NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 236
Submitted by Norman Giller
Tottenham’s old guard did their buddy Alan Gilzean – the great, the unique, the unforgettable Gilly – proud at his funeral in Dundee, where fans lined the rain-lashed cortege route applauding a player loved and lauded both sides of the border.
Skipper Steve Perryman rounded up the troops from the 60s and 70s and they turned out smartly in club blazers and matching ties, saying their fond and final farewells to a team-mate they admired as a player and respected as a pal.
It was like throwing a deck of Tottenham cards on to the floor and coming up with a hand of aces. Among those who made the long-haul trip with Steve were Pat Jennings, Mike England, Phil Beal, John Pratt, Alan Mullery, Martin Chivers and ‘daddy’ of them all, 83-year-old Cliff Jones.
Representing Dundee, the club where Gilly first made a name for himself as a footballer of rare quality, were exceptional old playing heroes Bobby Wishart, Ian Ure and Bob Seith, along with former Scotland manager Craig Brown.
One person missing but mentioned in a hundred conversations was Jimmy Greaves, Gilly’s prolific partner in the golden days when they were known as the G-Men, machine gunning defences with their stunning skill and finishing precision.
Stroke victim Jimmy was too unwell to attend, but you can bet his shooting boots that he would have been there in spirit for his old mate. ‘My favourite strike partner,’ was how he always used to describe him to me.
Gilly, who died earlier this month at the age of 79 following a brain tumour, lit up the memories of his former team-mates, who to a man recalled how he was an outstanding individualist but who gave his all for the team. Each of them talked in awe of his trademark flick-heading ability, and ball control that baffled and bewildered a procession of defenders.
Skipper Steve told me: “Your description – ‘a Nureyev on grass’ – suited him perfectly. When I first broke into the team he was an established star but treated me as an equal and was always supportive and encouraging. A true team player despite having unbelievable individual skill. A gentleman and a great, great man. You’ll not hear anybody have anything but good to say about him.”
The eulogy for the King of White Hart Lane could not have been in better care than that of ace sportswriter Patrick (Paddy) Barclay, a Dundonian who witnessed his playing exploits for both Dundee and Tottenham.
Picking his words with the same timing and skill that Gilly used to pick his way through defences, Paddy told a packed congregation: “If Alan had been born half-a-century later and we were talking about the leading headers of a ball in the world, we’d be discussing Cristiano Ronaldo.......AND Alan Gilzean in the same breath. We should all count ourselves lucky that he came along while we were around to see him. Whoever said ‘never meet your heroes’ had obviously never met Alan Gilzean. It was an absolute privilege to watch him play and then know him as a lovely, decent, modest man.”
Well done all those veteran Spurs players who got themselves up to Dundee. You did Alan and the club proud.
And well played Gilly. There will never be another like you.
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 Nine kicks off with the arrival at White Hart Lane of, arguably, the greatest – certainly the most popular – player in the club’s history, Jimmy Greaves …
Blanchflower and Greavsie were a double act long before Saint and Greavsie arrived on our screens. They hit it off from the moment Jimmy arrived at White Hart Lane from AC Milan for £99,999 in November 1961. The two footballing masters were instantly on each other’s wavelength, both on and off the pitch.
Danny’s often whimsical and wistful wit married perfectly with Jimmy’s full-throttle Cockney wisecracks, and they brought laughter to the dressing-room and training ground, but never at the expense of their football. For all their joking around, both were deadly serious about getting it right on match day.
When he first arrived at the Lane, there were concerns that Jimmy could upset the rhythm of a team that had just touched the Everest peak of perfection by capturing the League championship and FA Cup. He kicked all the doubts aside with a stunning hat-trick in his debut against Blackpool, and from that moment on he was accepted – by the players and supporters – as “one of us.”
As a caring and conscientious captain Danny went out of his way to help him settle in, and they became such good friends that Jimmy named his second son after the Spurs skipper, who became young Danny’s Godfather (Jimmy and Irene had lost their first son, Jimmy Jnr, to a cot death when he was at Chelsea).
To watch Greaves and Blanchflower playing together was poetry in motion, and often with a scoring punchline delivered by the Artful Dodger of the penalty area. They had a magnetic partnership right from the off, with Danny able to find Jimmy with precise passes that arrived at Greavsie’s twinkling feet and unlocked defences designed to shut him out.
Danny had been a Greaves fan ever since Jimmy’s debut as a precocious seventeen-year-old inside-forward at White Hart Lane on the first day of the 1957-58 season. Jimmy was playing for Chelsea, and Danny was one of five Tottenham defenders he dribbled past on his way to his first goal in League football.
As they came off the pitch at the end, Danny patted Jimmy on the back and told him with typical Irish warmth and whimsy: “You have a great future in the game, son. Just make sure you keep your feet on the ground, except when you’re trying to head the ball.”
Bill Nick was able to persuade Jimmy to return to the English game because after years of fighting and threats of strike action, the Professional Football Association – with Jimmy Hill as their spokesman – had at last broken the chains of soccer slavery.
Danny, in the autumn years of his playing career, had fought for the end of the maximum wage through his regular newspaper columns and broadcasts. He proved an eloquent advocate when joining Jimmy Hill on a 1959 BBC Panorama programme to put the case for the players against a team of Football League barons headed by the same Joe Richards who had hidden him away in the kitchen while selling him to Aston Villa.
Danny, by now a national newspaper columnist with the Daily Mail, went into print after the Panorama programme with a scorching comment piece that the football bosses described as “scandalous” ...
“Before slavery was abolished in America every negro was not a slave. But it could happen to them. Most footballers are rarely treated like slaves, but it could happen to them unless the people privileged with the honour of running our great game agree to release the players from the bondage of the maximum wage. It is not that the £20 a week is unfair, it’s just that it is not an incentive for the best players. It is a nonsense that a player of world class like, for example, Stanley Matthews, is handcuffed to the same wage as an average footballer in the Fourth Division.
The maximum wage should be scrapped. Anybody with an ounce of fairness and commonsense in their bones can see that. It’s a prop for weak administrators who haven’t the judgment or the courage to value a player and pay him accordingly.
I have nothing to gain by being critical of the footballer’s conditions, because they will not change in my time. On the contrary, I may rouse the ‘High Priests’ to seek a spiteful vengeance. And I shall be called a nut case, a Red, a troublemaker and a discredit to the game.
But any thinking man will know who are really a discredit to
football. It is not the players.”
Greavsie, along with other exceptional players like Denis Law, Joe Baker and Gerry Hitchens, went to Italy, lured by the lira, but suddenly found they could earn as much in England following the lifting of the maximum wage in 1961. Jimmy always praised Danny and his good friend Jimmy Hill for the part they played in changing the world for League footballers.
Tragically, main spokesman Hill who led the players’ revolt, succumbed to the same Alzheimer’s curse that struck Danny later in his life.
With Greaves thriving under Danny’s captaincy, Tottenham made a monumental challenge for the major prize – the European Cup – in 1961-62 during which the ‘Glory-Glory-hallelujah’ choruses raised the White Hart Lane roof. There are conflicting opinions as to when the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ was adopted as the club’s theme song. Some insist it was being sung by Spurs supporters at Molineux in April 1960 as Tottenham powered to a 3-1 victory that stopped Wolves being first to the League championship and FA Cup Double. Older supporters vaguely remember it being sung back in the early 1950s after a cartoon had appeared in the Tottenham match programme showing Arthur Rowe day dreaming of the Double. The caption read: “While the Spurs go marching on …”
There was an explosion of noise every time Spurs played European Cup ties at White Hart Lane as they saw off Gornik, Feyenoord and Dukla Prague. There was also good humour to go with the fanatical support. A small group of Spurs supporters always dressed as angels, carrying witty placards and waving them – without malice – at opposition fans. There was never a hint of hooliganism. That scar on the face of soccer was a decade away. And not a mention of the ‘Y’ word.
Tottenham were desperately unlucky to lose a two-leg European Cup semi-final against eventual champions Benfica, propelled by the rising master Eusebio. To this day, Greavsie insists that a ‘goal’ he scored, which would have put Spurs into the final, was wrongly flagged offside.
Danny, winner for a second time of the Footballer of the Year award, worked with Bill Nick in picking the players up after their exit from Europe. The following month they retained the FA Cup, with Greavsie scoring an exquisite goal in the third minute to put them on the way to an impressive 3-1 victory over Burnley.
My Greavsie bias coming out, but I think it rates with the finest goals scored at old Wembley. He was fifteen yards out and passed the ball along the ground into the net through a forest of players’ legs and with all the unerring accuracy of a Jack Nicklaus putt.
Jimmy, never one to boast in his playing days, said just before the players left the dressingroom, “I’m going to get an early one today lads.” If it had been a fluke it would have been an outstanding goal, so the fact that Greavsie meant it puts it up into the classic category.
The Tottenham team:
Brown; Baker, Henry; Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay; Medwin, White, Smith, Greaves, Jones.
Goals from Bobby Smith and skipper Danny clinched Tottenham’s win after Jimmy Robson had equalized for Burnley. Danny’s goal came from the penalty spot in the 80th minute after Tommy Cummings had handled a Terry Medwin shot on the goal-line.
As Blanchflower was placing the ball on the penalty spot his Northern Ireland team-mate and good friend Jimmy McIlroy said to him: “Bet you miss.”
Danny did not say a word. He calmly sent goalkeeper Adam Blacklaw the wrong way as he stroked the penalty home. As he ran past Burnley schemer McIlory, he said: “Bet I don’t!”
Spurs might easily have had a Double Double. They could have won the League championship again but for losing twice to eventual title winners Ipswich Town, managed by Alf Ramsey, Bill Nick’s team-mate in the great Spurs Push and Run team.
“We continued to play the push and run way,” said Danny, “but a little quicker than Arthur Rowe’s marvellous team. In Bobby Smith and Jimmy Greaves we had a more powerful finishing force than Duquemin and Bennett, and Cliff Jones was a world class winger who was more potent than any forward in the push and run side. I know I’m biased, but I am convinced our Double team would have come out on top in a match with the Arthur Rowe side.”
Blanchflower and Greaves poured praise on each other. Danny on Jimmy:
“There has not been a finer taker of goals in my lifetime. He is like a thief, burgling his goals and making his getaway while defenders tackle empty space trying to catch him. Might as well chase a rainbow. You cannot teach anybody to do what Jimmy does. It’s a gift from the Gods. Even he could not tell you how he does it. He goes this way and makes defenders go that way, beats them all ends up in the twinkling of an eye and then passes – yes, passes – the ball into the net.
I am an expert on him, because I have seen it from being on his side and celebrating with him, and he has often sat me on my backside when playing for England against Northern Ireland and, of course, in his debut match when he scored that scintillating goal for Chelsea against us. I knew then he would become a great, great player.
When Bill Nicholson told me he was buying him from Milan I replied, ‘Pay whatever it takes. He is one in a million.’ When Alf Ramsey left him out of the 1966 England World Cup team I was disappointed for Jimmy and disgusted with Alf Ramsey. He had ignored England’s greatest goalscoring artist. Yes, I know that Hurst scored a hat-trick but he was not in the same street as Jimmy as a goal striker.
If I were picking a world eleven I would have to find a place for Jimmy. He’s that good, and I feel blessed to have played with the wee man.”
Jimmy on Danny:
“Danny could pass the ball through the eye of a needle and made my life much easier by always putting the ball exactly where I wanted it. He was the thinking man’s captain, and was always coming up with ideas off the cuff to give us an edge. He rivalled even my old England team-mate Johnny Haynes for firing a pass through the heart of a defence. A great reader of the game, he had an in-built radar system that guided him to the right places at the right times.
He could lift and motivate players before vital matches with Chuchillian-class rallying speeches and had a wit that was as sharp as a razorblade. He was often an argumentative bugger, but he used to put his point across with such intelligence and intensity that he was rarely proved wrong.
Danny gave the team style and was a captain in every sense of the word, inspiring the players around him with his almost arrogant performances and lifting them with words of wisdom. His contribution to the team was as important as Bill Nick’s, with an influence that went much farther and deeper than his performances on the pitch. He was the dressing-room tactician, the training ground theorist, the man who talked up for players during moments of crisis and misunderstanding.
And what a beautiful player. The man was different class. I remember when I first joined Spurs Danny greeted me like a long lost brother. ‘Jim’, he said, ‘you are more than welcome here. We should have been playing together years ago when spring was here, but let’s enjoy the summer together.’ Yes, he was the poet of the team.”
Another huge season beckoned for Danny, but it came at a painful price – an injury that would eventually finish his playing career. Join us here next week for when Spurs, with Danny at the helm, led the way in winning a major European trophy.
This week’s totally trivial teaser, just for fun:
Who played 420 games for Spurs, appeared in two League Cup winning Tottenham teams and a victorious Uefa Cup side before playing in Los Angeles and Memphis?
Please email your answer to me at Teaser13@normangillerbooks.com. Deadline: midnight this Friday. No prize, just pride and the satisfaction of being right!
Last week I asked: Who was in goal when Dele Alli scored with a long-range shot for England in an international match at Wembley in November 2015?
You were all right, of course: Our World Cup winning captain Hugo Lloris. I just wanted to underline that Dele had helped England beat France in 2015.
Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS.
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