Manager of three London TEAMS that hate each other Millwall fc, Arsenal fc, Tottenham hotspurs fc.
Art work by : Paz
Creative Director : Daniel Fitzgerald
Words by : David Sullivan, Millwall FC Historian
Ask any Millwall supporter of a certain age who they think the club’s best manager was and many will inform you that George Graham was. His appointment as the new incumbent of the hot seat at The Den came in December 1982, with the club in a desperate plight. They had not won a league game since the 9 October and had also been eliminated from the FA Cup in an embarrassing first round loss at non-league Slough Town by the only goal. It took Graham six games to register his first win, 1-0 courtesy of Preston North End own goal, His first month at Cold Blow Lane had given him the hindsight into what needed to be done. Just prior to Christmas he returned to one of his former clubs, Chelsea to recruit left-back David Stride, who barring one game would play for the rest of the season. Further acquisitions to the squad were goalkeeper Peter Wells and utility performer Steve Lovell from Crystal Palace where Graham had began his coaching career. However, and following a chastising 5-1 mauling at Huddersfield in mid-February brought home to him the gravity which lay within the composition of the team. The recruitment of new blood began in earnest, with striker Kevin Bremner arriving from Colchester United, while Dean White was then signed from Gillingham to galvanise the midfield
It was followed by the Southend pair of the stoic central defender Dave Cusack and the articulate and skilful Anton Otulakowsk, signed to perform on the troublesome left side of the pitch. Additional moves were made to bring in the Irish international winger Ian Stewart on loan from Queen’s Park Rangers before Graham obtained the final piece of his jigsaw, with the capture of Mickey Nutton from Chelsea. All these new players barely had time to be bedded in, but under Graham’s strict discipline and defensive solidarity they went on to become the bedrock of his master plan for survival, because time was running out. The first time they all appeared as team was in the 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic. The victory was a precursor of four successive wins and it set a precedence that if the team could remain unbeaten in the last eight fixtures Millwall might avoid the drop back into the Fourth Division for first time since 1965.
However, despite just one defeat in those games, survival would come down to the last nail biting encounter of the season against already relegated Chesterfield. A large following of hopeful fans travelled up to Derbyshire for was what would be tense afternoon. A coolly taken second-half penalty from Dave Cusack secured not only the vital points but their Third Division status. While the fight for preservation was going on, Graham had already picked up his first piece of silverware as a manager when the club lifted the Football League Trophy after defeating Lincoln City 3-2 at Sincil Bank. Ironically, the majority of the winning team had been sidelined by the manager, with David Stride the only one of his signings eligible to pick up a medal. Avoiding relegation by a whisker, the following campaign of 1983/84 would be one of consolidation, and it saw the Lions finish in a worthy ninth position. Season 1984/85 would see Graham’s stock rise when he took his Lions to promotion when gaining the runners-up spot. The undoubted highlight being the dismantling of would be champions Bradford City by four goals to nil in a scintillating display at The Den. The only blemish on an excellent campaign was the unfortunate scenes in the well documented FA Cup tie at Luton Town in March 1986. Graham’s final season at The Den, 1985/86 saw his charges finish in a more than respectable ninth place in Division Two that was enhanced by an FA Cup victory over Aston Villa, yet another of George’s former clubs and four epic clashes with Southampton in both cup competitions
. By this time the Bargeddie born Graham was having covetous eyes cast upon his achievements at Millwall and it came as no surprise when another club on his playing C.V. Arsenal came to appoint him as their new manager in the close-season of 1986. During his time at Highbury, in the pre- Wenger days must go down as one the Gunners most successful periods in their history. He won all the major honours the English game had to offer, but his departure from those historic marble portals in north London was down to human weakness more than his ability to manage. Suspended by football authorities, he returned to managerial duties with Leeds United in September 1996, before becoming manager to Arsenal’s fierce north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. After taking over the reins at White Hart Lane in 1998, he went to gain another honour by winning the Football League Cup a year later. As a player
Graham had played all of his senior football in England, firstly with Aston Villa, before beginning his love affair with London. He arrived in the metropolis in 1964 to sign for Chelsea, before a player-exchange with Tommy Baldwin (later to play for Millwall) took him across London to join the Arsenal two years later. In memorable period for the Gunners he went to win the Fairs Cup in 1970 and was also a member of their team that completed the League and FA Cup double twelve months later. As a player George was nicknamed the “Stroller” due to what was a laid-back and ambling approach in his game. He won caps for Scotland at various levels including full honours, before winding down his playing involvement with Manchester United, Portsmouth and latterly Crystal Palace who he helped to promotion to Division Two in 1980. After hanging up his boots he was to embark upon a coaching career, initially with Palace and then with Queen’s Park Rangers before making his grand entrance at The Den in late 1982.