There are moments in a football life that live forever. We all have them -Micky T at Anfield, TA6’s goal v Everton, TH14’s v MU, Dennis at Newcastle or Freddie in Cardiff. But it is the childhoood memories which really stand out and for me they are often connected to the ’70-’71 Double team. One of my favourite ever goals was scored by one of my early heroes – George Graham. Nicknamed “Stroller” thanks to his languid style, Graham was a frustrating player, capable both of brilliance and walking through a game contributing nothing.
This goal was against Man Utd at a packed Highbury, 60+ thousand fans in a steamy, smoke filled stadium. I was in the North Bank, about half way up, just under the roof – I wasn’t big or brave enough to join the lads up the back. The Man Utd team included the brilliant George Best and Best scored one his goals in front of the North Bank. The signature arm raised salute was given a volley of abuse from the North Bank Gooners but we all knew we had seen something special. Then we got a corner, or it could have come from a Geordie Armstrong cross – either way the ball came in from the wing at The Clock End, and in what seemed to be slow motion Stroller leapt into the air and scissor kicked the ball from the edge of the area leaving the keeper (Stepney?) groping for air. Highbury went wild – at least that is how it is in my current alcohol raddled head.
It doesn’t matter whether my memory is historically correct – we didn’t have the internet or Sky – what is important is the effect it had upon the young BR and his relationship to George Graham. GG went from being an ex-Chelsea Scottish striker into being The Man – and for some time he was. Imagine a taller Paul Merson, GG was the same type of player – infuriating and yet spectacular.
When he left to join MU I was upset but by then we had Charlie George and Big Raddy and had won the Double. It hurt as much as when Kolo went North.
Of course, as George was an ex-Gunner I followed his career and was delighted when he made a success of his first management job at “No-one likes us, we don’t care” Millwall. However, his management style was such a change from his playing – suddenly, the effete, artistic, Stroller had become a Sergeant Major. Gone were the King’s Rd dolly birds and the expensive suits, in their place was the 3 button Blazer and a club tie. Taking Millwall from the bottom of the then 3rd Division to the top of the Second in just 3 seasons, George was a manager to watch.
Then came the surprising news that Don Howe was to be replaced by GG!! I was delighted to have another Arsenal man at the helm. The League Cup followed in his first season, then Anfield ´89, and the FA Cup, and the one-loss Champions of ’91, and perhaps his greatest achievement, the classic 1-0 in Copenhagen.
GG brought all this to the Arsenal and yet we were greedy. We wanted to see the expansive football which he first brought to AFC. We were sick of seeing a midfield of shire-horses punting the ball up to the genius of Ian Wright; the time was ripe for change and when it came it was to be shocking. As shocking as anything I can remember in football. As the news leaked of the Bung Scandal, we couldn’t believe it – “Not our George. not The Stroller,. He doesn’t need the money living in his beautiful Hampstead mansion”. But we were wrong, you could take the man out of the Gorbals but not the Gorbals out of the man. I am still in shock!
But on the terraces of the Clock End we were excited, we knew Arsenal had to move on and we knew that if George went “upstairs” his shadow would affect any new manager. This was the best for the future of the club – certainly not for George but no-one made him dip his beak.
I was delighted to see George on the pitch for the 125th Anniversary. He is a huge part of Arsenal’s history and despite him tarnishing the reputation of the club, he remains an Arsenal great. Had he not been so bloody stupid there would be a statue of GG outside the Emirates. But he was, and despite 230 games as a player and 460+ games as manager, he remains a peripheral figure at Arsenal.
George Graham remains a massive Arsenal fan with a huge collection of Arsenal memorabilia. Let us not forget that this is a man who had a cannon mosaic in his garden whilst managing Spurs.
To me George Graham will always be the man who scored that goal against United, for that and 26/5/1989, I am eternally grateful.