Part 2: George Graham, The Manager – The Early Years

We pick up the George Graham story right at the end of his playing career. George was relatively free of bad injuries during his career but had a couple of bad ones during the twilight of his playing days. The first was when he was on loan to California Surf. George turned his ankle and an x-ray revealed he’d severed a tendon. The surgeon had to break George’s ankle in order to repair the tendon and ligament damage.

The second bad injury came when Palace were touring the United States and George broke his leg and that basically ended his career. When he returned to London Terry Venables then Palace manager had a heart-to-heart chat with him. George had been in discussions with Frank McLintock about going into the pub trade. Look said Terry “You and I know that your greatest love in life is football. You’ve got so much you can still give the game. I’ve watched you working with the kids in training, and you probably don’t realise it yourself but you are a born coach. Forget about pubs. Keep your money in the bank, and start coaching seriously. I would like you to start by looking after the Palace youth team. Who knows where it will lead to” George jumped at the chance and he found he loved coaching the kids taking to it like a duck to water. When Terry took over from Tommy Docherty at QPR George followed him there as youth coach.

George’s five years of coaching at Palace and QPR had given him the perfect apprenticeship before Millwall offered him his first job as a manager. George said he took something from all his old managers and coaches. From Joe Mercer he learnt the importance of giving players a pat on the back when they’d done well or even if they hadn’t to give them a confidence boost. He also learnt not to take on too much at a time as that brought Joe close to a nervous breakdown at Aston Villa. From Tommy Docherty he learned to be tough with discipline when necessary and what he learned not to do from the Doc was talk first and think later. Tommy was far too impulsive. From Bertie Mee he learnt organisation and delegation. From Ian St John he learned how to communicate with the media. From Terry Venables he learned how to be inventive and imaginative. From Dave Sexton and Don Howe he learnt the importance of doing your homework on your opponents by going to watch them yourself before planning your tactics.

Byron Thorne son of the Millwall Chairman Alan Thorne had attended a training session put on at QPR by George and he made a big impression on Byron. At the interview for the Millwall job his father Alan Thorne said to George “I’ve got a hunch about you. You’re on a short list of three for the job. I first of all fancied either of the other two, Ian Greaves and John Hollins, but having listened to Byron enthusing about your theories on coaching and your plans for bringing new ideas to the club, I am going to offer you the job. What sort of money are you looking for?” “I’ll leave that to you. You know your budget” replied George. The Chairman said “I was thinking £20k a year. For once George threw caution to the wind and said “That’s fine by me. I accept it”. He couldn’t believe George had accepted his first offer and said “You surprise me. I was expecting you to push me up, or at least take time to think about it. George had broken his brother Andy’s golden rule of “Always buy time to think”. But George then said “The reasons I’ve accepted it straight away are because one, I consider it a fair offer, two you are giving me the chance to start a managerial career and three, If I do well then when we come to renegotiate the contract I will be asking for a lot, lot more”. Within three months Alan Thorne ripped up George’s contract and doubled his wages.

Before starting his new job at Millwall George told Theo Foley that he was leaving QPR to take the Millwall job. “You must be mad” said Theo. Then George told him Terry Venables had given him permission to offer Theo the post of assistant manager. Theo replied with his great Irish logic “It’ll be be a pleasure, so it would. Let’s be mad together”. So began a great partnership where Theo would be good cop to George’s bad cop to the players.

Millwall manager George Graham with his assistant Theo FoleyMillwall manager George Graham with his assistant Theo Foley

Millwall manager George Graham with his assistant Theo Foley

Millwall were bottom of the Third Division when George took over on 6th December 1982. At the end of his first six weeks at the club he told the chairman and his son we need nine new players. “Only nine! What would that cost the club?” enquired Alan Thorne. George said “I’ve been out scouting and I’ve drawn up a list of players that can do a job for us. I can get them all for a total of around £200,000”. His chairman backed George and Millwall managed to avoid the drop by a single point. Millwall finished ninth in George’s first full season and the following season in 1984-85 George got Millwall promoted as runners-up to Bradford City. George and Theo Foley had laid the foundations for their successors John Docherty and Frank McLintock to take Millwall on and into the top flight for the first time in their history. But for George and Theo it was time to move on as Strollers old club The Arsenal came calling.

Alan Thorne rung George on the morning of 12th May 1986 and said “I always promised you that if a major club asked to talk to you I would let you know. Well, it’s happened as I knew it would. Arsenal Chairman Peter Hill-Wood wants to see you”. The Millwall Chairman added “You are free to talk to them, but let me stress two things. One is that I would rather you stayed here with us and saw out the remaining year on your contract. Two, if you decide to go to Arsenal we will be wanting substantial compensation. All it remains for me to do is wish you luck”.

George was stunned as he’d assumed Terry Venables would take the job. It was supposed to have been a closely guarded secret that Terry had signed a letter of agreement with them, but to his and Arsenal’s great embarrassment the news had leaked out before the incumbent manager Don Howe had been informed. Don a man of great principle resigned on the spot. Because the story of the agreement had been leaked the deal for Terry Venables to take over broke down. But Terry did say to the Arsenal Chairman Peter Hill-Wood “There’s an obvious man for the job. George Graham is Arsenal through and through”.

George then met with Peter Hill-Wood, Ken Friar and David Dein at Hill-Wood’s smart town house just off the King’s Road in Chelsea. Hill-Wood asked George to outline how he’d make Arsenal Championship contenders again. George told them he’d been raised in the best Arsenal traditions, which meant he believed in a well-organised, totally professional team. He also told them he was very much a tracksuit manager who’s main role was to coach his players. George then stressed the importance of discipline both on and off the pitch. “As Arsenal manager, I would not tolerate my players mixing socially with members of the board. I have heard that players have been mixing socially with a director and his wife. This is not on, and If I was Arsenal manager this would stop immediately. It can undermine a manager and lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and problems if his players are going out on the town with directors or going over his head to board members. I would expect a player to come through me before approaching a director. I would also want to handle all press enquiries rather than have you, Mr Chairman, or any director giving quotes that could be at cross purposes with what I want to convey”.

Peter Hill-Wood then said ” What would you want from me” George replied “I just want you to come to the ground on a Saturday and enjoy the game, Mr Chairman. My aim would be to make life easier for you. I would take full responsibility for running the team, Ken as managing director, can run the business side and you, sir, can just sit back, relax and have a good time”.

George went into the dining room while the three Arsenal officials had a quiet discussion. Within ten minutes George was summoned back into the lounge to be greeted by handshakes from each of them. Peter Hill-Wood then said “Congratulations you are the new Arsenal manager, provided, of course, you are happy with our terms”. George was ecstatic and accepted the £60,000 a year contract and Millwall also received £60,000 compensation.

George on his first day as Arsenal boss with Chairman Peter Hill-Wood

George on his first day as Arsenal boss with Chairman Peter Hill-Wood

George took Theo Foley as his assistant manager with him from Millwall and caretaker manager Steve Burtenshaw reverted to Chief Scout. But George also wanted people around him who had been brought up with the best Arsenal habits and standards. Pat Rice arrived as youth team manager and George later made room for Geordie Armstrong to join his coaching staff.

The first thing George did at Highbury was move the desk around in the small downstairs managers office, so it was facing the door, rather than the wall. George wanted to look right into the eyes of whoever came into the office to see him. Although George did later move into a bigger office upstairs. He had always coveted Herbert Chapman’s old office, which was the best room at Highbury. A large, elegant oak-panelled office in which you could smell the history of the place. When Herbert passed away Bob Wall moved into that room and from then on all the other Arsenal managers that followed Chapman were relegated to the tiny office downstairs. Ken Friar inherited the office from Bob Wall and George never did get the key to Herbert’s old office!

George poses in the marble halls next to Herbert Chapman's bustGeorge poses in the marble halls next to Herbert Chapman's bust

George poses in the marble halls next to Herbert Chapman’s bust

When George took over Arsenal were around a million pounds in debt. But the Chairman told him “You can spend up to one million pounds in the transfer market and we can find more for you if you consider it absolutely necessary”. George also found out that no less than a dozen of the players were almost out of contract. Some things never change! George knew he had to weed out some of the star players on big wages. He immediately got Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock’s high wages off the books and more high profile names would follow. George did his homework on the squad and knew there were cliques that needed to be broken up. He wanted the whole squad to be together. George was going to form a squad combined of very talented young players from the Arsenal youth system along with shrewd astute young signings hungry and ambitious for success, from smaller clubs that he could coach and develop into a formidable force.

George loved the philosophy of the great American football coach Vince Lombardi and adopted his motto “Winning is not everything. It’s the only thing”. George instilled both pride and discipline into the impressionable young Arsenal players. Club blazers and ties were to be worn when travelling to away matches. We were The Arsenal and the players had to match the standards set by Herbert Chapman many years before. “Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent” was lapped up by the likes of David Rocastle. Woe betide any player who didn’t go along with George’s vision for the club or challenged his authority. George ruled Highbury with a rod of iron. He’d gone from poacher to gamekeeper. No player could pull the wool over George’s eyes. The players couldn’t get away with a single thing at training. He knew every trick in the book, in fact he’d probably invented half of them! George had awakened a very large sleeping giant and The Arsenal were ready to do some slaying in order to reach the zenith of the English game.

As a fan you could see the impact that George was having on the team almost immediately. We beat Manchester United 1-0 at Highbury, with a Charlie Nicholas goal in his first game as manager. But George knew deep down that we weren’t strong enough yet to win the title and had given himself a timescale to achieve that. Nevertheless we went on a sixteen match unbeaten run in the League that took Arsenal to the top of the table, where they stayed for three months. That run ended with a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, with Rocky getting sent off. The game was very physical with seven players being booked and Norman Whiteside got away with murder. It was the first time George had crossed swords with Alex Ferguson and the two Scotsmen had a massive slanging match that stopped just short of a punch up. The feud with Manchester United and Alex Ferguson started long before Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury. Although George and Alex Ferguson did go on to become good friends.

George went on to become good friends with Alex Ferguson

George went on to become good friends with Alex Ferguson

Our title challenge faltered and we ended up finishing fourth behind the champions Everton. Although George’s young guns did taste success in the Littlewoods Cup. The draw for the Semi-Final gave us a mouth watering tie against our old North London rivals Tottenham. In the first leg at Highbury we were without Viv Anderson and Rocky Rocastle and we went down 1-0 to a Clive Allen goal, our first home defeat of the season. In the second leg at White Hart Lane we were in real trouble as Clive Allen had given Tottenham the lead again by half time, which put them two up on aggregate.

Then Arsenal got some help from an unexpected source. I’ll let George tell the tale “I was just about to give my half-time tactical talk when over the Tannoy we could hear a Tottenham official giving out details of where Spurs supporters could purchase tickets for the Final. His final mocking taunt which angered every one of our supporters and wound up our players was ‘Spurs are on their way to Wembley’. They were publicly counting their chickens, or rather their cockerels. My team talk was rendered redundant. The disembodied voice had done a perfect job in giving the Arsenal players the incentive to go out and battle for their pride. Our magnificent second-half performance produced goals from Niall Quinn and Viv Anderson to set up a replay. I tossed with David Pleat for the right to select the venue. He won and, naturally, picked White Hart Lane”. I was there that day and George was right about us fans being livid about that half-time announcement. The team played like men possessed and our supporters were magnificent getting behind them every step of the way.

The atmosphere at the replay was red hot under the floodlights at White Hart Lane. Incredibly Clive Allen scored again to give Tottenham the lead. But this Arsenal side never knew when they were beaten and came.back from the dead for the second time in four days. Ian Allinson coming on for the injured Charlie Nicholas became an unlikely hero beating Ray Clemence at the near post. The Arsenal hoards smelt blood and roared our team on. Just as it was looking as if it may go to a penalty shoot-out up popped Rocky to thread the ball past Clemence and the roar from the Arsenal fans as the ball nestled in the back of the net must have been heard all the way to Highbury. I remember coming out of there that night with all the other Arsenal fans and feeling so euphoric. Walking along Tottenham High Road with not a Spurs fan in sight and all of us singing “One nil down two one up we knocked Tottenham out the Cup na na na na na na na na na”.
On to Wembley and once again we found ourselves one nil down. What’s more Ian Rush scored and Liverpool had never lost a game in which he had scored. A record that stretched back over 145 matches. But they lost that day as Charlie Nicholas took the plaudits with a brace to win us the cup and as the players did their lap of honour the fans started chanting “Arsenal are back, Arsenal are back” and indeed they were. We all knew that this Arsenal side were going places and the board were so impressed by George’s first season in charge they gave him a new three year contract of £80,000 a year.

George delivers silverware in his first season at Arsenal

George celebrates Arsenal's 1987 Littlewoods Cup victory with Gary Lewin and Theo Foley

George celebrates Arsenal’s 1987 Littlewoods Cup victory with Gary Lewin and Theo Foley

Unfortunately that was as good as it for Charlie and the idol of the North Bank and Clock End was another star who was deemed surplus to requirements and he was sold to Aberdeen for £400,000 in January 1988. Arsenal had a disappointing season finishing sixth in 1987-88. But two highlights I remember with great affection were knocking out Manchester United 2-1 at Highbury in the FA Cup Fifth Round, when Brian McClair hit a late penalty high over the bar and into the North Bank, then four days later reaching Wembley again by thrashing Everton 3-1. Both games were played in front of 50,000 plus crowds and Highbury was rocking for both of those pulsating matches.

We didn’t get to retain our trophy losing to Luton Town 3-2 in a game we should never have lost. Arsenal as usual went one nil down but Martin Hayes and Alan Smith turned the match in our favour. We were well in control of the game when we got a penalty and Nigel Winterburn of all people stepped up to take it. Had he scored the match would have been over, but Andy Dibble saved it. Gus Caesar had a mare at the back for Arsenal allowing Luton to score and get back in the game, then a last minute goal by Brian Stein saw Luton nick it. I was gutted at the way in which we’d lost the match. But better times were just around the corner for The Arsenal.

By the start of the 1988-89 season George and the squad were ready for a serious title challenge. But I remember being a bit envious that Tottenham had signed Paul Gascoigne in the close season and wasn’t impressed that we’d only signed Steve Bould from Stoke City. I went to Wembley to see us play Spurs in a pre-season tournament and we absolutely destroyed them 4-0, with two goals from Brian Marwood and one apiece for Alan Smith and Paul Merson. We played some slick football that day and I just got the feeling that everything was falling into place and we were going to have a really good season. I went to my local bookies and put a tenner on at 16/1 for Arsenal to win the title. The bookmaker laughed at me. But he wasn’t laughing when I went back at the end of the season and picked up my £170! I went to Wimbledon first game of the season and we hammered them 5-1. Paul Merson and Brian Marwood both scored and an Alan Smith hat-trick reinforced my belief that we could win the league. We went top of table when we won at Charlton Athletic away on Boxing Day and stayed there until Liverpool smashed West Ham at Anfield to set up the winner takes all game of the century final match at Anfield.

Every Arsenal fan will never forget Anfield 89. Whether you were at the game or not. I wasn’t and I watched it on the telly. An incredible night that’s become part of the folklore of football. There will probably never be a more dramatic moment then when Michael Thomas so calmly flicked the ball over Bruce Grobbelaar and into the net to win us the title. Our first since Stroller was playing for us way back in 1971. A lot has been written about this night but I’d like to highlight George Graham’s contribution to it. For although Michael won the game for us finishing with such aplomb, it was George’s tactical masterpiece, his Sargent Pepper if you like that made it possible.

George was meticulous in his planning. Liverpool of course were massive favourites going into the big showdown on the back of a 24 match unbeaten run, while nerves had got the better of our young side as we’d picked up just one point from our final two home games. Arsenal were 16/1 to win 2-0 and the media had written us off as a lost cause.

To take a bit of the pressure off George decided they would travel up to Liverpool on the morning of the match. As the coach pulled out of London Colney the players were in a very relaxed mood. David O’Leary said “It’s my son John’s sixth birthday and I’ve told him I shall be bringing him back a championship medal as a present. So don’t be letting him down lads”. Rocky held up the Daily Mirror and said “Look at this headline” it said ARSENAL DO NOT HAVE A PRAYER. Paul Merson shouted from the back of the coach “Let us pray!”.

Arsenal had settled in at their hotel in the centre of Liverpool by lunchtime. The players went to their rooms for a rest. Returning for a light tea of toast and honey at 5 o’clock. George told the waiters to leave and to shut the doors behind them. It was time for George to deliver his pre-match talk.

“You are just a couple of hours away from the match of your lives and you are in the perfect position of having nothing to lose and everything to gain. The press and all the know-alls on television and radio have written you off. According to them, you have not got a hope in hell. But I know, and you know, differently. All the pressure tonight is going to be on Liverpool. They will not be able to breathe out there for the weight of expectancy. Their fans, the media and probably even so of their players think the title is in the bag. The television cameras will be bringing the game live to the nation, and all the viewers at home will be sitting there expecting to see a Liverpool victory. If we don’t win the title, we can still walk proudly away from Anfield saying what a great season we’ve had. It’s the best season since we all got together, and it’s going to get even better. But just think, if we win the title tonight. That will really shove it down the throats of all those people who shout ‘Boring Boring Arsenal”.

“I’m lucky because I’ve played in an Arsenal team that has won the championship. I promise you there’s nothing quite like it, and you can experience that feeling tonight. Liverpool will expect us to go out looking for an early goal, but I am more concerned that we don’t concede an early goal. So what I want us to do is play it very tight in the first-half. We will have David sweeping up behind Tony and Steve at the back, and I would like you, Lee and Nigel, to be pretty cautious about breaking forward for the first half hour or so. Let’s be nice and patient. I will be quite happy to see it at 0-0 at half-time because that will put added pressure on them for the second-half. Paul and Alan, you will find it quite lonely up front but if you could nick a goal just before half-time then that would really turn the screws on them. But I stress again that more important than scoring in the first-half, we must not be in a position we are having to score four goals”.

“I want you, David, Mickey and Kevin, to close down on any Liverpool player in possession in midfield. Don’t give them the time or the space to get their passing movements going. Liverpool like to play with rhythm, so we must make sure they are disjointed by denying them space and the opportunity to start stringing passes together. If it’s goalless at half-time and then we can score early in the second-half, I think you will find Liverpool falling apart under the pressure. You will I reckon then have twenty-five minutes or so to get the second goal, and then Liverpool will be forced to come out and I predict that will will win this one 3-0 (George did get that bit wrong). Just remember, whatever happens out there tonight I am proud of what you have achieved this season. Go out and play without fear because you’ve got nothing to lose. But just think of what there is to gain. Good luck lads, and thanks for all you’ve done to get us this close to the championship”.

George’s words had a big affect on the players. They walked tall as they got back onto the coach to “Fortress Anfield” George described the camaraderie they felt as like when a general sends his troops into battle. When the players arrived they took a stroll onto the pitch to a tremendous din from the travelling army of Highbury fans. There was no way the Arsenal team were walking alone that night.

When the players returned to the dressing room George simply repeated his key points from his pre-match talk at the hotel then handed over to his skipper Tony Adams. “We’ve come this far, lads, and we’re not letting the title slip now” then smacking a fist into the palm of his hand the skipper said “They’ve all written us off. Now let’s go out there and prove them all wrong. Let’s go!” Of course Tony did throw in a couple of expletives as well! George shook hands with every player. The players shook hands with each other and with each of them carrying a bouquet of flowers to give to the Liverpool fans as a mark of respect for the Hillsborough victims, out they went into the cauldron of Anfield to do battle for The Arsenal.

In the corridor George noticed Kenny Dalglish and he looked strained in his usual Liverpool weather-proof jacket, while George was looking smart in his Arsenal blazer and tie had rarely felt so confident about a game. The pair waved to each other and wished each other luck which neither of them meant, then George went into the directors box as was his usual custom for the first-half of games. He sat beside Peter Hill-Wood and David Dein. George noticed the tension etched on their faces and said “We’re going to be alright. We’ve got the game plan to cause a major upset”.

Half-time in the dressing room it’s 0-0 and it’s all going to George’s plan “We can be more positive and adventurous for the opening twenty minutes of the second-half. Lee and Nigel, if the opportunity presents itself push right forward and get your crosses in from the flanks. David and Mickey, come through on support runs whenever you feel it’s right. I want to bring Alan and Paul more into the game now because it’s important we try to get an early goal. If we get one, I know the second will follow. This could be the greatest forty-five minutes of your lives. Good luck” said George. As the Arsenal players trooped back onto the pitch George followed them and took his place on the bench next to Theo Foley.

Of course the early goal did come with Smudger notching up his 23rd league goal of the season. In the final minute Kevin Richardson went down with cramp and as Gary Lewin went on to treat him the Liverpool bench were congratulating each other as if they had got the title won and out on the pitch John Barnes and John Aldridge gave each other the high-fives as if their night’s work was done. Then we all know what happened next as Mickey Thomas gained himself immortality scoring that goal. Pandemonium at the final whistle as the Arsenal fans go crazy on the terraces and the players on the pitch we’re celebrating wildly as well, with players hugging other and David O’Leary an Arsenal player for fourteen years, with tears streaming down his face and saying “I’ve got my son his birthday present”. George Graham’s tactical masterpiece had worked almost exactly as he said it would, he and his young side had played a blinder and done a job on Liverpool.

The players execute George’s plan to perfection on an unforgettable night at Anfield

George looks like the cat who got the cream up at Anfield in 1989

George looks like the cat who got the cream up at Anfield in 1989

On the back of that title win Arsenal gave George another contract this time it was for five years in excess of £200,000 a year. Stewart Houston became George’s assistant, with Theo Foley moving on to Northampton Town as manager. George himself credits Theo as being an immense help to him both at Millwall and in the early years at Highbury and they remain great friends to this day. But 1989-90 wasn’t one of George’s or Arsenal’s greatest seasons. We finished fourth as Liverpool regained the championship. We went out the cups to QPR and Oldham. I vividly remember the opening day of the season as that chancer Michael Knighton who was going to buy Manchester United for £20 million, but couldn’t come up with the money, famously juggled a ball on the Old Trafford pitch before the game in a United kit, looking a proper full kit wanker! Then United giving us a 4-1 hiding.

George knew he had to strengthen his team again. He purchased David Seaman from QPR. He almost signed him the previous season and went straight back in for him prior to the start of the 1990-91 season, paying a British record fee for a goalkeeper of £1.3 million. The Arsenal fans weren’t happy that one of their favourites John Lukic had to go to make way for him, but as George said “John was a very good goalkeeper. David Seaman, I knew, could and would become a great one”. “Safe Hands” soon won over the Arsenal fans and George showed the ruthlessness he’d go to in order to make Arsenal as strong as he possibly could. Anders Limpar was another great signing arriving for £1,000,000 from the Italian outfit Cremonese. The Super Swede had a brilliant season and the Highbury crowd really took to him and he became a firm favourite. The Third signing was rugged centre half Andy Linighan from Norwich City. Arsenal paid £1.25 million for the big central defender. All three players played a significant part in George’s second championship triumph for The Arsenal.

Although the title win in 1990-91 didn’t have the dramatic finish of 1988-89 it was very impressive indeed. I don’t feel that the side got the accolades it deserved. One of the reasons for that was because of two highly controversial events from that season. The first was the infamous so-called brawl at Old Trafford on 20th October 1990. Nigel Winterburn flew recklessly into a tackle on a United player in retribution to what Nigel considered a brutal challenge on him. Half a dozen United players piled in to support their teammate and Paul Davis, David Rocastle, Anders Limpar and Michael Thomas all came to Nigel’s aid. There was a lot of pushing and shoving but nothing more than that. Arsenal ended up winning the game with an Anders Limpar goal. But the press had a field day. Arsenal fined the five Arsenal players who were most involved two weeks wages and George fearing a points deduction from the FA and to get the press off their backs, came up with the suggestion the club fine him £10,000.

Despite this the FA came down hard charging both clubs with bringing the game into disrepute and fining both clubs £50,000 each. The real hammer blow though was Arsenal getting a two point deduction. United also got deducted one point. The reason given for Arsenal facing twice the punishment as United was the FA said they’d taken our previous record into consideration. There had previously been a similar incident with Arsenal against Norwich City. The press questioned Arsenal’s and George’s discipline over their players. I as a fan was absolutely fuming with both the FA and the press. I’ve seen so many similar incidents over the years both before and since and it’s never led to a points deduction. I still feel it was an injustice to deduct us points. But George simply used it to create a siege mentality of us against the world. The clip below shows George doing just that.

George galvanises the troops

The second major incident was skipper Tony Adams being sent down for a drink-driving offence. He was three times over the limit and demolished a garden wall while behind the wheel of his car. There is no question that his actions were both stupid and dangerous and Tony knew that as well as anyone. Even so I was shocked when he received a nine month prison sentence with five of them suspended. George felt he was being made an example of because of his celebratory status. The incident happened on the 9th December 1990. The fact that it was so close to Christmas meant he was the ideal high-profile person to give publicity to the seasonal don’t drink and drive campaign. George is convinced that had it been Joe Bloggs in the dock, he would not have been sent to prison. I for one think George was absolutely spot-on. The FA also fined Tony £1.000 while he was in Chelmsford nick for a two fingered salute to the QPR fans. It was a major blow losing his skipper. The man George called his colossus. George said “Of all the players he’d been associated with, Tony is matched only by Frank McLintock for will-to-win and bloody mindedness in the face of adversity”. Once again the full force of the press was brought down upon Tony, George and the club. George again used siege mentality to fire his players up with his “Let’s win this one for Tony” attitude.

Andy Linighan did a superb job deputising for the skipper. Tony was released after serving two months and made his return for the reserves in front of an official crowd of 7,000 at Highbury which unofficially may have been ten or twelve thousand. I was there that day and it was very emotional for Tony and us fans.

Arsenal went within one match of being Invincibles, losing 2-1 away at Chelsea, when after losing Steve Bould in the second-half it left us with only one recognised centre back. We conceded just eighteen league goals that season. They also almost pulled off the Double before losing 3-1 to bitter North London rivals Tottenham in the Wembley FA Cup semi-final. Even with the two point deduction Arsenal won the title comfortably by seven points. We were all jammed into the pubs around Highbury, I was in the Woodbine, to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forest. The scousers had to win to keep their title challenge alive. They lost and it was celebration time. There was a great atmosphere as the Arsenal fans made the short walk from the pubs to Highbury to see us crowned Champions. Manchester United gave us a guard of honour and we duly hammered them 3-1 with an Alan Smith hat-trick and a second Golden Boot for Smudger to go with the one he won in 1988-89. We smashed Coventry City 6-1 at Highbury, with an Anders Limpar hat-trick in the final game of the season. So much for Boring, Boring Arsenal!

George and his team celebrate winning the Title in 1991George and his team celebrate winning the Title in 1991

George and his team celebrate winning the Title in 1991

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