George Graham (footballer, born 1944)

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George Graham
George Graham (1970).png
Graham in April 1970
Personal information
Full nameGeorge Graham [1]
Date of birth (1944-11-30) 30 November 1944 (age 76) [1]
Place of birth Bargeddie, Scotland [1]
Height 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m) [2]
Position(s) Midfielder / forward
Youth career
1959–1961 Aston Villa
Senior career*
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)
National team
1964–1965 Scotland U23 2 (0)
1971–1973 Scotland 12 (3)
Teams managed
1982–1986 Millwall
1986–1995 Arsenal
1996–1998 Leeds United
1998–2001 Tottenham Hotspur
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

George Graham (born 30 November 1944) is a Scottish former footballer and manager. He is considered as one of the greatest managers in Arsenal's history, having been their longest-serving and most successful manager for over a decade.


In his successful playing career, he made 455 appearances in England's Football League as a midfielder or forward for Aston Villa, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Portsmouth and Crystal Palace. Approximately half of his total appearances were for Arsenal, and he was part of the side that won the Football League Championship and FA Cup "double" in 1971. Graham also made 17 appearances for California Surf in the NASL in 1978.

He then moved to the coaching staff at Crystal Palace, before joining former Palace manager Terry Venables as a coach at Queens Park Rangers. As a manager, he won numerous honours with Arsenal between 1987 and 1995, including two league titles (in 1989 and 1991), the 1993 FA Cup, two Football League Cups (in 1987 and 1993), as well as the 1994 European Cup-Winners'-Cup and also managed Millwall, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Early life

The youngest of seven children, Graham grew up in poverty in Bargeddie, near Coatbridge. He was raised by his mother, Janet, after his father, Robert Young Graham, died of tuberculosis and heart failure on Christmas Day 1944, when George was not yet a month old. [3] His elder sister also died of tuberculosis at the age of 19, on 22 February 1950.

When growing up, Graham showed considerable promise as a footballer, and Newcastle United, Chelsea and Aston Villa displayed an interest signing him. [4]

Playing career

Aston Villa

Graham received offers from Aston Villa, Chelsea and Newcastle United aged 15, in 1959, and visited all three clubs to see their facilities. [5] He chose Aston Villa mainly as he and his family liked manager Joe Mercer, initially playing for their youth side, he signed professionally in 1961, on his 17th birthday. [5] He spent five seasons at the Birmingham club, but only made ten appearances – though one of them was the club's 1963 League Cup final loss to Birmingham City. [6]


Chelsea signed him in July 1964 for £5,000. Graham scored 35 goals in 72 league games for the club and won a League Cup medal in 1965 but he, along with several other Chelsea players, increasingly clashed with their volatile manager Tommy Docherty. This culminated in Graham and seven others being sent home and disciplined by Docherty for breaking a pre-match curfew in 1965. [3]


Bertie Mee's Arsenal were looking for a replacement for Joe Baker, and paid £50,000 plus Tommy Baldwin in 1966 to bring him to Highbury. [7] He made his debut on 1 October 1966 at home to Leicester City, and although the result was a 4–2 defeat he immediately became a regular in the Arsenal side. He was Arsenal's top scorer in both 1966–67 and 1967–68, having started out as a centre forward for the club, but later moved to inside forward with John Radford moving from the wing to up front.

With Arsenal, Graham was a runner-up in both the 1968 and 1969 League Cup finals, before finally winning a medal with the 1969–70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. He followed it up with being an integral part of Arsenal's Double-winning side of 1970–71, and even had a claim to scoring Arsenal's equaliser in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool, although Eddie Kelly is officially credited with the goal. [3] [8]

Winning the Double brought the attention of Scotland and Graham was selected for the national side for the first time against Portugal on 13 October 1971. [3] He would go on to win twelve caps over the next two years for Scotland, scoring three goals, his final one coming against Brazil on 30 June 1973. By then, however, Graham was no longer an Arsenal player. The arrival of Alan Ball midway through 1971–72 had made his place in the Arsenal side less assured. In total, he played 308 matches for Arsenal, scoring 77 goals.

Manchester United

He moved for £120,000 to Manchester United in December 1972. He spent two years at United, and was relegated to Division Two.

Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and California Surf

He saw out his career in England at Portsmouth and Crystal Palace. He played the summer of 1978 in America for the California Surf. [9]

Managerial career


After retiring from playing, he became a coach at Crystal Palace [3] and then later Queens Park Rangers. On 6 December 1982 Graham was appointed manager of Millwall, who were then bottom of the old Third Division. Graham turned the side around in a short period of time—they avoided relegation that season and in 1984–85 they were promoted to the old Second Division. After he left the club in 1986, they went on to win the Second Division and win promotion to the First in 1987–88.


Graham's achievements at Millwall attracted attention from First Division clubs, and with the resignation of Don Howe as Arsenal manager in March 1986, their directors first offered the job to FC Barcelona coach Terry Venables, but he rejected their offer and Arsenal switched their attention to Alex Ferguson, the Aberdeen manager, as their new manager with Graham as his assistant. However, Ferguson (then in temporary charge of the Scotland national football team following the death of Jock Stein the previous September, and still in charge of Aberdeen) had decided to wait until after the World Cup that summer before deciding on his future, and so the Arsenal directors appointed Graham as their new manager on 14 May 1986. [10] A month after arriving at Highbury, Graham was himself linked with the Scotland national team, possibly combining it with the Arsenal manager's job, [11] but that role went to Andy Roxburgh instead.

Arsenal had not won a trophy since the FA Cup in 1978–79, and were drifting away from the top teams in the League, having not finished in the top five during any of the previous four seasons, during which the major honours were picked up by an all-conquering Liverpool as well as the likes of Manchester United and Everton.

Graham quickly discarded the likes of Tony Woodcock and Tommy Caton, and replaced them with new signings and youth team products. He also imposed much stricter discipline than his predecessors, both in the dressing room and on the pitch. [3] Arsenal's form immediately improved, so much so that the club were top of the League at Christmas 1986, the club's centenary, for the first time in a decade. The key players in the upturn were young defender Tony Adams and high-scoring winger Martin Hayes.

Arsenal finished fourth in Graham's first season in charge, and they went on to win the 1987 League Cup, beating Liverpool 2–1. While Arsenal lost the League Cup final the following year (a shock 3–2 defeat to Luton Town), they remained consistent in the league. Graham's side featured tight defensive discipline, embodied by his young captain Tony Adams, who along with Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, would form the basis of the club's defence for over a decade. However, contrary to popular belief, during this time Arsenal were not a purely defensive side; Graham also built up an impressive midfield containing David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson, and striker Alan Smith, whose prolific goal-scoring regularly brought him more than 20 goals per season. [3]

At the end of Graham's third season (1988–89), the club won their first League title since 1971 (when Graham had been an Arsenal player), in highly dramatic fashion, in the final game of the season against holders and league leaders Liverpool at Anfield. Arsenal needed to win by two goals to take the title; Alan Smith scored early in the second half to make it 1–0, but as time ticked by Arsenal struggled to get a second, and with the 90 minutes elapsed on the clock, they still needed another goal. With only seconds to go, a Smith flick-on found Michael Thomas surging through the Liverpool defence; the young midfielder calmly lifted the ball over Bruce Grobbelaar and into the net, and Arsenal were League Champions. However, there was no chance to enter the European Cup just yet for Graham's team, as the ban on English clubs in European competitions (which was imposed by UEFA in 1985 following the Heysel disaster) continued for another season.

After finishing fourth in 1990, Graham signed goalkeeper David Seaman and Swedish winger Anders Limpar in the close season; both players proved vital as Arsenal won a second title in 1990–91 and reached the FA Cup semi-finals, losing to arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. They lost just one league game all season - their 24th match of the league campaign against Chelsea on 2 February.

Arsenal finished ahead of runners-up Liverpool in the race for the league title that season; in February 1991 the Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish had suddenly announced his resignation as manager, and Graham's name was among those mentioned by the media as a possible successor to Dalglish. However, Graham was quick to rule himself out of the running, and the job instead went to another Scot, Graeme Souness.

In the autumn of 1991, Graham went on to sign a striker who would break the club's all-time top scoring records, Ian Wright from Crystal Palace, and led the club into their first entry in the European Cup for twenty years. However, the continental adventure was short-lived: Arsenal were knocked out by S.L. Benfica in the second round and failed to make the lucrative final stages. 1991–92 brought more disappointment when the Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round by lowly Wrexham, though Arsenal did reasonably well in the league, finishing fourth.

After this season, Graham changed his tactics; he became more defensive and turned out far less attack-minded sides, which depended mainly on goals from Wright rather than the whole team. Between 1986–87 and 1991–92, Arsenal averaged 66 League goals a season (scoring 81 in 1991–92), but between 1992–93 and 1994–95 only averaged 48; [12] this included just 40 in 1992–93, when the club finished 10th in the inaugural season of the FA Premier League, scoring fewer than any other team in the division. [13]

Graham's Arsenal became cup specialists, and in 1992–93 they became the first side to win the FA Cup and League Cup double, both times beating Sheffield Wednesday, 2–1 in the League Cup Final and 2–1 in the FA Cup Final replay. The next season they continued in the same vein, winning the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, their second European trophy; in the final Arsenal beat favourites and holders Parma 1–0 with a tight defensive performance and Alan Smith's 21st-minute goal from a left foot volley.

The 1994 Cup Winners' Cup proved to be Graham's last trophy at the club; the following February he was sacked after nearly nine years in charge, after it was discovered he had accepted an illegal £425,000 payment from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge following Arsenal's 1992 acquisition of John Jensen and Pål Lydersen, two of Hauge's clients. [3] Graham was eventually banned for a year by the Football Association for his involvement in the scandal, after he admitted he had received an "unsolicited gift" from Hauge. [14]

Leeds United

After serving his ban, George Graham's return to football management came with Leeds United in September 1996. After the fifth game of the season he replaced the long serving Howard Wilkinson. At that time Leeds was in 9th position and would finish eventually 11th. His first priority was the defence; although Leeds scored in total only 28 goals, fewer than any other Premiership club. Bringing in players such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the close season, 1997–98 saw Leeds score twice as many goals as the previous season going on to finish fifth in the Premiership and secure UEFA Cup qualification.[ citation needed ]

Tottenham Hotspur

In October 1998 Graham's two-year spell as Leeds manager came to an end when he was appointed manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Just five months after taking charge he guided the club to victory over Leicester City in the 1999 League Cup Final, and with it a place in the 1999–2000 UEFA Cup. He was sacked on 16 March 2001, soon after the club had been purchased by ENIC, for alleged breach of contract. [15] The club stated that Graham had been issued "several written warnings prior to his sacking for giving out what was deemed by the club as being private information" before, earlier that week, apparently informing the media he had "a limited budget" for new players and expressing his disappointment with it. This led to his being summoned to a meeting with Spurs executive vice-chairman David Buchler, after which he was dismissed. Buchler subsequently questioned whether Graham had the interests of the club at heart and described his conduct in the meeting as "aggressive and defiant". Graham's legal representatives issued a statement expressing he was "shocked and upset to have been sacked and could not believe such a flimsy excuse was given". It went on to say that Graham "believes ENIC always intended to sack him." [15] [16] Despite guiding the club to its first trophy in eight seasons, Graham could not achieve a finish higher than tenth in the Premiership.

Since 2001

He has been out of management ever since, concentrating on his career as a football pundit for Sky Sports.

However, he was linked with several managerial vacancies after leaving Tottenham. In October 2001, following the dismissal of Peter Taylor at Leicester City, he was linked with that vacancy, but it was filled by Dave Bassett instead. [17]

The following season, with Glenn Roeder under fire at the helm of a West Ham United side heading for Premier League relegation, Graham's name was mentioned as a possible replacement, [18] but Roeder actually lasted until the opening weeks of the 2003–04 season and this time there was little mention of Graham's name in the hunt for a successor, which ended with the appointment of Alan Pardew. In the 2003 close season, the resignation of Graham Taylor at Aston Villa saw Graham's name mentioned by the media as a possible successor, but again nothing came of it, with this vacancy being filled by David O'Leary, who had played under Graham at Arsenal and worked as his assistant at Leeds. [19] He and O'Leary had both been mentioned as candidates for the job at Sunderland twice during the 2002–03 season following the departure of Peter Reid in October [20] and Howard Wilkinson in March. [21]

Graham revealed in 2009 that he suffers from arthritis. "I love my golf but because of my arthritis, I've not played much in the last two years, if any. When I was a player, when I had a lot of time on my hands, I got down to an eight handicap. But when I was manager, I went back to 12. I've just taken up tennis and have to say I'm not very good." [22]

Career statistics


[23] [24]

Club performanceLeagueCupLeague CupContinentalTotal
EnglandLeague FA Cup League Cup Europe Total
1961–62 Aston Villa First Division 00000000
1962–63 21002041
1963–64 61000061
1964–65 Chelsea First Division 301750744221
1965–66 331763001135023
1966–67 9111102
1966–67 Arsenal First Division 3311413712
1967–68 381650855121
1968–69 2641050324
1969–70 36720421155314
1970–71 38116151815714
1971–72 4089041615910
1972–73 16230192
1972–73 Manchester United First Division 18110191
1973–74 2411010261
1974–75 Second Division 100010
1974–75 Portsmouth Second Division 19319+3+
1975–76 39239+2+
1976–77 Third Division 303+0+
1976–77 Crystal Palace Third Division 23223+2+
1977–78 Second Division 21021+0+
1978 California Surf NASL 170170
Career total47210640+5+40+14+3610588+135








Tottenham Hotspur



See also

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  1. 1 2 3 "George Graham". Barry Hugman's Footballers. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  2. George Graham. Romford: A&BC. p. 91.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Interview: George Graham on tough upbringing and spending £1000 on shoes, The Scotsman, 13 October 2018
  4. A Face-lift For Firhill, Evening Times, 13 June 1959, via Partick Thistle History Archive
  5. 1 2 Davies, Hunter. "This article is more than 20 years old George Graham: after the fall". The Guardian . Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  6. "George Graham - Career Statistics". Aston Villa Player Database. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  8. "1971 – King George of Wembley". BBC Sport. 10 May 2001. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  9. "NASL Stats". 30 November 1944. Archived from the original on 20 August 2016. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  10. "Sir Alex Ferguson turned down Arsenal job back in 1986". Mirror Football.10 June 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  11. "Fergie Steps down". Evening Times. 16 June 1986. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  12. Statistics sourced from "Arsenal". Football Club History Database. 2006. Retrieved 21 September 2006.
  13. "England 1992/93". RSSSF. Retrieved 21 September 2006.
  14. Collins, Roy (18 March 2000). "Rune Hauge, international man of mystery". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 June 2006.
  15. 1 2 "Graham sacked by Tottenham". BBC Sport. 10 May 2001. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  16. Christopher Davies and, Sam Wallace (16 March 2001). "Hoddle set to return 'home' as Spurs end Graham era". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  17. Staniforth, Mark (6 October 2001). "City could turn to Graham". The Herald.
  18. "The gossip column". BBC News. 11 October 2002.
  19. "Who's next for the Foxes hot-seat?". BBC News . 1 October 2001. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
  20. "Graham rules out Black Cats job". BBC News. 8 October 2002.
  21. "Stadium of Light contenders". BBC News. 10 March 2003.
  23. "George Graham". National Football Teams. Benjamin Strack-Zimmermann. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  24. George Graham: Club Stats,
  25. "Manager profile: George Graham". Premier League. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  26. Mullen, Scott (18 October 2015). "Ally MacLeod one of five inducted into Scottish Football Hall of Fame". Evening Times. Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 19 October 2015.