After 21 years, Arsene Wenger has finally announced he will be leaving the Arsenal manager’s post. He finishes up as, by some distance, the most successful Arsenal manager in 133 years.
As readers of my work will know, I’ve been an Arsenal fan since 1972.
It wasn’t easy to be a Gooner in those days – being 12 years old and living on the far side of the planet – but on FA Cup night, 1972, I was allowed to sit up and watch the Cup Final for the first time and I had to pick either the red team or the white. Thank heavens I picked the red team! Because it’s been (mostly) a delight to be an Arsenal fan for the last 46 years.
You took the good with the bad. We weren’t particularly successful until George Graham came along (as manager rather than player) and I remember a handful of highlights over the years – like sitting naked in my living room in 1989 (in the dead of winter) as Kenny Dalglish strolled down to pitch-side to be with his players at the death. And death it was as Micky Thomas burst through and scored in the final seconds to send Arsenal top on goal difference.
That cost my brother in law $20…which he won back the following year. Then I won it for keeps in 1991 as Arsenal got up again.
George Graham was pretty successful by previous standards, and so it was with some bewilderment we all watched as he was dismissed in 1995 for taking bungs. Didn’t all managers take bungs? I thought it was one of the perks…
I went to London for the first time in 1995 to work for a couple of months and then go on a bit of a holiday. Naturally I made the Arsenal pilgrimages and it was a tad embarrassing to note in the museum at Highbury that about 90% of the exhibits were donated by George Graham (who was rumoured to have two gold cannons set in the concrete of his front yard).
There was a brief unhappy dalliance with Bruce Rioch (who did at least bring in Dennis Bergkamp – my all time favourite player) and then the Arsenal board appointed the unheralded, unknown and completely astonishing Arsene Wenger whose managerial career to that point comprised of Nancy and Monaco in his native France and Nagoya Grampus in Japan.
The fans were (mostly) outraged. “Arsene Who?” was the famous headline, but he very quickly turned the press and the fans around.
Wenger walked into a North London with a major cultural problem (which has been the subject of numerous documentaries over the years). He was odds on to fail but through a very special blend of psychology, diet and discipline, Wenger got first the players, then the fans, and even the press onside – all united under his uniquely scientific approach to football.