Theo, the calmest man on an unbelievable night for Arsenal
As he launches his autobiography, Gunners’ former assistant manager reflects on the club’s dramatic 1989 title win
01 March, 2019 — By Calum Fraser
Theo Foley at his 80th birthday party with former Arsenal manager George Graham
ARSENAL fans would have excused Theo Foley for feeling a few nerves on the eve of the famous match against Liverpool in 1989.
The club had not won the league in almost two decades.
They had to win by two clear goals after throwing away a two-point lead in the last two games of the season.
But for the Gunners assistant manager it was just another day in the greatest job in the world.
“The last time I was nervous was the day I got married,” Mr Foley said. “I was nervous then for sure. I’ve never been nervous in football. I’ve been involved in the game my whole life and my time at Arsenal was just marvellous.”
The likes of George Graham, Tony Adams and Alan Smith became Highbury household names after that night in Liverpool, nearly 30 years ago.
But there are not many teenage Arsenal fans who would know the name Theo Foley.
So his son Paul has ghostwritten an autobiography, Theo Give Us A Ball, in a bid to tell the story of a “pure football man” who had “no ideas above his station”.
Mr Foley celebrating with the players in May 1989
The 81-year-old’s love of the game was fostered on the back streets of post-war Dublin.
He travelled to England in the 1950s “with just boots in a bag” when he was 16 to pursue a career in football.
A playing career took him around England. He met and married his wife Sheila when he played for Exeter.
He became a coach after an injury cut his playing career short, meeting legendary Arsenal manager George Graham when they were coaching at Queens Park Rangers.
The pair then took on the manager and assistant manager roles respectively at south London club Millwall in 1982.
Mr Foley said: “When you’re at Millwall, if they love you, you know that they do. But if you don’t behave you’re going to get a kick in the bollocks.
“I didn’t get any kicks in the bollocks. Neither did George. So we must have done all right”
Their success at Millwall caught the attention of bigwigs at Highbury and the pair moved north of the river in 1986 to take up the Arsenal job.
Mr Foley said: “It’s the best place I have ever been in my life. You had to be totally on top of your job. Everyone was very sharp.
“George managed the team and I helped him in any way I could. I mainly focused on fitness and defence though. We had quite a defence and they all had personalities.
“Tony Adams had his little drink problem. But he got on top of that. David [O’Leary] was terrific, Bouldy [Steve Bould] was excellent, Lee Dixon was chirpy as could be and Nigel [Winterburn], well, Nigel only talked when he was spoken to, and that was very good.”
The team was built on the foundations of this well-organised and hardworking defence.
Then came the famous night in May 1989 in Liverpool when Arsenal finally won the league after a near 20-year wait with a dramatic last-minute goal.
Mr Foley said: “That night was just unbelievable. A night you never, ever forget.”
Despite all his successes in football, his proudest achievement is his family.
“I’ve been married for 57 years. I have four children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. So I ain’t done bad,” he said.