On this day (30th March) in 1993 I travelled to Arsenal’s old stadium, Highbury, to interview the Arsenal manager George Graham, not about the Gunners’ form that season but about his former boss – and Arsenal legend – Joe Mercer.
Joe was the Aston Villa manager who brought George to England many, many years before George had found fame as a footballer and Joe had taken Manchester City to their first European honour. Joe did win the League Cup as Aston Villa boss, but these were not great days for the former Everton and Arsenal playing legend, but he did always feel responsible for bringing George to England (and loved the success he brought Arsenal).
My interview with George had been arranged for Tuesday 30th March 1993 some time in advance but then Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham was scheduled for the following Sunday at Wembley (a highly unusual occurrence at the time!). I expected to get a call cancelling the interview but instead George decided to go ahead with it.
On the day I parked up outside Highbury quite early but as I pulled up I saw George leave the stadium and jump into a car. I was early, so wasn’t too worried. Then I remembered the FA Cup semi-final and assumed that George would be busy with plans. I expected to be told when I entered the marble hall at Highbury that the meeting would be off.
When I spoke with the reception staff they told me to take a seat. They said that George had been called away and so could be a few minutes late (which he was). I was relieved because I’d been convinced he would cancel (it’s happened often with other busy managers).
I sat in reception thinking about the chat and then, a few minutes after we were due to meet, George walked in. He spoke with the receptionist and then came towards me, hand out, saying ‘I’m George Graham’ (I remember thinking ‘I know’ but I did love the fact that he introduced himself). He took me up to his impressive office at Highbury – no other offices at any ground I had been to at that time could match the quality and status of that room.
We then did the interview. It’s not my best – I think I was overawed by the situation – but I was appreciative of George’s time. During the interview Stewart Houston, his assistant, popped in to check something with George (I turned off my recorder) and George ushered him away, telling him that he was busy. Again, I loved this – other managers have sometimes disappeared and not come back but for George he’d set this time aside to see me and chat about Joe Mercer and that’s what he was doing.
Arsenal beat Spurs that weekend so, I suppose, George knew what he was doing but I do remember watching that game on TV thinking that if Arsenal lose I’d never be able to tell anyone that George had spent time being pestered about Joe Mercer when he should’ve been preparing for Tottenham!
If you subscribe to this site you can hear the interview below. I have been researching and writing for a long time and my Joe Mercer book was my third (first published in 1993). I am not employed by anyone and I do not have sponsorship either and so I’ve set up this website to help share my 32 years plus writing and research. The intention is to develop the archive and to provide access to as much of my material as possible over the coming weeks, months & years. Subscribers can already access over 280 articles/posts including the entire Manchester A Football History book and audio interviews with Malcolm Allison and John Bond.
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Anyway, here’s the George Graham interview:
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