NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 79
Submitted by Norman Giller
The Welsh Connection
As we move into the second week of Wimbledon and with the Ashes all set to take off, football seems as far away as Mars. But here at Spurs Odyssey we do our best to keep the flame burning, and this week we take you back into a glorious past with memories of the Push and Run perfectionists.
It allows me the chance to bow the knee to a nation that has given Tottenham exceptional service. Here comes the Welsh connection.
Master manager 'Sir' Bill Nicholson was something like George Washington in that he could not tell a lie. He was one of the most honest men ever to cross my path, and so when I once trapped him into naming Tottenham's greatest player of his lifetime you had to sit up and take notice. The player he selected was Ron Burgess, a goliath from the Welsh valleys.
I used to sit at Bill's feet listening to his tales of football days past in my time as chief football reporter for the Daily Express in the 1960s through to the 1970s. One day I challenged: 'If I put a gun to your head, Bill, who would you select as the number one player for Spurs in your time as player and manager.'
Bill would usually have ducked the question, but I had caught him in reflective mood. 'Of the early 1960s side it would be a toss up between Danny (Blanchflower) and Dave (Mackay),' he said, 'and without question the number one forward Jimmy (Greaves). But I would pick one player ahead of all of them … Ron Burgess, skipper of our Push and Run team.'
'What made him so special?' I asked, having only seen him play through schoolboy eyes.
'He had it all,' Bill said, looking off into the mid-distance as if transporting himself back in time. 'Strength, skill, a lion in defence, a motivator in attack, a cool head, a precise passer of the ball, able to read the game to perfection and, above all, a colossal heart. He was an inspiring captain, and carried out manager Arthur Rowe's instructions, yet not being afraid to make tactical changes if situations on the pitch demanded it. And don't forget, like a lot of us, he lost his peak years to the war.'
Football saved Ron from a life in the coalmines. He was born in Cwm, Monmouthshire, on 9 April 1917 and joined Tottenham's youth squad at Northfleet as an inside-forward in May 1936. He was discovered by Spurs scout Ben Ives playing as an amateur for Cwm Valley during a weekend away from his work as a pit boy.
Ron strugggled to make an early impression and the club were ready to release him, which would have meant a return home and back to the pits. But he got a lucky break when the Spurs 'A' team turned up for a game a player short and Ron was drafted in at the last minute. He gave a man-of-the-match performance at left-half and the club changed their mind and signed him up along with a young, flame-haired Yorkshireman called Bill Nicholson.
Burgess made his first-team debut in a Second Division game against Norwich in February 1939, and when war was declared the following September he became a reserve policeman. He then worked in a South Wales foundry before joining the RAF in 1940 as a physical training instructor.
Ron continued to turn out for Tottenham, scoring 40 goals in 134 wartime appearances. A man of enormous energy and enthusiasm, he also had spells as a guest player with Nottingham Forest, Notts County, Reading and Millwall.
During the war Ron was capped 10 times by Wales, and later won 32 peacetime caps. He captained his club and country, and in 1947 had the distinction of playing for Great Britain against the Rest of Europe in front of a 134,000 crowd at Hampden Park in a match celebrating the UK home countries rejoining FIFA.
His perpetual motion blended perfectly with the precise passing game of deep-lying inside-forward Eddie Baily, and they provided the fulcrum on which Arthur Rowe's push-and-run team turned. Alf Ramsey and Bill Nick were rock solid on the right, and the team was as well balanced as any that has ever won the League title.
It would be an injustice to Burgess to consider him merely a fetch-and-carry workhorse. He was a human dynamo with vitality on which you could warm your hands, and he motivated everybody around him with his spirit. Call it the Spurs Spirit that has since shone out of the likes of Dave Mackay, Stevie Perryman and Ledley King.
For the record, Burgess led Push and Run Spurs to consecutive League trophies, capturing the Second Division title in 1949-50 and the League Championship in 1950-51. By the time he left Tottenham on July 31, 1954, to take up a player/coach role at Swansea Town, he had made 297 appearances, scoring 15 goals – not counting his wartime service. He also netted one goal in 27 FA Cup matches.
He later coached at Watford and was then promoted to manager, but his easy-going, relaxed and amiable personality was not cut out for the cut-and-thrust of management, and he admitted he lost sleep over having to drop and release players. After being sacked by Watford in 1963, he joined former Spurs team-mate Vic Buckingham as coach at Fulham and then, in 1965, steered Hendon to the FA Amateur Cup. He applied to manage Wales, but only got as far as one caretaker match in charge.
He and former manager Arthur Rowe were briefly the front men for the short-lived Soccer Hall of Fame in London's West End, and he worked as a stock controller for a stationery firm in Wealdstone and then as a warehouseman in Harrow.
I caught up with Ron shortly before he returned home to live in Swansea, and when I asked how he felt about being a warehouseman he answered instantly: “Well it's better than working down the mines.”
Thinking back fondly to the Push and Run days, he told me:
“I doubt if any team has had more deep-thinking players than in that Push and Run Spurs side. We called Alf Ramsey the General, because he talked tactics as if he was Montgomery planning a campaign. Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily always had a lot to say at team meetings, and lovely Arthur Rowe sometimes struggled to get a word in! But Arthur was very much in charge, and that style we played was something he created.
It was based on the simple philosophy we had learned as youngsters with the Gravesend and Northfleet Spurs squad … be quick, be accurate and don't over complicate things. Get possession and then get into position. Give the ball and go so that you are able to take a return pass. It all seemed very simple, but to make it work you had to be a thought ahead of the opposition.
We were a very industrious side and worked really hard for our success. Another important factor is that the supporters at White Hart Lane were worth a goal start to us. They really got behind us and made us try that little bit harder to make sure we got the goals and the points.”
Ron reached the age of 87 and was one of the last survivors of the Push and Run team, passing away in a Swansea hospital on February 14 2005. Wales and Tottenham mourned the passing of a magnificent footballer and a fine human being.
Burgess is one of a procession of Welshmen who have graced the Lilywhite shirt, and here are my top ten post-war Welsh Wonders in reverse order:
10. Paul Price
9. Pat Van Den Hauwe
8. Simon Davies
7. Terry Yorath
6. Mel Hopkins
5. Terry Medwin
4. Mike England
3. Cliff Jones
2. Ron Burgess
1. Gareth Bale
Fingers crossed that Ben Davies proves himself another thoroughbred player who can carry on the great Welsh traditions at Tottenham.
Cymru am byth!
Ps Congratulations to Welshman Mark Sampson for leading England’s Lionesses to a World Cup bronze medal. They showed our men how to score from the penalty spot against Germany! This should be a great spur for the Spurs Ladies Football Club. You can put wives, daughters, girlfriends, grand-daughters, sisters, mistresses in touch with them here, particularly if they are interested in playing the game or helping the backroom staff: http://www.spursladies.co.uk
The resolute Terry Baker, who has managed Jimmy Greaves for 15 years, recently set up a fund to try to help raise at least half the money Greavsie needs to pay his medical bills following his recent severe stroke.
The estimate is that Jimmy is going to have to find £60,000 for his specialised treatment, which is expected to take at least a year of rehabilitation and physiotherapy.
Let me make it clear that Jimmy has not asked for this money. All his concentration is on fighting back after being left without movement on his right hand side. He is not yet able to walk without two people assisting him, and his speech remains slow and at times incoherent.
Several Spurs supporters who wanted to help Jimmy approached Terry, and the support-Greavsie fund was born.
I have seen some people on line saying that if anybody should help Jimmy it is Spurs, and that they are loathe to put their hands in their pockets for somebody who is hardly on his uppers.
It is not for any of us to probe Jimmy’s finances, but I happen to know there have been several recent episodes in his life that have left him out of pocket.
He will be embarrassed that this has become a matter for on-line debate.
Terry Baker, who has been bravely fighting his own personal battle against facial skin cancer, says: “Every penny will be appreciated, and we just want to make life easier for Jimmy. No matter who you are, £60,000 takes some finding. It’s not as if Jimmy ever made a fortune playing the game.
“Everything he has got he has had to work for, and now there are some of us who want to help him in his moment of crisis. I know Jimmy will be grateful from the bottom of his heart for any help coming his way, but he is far too proud to ask for it. This fund raiser was the idea of several supporters and I have got behind it.”
If you want to help one of the greatest footballers who ever kicked a ball, you can make a donation here:
Don’t let’s embarrass ourselves or Jimmy by arguing about it.
THE GILLER TEASER
Each week while waiting for the kick off to the second Spurs Odyssey Quiz League, I will be challenging you here with a question to test your knowledge of Tottenham.
Many of you struggled with last week’s teaser: Which former Newcastle and Spurs skipper has been capped 18 times by England, and with which London club did he start his League playing career?
Several plumped for ‘Sir’ Les Ferdinand, but the answer was a player more recent than that – Scott Parker, who started his career with Charlton, and arrived at Tottenham via Newcastle and West Ham. Scotty has the gift of making the players around him raise their game, and I just wish we had seen him at his peak with Spurs. He is a born tactician, and I bet we see him as a successful manager one day.
First name drawn from the correct answers is Naushad ‘Shubes’ Ali, from Enfield. I will email a screen version of one of my Tottenham-themed books to Shubes, who has been a Spurs supporter for more than 25 years.
This week’s teaser: Who started his career with Arsenal, had a loan spell at West Ham and missed from the penalty spot for Spurs in a Wembley cup final, and from which club did he join Tottenham in 2008?
Email your answers, please, to email@example.com.
Don’t forget to add your name, the district where you live and how long you’ve supported Spurs.
Please consider purchasing any of my books direct from me at
www.normangillerbooks.com, including No 99 that I have written in tribute to Muhammad Ali for whom I worked as a publicist on his European fights. All profits from my Tottenham-themed books go to the Tottenham Tribute Trust to help any of our old heroes who have hit difficult times.
Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS!
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