Don Howe: player, coach, manager

Tony Attwood

Don Howe was, of course, both a manager and a player at Arsenal.  In management terms he did not win any trophies nor secure any top four finishes but as our manager analysis chart shows in our chart of managers, if we exclude those who served one season or less he is the sixth most successful manager in the club’s history

His record between December 1983 and March 1986 was played 117 games with 46.15% won.

You can see the full chart of managers analysed by success here.  In terms of the number of games managed he was our 12th most prolific manager.


Year League FA Cup League Cup
1983/4* 6th 3rd round (Middlesbrough) 4th round (Walsall)
1984/5 7th 4th round (York) 3rd round (Oxford)
1985/6** 7th 4th round (Luton) 5th round (A Villa)

* taking over from Terry Neill, December 1983

** Steve Burtenshaw took over March 1985

Don was born on 12 October 1935,   and played with West Bromwich and won 23 caps with England.  He was voted one of the top players ever with WBA in a poll by the fans.  He was signed as a player for Arsenal by Billy Wright in 1964 but broke his leg in March 1966 and retired from the game.

He then became reserve team coach for Bertie Mee and first team coach in 1968.

Don left Arsenal after the Double of 1971, and it is often said that the quick collapse of the team after the Double season was indeed down to this change as Don returned to his old club WBA as manager.

Don did not have success at WBA and the club was relegated in 1973.   He moved on to Leeds and to Galatasary, before coming back to Arsenal in 1977 as coach with Terry Neil as manager.  In 1981 he added to this role his duties as a coach for England.

Terry Neil left Arsenal on 16 December 1983 following a run of five defeats in the last six games, with the club lying 12th in the first division, and Don Howe became caretaker-manager.  He became permanent manager after the game against Leicester on 28 April 1984 following a run of five wins and two draws in the last seven games.  Arsenal were 6th – the highest position they had held that season after the second match.

As he took over new players were emerging.  Jennings, Sansom, Talbot, O’Leary, Woodcock, Nicholas, Rix and Davis were established players, while Howe added Mariner, Lukic, Steve Williams, Rocastle, Keown, Quinn, Martin Hayes and a certain Tony Adams.

After four consecutive wins in a run of 8 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat in 11 games Don Howe resigned on 22 March 1986, amidst rumours that he was going to be replaced.  Steven Burtenshaw took over with the club 5th in the league.  The momentum was immediately lost and with five defeats in the next seven games Arsenal slipped away from their challenging position.

Don Howe moved on to be assistant to Bobby Gould at Wimbledon at the moment when they won their one trophy, beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final.    The two men reversed roles at QPR for a while during Don’s management there.  He then moved on to Coventry and took them into the Premier League – again for part of the time after that with Bobby Gould.  Don resigned in the summer of 1992 and became a TV and newspaper pundit before working as assistant manager for England 1994/96 taking England to the semi-final of the Euros.

Then from 1997 to 2003 he was youth team coach at Arsenal and apparently still runs occasional youth coaching schemes and in 2007 worked with the Irish FA which appointed Trapattoni as the national manager.

Having watched Don play, and having watched Arsenal under him as a coach, and watched the club under his management, my personal view, as a fan who has never been within a million miles of managing even an under 7s team, that Don was a man who was a superb coach, but not cut out to be a manager.  Leaving aside anything done at Arsenal, there are many who put Wimbledon’s amazing Cup triumph down to him and his tactical awareness.  And that was an amazing event, even though the club’s football was horrible.

And if that is a true perspective, isn’t it just one of many cases in which a man who was a gifted coach, is tempted into the world of management, only to find that ability in one does not lead to the other?

Don, I can’t believe you’ll ever read this little review, but just in case you ever do, I hope you find it reasonably fair. All the fans that I know who were there at the time, still hold you in great esteem.



Publication in the next few weeks: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football

When Arsenal almost died.  The story of 1910:  “Making the Arsenal”

Latest article: The last time Arsenal were bottom of the league

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The series:  The history of Arsenal, manager by manager  (Leslie Knighton series now complete)

4 Replies to “Don Howe: player, coach, manager”

  1. Excellent post as usual.
    A little story… When 12 years old, I went to an away game at Villa (Easter time) 1966 (I lived in Banbury, Oxfordshire). As I went for a cup of tea I was amazed to find the Arsenal team seated in various compartments. A group of three or four rowdy fans were calling for autographs, and Don slid open the door and told them to clear off! I was standing behind them and started to walk off dejectedly. Don called “Not you son, come on in.” I stood just inside the door as four or five players signed for me. Don had his leg in plaster due to a break (as mentioned in your post).
    I was then invited to sit in another compartment with Frank McLintock and Jon Sammels as they signed. Quite a thrill for a schoolkid!

    As for Don Howe the player, I don’t remember enough to comment (I do remember though that he played in the first ‘Match Of The Day’ versus Liverpool, 1964.
    Don Howe the coach – excellent, especially ’70-’71 of course. As for manager certainly not a disaster, though not a great success either.

  2. Very fair appraisal of Don. In my eyes he was never more than a caretaker manager and should never have been given the full responsibility.

  3. In my opinion Berti Mee was a director of football. He appointed Dave Sexton as coach and the Arsenal awakening began. When he left for Chelsea to be their manager Don replaced him and continued on from Dave.The rest as they say is history but for me it was Don Howe’s double. Berti had the horrible problem of replacing him and wsn’t unable and so Arsenal slid off back to sleep until don returned as coach in T. Neil’s time. Had Don not returned perhaps T. Neil would be seen as our worst manager.

  4. One point of order, Don wasn’t in charge of the team when they lost to Walsall in 1983-84. That game was the second of 4 consecutive defeats that finally saw the end of Terry Neill’s reign.

    Don had a pretty immediate effect in charge of the team, bringing in Raphael Meade who hit a hat-trick in 3-1 at home to Watford and two goals in the 4-2 win at Tottenham on Boxing Day.

    The start of the 1984-85 season saw Arsenal play some fantastic football and go to the top of the league for the first time in 12 years. A bargain at 1p + postage.

    Tony Woodcock’s diary of 1982-1985 gives a very good idea of the feeling within the club at the time.

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