckles as he reveals how he came by his seat at today’s North London derby.
Graham said: “At the big ’89 do, one of the charity auction lots was to have a box for any game — and they asked me if I’d come and sit with the guy who won.
“Lee Dixon and myself are going along as ‘experts’. I’ve got my car parking space, so that’s one thing!
“The guy paid £22,000. But I think they got £23,000 from someone to have lunch with Arsene. He’s pipped me again!”
Graham flashes a big grin. This is a man very much at ease with his football legacy.
For all that he achieved at Arsenal, he is happy to admit Wenger is the best manager in the club’s history.
But sitting in the garden of the house near the Finchley Road that he bought when he was Tottenham boss, he defends with pride and humour his record at both clubs.
Graham said: “My teams were called boring, fair enough.
“But my initial job, in my eyes, was to win something.
“Maybe I went too defensive — but I have no problem with that because we picked up some good trophies.”
He certainly did — two league titles, a European Cup Winners’ Cup, an FA Cup and two League Cups at Arsenal, plus another League Cup at Tottenham.
Spurs have won just one more trophy since that 1999 triumph.
Which is why Graham feels that Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham are under more pressure going into today’s derby at the Emirates and this season as a whole.
He says: “If Arsenal get into the top four, then it will be a fantastic season. For Spurs, it’s winning a trophy.
“There’s more expected from Tottenham. Most people realise they have a very good manager — but he still hasn’t won anything.
“Arsenal have a lot more work to do than Tottenham.”
For all the changes in English football over the last 30 years, the task facing Spanish boss Unai Emery is similar to the one that Graham embraced when he arrived at Highbury in 1986.
To make Arsenal contenders — without paying over the odds.
Graham said: “You think of the price of the boys from Stoke, Steve Bould and Dixon — peanuts. And Nigel Winterburn — peanuts. Emery has been around Europe.
“So he must know players that he likes and thinks, ‘If I can get him, I can improve him because he has the basic qualities I want’.
“I’m positive he could do that. His first season I think was quite good.
“He brought a bit of passion back into the game. You could see that in the way he acted and the way the players reacted.
“But there’s still a big problem — they haven’t got a base at the back, that foundation.
“The next thing I’m going to look at is, how hard is Emery going to work with the team on the training pitch?
“The front boys are on fire, so they will score goals. But I want to see how he improves the defenders and the midfield.”
He’s a quality player on the ball, sets things up, but he’s a mistake waiting to happen.
George Graham on David Luiz
Graham acknowledges the game has changed a lot since he spent hours drilling that famous Arsenal back four.
The fashion now is for ball- playing defenders like David Luiz, whose latest mental walkabout contributed greatly to the Gunners’ defeat at Liverpool last weekend.
Graham said: “David Luiz has had a great career — but those mistakes come with the package.
“He’s a quality player on the ball, sets things up, but he’s a mistake waiting to happen.”
Luiz probably won’t change now, yet Graham’s point about turning good players into great one stands.
For evidence that you can still make huge strides with a restricted budget, Emery can look down the Seven Sisters Road to the Spurs side that has been built by Argentine Pochettino.
Graham said: “You can see he improves players.
“Harry Kane had been on loan at Millwall and other clubs. Pochettino working with him has made him a better player — and there are many more examples.
“I’ve enjoyed watching Spurs since he’s been there.
“It’s OK to say, ‘We enjoy the football, we don’t have to win anything,’ but I don’t believe that.
“I’d like to see him win a trophy now, maybe not at Spurs.” Scot Graham laughs again. On the one hand, he remains unhappy at how Tottenham handled his sacking shortly after the 2001 takeover by current owners ENIC.
On the other, he has fond memories of winning that 1999 League Cup and of life at Spurs’ former training ground in Chigwell.
But he was and is an Arsenal man at heart, a red-and-white legend as player and manager.
He left Highbury under a cloud in 1995 and was banned from football for a year for accepting an illegal payment from agent Rune Hauge.
Many other managers may have done the same, but Graham was the only big name caught and was not welcome at Arsenal for a number of years.
And now? Graham said: “If I want tickets, I’ll get them. That’s an improvement from when I left.”
But Graham does not look like someone eaten up by bitterness or self pity.
It is hard to believe he will turn 75 at the end of November.
Medication keeps his arthritis at bay enough for him to enjoy a game of golf twice a week.
He also stays trim by working in his garden, although he leaves the lawn to the professionals — who are left in no doubt what is required.
Graham said: “I tell them to cut it in curves. I can’t have straight lines on grass, can’t stand it.”
You cannot help thinking that he probably insisted on straight lines on the training pitch when he was perfecting Arsenal’s offside trap.
When Graham returned to Highbury for the first time as Spurs boss in November 1998 and his team ground out a goal-less draw, the Arsenal crowd sang: “Boring, boring Tottenham.”
Both clubs now have a reputation for playing attractive football — and today’s showdown promises much.
Graham said: “It should be a good game, there should be goals.
“But wouldn’t it be great if it was 0-0? I’ll be like this!”
And he stretches out his arms in mock triumph, his face lit up by the morning sunshine and a mischievous smile.