NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 231
Submitted by Norman Giller
Cry God for England Harry Harry and St George! Our Harry does not know the meaning of giving up. I just hope all those people who knocked him for claiming that ghost goal in the Premier League will understand that this boy lives for getting the ball into the net.
And it should have been a hat-trick for Harry! OK, so I admit to having watched England’s World Cup opening match this evening wearing Lilywhite glasses. But even had I been suffering from myopia I could see he should have had a first-half penalty against Tunisia.
You could have put your house on Harry scoring the first goal, and then he should have been lining up a spot-kick after a far less obvious penalty had been awarded to the Tunisians.
Big Daddy could not have wrestled him to the ground more dramatically, yet the inconsistent VAR referees for some reason did not see it in their studio in Moscow. I wonder if Vladimir Putin was working the action replay remote?
It was a heart-warming match for we Tottenham disciples. Not only was there the two-goal haul from Captain Kane, but in Kieran Trippier Spurs provided the man of the match. His energy and accuracy with his passing were impressive features of the game, and Dele Alli had an excellent first-half before a dead leg slowed him down.
Thanks Harry for making all England fans (and in particular Spurs supporters) walk a little taller.
We are probably not good enough to win the tournament, but there were 20 minutes in that first-half when our football matched the best we have seen to date.
Yes, cry God for Harry and St George.
Now, meet a great Tottenham Irishman …
Danny Blanchflower, 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 here that Eamonn could not tell. Part Four kicks off as Danny joins what was then one of the most prominent clubs in the land, Aston Villa …
AT LAST, Danny had got the big stage that his skill and football intelligence deserved. Aston Villa had one of the longest and proudest pedigrees in English football, but it was a sleeping giant when Danny arrived and still slumbering when he left a little over three years later for the promised land of Tottenham Hotspur.
Villa were bottom of the First Division when Danny switched to the Midlands from Barnsley in March 1951. It was not a move he had chosen but which was plotted for him by the baron chairmen of the two clubs.
He had been sold like a slave into a crisis situation, with Villa looking doomed to relegation.
He made his debut on St Patrick’s Day, and Villa supporters saw it as a good omen that Danny Boy was hugely influential in an unexpected 3-2 home victory over Burnley to end a long losing run.
The local papers were full of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ lines, and hoped the luck of the Irish was going to rescue Villa from the ignominy of relegation. It is a rarely applauded and appreciated part of the Blanchflower legend that he played a prominent part in helping Villa come back from the dead and finish 15th in a table topped by Arthur Rowe’s Push-and-Run Tottenham team.
His measured passes brought control to the Villa midfield where there had been chaos, and his natural leadership qualities shone through even though he turned down the offer of the captaincy. He felt he would have been captain of a sinking ship as first Eric Martin and then his successor as manager, Eric Houghton, struggled to steer the once majestic liner back on course.
Danny was at first inspired by the Villa Park setting and felt he had found a club that matched his ambition. But he soon realised that, to quote him, “the club smelt of yesterday ... a dinosaur from a golden age of football. It was like living in the past, somebody else’s past. As a song of the time said, I felt like a stranger in paradise. It was as if I had arrived too late for the party.”
He soon became disillusioned by what he saw as the complacency that was almost rotting the foundations of a once-great club. He wanted to get out of there before the contagious disease claimed him. Danny, the boy from Belfast, had grown up and still had things he wanted to achieve in the game.
The contrast between Barnsley’s Oakwell and Villa Park could not have been greater. While the Yorkshire club sat against a backdrop of coal mines and was homely, Villa Park was like a giant Victorian stately home, with a classic red-brick facade that looked more suited to royal fanfares and jousting tournaments than football matches.
Villa flattered to deceive in his first full season by shooting to the top of the First Division in the September, the first time they had hit such heights for years. But they quickly started to slide back down the table, and among the teams that helped them on the way was a Tottenham side that took Danny’s eye.
They won 2-0 at White Hart Lane and 3-0 at Villa Park. “Spurs were still playing their classic push-and-run style,” he recalled. “I was deeply impressed.”
Danny prepared himself for a fall back role as an accountant when his playing days were over, but then had the door opened to a new career that was to become as important to him as his football: journalism and broadcasting.
He started to write a potent column for the Birmingham Mail and took part in a regular BBC Midlands radio show called ‘Talking Football,’ in which he went head to head in often heated debates with managers such as Stan Cullis, Harry Storer and Billy Walker.
His trenchant views brought him to the notice of a public beyond the boundaries of football, and he started to make the football rulers shift uncomfortably in their seats as he let rip with biting and controversial views. Danny told me in the early 1960s:
"Literature has always been a major love of mine, but I was a little apprehensive about trying to write for public consumption because it seemed, I don't know, a bit pretentious. But once I started to write the words just flowed from me like water from a fast-flowing river.
I set my standards high because my favourite author is Scott Fitzgerald, a master of the writing art and with a strong Irish heritage. The broadcasting came more easily because I have never been short of the verbals.
Suddenly I had found something I knew would keep bread on the table when my playing days were over, and would enable me to stay in touch with the game I love. It has also given me the opportunity to shoot down the tin-pot directors who think they are gods. I will never be less than honest with my views. Beware!"
Huge things were happening on the international football scene, and Danny was desperate to be part of the tactical revolution sweeping the world. Hungary had hammered England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953, playing with a withdrawn centre-forward and with a pace and penetration literally foreign to the English footballers. He knew lessons needed to be learned and the game played in a different way to what was often the crude long ball, route-one style favoured by many British teams.
When he tried to suggest new tactics and modern training methods to his Villa team-mates he was met with a wall of indifference. Several complained that he was stirring things up and bringing a bad spirit to the dressing-room, not wanting to change their routine even though they were again involved in a dog-eat-dog relegation battle.
One of the few sympathetic listeners was Jimmy Hogan, the veteran coach who had been shipped in by manager Eric Houghton on a consultancy basis. Hogan, along with current Tottenham manager Arthur Rowe, had spread the gospel of pure footballing skills in Europe before the War and they were the widely respected fathers of coaching.
But several of the Villa first-team squad thought Blanchflower was sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong, and manager Houghton failed to find any enthusiasm among the senior players for Danny’s idea of experimenting with a Continental-style 3-3-4 formation.
He knew he needed to get away from Villa when elderly club chairman F.H. (Fred) Normansell summoned him to the boardroom and asked him what team he thought should be selected. Danny did not hide his disgust that the chairman was going behind his manager’s back, and thought he was adopting divide and rule tactics.
"I would not dream of telling you,” be replied boldly and honestly. “It’s the manager’s job to pick the team. If you haven’t faith in your manager, then it’s hardly good for team spirit to go to his players for advice.”
The veteran chairman, sitting in the darkened boardroom wearing a heavy black overcoat, was deathly white following an illness, and Danny later said he felt he was in the presence of a ghost.
“I want you to play at inside-right against Preston on Saturday,” he told Danny, no longer even pretending that Houghton was in full control as manager.
Villa won at Preston with Danny wearing the No 8 shirt, and Normansell claimed the credit. The victory helped Villa beat the drop again.
Danny the handsome Villan, 1951-54
But Danny detested the apathy that dogged the boardroom and dressing-room, and in September 1954 he submitted a transfer request in writing. He could not find anybody who would accept it. Eric Houghton pushed it back at him, and the club secretary deliberately made himself scarce. Danny finally handed it to an assistant secretary, who with fear and trembling took it to the boardroom for the attention of the great dictator, Mr. Normansell.
It was weeks before Danny was summoned to a board meeting after the chairman had been taken ill. This was when the transfer saga developed into French farce. Tom Lyons, old-school sports reporter with the Daily Mirror, ate out for years on this story:
"I had chased all over Birmingham trying to track down Danny for quotes onn the transfer rumours, and then as a last resort decided to try Villa Park, even though it was late in the evening. I noticed there were lights on and the entrance door to the administrative block was open.
I let myself into the annexe to the boardroom and found Danny sitting all alone. I told him how I had been looking for him everywhere to see what the situation was with his move. He said he knew as much or as little as me, and that he was waiting to be called in to talk to the directors.
We chatted for a few minutes when he excused himself to go to the toilet. He had just disappeared from view when the boardroom door opened and the club secretary came out, peered at me over the top of his glasses and said: ‘The chairman and directors will see you now. Please come in.'
I followed him and found myself facing the directors in a darkened room. ‘We have decided we would like you to stay,’ the chairman said, then doing a double take as he realised I was not Danny.
‘Who the hell are you?’ he asked.
‘Tom Lyons, of the Daily Mirror ,’ I said. ‘I’m here to ask if you have made a decision on Danny Blanchflower’s transfer request.’
The old boy nearly blew a gasket as he told me, ‘Get out and send Blanchflower in.’
Danny was back sitting in his chair as I came out of the boardroom, and he fell about laughing when I told him what had happened."
The board failed in their bid to talk Danny into changing his mind, and put him on the transfer list at a British record £40,000, knowing full well that no club would pay such a deliberately prohibitive sum. Three clubs, Tottenham, Arsenal and Wolves, were interested but none would meet the excessive asking fee.
Finally there were two clubs left after a five-week delay caused by Danny damaging knee ligaments playing for Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden Park.
Arsenal manager Tom Whittaker talked to Danny four times and stressed that he was determined to get him. The Gunners were roasting hot favourites to complete the deal, but much to Whittaker’s frustration the Highbury directors refused to go above £28,500.
Danny was still being kept in the dark, and one afternoon in December 1954 he walked into a London hotel to join the Northern Ireland squad when his brother, Jackie, shouted across the foyer: “Hey kid, well done. You’re joining Tottenham.”
“How the heck do you know?” Danny replied.
“Eric Houghton just told me on the blower,” Jackie explained with a big grin. “There was an announcement that there was a telephone call for Mr. Blanchflower, and I took it. ‘Eric here,’ the caller said. ‘We’ve agreed to sell you to Tottenham, and Arthur Rowe will be getting in touch.’ You could say he was embarrassed when he realised he had the wrong Blanchflower!”
Arthur Rowe had spoken to Danny twice on visits to Birmingham, and they had struck up an instant rapport. Danny recalled:
"Of all the teams Villa had played, Tottenham was the one that impressed me most. They had a grace about them that appealed to me, and you could tell the Arthur Rowe coaching influence.
He came across as a quiet, likeable and very modest man. But what he couldn’t hide was his enthusiasm for football, the way the game should be played. He did not try to buy me with baubles but with his exciting ideas of how good Tottenham could become with my contribution added to what he considered a team ready to repeat the success of the Push and Run champions.
I was more than happy to hitch my wagon to his star. He was travelling in the right direction. I was ready to go to the Moon with him and with Tottenham Hotspur.."
Spurs won the transfer race with a club record bid of £30,000. Danny signed, dare I say, at the double … the topic of next week’s episode here on our favourite Tottenham website.
This week’s totally trivial teaser, just for fun:
Who was a World Cup winner who wore Tottenham shirt numbers 18 and 33?
Please email your answer to me at Teaser7@normangillerbooks.com. Deadline: midnight this Friday. No prize, just pride and the satisfaction of being right!
Last week I asked: Which current Tottenham player once scored in a Champions’ League victory over Barcelona and has a sister who is a basketball player in the USA?
Yes, the answer is Victor Wanyama, who scored in Celtic’s shock 2-1 Champions League victory over Barcelona in 2012-13. His sister, Mercy, is a basketball professional in the United States.
Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS. And good luck to Harry and the boys!
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