This article in the series about Arsenal’s managers is about George Graham the manager. A separate article will appear in due course about his playing career.
George managed four clubs: Millwall, Arsenal, Leeds, and Tottenham. His win percentage at Arsenal (48.91%) was the best of his career. At Tottenham it was 39.68%
George took over at Arsenal on 14 May 1986 and left in February 1995. He was our 21st manager and our ninth most successful manager in terms of win percentages. He managed the third most number of games of any manager of Arsenal behind Bertie Mee and Arsene Wenger. In our table of men who have managed over 100 games at Arsenal he is the fourth most successful.
With six major trophies excluding the Charity Shield he is our second most successful manager in trophy terms – only Arsene Wenger exceeds him.
Here is his record year by year…
|Season||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Other|
|1987/8||6th||6th (Nottm F)||Final (Luton)|
|1988/9||1st||3rd (WHU)||3rd (Liverpool)|
|1989/90||4th||4th (QPR)||4th (Oldham)||Charity Sh. Lost|
|1990/91||1st (2 points ded)||SF (Tottenham)||4th (Man U)|
|1991/2||4th||3rd (Wrexham)||3rd (Coventry)||Charity Sh drewEuro Cup 2nd|
|1993/4||4th||4th (Bolton)||4th (Villa)||Charity Sh drewCWC won|
|1994/5*||12th||3rd (Millwall)||4th (Sheff W)||CWC Final|
After stopping as a player George Graham moved into coaching, first at Crystal Palace and then at QPR, before becoming Millwall boss in December 1982. He took over a club that was at the foot of the Third Division, with small crowds and a dreadful reputation.
He took them away from relegation and in his second full season had them promoted to the 2nd division. The year after he left they were promoted to the first division.
Don Howe left in March 1986 and there is a suggestion that the next manager would be Alex Ferguson who was at Aberdeen and acting manager of Scotland. Ferguson however wanted to stay in charge of Scotland through the World Cup and so Arsenal turned to George Graham.
George Graham let some of the older players go (I’ll go into detail in later articles) and brought in his own players. He was known from the off as a disciplinarian – and (again as will appear later) has been accused of being unpleasant in his handling of players.
His first achievement was to have Arsenal top of the league at the time of their traditional 100 year anniversary – Xmas 1986.
The club slipped back to fourth but there was clear improvement over previous campaigns. Although the defeat in the second league cup final to Luton, after being ahead, was shocking, and there were questions over some of his players, the results were clearly better than under previous managers, and I think we were all hopeful at the time – even driving up the M1 (which goes past Luton) to the Midlands after that game. A most depressing drive!
Of the players we particularly remember the gathering together of the Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn back four. The media of course turned this into a defensive only team (Boring Boring Arsenal indeed) but with Rocastle, Thomas, Merson and Smith playing ahead of that back four it was anything but.
And so George Graham, having won the league in 1971, was amazingly the manager for the next time we won the League in 1989, in a match described so often that there can’t be anything else to say.
The second title in 1991 is not exactly forgotten, but because of the Liverpool victory two years previous it gets less publicity. And yet it had something extra, for Arsenal had 2 points deducted for a minor punch up at Manchester. It was a wholly outrageous punishment, but Arsenal got their own back on Man U, for it was they who had to provide a guard of honour on 6 May, with Arsenal having won the league.
It was also a nice retribution for the 1990/91 defeat in the league cup at Highbury where Man U beat Arsenal 6-2.
To add a personal note: after getting home from the league winning game I watched the recording of the match (scheduled because it was unclear if the League would still be up for grabs, as they say). The commentators said, “And the Arsenal fans are singing ‘We are the Champions’ – which of course we weren’t (singing – we were the champions, but it was the song that was different). As you could clearly hear above the natter of the commentators we were all, to a man, singing, “You can stick your ****ing two points up your ****”. It started about an hour before the game, and finished about an hour after the game.
David Seaman and Anders Limpar came in for that season, and Ian Wright followed from Palace.
But then we started to see the signs of decline – a poor defeat to Benfica at home in extra time in the Euro cup showed how far below the European standard English football was, following the years of exile after Liverpool fans riot at Heysel. An FA Cup defeat to Wrexham was worse.
It was only then that the real emphasis on defence happened. By now the back four were so used to each other that they could be relied on totally – but there was no way of getting the ball forwards quickly. From 81 goals in 1991/92 Arsenal sank down to 40 in 1992/3.
But there were still more triumphs: the first club to win the FA Cup and the League Cup at the same time, and then there were the two Cup Winners Cup finals, winning one, losing the second.
The following season Graham was dismissed following his admission that he had accepted £425,000 from Rune Hauge in the transfer in of Jenson and Lydersen. Graham repaid the money, but was eventually banned for a year by the Football Association.
Next came Leeds where the defensive approach was used again to avoid relegation. In his second season there he took the club to Uefa qualification.
And then in October 1998 came the bizarre moment when he took over Tottenham, and won them the league cup.
His sacking in March 2001 was also odd. It was said that the club had given him “several written warnings” prior to his sacking for giving out what was “deemed by the club as being private information.” Apparently he had told the media that he was working on a limited budget. If every manager was sacked for that today we’d only have Ferguson and Wenger left!
After the meeting over this matter Tottenham called Graham “aggressive and defiant”. George Graham maintained he was sacked by ENIC who had just taken over the club and with them wanting their own man in.
Since then George Graham has worked occasionally as a pundit, but now appears to be retired although he does often return to Arsenal for club related events.
- Stewart Houston: managed Arsenal twice, still at the club
- Bruce Rioch: a life of argument
- Steve Burtenshaw: our least successful manager
- 23 June – Patrick Vieira’s birthday
- 22 June 1893 – the date the modern Arsenal was launched
- Sylvain Wiltord, a tribute
- Tottenham’s strange election to the football league – an update
- Jack Crayston – player, coach, manager
- Paul Davis, wonderful player, great coach, and one incident
The main series: