PART THREE: GEORGE THE MANAGER THE LATER YEARS
If you missed Part 2 you can read that first here.
In 1991-92, George was expecting his side to reach at least the semi-finals of the European Cup. George was really looking forward to putting his wits against some of the top continental coaches. Nevertheless, after dispatching Austria Memphis 7-2 on aggregate Arsenal came up against Sven Goran-Eriksson’s Benfica. As usual, George wanted to do his homework on the opposition. However, every time either George, Steve Burtenshaw, Stewart Houston or Steve Rowley went to spy on them crafty Sven changed his formation and left out three of his best players the Russians Kulkov and Youran as well as the outstanding Brazilian Isaias. In the first leg at the Stadium of Light Arsenal were caught cold when Isaias raced onto a perfect through-ball from Stefan Schwarz to put the Portuguese Champions 1-0 up. Kevin Campbell hit a powerful shot to equalise and earn us a decent 1-1 draw. In the second leg of a tight game, the match moved into extra-time after Arsenal failed to take their chances. It may have been different had record club signing Ian Wright been eligible to play. In extra-time Benfica looked fitter and fresher than we did and also our lack of European experience told as Isaias became more influential and Benfica scored two late goals to go through 3-1 on aggregate. We also suffered the humiliation of going out the FA Cup 2-1 against lowly Wrexham away.
We finished fourth in defence of the title. Arsenal got off to a poor start dropping thirteen points in the first eight games. When Wrighty arrived in late September Arsenal started playing some outstanding football. 4-0 against Southampton at the Dell on Wrighty’s league debut with him scoring a hat-trick with Rocky on the scoresheet as well. A memorable 4-2 victory against Everton when Wrighty scored all four and Limpar assisted all four. We finished the season with a seventeen match unbeaten run. During that spell, we beat Liverpool 4-0 with a blinder from Anders Limpar and hammered Sheffield Wednesday 7-1. One all at half-time The Arsenal blew them away in the second-half scoring six goals in a devastating eighteen-minute spell. In the final game of the season, we were drawing against Southampton 0-0 at half time at Highbury. However, another Ian Wright hat-trick meant Wrighty overhauled Gary Lineker to snatch the Golden Boot, as Arsenal ran out 5-1 winners. It was also Rocky’s last game for the club and the last day of the North Bank as a terrace before it was torn down and replaced with a two-tier seated stand. It was also the last First Division match Arsenal played before the dawn of the Premier League the next season. We finished top scorers in the top flight with 81 goals and I reckon if we had had Wright from the start of the season Arsenal would have come a lot closer to retaining the title.
In August 1992, George showed how ruthless he could be when he said to David Rocastle in the car park at London Colney before training “David, the Board have accepted a bid for you from Leeds. Howard Wilkinson is waiting to speak to you” Rocky was in tears as he replied “Okay Boss. I don’t want to leave Arsenal, you know that. But if I’m no longer wanted here I suppose Leeds is as good a place as any to go to”. George said he was so full of emotion himself that he could not say what he wanted to say to Rocky. That he was one of the nicest people he had ever come across in the game and that he had been a wonderful advertisement for Arsenal Football Club and for football in general. He had been a class act, and would still been a key man in the Arsenal midfield but for a recurring knee injury that required surgery.
1992-93 was the season when I could understand a bit more the criticism that Arsenal were boring. The season before we were the top scorers in the division with 81 goals and played some wonderful football at times, which contrasted vastly with just 40 goals scored in the first season of the Premier League. Arsenal scored less goals than any other side in the top flight including Nottingham Forest who finished bottom of the table. We ended up finishing tenth that season. This was the season the team began to rely too much on just one man, Ian Wright. The creativity in midfield was not there anymore, with Paul Merson the only one producing any flair. Michael Thomas and Rocky Castle were both sold and Paul Davis and Anders Limpar barely played. We started to bypass the midfield playing it long for Wrighty to get on the end of. The midfielders who featured most that season were John Jensen and David Hillier. Both of them good honest professionals who always gave 100% but not the most imaginative of players and they were never going to help by chipping in with a few goals. David Hillier scored one goal and we all know how prolific John Jensen was scoring precisely none that season!
In saying all this, it was still a very good season for The Arsenal. Despite the terrible league campaign, Arsenal developed into a very formidable cup side. Becoming the first team in history to win both the domestic cups in the same season. It was also unique to have the same two clubs in the Final of both the cups, our opponents in the FA Cup and Coca Cola Cup being Sheffield Wednesday.
Paul Merson scored our first goal and Steve Morrow was the unlikely hero scoring the winning goal in the Coca Cola Final in a 2-1 victory. He went from ecstasy to agony as skipper Tony Adams hoisted him up over his shoulder then promptly dropped him breaking his arm in two places. As Tony lifted the cup, poor Steve Morrow was on his way to hospital!
The reach the FA Cup Final we had to put our bitter rivals Tottenham to the sword in a Wembley semi-final. We got our revenge for the defeat in 1991 and it was a very sweet moment when Tony Adams powered home the winner with a great header in a 1-0 victory. “Two years it only took us two years and then the scum were in tears it only took us two years!” rejoiced the Arsenal hoards. The Final itself was a drab affair. Wrighty scored a lovely goal to put us one up, only for David Hirst to equalise. Extra time could not separate the sides who cancelled each other out as the game ended 1-1 and it was back to Wembley on the Thursday night for a replay.
Ian Wright combined with Alan Smith to score a tremendous goal to put us in front and it looked as though that might be enough to lift the trophy, only for Chris Waddle to equalise in the sixty-eighth minute. Once again, the match went into extra-time and it looked to be heading for penalties. In the final minute of the game Andy Linighan, who had suffered a broken nose from Mark Bright’s elbow earlier in the game, bravely ignored the pain, rose and headed into the net to win us the FA Cup and secure the domestic cup double. Another two-pieces of silverware George had put into the Arsenal trophy cabinet. I remember after the replay walking along in the pissing rain outside Wembley happily singing Arsenal songs and did a double take when I spotted David Hillier walking along beside us joining in the singing at the top of his voice!
Arsenal complete the domestic cup double in 1993
1993-94 saw an improvement in the league with the Gunners finishing fourth. However, for George this season was all about winning the Cup-Winners-Cup. That was the trophy he had targeted and set his heart on. George was itching once again to test his tactical know how against some of the top European coaches. He planned meticulously studying the opposition and customised his formation and tactics accordingly for each game we played. Some of the best teams in Europe were in it. Some even said this Cup-Winners-Cup had a stronger line-up of teams than the European Cup. There were clubs such as Real Madrid, Ajax, Torino, PSG and the holders Parma all in the competition and George was licking his lips at the prospect of locking horns with some of these top European outfits.
For most of the away ties, George tended to play with a 4-5-1 switching to 4-4-3 when on the attack. Danish outfit Odense were Arsenal’s First Round opponents we won the first leg 2-1 away but struggled at Highbury drawing 1-1 and just went through 3-2 on aggregate. The Second Round was a lot easier against the Belgium side Standard Liege. A routine 3-0 victory in the first leg at Highbury followed by a tremendous 7-0 drubbing over in Belgium to go through 10-0 on aggregate.
In the Quarter-Final Torino were a much tougher proposition. The Italians had some top players in Benito Carbone, Andrea Silenzi and the Uruguayan Enzo Francescoli. We got a 0-0 in Italy in a tight game and it was just as cagey in the second leg back at Highbury. However, Captain Tony Adams headed the winner from a Paul Davis free kick in the second half to take us through 1-0 on aggregate.
The Semi-Final was even more difficult. We were up against Paris St Germain and they were on a 35 game unbeaten run, had put out Real Madrid in the last round and had some outstanding players like George Weah and the French Footballer of the Year David Ginola. In Paris George opted to play an attacking side, playing a “Christmas Tree” formation. Alan Smith at the tip with Ian Wright and Paul Merson tucked in just behind him. Wrighty glanced one home from another Paul Davis free kick to put us one up but David Ginola equalised and the game ended 1-1.
In the second leg, we had eight players on a yellow card so a one more and they would be out the Final should we reach it. There was a great atmosphere at Highbury, which went up another notch when Kevin Campbell headed a beauty in at the near post to put us up 2-1 on aggregate and that was how it stayed and The Arsenal were through to the Final in Copenhagen. However, Wrighty was booked for a silly foul just before half time, which ruled him out of the Final. He was in tears in the dressing room, George had to tell him to calm down, and that he had to give his all in the second half for the team, which he did.
If Anfield 89 was George’s Sargent Peoper then the Copenhagen 1994 was his Abbey Road. George did not know it at the time but this was his last hurrah. He managed to keep the news that David Hillier would not be fit to play until the last possible moment and kept the opposition in the dark regarding David Seaman playing with a cracked rib. As well as Wright and Hillier John Jensen was also unfit. Therefore, we had two very inexperienced midfielders in Steve Morrow and Ian Selly and we had to keep the likes of Parma’s Thomas Brolin, Faustino Aspergilla and Gianfranco Zola quiet. Nevertheless, as in every other European tie that season, Arsenal did have the experienced Paul Davis in the side and that wonderful left foot of his. He really turned back the years that night and had a fine game. Smudger hit a lovely volley to put us one up after twenty minutes but for most of the rest of the match, Arsenal had to work like Trojans to keep Parma out. This was the famous back four’s finest hour. They were magnificent as all the years of being drilled repeatedly at London Colney by George paid dividends. As George himself says, we were not the most skilful team in the tournament and we were one of the most inexperienced in terms of European competition. However, they were the best prepared and the best organised, thanks to George. Arsenal won only the second European trophy in their history and they have not won another one since. It was also George’s last trophy for The Arsenal. The sixth in eight seasons.
Arsenal win the European Cup-Winners’ Cup against all the odds in 1994
By the start of 1994-95 season, the problems were mounting up for George both on and off the pitch. He felt that he had lost some of players and that they were not playing for him. He knew the team was in need of fresh blood. George felt the club’s wage restrictions were holding him and the club back. These are just some of the players he tried to sign for Arsenal. Roy Keane, Paul Parker, Chris Sutton, Tony Cottee, Jan Wouters, Didier Deschamps and David Ginola. However, he could not compete with the wages being offered by other clubs. “If we give in to one player, we will have a queue of players at the door,” Ken Friar said to George. Several times George told board members we needed to change our wage policy but he’s pleas fell on deaf ears. The club did sanction the signings of Chris Kiwomya, the promising John Hartson and his last signing Glenn Helder but they were not the top quality level that were required.
George also had to deal with the problem of Paul Merson’s addictions. He knew Paul was drinking and gambling far too much and constantly warned him about it. George even had two meetings with Paul’s wife to try to sort out Paul’s situation. However, George knew nothing about Paul’s drug addiction until the day before Paul sold his story to the Daily Mirror to help pay his gambling debts. Paul along with his agent Jerome Andersen went to see Ken Friar to tell him of his problems. George and the club fully supported him. Paul was in a dark place and broke down in a press conference. Fortunately, Paul went into rehab, managed to beat his demons and turned his life around.
However, George’s troubles off the field started well before that season. George first met Rune Hauge in the summer of 1988, when the Norwegian was at Highbury for a meeting with David Dein about a commercial deal unconnected with football. George met him again in April 1989, when George bumped in him in Wrexham, where George and Steve Burtenshaw had gone to watch Wales v Sweden. Hauge said that Jonas Thern might be available to buy from Benfica. George said he preferred Anders Limper and asked whether he may be available. However, Limper ended up at Ceremonies and did not sign for Arsenal till fifteen months later. After that, George became quite friendly with the agent. Hauge was well connected and a good contact to have in Europe. George could help him by telling him which clubs may be interested in the players the Norwegian represented. On the understanding that George was given first choice on any players, he fancied for Arsenal. An example of this was George telling Hauge to contact Alex Ferguson about signing Andrei Kanchelskis and Peter Schmeichel. George turned them down as by then he already had Anders Limpar and David Seaman so felt he did not need them. However, he knew they were the type of player Ferguson was looking for.
I am not going to go into every detail of George’s dealings in the two deals involving Pal Lydersen and John Jensen. If you read George’s book “The Glory and the Grief”, it gives you chapter and verse George’s version of events. Basically, George received two payments totalling £425,500, which George said he never asked for. He claims they were unsolicited gifts for the help he had given to Rune Hague in finding English clubs for the players the Norwegian represented and was nothing to do with the Lydersen or Jensen deals.
George eventually gave the money to Arsenal with £40,000 interest on top, following legal advice to avoid the possibility of being taken to court by the Inland Revenue, as he was told that £425,500 might be considered as too big to be treated as an unsolicited gift. In addition, George claims in his book that he and the club had come to an agreement that George would write a letter of resignation saying he was leaving the club at the end of the season on 31st May 1995 and in return, the club would pay George a compensation package.
However, on the 15th February Danny Fiszman contacted George’s business manager John Hazell to tell him the IK Start officials had allegedly given damaging evidence about the Pal Lydersen deal. They were suggesting that George had manufactured figures for the Lydersen deal, which George strenuously denied.
Six days later on the 21st February 1995, George had just got home from a run and found a message on his answerphone from Ken Friar. When George rung him back Ken said to George “The Chairman wants to see you here at the ground”. “When?” George asked “Straight away” replied Ken. When George arrived at Highbury, he went to Ken Friar’s office where he found Ken Friar, Peter Hill-Wood and David Dein waiting for him. A stern faced Peter Hill-Wood signalled for George to follow him down the corridor into the wood-panelled boardroom, holding in his hand a typewritten sheet of Arsenal-headed notepaper. It was George’s death warrant. “We’ve had advance information on the Premier League report. I’m afraid their findings leave us with no alternative but to terminate your contract with immediate effect”. George was shocked but asked, “Do I get the right of reply”. Hill-Wood shook his head and thrust the notepaper into George’s hand. “This is the statement we are issuing. I suggest you show it to your lawyers. That’s all I want to say apart from the fact that it’s a pity it has ended like this after we’ve had so many happy times together”. “Do I get compensation?” George asked. “No. Now I suggest you get yourself off the premises as quickly as possible before the media circus arrives. We are releasing the statement to the press in half an hour,” replied Hill-Wood. “Can I make a couple of calls and clear my desk?” George asked “Yes, but make it quick”. Then George left Highbury.
That was it for George, dismissed after eight and half glorious years in two and a half minutes flat. The events leading up to George’s sacking had begun in August 1994 when Rune Hauge had told George he was being investigated by the Norwegian tax authorities as they’d found a slip of paper with George’s name on it, with a reference to a sum of money and it went on unravelling for five months. The last three months had been a real ordeal for George as once the press got wind of it in December they crucified him practically every day in the media. George thought the club should have believed him and stuck by him. However, in all honesty the club had no choice other than to distance themselves from the situation to avoid the club being dragged into it, which it would have reflected badly on Arsenal’s image.
A couple of months after his sacking George went to his favourite restaurant Mezzaluna. George found out he still had some very good friends, when a surprise party was thrown for him. As well as his business manager John Hazell being there. The restaurant was full of many old familiar faces who were there for George, including Stewart Houston, Steve Burtenshaw, Pat Rice, Fred Street, Geordie Armstrong, Gary Lewin, Theo Folly, Bob Wilson, Frank McLintock and Doc Crane the club doctor. George was presented with a huge cake in the shape of a football pitch on which were mounted miniature players and the words in red icing on a white background read ” George’s Gunners” Terry Venables quipped “This George, is an unsolicited gift!”
Five months after George was sacked in August 1995 there was an FA hearing. The Prosecution Case against George was summarised in three alternative ways:
(1) Most seriously that Mr Graham had effectively conspired (with Rune Hague, a football agent) to make a personal profit from the Lydersen and Jensen deals.
(2) That the payments arose out of or in connection with the transfers, and he knew that was so when he received them.
(3) That the payments were connected to the transfers but Mr Graham did not realise this.
The three man panel, which consisted of Geoff Thompson, Chairman of the FA disciplinary committee and also chairman of the panel, Gordon McKeag, the Football League President, and John Reames the Lincoln City chairman, took three hours considering their verdict , and then found George not guilty on the most serious charge. They said they were not satisfied that George had asked for the money or that he had negotiated the transfers to obtain any personal gain. He had not; they felt, set up the transfers to make money for himself. That was the good news. The bad news is that they were satisfied that when George received the money he must have known it was connected with transfers. The receipt of the payments, they decided, construed misconduct. The next day the panel announced George’s punishment. A year’s ban, plus paying a share of the FA’s legal costs. FIFA also later confirmed that the ban would be worldwide.
George could not believe it, the most he expected was a hefty fine. Both sides had excellent QC’s but George thought his had done really well putting the two IK Start officials that had bothered to turn up, under intense scrutiny diving his cross-examination. The two Norwegian officials contradicted each other on important points to such an extent that George had been confident that he would be found not guilty.
As George had not worked for five months following his sacking due to the hearing hanging over him. This in effect meant a seventeen-month ban from football. He had lost the £1.7 million earnings remaining on his contract, plus he had handed over the £425,500 Rune Hague had given him and he had not been given the compensation package either. How was he expected to pay all the expensive legal bills with his livelihood taken away from him?
Arsenal were in thirteenth place in the table when George got sacked and eventually finished up in twelfth. As I mentioned earlier the team needed reinforcements but the board wouldn’t sanction the wages of the top quality players George wanted to bring to Highbury. Therefore, you can imagine how George must have felt when as soon as Bruce Rioch was installed as manager the club opened up the purse strings and pushed the boat out for Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt.
As soon as his ban ended in September 1996 George with David O’Leary as his assistant became manager of Leeds United. Ironically the club where one of George’s illustrious predecessors at Arsenal the great Herbert Chapman was once banned from football for financial irregularities many years before. In his second season George steered Leeds to a UEFA Cup place.
In October 1998, George made the controversial move to manage our bitter rivals Tottenham, with Theo Foley as his assistant. He managed to do what not many Spurs managers have achieved in the last 20 years and won silverware. Spurs lifted the League Cup in 1999 and he got Tottenham into the EUFA Cup. However, despite this he was sacked in on 16th March 2001. He never really stood a chance of being accepted at White Hart Lane being an ex-Arsenal player and manager. George has not managed since. For many Arsenal fans the Rune Hague affair and managing Tottenham has tarnished his legacy at Arsenal.
I could never dislike George who did so much for us and gave me some of my best memories as an Arsenal supporter. I hated it when the Arsenal fans used to sing about George Graham’s mother being a whore. George had to earn a living from the game in the best way he could. George had 17 months out the game and had huge legal debts to clear. Although he earned good money back then it nothing like the £8 million a year that Arsene Wenger was on. Whether you believe George’s version of events or not. There is no doubt in my mind that he was made a scapegoat. That the authorities wanted to make an example of him and put massive pressure on Arsenal to do what they did.
I also think the press portrayed George’s Arsenal unfairly as boring and negative. People forget that his team outscored the media darlings Liverpool in 1988-89 to win the Title on goals scored. Arsenal played some sensational football on the way to the two titles under George and although I was disappointed with him at the time, when he was sacked and when he became manager of Tottenham. I will be forever grateful for what George did for Arsenal Football Club. He put us back at the summit of English football at a time when we were going nowhere. He made the players proud to wear the shirt and represent our great club. He remains the only man to win all three domestic trophies as both a player and a manager. The media often talk about how Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side knocked Liverpool off their perch at the top of the English game. However, it was George Graham’s Arsenal that saw Liverpool off.
George Graham is Arsenal through and through. His study is like a shrine to Arsenal. Bookshelves stacked with just about every book ever written about the club and photos of his glory days at The Arsenal adorn the walls. I will always love what George did for us and he may well have ended up getting some compensation from Arsenal after all, if he still owns his 32 shares in the club, as they would be worth £1,184,000 in today’s market!
As always thanks for reading, it has been a bit of an epic! Until the next trip down memory lane.
Started going to Highbury in ’66. Season ticket holder since ’76. Love The Arsenal. Need I say more?