By rights George Graham should be an Arsenal legend. In a six year playing career for Arsenal he won a First Division title, an FA Cup and an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the precursor to the UEFA Cup. It is his time as manager of Arsenal that brought him greatest success however, guiding the club to two league titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and a UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Yet Graham often does not seem to get the respect he deserves, his legacy perhaps tainted somewhat due his management of Tottenham Hotspur. Ask younger Arsenal fans about George Graham and many of them will not be aware of what he did for the club, some might even look at you quizzically and ask ‘Who?’
Graham’s achievements as manager of Arsenal are very impressive and worthy of great respect. The Scotsman won numerous trophies for Arsenal and was responsible for one of the club’s most successful periods. When he took over Arsenal in 1986 the club was going nowhere, and had not won a trophy since an FA Cup triumph in 1979. Graham cleared out the deadwood and brought in his own regime which brought immediate dividends.
In the 1988-89 season, Graham’s Arsenal won the First Division, ending a 18 year long wait for the title. That year Arsenal had to wait until the final game of the season in what has gone down as one of the most memorable matches in English football history to take the title. Needing a 2-0 away win at Liverpool to win the league, Arsenal were 1-0 up as the game headed into injury time and the title look destined for Anfield, before Michael Thomas wrote himself into Arsenal folklore by scoring an injury time second. Graham also forged the legendary Arsenal backline of Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, arguably one of the greatest defences English football has seen. Graham enjoyed not only great success but some of the most nostalgic moments in Arsenal history, why then, does he not get the respect he deserves?
Graham’s management of Arsenal ended in controversy, when he was sacked for accepting an illegal payment from an agent and was banned from management for a year by the FA. This acrimonious exit from Highbury certainly didn’t help his reputation amongst Arsenal fans, but a decision he made three years later was much harder to bear. In 1998 Graham took over arch-rivals Tottenham, guiding them to a League Cup title in his first season in charge, and managing the club for three years. It was an appointment both Arsenal and Spurs fans were unhappy with, and has certainly tarnished his reputation amongst the Gunners faithful.
Another factor that perhaps accounts for the lack recognition George Graham seems to receive is the style of play that he employed at Arsenal. His defensive mindset gave rise to the infamous phrases ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ and ‘one nil to the Arsenal’. This defensive style of play was in stark contrast to Arsenal’s next long serving manager Arsene Wenger, who is famous for his attacking philosophy. Under Wenger, Arsenal have played the best football most Gunners fans have seen and combined it with title winning successes. Wenger’s time as manager of Arsenal has meant that much of Graham’s achievements have been put in the shade and do not get their due respect.
George Graham presided over a period of great success for Arsenal and some of the club’s most memorable moments. He also provided the solid base that Wenger would build on for his own successes in later seasons. Graham deserves a place in the pantheon of Arsenal greats, but it is true that he does not seem to get the get the recognition or respect he deserves. As time passes, hopefully that will change and Graham can take his rightful place in the hall of Arsenal legends.