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The Man Who Would be King Lear: Fan Perspectives on George Graham on the 20th Anniversary of His Dismissal

By Les Crang

21st February, 1995: Arsenal are playing Nottingham Forest at Highbury. Fans are about to see our new signing Chris Kiwomya score the only goal in a 1-0 victory. The Arsenal fans sing ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ but t all seems a bit hollow. Arsenal are not only in a relegation battle but Arsenal manager George Graham has been dismissed  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.

Graham’s tragic fall from grace couldn’t have been penned better by the Bard himself. Graham was a pivotal figure in the rise of Arsenal in the 70’s as a player, then he mounted a triumphant return as the manager who engineered Arsenal’s most improbable title win, and became Arsenal’s most successful manager in 40 years before his own damnable hubris caught up with him and he came crashing back to earth.

I originally wanted to look back on George Graham’s career at Arsenal and beyond as a Rogues Gallery piece, but then I thought I would go beyond that and ask the fans who had watched him as a player and as a manager. I wanted to talk to those who knew of his legacy first hand. So, I reached out to fans from all over and from any demographic, even those who hadn’t ever seen him play or been fans when he was manager. The list of participants and all of their comments (in full) can be found  here.

George Graham joined Arsenal in 1966 from Chelsea. He had been a striker at Chelsea and would remain so at Arsenal for two seasons. Gary Lawrence, who remembers watching  Graham in person, describe him this way:-

He was a really classy midfielder. A lovely player to watch. He had real style & panache with bundles of flair. Always seemed to have time on the ball. A great immaculate passer with a delicate touch. Played with his head up, very elegant & made the game look almost effortless.

Gary also pointed out some of George’s goals he scored in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. These being the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace:-

Plus the 5-1 win over the same team:-

Lord Hill Wood said there were similarities in his style of play to Danny Welbeck saying:-

The only trait of George’s I saw recently was Welbeck hanging in the air, last up to head home a belter of a header, just like George used to do. George was a heads up stylish player who was never ruffled.

Whilst Tony Fisher felt his languid style would be more like Mesut Ozil.

Although George had started as a striker at his previous clubs of Aston Villa and Chelsea, plus his first two seasons with the Gunners, Don Howe and manager Bertie Mee started to tinker with the Arsenal team, moving George around with a young striker called Ray Kennedy coming into the team and the ever efficient John Radford. Peter Nelson said of the tactic:-

It was noticeable. Was probably the most important decision Mee ever made. I wouldn’t say GG was a good defensive halfback but certainly knew how to support Radford. The rest is history. GG obviously excellent in reading the game and knowing when to support Radford.

Mee and Howe put Frank McLintock back from midfield and played him in the defence, whilst George moved into midfield. George was termed ‘the stroller’ due to his speed or lack thereof. Lord Hill Wood argues he was not called Stroller due to his movement on the pitch but ‘The  reference was less to being a stroller and more to his love of booze, birds, and he couldn’t wait for training to finish quick enough.’

Moving Graham into midfield helped Arsenal capture the European fairs Cup in 1970, plus the League and Cup double of 1971. The first being our first trophy in 17 years. The sleeping giant had risen from its slumber.

Like many people who hate their own flaws, but only when they see them in others,  his lackadaisical style would be something he would frown upon in his managerial career at Arsenal. Stylish players such as Charlie Nicholas and Anders Limpar were bombed out of Arsenal for not putting in enough effort under the manager who was once known as ‘Stroller’.

George Graham left Arsenal as a player in 1973. Going to Manchester United, then Portsmouth, before finishing his career at Crystal Palace, where he would coach alongside former Chelsea team-mate and friend, Terry Venables. He would later move on to manage Millwall from 1982-86 where he would bring through a team on a relative pittance and bring in youth players such as Teddy Sheringham and hardened professionals such as Keith Stevens. These were all players with something in common, they were committed, hungry and cheap.

Since George had left in 1973, Arsenal had won an F.A Cup in 1979:-

After that solo cup win, from 1980 to 1986 Arsenal seemed to have invented the term moribund. In that period under firstly Terry Neill and then Don Howe The Arsenal had entered what seemed permanent decline. Examples?

Losing at home in the Milk Cup to Walsall:-

And the last minute defeat to York in the F.A Cup:-

Gav/She wore sums up perfectly the pre George Graham days saying:-

As a kid at school we were often the laughing stock of other fans, even the west ham fans still bored on about 1980.

With Don Howe leaving in 1986, Arsenal looked for a new manager. Rumours circulated that it might be Terry Venables or even Bobby Robson. Fortunately, George was the first one interviewed of four and with the board duly impressed, they offered him the job there and then.

I personally was not that happy, but I soon changed my mind in the season of 1986-7. As Jason Davies so eloquently put his arrival and change to the team thus:-

It was like getting Su Pollard home & finding out it was Cindy Crawford in a Su Pollard suit.

A lot of fans have said that the semi-final against Spurs in the Milk Cup was a surreal feeling. Garry Lawrence said :-

The first season of GG’s reign reached a glorious conclusion with a brilliant run in the Littlewoods Cup with an epic 3 game s/f with arch rivals Spurs & then winning the Final against Liverpool. I went to all four of those games. To beat Spurs at their own ground after never being in front till Rocky scored the late winner was one of the best nights of my life. The atmosphere was electric & we were walking on air down Tottenham High Road!

Dave Seager remembrance seems more personal when he said of the final with Liverpool :-

The final versus Liverpool was my first final with my team and will always be special. It was also the weekend I got together with my wife so the first weekend in April is a double anniversary in my house.

Its hard to fathom, but we had been terrible for so long, winning that Cup was the biggest relief for us fans. We weren’t bottlers anymore. We were winners. Thanks to George and the team he was building. Young players. Hungry players. Eva McLaughlin said poignantly ‘Graham gave a chance to youngsters such as Rocastle, and brought in new players such as Bould and Dixon.’ But Dave Seager also pointed out that George was fortunate in these youngsters saying:-

GG reaped the benefits of the Howe regime bringing through some exceptional youngsters. Adams, Rocastle, Hayes and Quinn who became regulars immediately for Graham has all played 10 plus games in 85/86.

The following season we would be at Wembley a second time. In the Milk Cup against Luton Town. Lord Hill Wood described them as ‘a plastic pitch, and their chairman was a tory mp who loved Thatcher.’

That we lost was lost 3-2 to them still smarts today.

Darren Berry, who attended the final said ‘As for the game itself, I still don’t know how we managed to lose it.’ Whilst the experienced head of Peter Nelson said of the defeat ‘The Nigel Winterburn penalty miss was crucial. That would’ve put us out of sight of Luton! Watched the whole game recorded later that evening. Could only happen to us!’

Disappointment one season though would soon turn to joy the following season with our first title in 18 years. The final game over Liverpool at Anfield being the highlight:-

Danny The GFP said of the game:-

That game was a defining moment for arsenal, football & GG, to go there and do what we did that day was asking the impossible and even now when you tell people about it it sounds like a unrealistic film script, I remember that night sat on my bed watching it on ITV like it was last week.

Most of those I interviewed described this as maybe the highest point of George Graham’s career. Tony Fisher sums it up saying ‘Surely there can’t be any better GG moments than the Liverpool game. It was after all the perfect GG tactical victory, just doing what was necessary’

Eva, who was not born then underlines the uniqueness when she told me ‘Anfield 89 is still a bit unbelievable, and it’s been over 25 years.’

Two years later, it just got better. To me, the team of 1990/1 must sit alongside the Invincibles: one defeat, having our captain Tony Adams jailed for 3 months, deducted two points by the League for the Battle of Old Trafford:-

As a fan, this was nearly on par to Anfield 1989. We were utterly detested. It was great. Fans like Darren Berry sums it up saying :-

For me personally, that attitude was the most significant thing that George brought overall.

The winning is all the more sweet when you feel that the whole world’s against you, and the title win in 1990-91 epitomised that.
The “us against them” feeling was shared between the players and the fans, and you could really feel it. 

From 1991 onwards though, things seemed to decline to a degree. Dave Seager points out that:-

The biggest mistake was changing his whole ethos after the mauling by Benfica. The attacking flair disappeared and it was then all about nicking a 1 nil…..He broke the Liverpool stranglehold and then handed it to Man United on a plate.

We became a Cup team, winning the League Cup in 1993:-

Then the F.A Cup in 1993 :-

p;

Then the European Cup Winners Cup in 1994 against all odds:-

But there were still some great days to be had at Arsenal. Most said the win at Anfield 1989 for adrenalin (I would to), but Darren Berry felt the final game of the title season in 1991 as we could tell the league where to shove their two points:-

Others the win over Parma, while a friend, Steve Williams came up from Wales to see Ian Wright score a hat-trick over Southampton, win the golden boot from Spurs Gary Lineker and win 5-1, and see Wrighty mooning the supporting hoards outside Gillespie Road:-

Ironically, one overlooked by many was The Arsenal 1-0 victory over Spurs in the 1993 F.A Cup semi-final (revenge for the defeat in the in 1991, in which George would have been the only manager to win the double as a player and manager).

George had also brought a new sense of pride to the team, often impeccably dressed and telling players such as David Rocastle ‘Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent.’ Gav/She Wore said ‘Georgie liked things done The Arsenal way, looking smart was one of them and in turn it got the results on the pitch….  As Perry Groves says people knew we were special when they saw us arrive.’ Whilst Dave Seager added ‘Yes he undoubtedly brought back the Arsenal way and had Burtenshaw, Rice and Armstrong with him as a team all of whom understood it.’

George had made miracle at The Arsenal: George had made us happy. George was King. George had given us 6 trophies in as many years. He signed some great players. In the interviews I had with other fans, I argued that Alan Smith and Anders Limpar, were perhaps his best signing. Most plumped for a loud, south Londoner called Ian Wright. Tony Fisher said of Wright:-

We wondered why we needed another striker [we had Kevin Campbell, Alan Smith, Paul Merson plus a young Andy Cole and Paul Dickov coming up] at the time as we were scoring plenty of goals. But it soon became clear that he could score out of nothing, had an unbelievable passion for the club, an incredible desire to be the best and a non stop work rate.

Others Such as Danny and Gav/Shewore spoke of the importance of Goalkeepers in David Seaman. Others were quick to point out the defenders he bought Bould, Keown, Winterburn but especially Lee Dixon.

By the season of 1994-5, Arsenal had become rather played out and rumours had surfaced that George Graham had taken illegal payments from football agent Rune Hauge. I had felt we had gone downhill from maybe 1992. In the interviews many gave their reasons for the decline. Darren Berry said:-

This ties in with what I see as George’s biggest mistake, which was almost turning us into a “cup side.” He seemed to take that “one-nil to The Arsenal” thing a bit far, and transfer it into how we played in the league as well.

Whilst Lord Hill Wood gave another reason for his failings (something Eva shared) as :-

His biggest mistake was the way he treated players, Rocky, Davis, Limpar and more, i think he actually didn’t know how to be compassionate and retain his authority possibly something from his childhood not having a dad from a young age.

George Graham was sacked in February 1995. Many felt it was time to go. Gav/She Wore said  ‘I was certainly ready for a change by 95 when he was sacked.’ Whilst Jason Davies described the football as ‘dogshite’.

George would be banned from football for a year before becoming manager of Leeds United and then he would become manager of Tottenham Hotspurs. All the people I asked said they could not boo George for becoming manager of Spurs. Peter Nelson said ‘No I felt no betrayal at all when he took over Spurs. He was hated more by the Spurs fans anyway!’

My final question was what was the George Graham legacy and why he is not on the Emirates wall around the stadium. Jason Schrader echoed a common sentiment of others saying:-

The legacy of 1-nil to the arsenal and solidity in defense he created as a culture among the players felt even up to the invincible’s.

Gary Lawrence felt the team spirit was the legacy GG left, recollecting::-

Fondest memory of George was a story Perry Groves told at an evening with him & Nigel Winterburn I attended just before Christmas. He said George told them when they returned to the Old Trafford dressing room after the infamous brawl “Well done Lads I’m really proud of you. That’s what I want to see everybody getting stuck in & standing by your mates just like you would out on the street” then smiling he added  ”Mind you that’s not what I’ll be telling the FA & the media”

I personally always feel disappointed that George gets little recognition at the Emirates for his 6 trophies in 7 years. But this is usually through rose tinted glasses, which was summed up by Jason Davies when he said:-

I think the club are unsure of how to address his reign. He brought us magnificent times, wonderful success, moments of football history. Then threw it away for money, I won’t go into the rights & wrongs, but he brought shame upon the club & that cannot be erased and cannot be ignored.

Gav/ She Wore said of this ‘ Not just Georgie all of the 71 team deserve more recognition than they currently do.’

But I think Lord Hill Wood said it best for me, when he said:-

Yes the club should rehabilitate him and his achievements before it is too late, so GG could see it and feel welcome back, older fans havent forgotten him or what he did, I would love to see him on the pitch again with Charlie George and Frank so we could all thank him for those trophies, that night at Anfield, and hear Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn and Lukic sit with him and talk about it all.

That made me really sad the line ‘before its too late.’

If you watch the game against Crystal Palace this weekend raise a glass for George Graham. A legend of a player and manager who left 20 years ago.

Big thanks to the following for answering all my questions. Bio’s found below.

1. Dave Seager went to his first Arsenal game in 1976 and was a regular at  Highbury and still attends games at the Emirates from the 1980’s. He writes on his own personal blog 1 nil down 2 one up, co-founder of the Arsenal blog Gunnerstown and has recently released the excellent biography on Geordie Armstrong on the Wing. He can be found on twitter here.

2. Peter Nelson has been a Arsenal fan since the early 1950’s, attending his first game at Highbury in 1953. He can be found on twitter here. His claim to fame is getting sweets whilst behind Harry Gregg goal when Arsenal played the Busby Babe’s a few days prior to the Munich Air Crash when Arsenal lost 5-4. Now lives in South Wales, Pete still comes a couple times a season to see Arsenal.

3. Gav or more commonly known as She Wore due to his blog account, twitter name, facebook account and also a man for marketing classic Arsenal merchandise. Gav has been going to Arsenal since the 1980’s. Gav’s dulcet tones can also be found as a guest on Arsenal podcasts such as Bergkamp Wonderland and A little bit Arsenal .Gav’s Pet hate was Nicklas Bendtner. Often found in The George on match days.

4. Darren Berry can be found on twitter here. Often found on twitter putting disinformation to see if anyone bites (they usually do). A Arsenal fan and regular at the stadium since the 1980’s, Darren also writes regularly for Gunnerstown blog. He can be regularly found on match days for a pre and post match pint at The Tollington Arms. He also recently started a new website called Matchday Pubs.

5. Gary Lawrence twitter account can be found here. Gary has been going to Arsenal since the late 1960’s. Biggest regret? Not going to the second leg of European Fairs Cup Final at Highbury in 1970. Been to every FA Cup final that Arsenal have been in since 1971. Always got a funny story to tell and a regular at the Emirates.

6. Eva McLaughlin can be found on twitter here. Despite only being 22, I’ve been going to games since 1995 (two decades!) thanks to my gramps. I have appeared on A Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast and Goonersphere several times. Also the founder of Arsenal Identity. Never get Holland, Dutch or The Netherlands confused in her presence.

7. Lord Hill Wood as he is known commonly on twitter. An Arsenal fan since the 1964, Steve has spent a few hours with George Graham in his time. He now lives and works in Warsaw, but still finds time for the occasional match and appeared as a guest on the Bergkamp Wonderland Podcasts. He also writes for the blog Arsenal Identity. Steve recently did a great piece on George Graham on Arsenal Identity recently. I would highly recommend it.

8. Jason Davies is a panelist on the Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast and found on twitter here. Jason has been an Arsenal fan since the 1980’s. Often heard to mumble ‘Welsh justice’ when watching poor referee performances against The Arsenal.

9. Danny is a host and co-owner on the Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast and found on twitter here. Danny had previous also been a member of the Steve Bald Collective podcast. He has been an Arsenal fan since the early 1980’s and addicted to cheesy wotsits.

10. Tony Fisher. Coming from Hackney it was either Arsenal or Tottenham so luckily I chose wisely & went to Highbury for the first time in 1952 as a 9 year old on my own having lost my Dad in the war.

I have followed the Arsenal over land & sea since then, still going to most away games as well.

I have had 2 season tickets since 1974 & my Highbury East Stand Uppers for 30 years & obviously all my children & grandchildren are staunch Gooners.

I have been at the majority of important games in my time including all the finals home & abroad. I think that the most memorable game for me was at WHL 1971, winning the league there for the 1st time was so very special.I am very much against today’s football which to me is now purely a money driven entertainment event rather than the simple game I grew up with.

11. Steve Williams can be found on twitter here. Steve is an old friend of mine who often invited me up to Highbury whilst I studied in Bath and he worked in Newport, Gwent in the early 1990’s (I regretfully said no as I was playing Rugby at the time). Still an Arsenal fan, but family commitments mean he is found watching Newport County at weekends. Fondly remembered for offering to hit  guy in a pub in Bath whilst we watched the 1993 F.A Cup who said we were idiots.

12. Jason Shrader can be found on twitter here. Jason is an Arsenal fan from American based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Jason is a contributor to the Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast.

Rogue’s Gallery: Jeff Blockley

Les takes us back to the Bertie Mee era with today’s installment of the Rogue’s Gallery. The signing of Jeff Blockley, a center half intended to replace Frank McLintock. Impossible boots to fill made even bigger by Blockley’s bald incompetence. We’ll be back tomorrow with more boring news stories, like the one about the BBC switching the FA Cup fixture against United, that could be written by a monkey banging on a typewriter. Until then, enjoy a bit of football history.- Tim

By Les Crang

Jeff Blockley, one of the poorest buys in the Bertie Mee era. Possibly even worse than Peter Marinello. Arsenal fans of the 1970’s suffered as Arsenal signed many a terrible signing. And although many mocked the signing of Terry Mancini, he at least tried. As Arsenal fans have said many times before:-

They look for a player who gives 100%. I’ve heard people go ‘He’s shit. Get rid of him. He’s not trying.’ Thats what you hear: ‘Work, you bastard, work. Earn your money. You shouldn’t be wearing an Arsenal shirt.

Blockley just never looked the part. He joined Arsenal in October 1972 from Coventry City for £200,000 and two days later made his England debut (his one and only cap) for England. On his signing The Times [license required] said:-

Arsenal have signed the England Under-23 centre half six years after rejecting him as a schoolboy because of his casual approach. He also had a trial with Leicester City, his hometown club, before joining Coventry, in July, 1966. as an apprentice professional. Blockley has developed into one of the finest young defenders in the country and appears a certainty for the England World Cup party [note the arrogance. We didn’t qualify for the 1974 World cup].

Blockley was there as a replacement for Arsenal captain Frank McLintock. Bertie Mee wanted a younger player at the back, feeling Frank was passed it. McLintock at the time of the signing was 33 years old. To put that into context that is the age Tony Adams was when he retired and he didn’t look past it.

When looking at Blockley you’ve got to look at Frank McLintock. In the previous 5 years as captain Arsenal had gone to five successive cup finals (winning two) and won the double. Mclintock had also been been voted the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 1971. Hardly the worst stats around. George Graham said of Frank :-

He was as important an influence on the Arsenal double team as fellow Scot Dave Mackay had been in the super Spurs side ten years earlier. Like Mackay, he was tremendously inspirational captain who could make his teammates willing to run through brick walls.

Mee said his reasoning for buying Blockley and get reducing McLintock’s appearances was because:-

One way which I employed, was to buy new players and make the others fight for their places. I bought Blockley because I didn’t want a situation occurring here as Leeds had in trying to find a replacement for Jack Charlton.

When Frank found out he was no longer part of Mee’s plans he was in tears and said ‘I was heartbroken’. He put in a transfer request and was transferred to QPR for £25,000. Frank had an indian summer there, pushing Liverpool close in the 1975-1976 season with a team of Stan Bowles, Don Givens, Dave Clement, Phil Parkes and Gerry Francis. Arsenal in that season came in 16th spot and Bertie Mee retired.

Anyhow, Jeff Blockley was seen as a capable replacement. But that was far from the truth. Spurling quotes an anonymous teammate of Blockley’s telling him:-

‘Blockley was utter crap. He was staggeringly useless defender. A group of us went to Bertie Mee and said to him “Come on Bert, this guy is shit. Get Frank back in the team.’  But as usual Bert got all stubborn and pompous and we somehow got lumbered with ‘the block’ for two years, and Frank was allowed to go to QPR. What we needed was the Highbury crowd to give Blockley the sort of grief they gave poor Jon Sammels. But they were surprising patient with him. They let us down!

Even before he played, Blockley was seen as a poor replacement when :-

Steve Burtenshaw told him to get the ball off Ray [Kennedy] in training. Ten minutes later, Blockley, red-faced, was still trying to get a kick, while the rest of the Arsenal squad stood by killing themselves laughing.

His debut against Sheffield United end in a 1-0 defeat with Blockley culpable (a term that would often be repeated). The Times said of the game:-

One man, [Alan] Ball, was sent off, four others had their names taken, and there were so many fouls it is difficult to remember the football. Yet this must not prevent one giving full credit to Sheffield for outplaying Arsenal. From the opening whistle Arsenal’s defence floundered, not the least unhappy being Blockley, Arsenal’s new £200,000 purchase from Coventry City, whose mistake in the 12th minute led to Dearden scoring.

Ironically, the season of 1972-73 had Arsenal running Liverpool close for the title. Arsenal also had the opportunity of being the first team in the twentieth century to appear in three consecutive F.A cup finals, when they reached the F.A cup semi-final against second division Sunderland. Having lost the Final the previous year to Leeds, there was an opportunity of revenge.

Oh well, step forward Jeff Blockley. Arsenal would lose 2-1 to Sunderland. Although the centre halves had been Blockley and McLintock and, prior to the Sunderland Semi, Blockley had been out injured, whilst Frank played in his place. Unfortunately, the week before the semi, Frank was injured. Blockley, although much derided for his performance against Sunderland, had been out injured 6 weeks prior to the game. In one match you can see how poor Blockley was. No pace, no control and no confidence from Bob Wilson in goal. He was utterly useless.

Of his performance against Sunderland it was said:-

Despite having played only one reserve game in six week, Blockley was back in the team, although Steve Burtenshaw recalls, ‘He wouldn’t have played if Frank [McLintock] had been fit. Jeff wasn’t at his fittest.’ It took only 19 minutes for Blockley’s lack of sharpness to be exposed as he left a back pass to Wilson horribly short and the Sunderland centre-forward, Vic Halom, took advantage to score. After 56 minutes, Blockley made way for Radford…….Said a distressed Blockley [after the 2-1 defeat] ‘I wasn’t fully fit and I was probably wrong in offering to play.’

Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson said of Blockley role in Sunderland’s first goal:-

‘It was a ridiculous opening goal and Jeff Blockley totally underhit the pass. Once we felt there were jitters down the middle of our defence we were vulnerable. We felt vulnerable and we were vulnerable.’

The season’s final game we did get to play Leeds in the League. A 6-1 defeat. It should be remembered Arsenal had appeared in 5 finals on the trot from 1968-72, losing two to the despised Don Revie team (1968 in the League cup and 1972 in the F.A cup). This would most likely rank up there with 8-2 to Manchester United and 5-0 defeat to Spurs in 1983 as humiliating defeats to a major rival.

Blockley continued to play until he was sold to Leicester in 1975 for £100,000, playing 62 games and scoring one goal. Blockley was to be replaced by a young Irishman called David O’Leary. Thank god.

The thing with Blockley is he is remembered by Arsenal fans for mainly two things. Firstly, he is remembered as being the player who was the beginning of a great 1971 Arsenal double team being split up when he replaced Frank McLintock. His second thing he’s remembered for is he was substituted for Liam Brady debut game against Birmingham in October 1973.

Bertie Mee was later to admit he was his worst player he signed and also admitted ‘Personally, I think the double side split up too soon.’ Nick Hornby later described Jeff Blockley in Fever Pitch as ‘an incompetent Ian Ure.’

Jeff Blockley. The original Pascal Cygan, we salute you.

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Rogues Gallery: Kevin Richardson

by Les Crang

He’s a players’ player…The crowd may not notice what he has done but you can be sure his team-mates are aware of him. He works very hard, runs all over the pitch and his passing is excellent. - Des Bremner discussing Kevin Richardson at Aston Villa.

Kevin Richardson, often a forgotten man of the 1989 League title. Like many players in that team that night like Paul Davis, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and John Lukic. Players who were good enough to win a title but not an international cap. The five aforementioned players amount of caps won between them? 5.

Kevin Richardson, a man remembered as the Scouser we signed from Watford but reminded us of a Harry Enfield character (not Stavros) with his moustache:-

Kevin Richardson was actually born in Newcastle, but joined Everton in 1978, making his debut in 1980. The early Everton side of the 1980’s was one that was growing and improving. It started them as very much the weaker team on Merseyside, famously losing 5-0 at Goodison to the all conquering Liverpool (with Richardson playing that day):-

But under the stewardship of Howard Kendall, Everton became the team of the mid 1980’s along with Liverpool. Richardson was a left midfielder in a team that had a midfield that included Kevin Sheedy, Peter Reid, Trevor Steven and Paul Bracewell.  Richardson rarely got as much game time, with arguably one of the best midfields in the country at the time. But when he played, he was a player who put in a shift. At Everton he played in the 1984 Cup final, when they defeated Watford:-

The following season he played in the Everton championship team, winning the title by 11 points. He even scored the winner in their first win of the season at Chelsea.

He also was an unused substitute in Everton Cup Winners Cup final victory over Rapid Vienna:-

Unfortunately, with a lack of game time, Richardson moved to Watford for a season for £225,000 in 1986. By the following year, George Graham had signed Richardson for a mere £200,000. Jon Spurling wrote of his signing:-

A waspish and tenacious midfielder…he would never win any popularity contest at Highbury but he was an effective ‘reminder’ for Davis and Rocastle, enabling them to get forward and display their talents while he destroyed opposition attacks. His signing seemed to have the phrase ‘stop-gap’ scrawled all over it, but Kev was a necessary addition in the hard world of 80’s football.

I must say, when we signed Kevin Richardson, I remember actually being quite happy that we had bought Richardson. Lets not forget in his first year in charge, George Graham had spent a mere £50,000 on Perry Groves. Lets be blunt, it was a disappointing signing at the time which paid dividends with a League Cup Final win over Liverpool. In the summer George had bought more substantially. First came Alan Smith, then Nigel Winterburn and next Richardson. The combined price of these plus Groves? Around £1,300,000. Unfortunately, we had not been the only team to buy ‘big’ that summer. Liverpool, after losing out in the League to Everton and us in the Milk Cup had bought Ray Houghton, John Aldridge (a replacement for the Juventus bound Ian Rush), John Barnes and Peter Beardsley for a combined fee of £3,500,000. Liverpool had certainly brought class individuals. But George was not a man for individuals. He made teams (especially in the early days at the club).

Richardson made his debut in a 6-0 win over Portsmouth September 1987. His first goal was in a 2-1 over Derby at Highbury the following month:-

Richardson also scored two goals against Chelsea a few games later in a 3-1. This would be the beginning of 20 games without a win in a season that Chelsea would be relegated — wasn’t football great in the 1980’s?

The team of 1987-8 was certainly a work in progress, as Liverpool created one of their first attacking team. I’m not a Liverpool fan, but they lost a mere 2 games and I remember watching them dismantle Nottingham Forest 5-0 at Anfield being a major highlight:-

In 1987, Arsenal had famously won the League Cup against Liverpool:-

We had followed up the next season looking to win back to back Milk Cups. Richardson would be an important member of the team that pushed us to the final. Unfortunately, with Graham Rix often out injured, Arsenal had problems in midfield. Jon Spurling described it thus:-

One of Arsenal’s problems had been at times we seemed rather static in midfield as [Paul] Davis, [Steve] Williams and Richardson were not the fastest thing on two legs. Williams was the sacrificial lamb in another of George Graham machinations.

The highlight of the run to Wembley would be the two legged semi-final against the League champions and Richardson old team Everton. The 3-1 at a 52,000 packed especially:-

I remember watching the game on television, in the first half should have been 3-0 (especially when Hayes passed rather than blasted the ball over the bar from a penalty). Also, a young Mickey Thomas burst through a scouse midfield to score a brilliant goal. Something he might do just a year later.

Unfortunately, after beating the champions in the Semi-final, we lost miserably to Luton Town, with Gus Caesar famously going AWOL (replacing the injured David O’Leary), leading 2-1 and having a Nigel Winterburn penalty saved. A game we threw away and one that still hurts even today (surely on par with Birmingham 2011). Richardson played ok though, it was the defence that was the problem, along with a profligacy in front of goal that beggared belief. Richardson came in for Steve Williams, who George Graham had unceremoniously dropped and had an ok game.

In many ways, 1987-8 was a season of disappointment. On the downside we won nothing. Lost at home to Nottingham Forest. We threw away the Milk Cup and ended a disappointing 6th, an astronomical 24 points behind champions Liverpool. On the upside. Richardson had worked solidly in midfield. Smith had started scoring. The new signings of Winterburn and Lee Dixon had improved us from the previous two full backs of Viv Anderson and Kenny Sansom. Plus, we had signed a winger by the name of Brian Marwood. Oh, one other minor thing. We liked to win and loathed losing. Winning was our new god. Evidence of this? I think for any fan it is Brian McClair missing a last minute penalty for a draw in an F.A Cup game. Nigel Winterburn giving him the needle when he missed? Personal favourite of Arsenal in the 1980’s for me:-

The season of 1988-9 of course is written large in the history of Arsenal. Richardson impact on it was greater than he most likely thought. At the beginning of the season Richardson was usually back up to another underrated great at Arsenal, Paul Davis. On the 17th of September, Arsenal played Southampton at home in a 2-2 draw after being 2-0 down at Highbury:-

But the game is famous for two things. Most famously it was Davis breaking Southampton ‘hard man’ Glenn Cockerell jaw after he’d stamped on him and constantly baracked him that he’d been intimate with his mum the previous night. Secondly, it was the beginning of a media witch hunt of Arsenal and George Graham’s team. Davis, although incited by a talentless midfielder, was fined £3,000 and banned for 9 matches. As the game was on a Saturday, Davis was due to make his England debut the following Wednesday. As he was banned he did not play. He would actually never play for England. The media outrage can be seen here on the ITN news.

With Davis out the picture for at least 9 games, Richardson would take over from Davis (who would actually only play a further 12 League and Cup games after the Southampton incident due to injury). Richardson would be an important member of the title winning team.

A take no prisoners, siege mentality had descended upon Highbury and we were better for it. No one took liberties with this team. Richardson would be one such player to show this in a winning manner.

Arsenal would also ‘work’ the referees in games, with one player having a go, then someone else would. They would also rotate the fouls. This would make it difficult to know who to book and often win them decisions. Proof of this can certainly be seen in an incident against Millwall in February 1989, when the  Television programme ‘World In Action’, subtitle Out Of Order, miked up referee David Elleray during the Arsenal versus Millwall game:-

Jon Spurling wrote of the incident:-

David Rocastle, Kevin Richardson and David O’Leary, questioned the referee after each decision was awarded against them. The Millwall team, featuring luminaries such as Terry Hurlock and Keith ‘Psycho’ Stevens, also hassled Elleray at every opportunity, but these excerpts ended up on the cutting-room floor. The monkey noises aimed at Davis, Rocastle and Thomas were also conveniently filtered out. In the second half, the moment arrived which everyone seemed to be waiting for. From a Brian Marwood free kick, Millwall goalie Brian Horne fumbled the ball and Tony Adams narrowly squeezed his shot over the line. Elleray disallowed the goal, on the grounds that the ball had not gone in. The Arsenal players went bollock-nuclear. First, Kevin Richardson and Paul Merson surrounded Elleray: ‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT, EH? WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT?’ Richardson shouted, with Merson screaming obscenities in the background. Then, Adams stormed over and, within a yard of Elleray’s face, shouted at a thousand decibels: ‘THAT WAS OVER THE LINE. THAT’S OVER THE LINE. THAT IS OUR GOAL.’ Elleray was still having none of it, at which point Adams ran off yelling ‘Fucking cheat!’ at the referee. Elleray, adopting his Harrow tutor persona, called Adams back, told him to ‘stand up straight’ – amusingly, Adams did so without hesitation – and booked the Arsenal captain.

Again, the press wanted a team to make a pariah and how they loved it. Years later Elleray said of the programme:-

It was a shame the programme was corrupted. The original show looked at violence towards referees, particularly on local parks. They filmed me officiating the top game of the day as well as a local referee to see how we were both treated.

I saw a preview which was very balanced, but it was then hijacked to become a witch-hunt of Arsenal. Bleeps were put in to give the impression that players were swearing when they hadn’t.

Ironically, the programme also bleeped out all the racist taunts David Rocastle and Mickey Thomas received from the Millwall fans. Never let a good story come in the way the truth.

Anyhow, the season of 1988-9 saw Richardson play many games, but his scoring record was a pitiful one. Ironically, the one goal he did get was against Everton at Goodison Park.

Anyhow, I could easily recount the season, but the importance of Richardson in the game was two fold. Firstly, he was the only member in the squad to have won a League title, which, to some degree must have helped the other players, knowing someone had that experience. Secondly, he was instrumental in some of the magical moments of the evening.

Firstly, on the first goal, Arsenal win a free-kick. Its Richardson and Winterburn who stand over it, with Richardson lofting it onto Alan Smith to put in. Then Richardson provided a through ball, with fifteen minute to go for Mickey Thomas and a one on one with Bruce Grobbelaar. Which he failed with.

With a few minutes to go, and Richardson suffering cramp, Mickey goes over to Richardson saying ‘i’m going upfield to see if I can pinch a goal.’

Then Richardson tackles Barnes in the last minute and passes it back to the keeper, John Lukic. Then. History.

Arsenal had won the League and Richardson was a rarity of the time, in having won the League title with two different clubs. Although the following season, Arsenal ended up a disappointing fourth. His final year at the Club that he had already indicated he had wanted to leave Arsenal and go back up north. He was also vocal in what he thought of George Graham when he said:-

Freedom of thought seems to be banned at Highbury . . . Who will Graham turn on next?

Also, as Arsenal had failed to get a European place by coming fourth (only cup winners, 1st and 2nd got into Europe this year), Arsenal players were forced to go on tour. Many of the players were not happy they had to go to Asia on tour. Jon Spurling reported of the tour that ‘Richardson and, inevitably, Paul Merson, were sent home after being caught drinking shandy on the eve of a match ‘

By the beginning of the next season Richardson had got his move. But not back North. He had moved to Real Sociedad in Spain with Ron Atkinson. George Graham sold him for £750,000. A profit of £500,000.

Richardson did come back the following year to Aston Villa and nearly won a third league title with a different club (something never done before or since), but losing out to Manchester United.

Richardson would win the League Cup at Villa, being captain and man of the match and win his one and only cap against Greece in 1994 (alongside Steve Bould).

Richardson was never a great player, but he worked and represent the kind of team George Graham was making. Inexpensive. Hard-working. Disciplined. Aggressive. Richardson was all that and more. If only we had someone like that in the midfield now.*

*Editor’s note: This article was written before the Coq came out of his shell. I’m sure Les would love to comment on what qualities Richardson and Coquelin share or don’t share in the comments below. – TT