NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 227
Submitted by Norman Giller
Danny Blanchfower, one of Tottenham’s all-time greats, once walked out on Eamonn Andrews and refused to accept his ‘This Is Your Life’ book. While waiting for the new season to get under way and Spurs to move into their state-of-the-art home, I will be telling you the story that Eamonn could not tell.
Danny lost his temper with me only once during the thirty-plus years that we knew each other. His famous Irish charm and composure crumbled when I told him I was going to write a book about him. This was in the 1980s after he had dropped the curtain on the football game that had been his life, coupled with a career as a journalist of infinite jest, weird and wonderful wisdom and, sometimes scorching controversy.
“Now why would you be wanting to write a book about me?” he asked in his Belfast lilt, unblemished by living for many years among we English. “I’m yesterday’s man, so I am. Write about somebody interesting, like Steve Perryman or Glenn Hoddle. Somebody of today.”
“I want to write about the real Danny Blanchflower,” I said, regretting it the moment the words left my mouth.
“The REAL Danny Blanchflower?” he repeated, his temper instantly unsheathed and dropping ‘real’ like a hand grenade. “The REAL Danny Blanchflower? You’re suddenly Sigmund Freud? Well I the hell don’t know who the real Danny Blanchflower is, so why should you? Have the good grace, why don’t you, to leave me to my privacy. This is the real Danny Blanchflower speaking.”
I had touched a nerve. He did not pause for breath or reassessment. “If there’s a book to be written about me,” he added forcefully, “I’ll be the one to write it. I know I can’t stop you publishing if that’s your wish, but you’ll not get a moment’s co-operation from me. Not a flea’s fart’s chance in hell.”
That was crude by Danny’s standards, and underlined he was genuinely angry with me. As always, he insisted on the last word: “To misquote my fellow Irishman, the Duke of Wellington, ‘Publish and be doomed.’”
Little did Danny know, but I had been interviewing many of his contemporaries, reliable eyewitnesses to all he had achieved, and I had a publisher lined up. I was so shaken by his reaction that I put the idea on the back burner, and decided to abandon it altogether when the immensely gifted writer Dave Bowler compiled a riveting biography in the 1990s (‘Danny Blanchflower: A Biography of a Visionary’).
Danny had written his own autobiography back in 1961, immediately after skippering the untouchable Tottenham team to the League Championship and FA Cup (‘The Double And Before’).
I surrendered my book project rather than upset Danny, putting my thick folder of background research and in-depth interviews with him into a locked file. Danny relaxed, and we went back to our friendship status without any bruising or loss of mutual trust and respect.
The last time I had a proper interview with him was just before the testimonial match that Tottenham awarded him in 1990, when it first became public that he had slipped into ill health and also into debt.
My final attempt at talking to him was a year later, when I followed my usual custom of writing an article to mark the anniversary of the Spurs double in 1961. I came away fighting back tears.
Not only could he not remember who I was (I am easily forgotten), but he had no idea of his achievements as a footballer and gifted writer, and he could not recollect one of his team-mates or press box colleagues.
Two years later, his mind a blank, he died, the victim of Alzheimer’s, the illness that is the curse of old footballers. He was just 67.
Danny, the most interesting, intelligent, inquisitive, talkative, bitingly honest and artistic footballer I had ever known, passed on with no memory of the fact that he had applied so many vivid brush strokes to the canvas of the Beautiful Game.
And this is what brought me to finally going against his wishes and writing a book about the real Danny Blanchflower. The sort of dementia he suffered in his last years has become almost a plague among our old heroes, and I wanted my book – dedicated to his memory – to raise money to assist those of his old team-mates who have hit the wall of hardship.
Just pause for a moment and think of these ex-players and managers handicapped in later life by brain-related illnesses that left them with memories wiped clean: Joe Mercer, Billy Liddell, Stan Cullis, Bob Paisley, John Charles, George Swindin, Ronnie Allen, Peter Broadbent, Bill Dodgin, Ally McLeod, Phil Woosnam, Pat Saward, Dave Sexton, Malcolm Allison, Jeff Astle, Ron Greenwood, Tony Hateley, Jimmy Hill ... I could go on and on.
Then there are those old Spurs heroes who, like Danny, succumbed to dementia: Arthur Rowe, Alf Ramsey, Tommy Harmer, along with recent victims who were brought down by the debilitating illness: Peter Baker, Ron Henry and the “indestructible” Dave Mackay. And as I write, Martin Peters is lost in that terrible maze of forgetfulness.
I am proud to be associated with the Tottenham Tribute Trust, that quietly and without fanfare helps the ex-players who are struggling with health and financial problems. It pleases me to give profits generated by my Spurs books to the Trust, because I know the money will be used to make life a little easier for the players whose careers I was privileged to chronicle during my long sportswriting career, sixty-one years and counting.
I had the same arrangement with the Tottenham Tribute Trust over my 96th book, ‘Bill Nicholson Revisited‘, and there are still copies available at www.normangillerbooks.com for those who want to read about the Master of White Hart Lane, while at the same time having the satisfaction of knowing that some of your money has gone towards helping those old heroes who are struggling with financial difficulties and/or ill health.
Don’t forget, these were players who missed the gravy train and made just pennies compared to the fortunes being gathered by today’s hugely
In the inquest on Midlands idol Jeff Astle, after he had lost a battle with Alzheimer’s at the age of 59, the coroner ruled that his death was industrial. In his summary he made the point that heading the heavy leather balls of the 1960s had caused Jeff trauma similar to that suffered by a boxer. The footballs back then weighed exactly the same at kick off as today (16oz, 1lb, or 450g), but they were not water resistant, and were often twice as heavy by the end of games on what were invariably mud-heap pitches.
Many people who have never headed a ball in their lives (Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher to name but two) suffered dementia, but there is no question that our old football heroes pay an horrendous price for their sporting fame. So I decided to go ahead with the book that Danny did not want me to write, because I know he would have approved of the profits going towards helping make life a little easier for his old colleagues who are struggling with health issues.
Extracts from the book will be coming to you over the next few weeks. Enjoy!
You might even consider making a small donation to the Tribute Trust at https://www.justgiving.com/thettt.
See you here next Monday for the start of our journey through the extraordinary life and times of Danny Blanchflower.
Danny Boy, This WAS Your Life:
This week’s totally trivial teaser, just for fun:
Who was the first Spurs player sent off in a post-war League match and two years later scored for Tottenham in an FA Cup final at Wembley? Clue: His middle name is Lander!
Please email your answer to me at Teaser3@normangillerbooks.com. Deadline: midnight this Friday. No prize, just pride and the satisfaction of being right!
Last week I asked: Which Spurs player has been selected by Louis van Gaal, Martin Jol, Andre Villas Boas, Tim Sherwood, Mauricio Pochettino and Roberto Martinez, and what number Lilywhite shirt does he wear?
Many of you dived in with the answer Jan Vertonghen, but it was his fellow-Belgian Mousa Dembele, who of course wears the No 19 shirt. He was selected by Louis van Gaal at AZ in Holland, Martin Jol at Fulham, Andre Villas Boas, Tim Sherwood and Mauricio Pochettino for Spurs and, of course, Roberto Martinez for Belgium, as we will discover during the upcoming World Cup contest if he can get into that star-studded team!
Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS.
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