31st August 1990
Despite an unbeaten start to the season, trouble was brewing. George Graham, authoritarian manager, had a minor rebellion on his hands. Perry Groves had handed in a transfer request, Colin Pates the same and summer signing, million-pound man, Andy Linighan, was less than chuffed at being unceremoniously dumped from the first team, especially as he had played all but one of the pre-season friendlies.
The post-season review video contains am interview with Linighan, very earnest in his leather jacket, perched in an executive box with the sun descending over Highbury as a backdrop. He was honest; it took him time to settle into the club, a huge culture shock from his time at Norwich. Whilst he was a star player, a first team regular, probably an automatic name on the teamsheet there, Arsenal was a different world.
Graham was a demanding manager and had a back four which knew what he wanted. Linighan didn’t deliver immediately, for some reason not gelling with Tony Adams (or was it that the back four look too unsettled with a new goalkeeper in David Seaman as well as a new central defensive partnership?) on the pre-season tour. Graham reverted to his trusted defenders when the action started although Adams incarceration would offer him a path to redemption later in the year.
Groves meanwhile had been Graham’s first signing. He couldn’t believe it either when the move from Colchester United happened in 1986; neither could we and if Arsène received a quizzical look from the back pages, Groves had a more colloquial version of the same question from the stands. Little did he think then – or us for that matter – that he would go on to acquire cult status. And no, that isn’t a misprint.
The abiding memory is of him skipping past the Liverpool defence on the Wembley turf in 1987, providing the cross from Charlie Nicholas to score the winner in the Littlewoods Cup final. Whilst he contributed more than that to Arsenal – 1987/88 was his season in the sun from memory – he was generally a squad player. One who ended up with two League champions medals; not a bad haul considering Graham was notoriously ruthless with players who didn’t conform or perform when required.
Groves would remain at the club until 1992 when he moved to Southampton for £750k, an astonishing increase in value. Having scored on the opening day of the season and been substitute against Luton, he felt he was worth a starting line-up place but he was up against Anders Limpar as well as Paul Merson who had scored in consecutive games. No matter what he did, he was never likely to usurp either on a permanent basis. Little surprise that he asked for a move.
Pates meanwhile had been at the club since January 1990, a surprise signing from Charlton Athletic. To be honest, my only memory of him at the club was the goal he scored against Benfica in the ill-fated Champions League tie in 1991/92. I could be wrong but I think it was his only goal for the club.
Still, nice to see that hyperbole isn’t the sole preserve of the modern media. They were at it all those years ago although more restrained, I think. Where were the broken cannons we so love?
We weren’t the only ones though. Neville Southall, despite being an outstanding player, always looked like he would be comfortable on Hackney Marshes. The previous weekend, he had proven that with a half-time sit-in over pay. I can picture him quite clearly, propped against a goalpost looking for all the world like a pint and a cigarette wouldn’t have gone amiss. I think he was courted by Manchester United at the time, just before they signed Peter Schmeichel. Nothing came of it and despite being two weeks pay worse off, he got his new deal and remained at Everton until 1998.