George Graham: the centre forward who became a stroller

This is an article about George Graham, the player.  There are numerous articles on this site about George as a manager.  See the index here.

George Graham was the youngest of seven children from a poor Coatbridge family.  He was born on 30 November 1944 and his father died on Christmas Day that year from TB, as did his eldest sister in 1951.  It is of course utter speculation but it is possible that his later financial indiscretion which caused his removal as Arsenal manager, may have had its origins in this childhood.

He signed for Aston Villa on 30 November 1961 and played eight times for them, including the League Cup final which they lost.

In July 1964 he signed for Chelsea for £5,000 and played 72 league games for them scoring 35 goals.  He won his first medal there – again in the League Cup, in 1965.

Arsenal paid £75,000 for Graham, and supplied Tommy Baldwin as well, and George played his first Arsenal game on 1 October 1966 at Highbury v Leicester City.  He became a regular member of the team, being top scorer in both 1966–67 and 1967–68.

He  was in fact seen at first as a replacement for Joe Baker at centre forward with John Radford on the wing.  Radford then moved into the centre and Graham became a central midfield playmaker (“inside forward in the parlance of the time) who never broke sweat – hence “stroller”.

Years Team League


1961–1964 Aston Villa 8 2
1964–1966 Chelsea 72 35
1966–1972 Arsenal 227 60
1972–1974 Manchester United 43 2
1974–1976 Portsmouth 61 5
1976–1977 Crystal Palace 44 2
1978 California Surf 17 0

Continuing his affiliation with the league cup he played in both the 1968 and 1969 finals and then won the Fairs Cup in 1970 and of course was part of the Double team of 1970/71.

But then just as George Graham had himself replaced Joe Baker, so he in turn was replaced by Alan Ball and in December 1972, after 77 goals in 308 appearance in all competitions, Graham was sold to  Manchester United.

He won his first of 12 Scottish caps while at Arsenal, on 13 October 1971. However Manchester United were in poor shape at the time, and were relegated to the second division.  After two years he went to Portsmouth and then Crystal Palace before playing in the US in 1978 for California Surf. 

After that he returned to coach Palace, and then QPR.  On 6 December 1982 George Graham became manager of Millwall, who were playing to tiny crowds at the foot of the 3rd division. In 1985 they were promoted, and looked ready to go up a further division which they did.  But then Arsenal came along once more…

See also…

The books…

4 Replies to “George Graham: the centre forward who became a stroller”

  1. When I read of the appalling start in life levelled at George Graham, I’m more than ever inclined to excuse his indiscretions in later life.

  2. I thought that George was the outstanding player in the 1971 “double” season.

    The usual hostile press described us as lacking flair, but George in particular disproved this allegation. He showed style and class in all his play, notably in the Cup Final, when he put Tommy Smith on his backside with a simple feint and change of direction, without even playing the ball. Also he scored spectacular goals, such as his volley against Liverpool at Highbury in November 1970 (it’s on Youtube),- similar to Podolski’s goal last year in CL.

  3. It was fortunate that Graham finally found his niche in midfield – he was barely in the running any more as a centre-forward.
    That swap-deal with Tommy Baldwin (actually Baldwin was valued at £25,000 out of that £75,000) was a disaster at the time. Baldwin had already shown he could score goals, and to my embarrassment at school he instantly became a regular scorer for Chelsea. To rub salt in we then splashed out £90,000 for Bobby Gould.

  4. George Graham earned the nickname stroller at Chelsea, where he also played as an attacking midfield player behind Barry Bridges or Peter Osgood.

    It looks like Arsenal tried to experiment with him and failed, putting him back into his natural role rather than discovering something unknown.

    Graham was sold to Arsenal because his social activities interfered with his commitment to the game. The swap for Tommy Baldwin was ironic as Baldwin earned the nickname Sponge, owing to the amount of alcohol he could absorb.

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