The George Graham who became manager of Arsenal in 1986 couldn't have been more different from the George Graham who had left as a player a decade earlier. The gifted attacking midfielders laid back on field style had earned him the nickname of 'Stroller', whilst his off field love of stylish clothes, flash clubs, and a habit of having a beautiful woman adorning his arm (not to mention the odd run in with his managers) had earned him his other nickname, 'Gorgeous' George!
Graham as a manager was diametrically opposed to Graham the player. Coming to Arsenal after a successful spell as manager of Millwall, he had already earned a reputation as a disciplinarian and autocrat. Now he had the job he felt was his destiny. Despite spells at Chelsea and Manchester United (amongst others) Arsenal was his club. Even after leaving Highbury he had continued to collect anything Arsenal related and there was no way he was going to fail through lack of effort (when his marriage broke down irrevocably he was only half joking when he said Arsenal could have been named as co-respondent).
The first thing that Graham did in pre-season was to have a meeting with all the clubs players. There were two main points to this meeting. The first was to lay down the law. This is The Arsenal and The Club is all. Club blazers were re-introduced, and he made clear the standards he expected at all times when representing Arsenal, to the point of telling certain players they would be fined if they dared to wear ear rings when 'at work'. The other main point was that this was a fresh start for all. He had no interest in past performances, just what he saw for himself from that day on.
George Grahams first season in charge was an absolute revelation. He was as good as his word with regards to the team, with Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Niall Quinn and Martin Hayes all becoming regulars, with Michael Thomas following close behind. The only signing to join the squad was Perry Groves (nephew of former player Vic Groves) who was signed from Colchester for a modest fee.
The changes Graham brought to Highbury were obvious to anyone who saw the team play. Grahams reign started well, with a 1-0 home win against Manchester United. Although a couple of defeats followed, when our centenary was celebrated at the home game versus Southampton on December 27th (which we won 1-0), Arsenal were top of the league and in the middle of a club record undefeated run (22 games). Graham, when asked, always said that his team didn't have what was needed to win the league and he was proved right, with a bad run between late February and mid April putting paid to our chances. The League Cup was the diversion, but what a glorious diversion. It was still a major trophy to win then, and a two legged semi against the team from N17 was massive. The first leg at Highbury (played on a Sunday for live TV – an early pointer towards the influence TV companies would have over fixtures) ended in a 0-1 defeat, and by half-time in the second leg we were 0-2 down on aggregate. Then, at half-time, came a tannoy announcement informing home fans how to go about buying their tickets for the final! This infuriated the Arsenal fans, and was also heard by George Graham and his team in the dressing room. With something to prove, and roared on by Arsenal fans, we scored the two goals needed to take the tie to a replay. A coin was tossed, Arsenal lost, and George Graham joked he would have chosen to play there anyway as we'd already won there twice (we won the league game there 2-1 in January). The replay went the way of the first two games with a Clive Allen goal putting us 0-1 down again. The score stayed like that until late in the game when substitute Ian Allinson equalised in front of the Arsenal fans in the Park Lane end. The joyful pandemonium that greeted the equaliser was nothing compared to what greeted 'Rocky' Rocastles injury time winner.
The final was against Liverpool, the team of the 70's and 80's, and if there was one thing that every football fan knew it was that Liverpool had never, ever lost when Ian Rush had scored. Not once. But Grahams young Gunners were no respecters of tradition and records, and Ian Rushs opener was met with two Charlie Nicholas goals. 'Champagne' Charlie, darling of the North Bank, had won Graham his first trophy, and captain Kenny Sansom raised it to the Arsenal fans. The cup run also spawned a chant and a fanzine title to celebrate the habit of '1-0 Down, 2-1 Up'.
By the time we returned to be defeated 2-3 by Luton in the next years League Cup Final Nicholas had gone, Tony Adams was captain, and although still in the team Kenny Sansoms days were numbered with both Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon already at the club. Alan Smith had made the number 9 shirt his own, Mickey Thomas was a regular, Paul Merson was breaking through, and Brian Marwood had just been signed. In the summer Steve Bould was signed to partner Adams. With John Lukic in goal, Rocastle, Paul Davis and Kevin Richardson in midfield, and David O'Leary, Graham finally had a squad he believed could win the league.
1988/89 started well, with a rampant Arsenal winning 5-1 away to Wimbledon. By the time we beat Newcastle 1-0 at home on April 15th the league looked a good bet, but that day in Sheffield things were happening that would cast a shadow over the season and change football forever. At Hillsborough Stadium Liverpool were due to play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup Semi Final. 96 Liverpool fans who attended the game lost their lives through no fault of their own. To this day the families and friends are still campaigning for justice, and although it can be a harrowing site, please visit www.contrast.org/hillsborough where you can find true details of what happened and the ongoing fight for justice.
Football stopped, eventually. We were due to play Wimbledon at home a couple of days later, but after agreement from our visitors we approached the League to have the game postponed. After initially refusing, the League soon reversed their position and football had a chance to mourn.
We resumed our quest for the title with a 5-0 mayday romp in the sun against Norwich, followed by a tough 1-0 win away to Middlesbrough thanks to a Martin Hayes goal, and it looked like the title was ours. But nervous displays in our last two home games against Derby and Wimbledon brought only 1 point, and Liverpools 5-1 win against West Ham meant it was all down to a Friday night game on Merseyside. Liverpool were run away favourites. A home defeat for Liverpool was rare enough, but the two goal margin Arsenal needed to win the title on 'goals scored' (with both teams having identical goal differences) was virtually unheard of. The only people that thought we had a chance were the fans and team. The rest of the league season had finished and the nascenting live TV business had a Championship decider whatever happened, although they couldn't possibly have dreamed of the drama, and sheer theatre that they were about to broadcast. With the sort of gesture very few clubs can carry off, the Arsenal players took to the pitch carrying bunches of flowers and spread out around the ground to give them to home fans. It was the only thing the team gave away all night.
Liverpool were content to protect their 'lead' and were happy enough at half-time with the score at 0-0. Ten minutes after the break Alan Smith flicked his head at a free kick and despite Liverpool protests the goal was given. 1-0. Maybe enough for a moral victory, but not the title. With fifteen minutes to go Arsenal had a chance. Michael Thomas was one on one with eccentric Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelar, and the keeper came out on top. Thomas had enjoyed a wonderful first half to the season driving forward from midfield, but his form had dipped badly after winning his first England cap away to Saudi Arabia at Christmas. The game went into injury time and John Lukic threw the ball out to Lee Dixon, who played it forward to Alan Smith. The centre forward, who had already won the Golden Boot, played the ball through to Thomas. Nicol and Houghton were chasing and Nicols attempted tackle played the ball against Thomas' knee. Thomas surged into the box and flicked the ball over Grobbelar and into the net. 91 minutes and 30 seconds had gone, and the title was Arsenals. There was still time for Liverpool to attack, but Thomas found himself back in our box with the ball and calmly played the ball back to a grateful Lukic.
Eighteen years after winning the title as an Arsenal player, Graham had won the title as manager as well. As captain Tony Adams lifted the trophy. Adams had been vilified in the press after the previous summers European Championships, when England had been undone by Marco van Basten, the best striker in the world. After a terrible article in the Daily Mirror showed him with donkey ears, he had endured a season of taunts from opposition fans up and down the country, but had ended the season as the Captain of the Champions. A couple of days later the players displayed the trophy on a triumphant parade through Islington. At one point, with Adams displaying the trophy at the back of the bus, the following Gooners as one gave him the ee-aw chants he'd grown used to. Loving the irony 'Our Tone' wiggled two fingers behind each ear to raucous cheers. London had waited eighteen years for the Championship, but had won it in a way so dramatic that it could have made a film script!
Arsenal went into the new season with no new signings and the impetus was lost. Liverpool regained the title and we finished a poor forth. The next summer Graham didn't make the same mistakes. It was no surprise when David Seaman was signed to replace John Lukic. Graham had tried to do a deal on transfer deadline day, but was thwarted because Lukic refused to take the reverse trip to Q.P.R.. Lukic finally went to Leeds for £1million and Seaman was signed for £1.3m (a world record for a keeper). Andy Linighan arrived for about the same fee to provide cover at the back, and relative unknown Anders Limpar was signed. Despite being a regular in the Swedish side, Limpar played more like a classic Italian wide attacker.
The fans may have ended the previous season devout in their worship of Lukic, but it didn't take long for the newcomer to win the fans over. The defence as a whole conceded 20 goals less, and half as many as the Championship team of '89. Limpar had a wonderful season. Whether supplying Alan Smith with another goal towards another Golden Boot, or scoring himself, he delighted the crowd. Andy Linighan would prove vital cover as well. In the late summer Tony Adams had driven his car into a wall whilst drunk. He was guilty of a heinous crime but there's no doubt his profile, and the fact his case came to court on the first day of the governments Christmas crackdown on drink driving, contributed to him being given a custodial sentence.
Tony Adams held his dignity. Whilst the press were clamouring for stories of him acting the superstar in prison, all they could find were stories of Adams keeping his head down and not asking for any special treatment. In his absence, Linighan played admirably, and our only defeat of the season came at Chelsea after Bould had gone off injured at half-time. When Adams was released, his first game back (a home reserve game against Reading) drew a crowd of nearly 20,000. That wasn't the only thing Arsenal had to contend with. A 21 man brawl at Old Trafford in October led to us being docked two points, but by the end of the season the North Bank was graphically telling the FA exactly where they could stick those two points!
The title returned to Highbury, and after the drama of two years previously, it was ironic that Arsenal weren't even playing when we won it. Before the kick-off for the 3-1 win over Manchester United we were Champions, Liverpools defeat earlier that day against Nottingham Forest meaning we couldn't be caught.
On the 11th May Coventry City were beaten 6-1 in a championship celebration. Despite the deduction Arsenal had won the title by 7 points, losing only 1 game, and conceding only 18 goals. Alan Smith would score 4 more than that (out of a total of 74) to win his second Golden Boot.
Everything looked bright for the new season, even more so when Ian Wright arrived unexpectedly for a club record £2.5m, scoring immediately. Then came three defeats that could be seen as a watershed in Grahams reign. Coventry (League Cup), Benfica (European Cup) and Wrexham (FA Cup) seemed to change the managers agenda. A late run raised Arsenal to forth in the league, but the team that started 92/93 no longer played the flowing, vibrant football that had served so well, but a much more deliberate style relying heavily on Ian Wrights goal scoring ability.
© 2000-2013 Arsenal Mania. All rights reserved. Page processed in 0.13 seconds.