Sunday 14 June 2015

My Arsenal scrapbook 20 years on. Part 1: Bruce Rioch arrives

There is a bit of a 1990s revival going on at the minute. Blur have returned, TFI Friday is back on screens and wherever you turn Gazza’s face is smiling/grimacing back at you.

Never one to miss a bandwagon when it is passing, I thought it was time to share the contents of my Arsenal scrapbook with the world.

Back in the summer of 1995 I decided to start collecting Arsenal newspaper stories.
My Arsenal scrapbook, complete with badly drawn club crest

Usually you associate this with the 1950s and 60s, or at a push the 1970s, when people were so impressed with the invention of colour they thought they needed to store it away in case it disappeared.

But no, aged 14 – when there were almost certainly better things I should have been doing with my free time – I thought it was a good idea to start cutting and sticking the main news stories from the day.

And it turned out to be decent timing: I have a record of some pivotal years in Arsenal’s modern history and there are some fascinating, hilarious, and prescient comments in just the first few pages.

I confess I have only rooted out the first few editions and can’t remember how long I did it for but hopefully you’ll enjoy the trips down memory lane before I run out of material in a couple of years…

Bruce Rioch arrives: June 9 to June 15, 1995 
I distinctly remember when George Graham was sacked in February 1995 that, probably for the first time in my life, I checked the league table to see how likely it was Arsenal would be relegated. On the day he went, we were 13th, just four points better off than West Ham who occupied the highest spot in the relegation zone at 19th. We finished 12th, six points from the relegation zone, and then lost our Cup Winners’ Cup crown after Nayim’s freak last minute goal in the final.

In short, while not a total disaster, in comparison to the title and cup-winning seasons that had gone before it, the season was nothing to be proud of and the star names like Tony Adams, David Seaman, Ian Wright and Paul Merson had collectively failed to live up to expectations.

While Stewart Huston led the team for the rest of the 94/95 season after George departed, I don’t think anyone felt he was genuine manager material. If he had won that CWC final, perhaps the Board would have felt duty-bound to give him a shot full-time, who knows.

I have no cuttings from earlier in the summer but my scribblings in the front say there were rumours Bobby Robson was the first choice but his then employers Porto wouldn’t let him go. So in the end they opted for Bruce Rioch, who had just led Bolton Wanderers to the top flight via the playoffs, and who was unveiled as Arsenal manger on Thursday, June 8, 1995.

Daily Mirror, June 9, 1995
This story alludes to the Club wanting to avoid another bung scandal rather than him not having control of the purse strings, I would say.

The general theme was one of him imposing some law and order, rather than introduce sexier football as he gradually did.

Sunday Times, June 11, 1995
He was chosen to be a tough task master like GG and make sure they looked after themselves just as much off the pitch as delivering the goods on it. Merson had already confessed to his addiction problems, but TA had not and in the May of 1995 Ray Parlour had been fined for punching a taxi driver after going on a bender during a club tour to Hong Kong (detailed almost minute-by-minute here by the South China Morning Post).

Daily Telegraph, June 9, 1995
Daily Telegraph, June 9, 1995
 With hindsight, I think he was trying to do what Arsene Wenger eventually achieved – play good football, get players to live better lifestyles – but went about it in a way that failed to win over an experienced bunch of players who had won far more than he had. In the end, I think it became a choice of him or some of the star players and the club chose the players. But we’ll get to that in a year’s time – though as that last story shows, Rioch himself ironically predicted the outcome on the day of his appointment:

For now, let’s look at Rioch’s obvious pride at being given the job which is clear in all of these stories and would be through the rest of the single season he was in charge. In fact, that pride has come through even after he was replaced by Arsene Wenger, as I’ve never seen him say a bad word against the Club since then.
The Sun, June 15, 1995
That story appeared on the same day that Rioch responded to a letter I sent him wishing him good luck:

Letter to me, June 15, 1995

In terms of transfer speculation, there were – and would be for the rest of the summer – rumours that Rioch would revisit Bolton to buy ‘classy’ centre back Alan Stubbs and/or midfielder Jason McAteer.

Daily Mirror, June 13, 1995

They were not particularly exciting rumours at the time. For that, we would have to wait a few days more, as the next batch of stories on the arrival of a certain Dutch legend will illustrate.

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