What was your thoughts at your 1st game and sitting on the bench at Highbury ?
I genuinely could not believe it as I’d never have believed in my wildest dreams that I’d make it at Arsenal all the way from Inchicore, Dublin. It was the top level possible, like the home of football, the tradition, the history, the Marble Halls, the heated floors, just the sheer class of the place. I was dreaming. We had Manchester United too for the first game another huge club with a new manager in Alex Ferguson. We won 1-0 at Highbury with a Charlie Nicholas goal, that’s as much as I remember from the game. I remember having better Adidas training gear, a lovely glass dugout and plenty of Wrigley’s chewing gum to chew on. Not forgetting some top top players that were a cut above the lads we’d been working with for the previous four seasons at The Den.
Every ex-player at The Arsenal talks so highly of you and says they could goto you but couldn’t always goto George Graham, was this set up planned between you both ?
It just happened that way because we were both very different characters, even if we had very similar football beliefs. It worked very well at the club as players felt at ease with me whereas George was a disciplinarian so the mixture combined well. The players could always approach me for my views and I’d never hold back so they appreciated the honesty. I’d never betray George though and I was always his closest ally otherwise it would never have worked.
Who was the best and worst in training ?
Tony Adams and David Rocastle were both great trainers, never moaned, just got on with it. They had great attitudes which made them what they were, great players
The worst? Quinny. Forwards are generally a bit moanier, a bit lazier (it’s all in the book) and Quinny was no different, he moaned like hell when he wasn’t happy with what we were doing. Then he’d start moping along the big old Dub lump. He was a great lad all the same.
Was you as confident as George Graham on that Friday night heading upto Merseyside in 1989 ?
Believe it or not, I was yes. You have to really believe you can win or there’s no point turning up. Maybe a couple of the lad’s needed convincing but with players like Tony, Lee Dixon, Bouldy, Nigel, Mickey, Richo + David Rocastle on the pitch, they will all fight to the end and so it proved. Then we had George acting so calm and convinced that the ones that were unsure took to the field full of confidence. He adjusted the routine, adjusted the formation and pulled of a couple of masterstrokes. He was a wonderfully shrewd man, he still is. My job was to cajole, to support, to rally round and keep the energy levels high.
Anfield 89 aside, what gives you the greatest feeling of pride from your time at The Arsenal ?
Literally just being there, I never took it for granted and pinched myself most weeks. I loved the place. Everything about it. Once an Arsenal man, always an Arsenal man.
Which up and coming youth player really suprised you ?
Tony Adams again and Michael Thomas, both real talents that took that next step up no bother. We had Tony + Martin Keown coming through together but there was never any hesitation, Tony was the key player coming through. Michael could be as good as he wanted to be he was so talented and he was one lovely boy. David (Rocastle) came through a little slower maybe but just got better and better and never looked back. Everyone knows that I loved David like a son.
Did you ever go out with The Tuesday club ?
No – I couldn’t become too close with the players and that was their thing so I stayed well away.
Have you been to the Emirates ? If so what’s your feelings on the new ground ?
Yes it’s a wonderful stadium and a great place to watch a game – but nothing beats the atmosphere and tradition of Highbury, for me. The Emirates is the next best thing I guess and I understand why the club moved.
What are your initial thoughts on Emery ?
Early days still but he looks promising and some welcome organisation and pragmatism as well as the flair. Let’s hope he follows in the footsteps of George and Arsene to bring success back to the club.
Theo Foley has been involved in professional football for over six decades as a player, coach and manager. During the early days of his playing career, whilst captain of Northampton Town, Theo ran a pie and chip shop to supplement his income from football, a far cry from the riches enjoyed by footballers today.
In his autobiography, Theo Give Us a Ball: A Life in Football, co-authored with his son, Paul, Theo details the highs and lows of professional football in a bygone age. From kicking a ball about on the streets of 1950s’ Dublin to captaining a First Division team during the 1960s and becoming assistant manager at Millwall and Arsenal, this book provides a fascinating insight into football in the days when a love of the game came before wealth and fame.
During his time at Highbury, Theo became a local legend and fans would chant ‘Theo, give us a ball,’ to which he duly obliged. In this honest account, Theo reveals the highs and lows of his life in football and shares his memories of working with some of the football greats of the past.