George Graham: Arsenal’s second most successful manager for trophies

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
1986/7 4th 6th (Watford) Won
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
1992/3 10th Won Won
1993/4 4th 4th (Bolton) 4th (Villa) Charity Sh drewCWC won
1994/5* 12th 3rd (Millwall) 4th (Sheff W) CWC Final

*Part season

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.


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10 Replies to “George Graham: Arsenal’s second most successful manager for trophies”

  1. better than wenger, he provided wenger with a defense base on which to build the gallic flair players incredible success.
    He also had a better ratio of trophies/season than wenger.

  2. That ratio of trophies is because Wenger has managed twice as long. George Graham was great for us considering the resources he had, but he managed only the team. Wenger over-hauled the club from team to overseeing new state-of-the-art training facilities, revolutionary dietary changes, the conception of a new stadium and a medical wing at the training ground second to none in Europe.

    George played for us, was a part of the first Arsenal Double Winners, people who’ve been to his home say it’s a shrine to Arsenal so it’s save to say he genuinely loved Arsenal.

    I don’t think he should have been sacked, he could have left quietly with resignation with a bit of loyalty from the board. Instead they crucified him before the football world. Were they right to do this? Well this is the same bunch of people who got rid of David Dein for introducing Stan Kronke to the board – an event that prompted the arse of a chairman to say, “We don’t want his sort here.” … and Kronke later gets a seat on the board and owns 60%+ of the shares … but no David Dein. The judgement shown regarding Dein makes me question now any judgement the same people made before and after.

    Some may say they redeemed themselves with the appointment of Wenger, but no, it was David Dein who brought Wenger to Arsenal. David Dein should have a bust along side Chapman’s and Wenger’s.

  3. @realistic Tony – George Graham was good and didn’t get the credit he deserved, being unfairly tagged ‘defensive’. Better than Wenger? I don’t think so. Wenger got that back four playing football and enhanced their reputations further. The standard of footbal under Wenger has been excellent and the consistency in the league, over a far longer time, is excellent as well.

    These series of articles are excellent but the tables should exclude caretaker or temporary managers as their stats just get in the way of things and some are statistically irrelevant. Show both if you want to be a completest.

  4. Quite simply the greatest Arsenal man alive today.

    Our very own Bill Shankly – uber successful in his own right, as a player and a coach, but, more than that, his rebuilding of the club created what we see today and paved the way for every single thing that followed.

    Underrated doesn’t even come close.

  5. Gooner S

    If you look at you will find that there are four charts below the list – the last of which shows the managers in success order excluding those with under 100 games. I can easily add one that just excludes the caretakers but that wouldn’t really add much more – by removed the under 100 games the list gets rid of the early managers who tended to last one season or so.

  6. The manager of Benfica who saw off Arsenal was Sven of England fame! Graham had gone by the time of the 2nd Euro final. His friend Houston was in charge.
    All we out side the club know about the club is results and the games we see. We don’t what is really happpening in the club.
    Much is said of GG’s successand the back four and rightly so. However GG inherited a second to none youth set up and when he left the set up was at shall we say ‘a low ebb’. Then there was the bung also no sign of league improvement.
    I guess he kind of lost his way. The latter part of his reign takes from the first part, which is sad. I suppose we could say ‘not a game of two halves but a reign of two halves.

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