NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 23
Submitted by Norman Giller
It must be the arrival of the new Generalissimo Mauricio Pochettino, but I feel as if I’ve been time machined back to the 1970s and all things Argentine. Those who were around back in those days of flared trousers, Titanic ties and bubble-perm hair will remember the extraordinary buzz we got when we heard that World Cup duo, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, were on their way to the Lane from Buenos Aries.
Allow me to do some of my irritating name-dropping as I recall how I stumbled on the fact that Tottenham were involved in the most sensational transfer business the game had known in an era when British football was played exclusively by British players.
Master of mirth Eric Morecambe, of all people, knew before most of us that Spurs were about to pull off the most sensational transfer coup in British football history in the summer of 1978, and it was the then doyen of Tottenham, Bill Nicholson, who made it all happen.
Please be patient while I explain; or – as Eric would have said – while I try to get the words down, not necessarily in the right order.
For several years I had the privilege and pleasure of working with Eric on regular newspaper columns for the Daily Express and the magazine Titbits, which was a weekly, all-topics chat publication and nothing to do with a woman’s anatomy. Eric’s share of the fees used to be paid to Luton Town Football Club, where he was the jester director who got the Hatters more publicity than they’d had before or since.
The manager at Luton for much of Eric’s time on the board was a charismatic character called Harry Haslam, who was rarely seen without a smile on his face as he lived up to his nickname ‘Happy Harry.’ Whenever I used to be in the company of Eric and Harry at Luton’s Kenilworth Road ground it was a toss up who got more laughs. Yes, Harry was that funny.
Now to get to the point (Editor: thank gawd for that). In 1978 Haslam took over at Sheffield United but still kept in close contact with the Harpenden-based comedian. I was discussing our column with Eric when he said: “Shall we write about the two Argentines who are going to play in England? You know, lines like it takes two to tango but it will be more of a knees up when Bites Yer Legs gets stuck into them.”
Eric often had me speechless with laughter, but this time I was lost for words because of the unusual facts he was offering. “What two Argentines?” I asked. “Is this a joke?”
He then explained how Harry had told him that his Argentine coach (Oscar Arce) had wanted him to buy two members of the squad who had just won the World Cup in Buenos Aires. Sheffield United could not afford them and so Harry had tipped off two of his closest friends in the game, Bill Nicholson at Tottenham and Terry Neill at Arsenal.
The names of the two players who were desperate to play in England: Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.
I immediately telephoned Bill Nick, who had been quite properly reinstalled at Tottenham by manager Keith Burkinshaw after a brief spell as a fish out of water at West Ham. He was now employed at his beloved Lane as chief scout, and was enjoying the role of helping plot the team’s future without the crushing pressure of being the manager. Keith, one of the nicest men you could wish to meet, always kept him in the loop and often quietly asked his advice. There was never a hint of interference from Bill, only sincere interest.
As readers of my Spurs Odyssey blogs will testify, I can waffle for England, but I came straight to the point.
“Bill, what d’you know of Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa?”
There was a silence on the phone that could have been measured in fathoms. “What do YOU know?” he finally asked.
I told him about my conversation with Eric.
“Well Eric is bang on the ball,” he said. “Even as I speak Keith is in Argentina hopefully wrapping up the deal. I passed on Harry’s tip to Keith and the directors, and they are as excited as me about the possibility of signing them. We know Arsenal are interested but thanks to Harry we’ve got a head start.”
Driven by the hungry writer inside me, I contacted powerhouse Sun sports editor Frank Nicklin with the tip. “Too late, old son,” he said. “It’s just come over the wires from Buenos Aires. Burkinshaw has signed them both. We’re leading the front and back pages on it in the morning. It’s the soccer story of the century. Spurs Beat Arsenal In Argie Bargie.”
Yes, that was how Nicklin talked, in Sun headlines.
Sure enough, Ardiles and Villa arrived at the Lane at the start of what was a revolution in the British game. Both were wonderful ambassadors for football, for Tottenham and for their country, and Villa’s magical solo goal in the 1981 FA Cup final replay against Manchester City has been cemented into Spurs folklore.
Now, here in 2014, we all wonder what the latest Argentine import can achieve for the club. Mauricio is making all the right noises, and I am delighted that he has decided to use his considerable grasp of the English language to communicate with us rather than shielding behind an interpreter, as he did at Southampton.
My memory of Mauricio as a player is of a stylish but uncompromising central defender, who did not take prisoners. Remember him upending Michael Owen to give England a penalty in the 2002 World Cup finals?
Now he is a manager on a mission, determined to make his name as a coach who wins in style.
The pessimists will point to the fact that he was sacked by Espanyol in 2012 with the Spanish club bottom of La Liga, while the optimists will spotlight what he achieved with Southampton while encouraging them to play easy-on-the-eye, attacking football.
The strong gossip is that he will be trying to bring midfielder Adam Lallana and forward Jay Rodriguez with him from the Saints, but I would prefer to wait until it is fact rather than waste words on what might be.
Let’s deal with the player we know he HAS got, a vastly talented but seemingly troubled forward called Erik Lamela. When I saw him playing for River Plate during a trip to Argentina I thought he was one of the most exciting teenagers I had ever seen.
I came back to London determined to tip off my old mate Harry Redknapp about him, but by the time I stepped off the plane he had been snapped up by Roma. Since his arrival at the Lane he has been cursed by injuries and we have seen only glimpses of his dribbling and scoring ability.
Pochettino will know better than any of us about his potential. Let’s hope he can bring out the best in a player who has the ability to turn matches with his – dare I say – Messi-matching ball control and eye for goal.
Lloris, Lennon, Lamela … Lallana … It could be an ‘l’ of a season.
I found myself dragged into a best of three falls dispute in one of the Spurs forums about the World Cup and its importance. The opinion that gained huge popularity was the sooner the World Cup was over the better because “watching Spurs is all that matters.”
I was heavily trodden on for saying that this is a myopic view, and that they would never broaden their knowledge of the Beautiful Game with such a narrow interest.
What amazes me is how little many of the younger generation know about the history of their club. Mention legends like John Cameron, Peter McWilliam, Vivian Woodward, Jimmy Seed, Fanny Walden et al and you get blank stares.
None of us were around to see them play, but a true Spur is entitled to know who built the foundation to the club.
It seems all that many can see with their blinkered outlook is the current Tottenham team, and they have only a cramped, cynical view of what is happening on the World Cup stage.
I was wasting my time trying to persuade them to buy my Danny Blanchflower book, with all profits going to the Tottenham Tribute Trust to help our old heroes. Few had heard of Danny and they were not interested in helping out old heroes who have hit troubled times (book available only at www.normangillerbooks.com … ends plug, all in a great cause).
I was shouted down when I suggested they open their eyes and take a good look at how the rest of the world is playing the game. There are lessons to be learned and much entertainment to be enjoyed.
There are none so blind as those who will not see. Enjoy the football feast and accept that the game does not begin and end with Tottenham.
Lecture over. Now bring on Uruguay!
THE GILLER TEASER
Each week here in my Spurs Odyssey home I test your knowledge of Tottenham. Last week I asked: Which of the players who represented England in World Cup finals started his career with Southampton after playing as an amateur for Portsmouth?
Your answers included Martin Chivers and Darren Anderton, but most of you were on the ball with Alf Ramsey. Not many realize he started his career just before the war as an amateur with Pompey before joining Saints, with whom he won the first of his 32 England caps before becoming a key member of the Spurs Push and Run team. He was right-back in the England team shocked to a 1-0 defeat bv the United States in the 1950 finals in Brazil. Let’s be kind to Alf and remember him for the glory of 1966!
The first name chosen at random from the correct entries: Jim Phillips, of Hackney, who wins a signed hard-back copy of Bill Nicholson Revisited.
This week’s teaser has a World Cup flavour: Which Tottenham player wore the No 15 shirt in the 1986 finals?
A signed Bill Nicholson Revisited book (one of the few remaining hardback versions) to the sender of the correct answer whose name is randomly drawn first. Email your answer please to email@example.com
The book is now available in paperback, with profits going to the Tottenham Tribute Trust: www.normangillerbooks.com
Thank you for joining me. COYS!
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