Arsenal Managers – Ins and Outs

From Jack Crayston to Unai Emery – over half a century of Gunners’ bosses

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Billy Wright - Beverley sisters circus and a Highbury crowd under 5,000

I've backed every manager we've had in my time as a supporter, except Billy Wright - mainly because the Beverley sisters circus was an embarrassment. That and the fact that we were seriously crap with him in charge. Crap by the way is not 5th in the League and top of our Europa group. Crap is a home crowd low of 4,554 with a season’s average attendance of just 29,105 plus a 3rd round exit in the Cup to bottom of the table Blackburn. Not to mention a 14th place League position. Pl 42 W 12 D 13 L 17 F 62 A 75 Pts 37 (only 2 pts for a win in those days) in 1965-66. That was back when punters really voted with their feet, none of your half-arsed black bag protests.

Jack Crayston 1956
As a young kid I was only interested in the players and hadn't a clue about anything else. Apparently though Crayston was a fine Arsenal full back and decent coach who succeeded Tom Whittaker on his death, but clearly couldn’t cut the mustard as manager. He knew it though and resigned.

George Swindon 1958
In the 1950’s there was still little or no talk about managers and the only relevant media coverage was the sports pages of newspapers. All I knew about him was he’d been an Arsenal keeper, but what did keepers know about outfield play? ‘Released from his contract’ due to poor results in league and cup.

Billy Wright 1962
Never ever an Arsenal man. His was a big name appointment because he’d won over a 100 caps for England and our new manager was hyped as a real coup for the Club. Essentially however he got nothing out of a decent set of players and some promising youngsters. 1965-66 saw proper crowd boycotts and protests from fans, although it's not difficult to boycott a team when you’ve won just once in 15 games. His dismissal came in the summer of 1966 and the fans thought they’d forced him out, maybe they had given the dismal attendance figures.

Bertie Mee 1966
This was an amazing appointment given that Bertie was our Club’s unsung physiotherapist at the time, but this was still a traditional in-house promotion. He knew enough to appoint Dave Sexton as coach and added Don Howe to the staff when our then ageing full back broke his leg. Discipline and man management were Bertie's thing, leaving the football to his coaches. Seemingly Frank McLintock never rated him and there was little love lost between Mee and Charlie George, despite the famous 70-71 Double. Mee was elbowed out after three pitiful league seasons where we were placed 10th, 16th and 17th. Imagine coming 10th and 16th and not getting fired.

Terry Neill 1976
Another ex-player who’d had two seasons as manager with the nondescript Tottenham having previously managed the nondescript Hull. He made a big name signing in Malcolm Macdonald and was lucky to have the Irish trio of Brady, Stapleton and O'Leary to work with. But he was also clever enough to bring Don Howe back to the Club. Good Cup football was his forte, but poor league form saw him lose his job. 

Don Howe 1983
Possibly the best ever English defensive coach, but not spectacular as a manager unless you take into account his ability to develop youth players. An Arsenal coach under both Mee and Neill he took over when Neill departed. He resigned when Arsenal directors went fishing for a more glamorous manger. Don also returned yet again to oversee back to back Youth Cup wins in 2000 and 2001. A real Club man.

Steve Burtenshaw 1986
Caretaker only but a real footballing man who did his best work developing youths. Saw out the season and returned again, this time as Chief Scout under GG.

George Graham 1986
Having seen George turn Millwall around Arsenal made another traditional ex player appointment, one who’d won the double under Mee. Amazingly this tough disciplinarian had been a lazy stylish player who never got his shorts dirty, but as manager he really understood the importance of defending. One-nil to the Arsenal sums him and us up in his day, but he lost his mojo and then the plot in later years. Infamously booted out for taking bungs.

Stewart Houston 1995
A caretaker manager, previously known as ‘cone man’.

Bruce Rioch 1995
A stop gap outsider, who as a strong disciplinarian stopped the rot but still lost his job after just 47 matches. Maybe because he was unloved by our then leading players.

Arsene Wenger 1996
The unknown Frenchman who was friends with David Dein revolutionised both the Club and English football on and off the field and became the ultimate Arsenal man. He won shed loads an inherited back five, some brilliant signings and fabulous football. Was probably with us too long and suffered big time when the directors set our club up with a new stadium in order to cash-in. Huge Club financial debts stunted his ability to keep top players whilst at the same time mega-moneyed new owners were breaking the bank elsewhere. The most dignified of men, he became our longest serving manager and most successful. His later years in charge were acrimonious, but you really can’t top invincibility so it was tough to ease him out.

Unai Emery 2018
Another outsider with decent experience, but the first specifically as coach. Yet to fulfil his and our potential, he’s up against the clock already…. tick-tock. No idea if he’ll be around for long but am hoping I’ll still be around for whoever comes next.


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  1. andy1886

    Nov 5, 2019, 10:56 #115376

    Dismiss GG with the lazy 'one-nil to the Arsenal' and hail Wenger while playing down the last decade and making excuses. For me George was the ultimate Arsenal manager with his mix of local lads and players he made great. Wenger would've won jack without the work Graham did on our defence. If Emery had inherited half the players Wenger did then we'd probably still be challenging despite the manager rather than because of him.

  2. John F

    Nov 4, 2019, 16:56 #115372

    Sorry got the Walsall replay wrong must be getting confused with Hereford and the prize bull a few year s later .

  3. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Nov 4, 2019, 16:50 #115371

    Ron - who would have thought George would have become such a great manager, Frank I could always see as a top manager, due to his leadership skills but it just never happened. I saw George Swindon's last game in charge, evening game at the end of the 61 - 62 season, against Everton - we were 0 - 3 down until two youngsters scored to give the result a better look, one scorer was Arfon Griffiths the other George Armstrong - George Swindon's contribution to the 71 double winning team.

  4. John F

    Nov 4, 2019, 16:45 #115370

    Yes Ron and Rob I have so many great memories of Neil's day. Stapleton and Supermac backed up by my favourite all time Arsenal player Brady loved it apart from my first Wembley final against Ipswich which Ipswich fully deserved to win and turned into a very good side. I thought we only had to turn up to win .It felt like a bereavement when Brady left and I think we all knew it was down hill from then on .24000 wasn't too bad an attendance for that game Rob if my memory serves me right didn't we draw 1-1 at their place ,so we failed to beat them twice.My other memory was the West ham away game trying to go unnoticed in their North Bank with there fans blasting out "you are going to get the sack at TN".

  5. itsRonagain2

    Nov 4, 2019, 15:54 #115369

    SKG - GG was indeed a great header of a football. He had played as a forward with both Aston Villa and Chelsea, where he played alongside such as Barry Bridges in their very good teams of the mid to late 60s before he joined us. He had a great all round knowledge of playing the game. Forwards nor defenders could mug off George because he d done it all. He d probably have been a great goal keeper had he have tried it!

  6. Ernie71

    Nov 4, 2019, 15:27 #115368

    In my time as a Gooner i have seen 7 managers Mee-Won the Double but broke up that team too quickly.Very lucky to twice not get us relegated. Sold the great Frank McLintock and replaced him with that donkey Jeff Blockley Neill- Got to 4 cup finals lost 3 two of those Ipswich and West Ham two of the worst Arsenal performances you will ever see. When Brady left he was fucked.The football in the early 80's was dire.remember that season he played Rix as a striker alongside Hawley.I always thought Neill was a joke Howe-Never a manager.he was given the job as caretaker and lasted 2 and a half years!!!.He was no different to Neill.Gates down to 18,000 when he was sacked Graham-The saviour of our club and the man who bulit the foundations of the success which was to come in the following 20 years.In the mid 80's Arsenal were a laughing stock GG gave us our pride back.The first thing GG did was clear out the deadwood and the billy big bollocks.If you werent willing to run through a brick wall you could fuck off.He bought Seaman Dixon Winterburn and Bould for a combined total of 2.5m.Nothing can ever come closed to Anfield 89.6 trophies in 8 years.A great man Rioch-A stop gap manager.Bergkamp and Platt were bought by Dein. Wenger-A great Arsenal manager 3 titles numerous FA cups and and Invincible season,But Wengers reign will always be defined into two halves.The first half great signings and great football loads of trophies.Arsenal were defind by pace and power.No one could deny we were watching greatness.The 2nd half poor signings and predictable football.If he had gone after 2008 season no one could ever have a bad word to say about him.But when he invented the 4th place trophy he was waving the white flag.How did he ever survive for another 7 years after the 8-2? He started to treat the fans with contempt.Also his record in Europe was dire.And he gave Ozil that ludicrous £350k.Our greatest manager based on 1996-2006 not after Emery-Even though he wasnt anyone's first choice i dont think anyone would believe it would turn out so bad.With 6 games to go last season we had 4th place in our own hands and we blew it.Then when we had a second chance to get in the CL we were slaughtered in Bacu.That for a lot of fans should have been it.But the board kept him on.Everyone and his wife knew we needed two quality CB's yet Emery bought a winger for £72m.By this time next week he will be sacked

  7. Don Howe

    Nov 4, 2019, 14:23 #115367

    I use the above as my pen name because the man was the finest defensive coach of our era. Wenger would not have won a brass farthing without him and George Graham who followed his defensive ethos. ITS THE DEFENCE. that matters. Chapman, Whittaker and Allison knew it. Billy Wright, the French Fraud and sadly Emery don't understand it. We can only hope that when this manager is sacked Freddie brings in Martin Keown. That is all we need to succeed. Stop the other side scoring and our attack will get some goals.

  8. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Nov 4, 2019, 13:56 #115366

    To cram 50 years of Arsenal management into a single page will leave out far too many important factors. A few points to consider, many of the 71 double winning side came through the youth team and were given their debut's by Billy Wright. Management is about layers, without Wright's signing of Frank McClintock - no double, without Bertie Mee' appointment of Don Howe, again no double and of course without George Graham's defence again no double or the unbeaten season. A final point on GG and his "Stroller" image, I never saw George bottle a tackle, he never froze in a big game (great game at WHL in May 71 and 5 days later MOM at Wembley) the fact he never ran around headless charging after the ball never made him a lightweight, he had a very shrewd footballing brain which we all saw as a manager in May 89 and I wish we had a few like him today - one of the best header's of a ball in his generation.

  9. Colonel Blimp

    Nov 4, 2019, 13:25 #115365

    This piece obviously written by a Wenger fanboy. "You can't really top invincibility", oh dearie me.

  10. itsRonagain2

    Nov 4, 2019, 11:09 #115364

    Hi John - i think a gret many us actually enjoyed the Neill years as supporters didnt we, perhaps as much so as any other times. I certainly did. Those FAC days and the finals (even the losing ones!) were some thing else back then. We could play some great football on our best days, but consistency never ever followed did it. Super Mac and Stapleton - what a combination!

  11. RobG

    Nov 4, 2019, 10:53 #115363

    Hey John ! I was in the clock End for that Walsall game as well. Given the 24,000 odd attendance, there weren't too many of us, standing there. I can recall their winning goal - at the Clock End - to this day. We'd beaten Spurs - I think - in the previous round and this was thought of as a synch. The ball comes across from their left - one of our 'defenders' air kicks and it comes to their centre forward 6 yards out and he buries it. Sounds familiar, doesn't it ? Crayson was Manager the day I was born. But as the piece says, a very good player for us. But not really cut out to succeed Tom Whitaker. What we really need now is another GG. We've got a good squad but it lacks character and defensive nous. Another GG would bring those qualities back.

  12. itsRonagain2

    Nov 4, 2019, 10:38 #115362

    In all fairness to Billy Wright, he encouraged and bought through a large proportion of the players who won the 71 double. Most managers bring some thing to a club even if silverware eludes them. With respect, yr post betrays a lot of knee bending, Wenger cultism in there. GG was the glittering, mega catch for the authorities regarding the bungs. He didnt lose the plot, he was doing what a high proportion of them were doing back then and feathering his nest.

  13. John F

    Nov 4, 2019, 10:37 #115361

    The first manager I witnessed getting the boot was Terry Neil.I was in the clockend for the Walsall game and the hostility towards him at that game spelt the end for him .I felt a bit sorry for him at the time because his teams were the first I ever saw live as a fourteen year old in 77 onwards.It doesn't appear to be much of an achievement to reach the cup final 3 years in a row but compared to the couple years of gloom we had previously it was a ray of sunshine and those days getting to the final was huge and every team took it seriously.The Billy Wright paragraph could almost be written for Emery now.