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The Double Years - Profiling Danny Blanchflower

FIFTY YEARS AFTER
Profiling Danny Blanchflower

The Double Series was written by the eminent Brian Judson

Robert Dennis Blanchflower, popularly known as Danny, was born in Dunraven Park, in the Bloomfield district in the east end of Belfast, on 10 February 1926. He was the first of five children - three boys, two girls in a typical working-class Presbyterian household. His parents, John and Selina, had been married two years earlier. Times were hard as Europe was hit by the depression. His formative years were spent at Ravenscroft Public Elementary School. He soon became interested in football and his first exposure to the game came when he played for a representative Belfast Cubs side against the Dublin Colts in 1937. His footballing hero was Peter Doherty, who began his career with Glentoran and left for Blackpool, later moving to Manchester City.

As he grew older, Danny began to play football more and more, often playing three times on a Saturday. He played for the school in the morning, the Boys Brigade in the afternoon and the local team in the evening. By the summer of 1941, he had set up his own football club, Bloomfield United. They played in the East Belfast Summer League.

In 1943, anxious to do his bit for the war effort, he lied about his age and joined the RAF. He obtained a place on a short course run by St Andrews University in Scotland, where he attended from December 1943 to April 1944. In his spare time he played for the University football team. It was here he began to play golf, another passion of his.

In the spring of 1945, Danny was posted abroad to Canada for further training. But the war in Europe ended before his course could be completed and he returned home in August. There was not much to do while he waited to be demobbed and he started playing again for Glentoran, making his senior debut in a match against the now defunct Belfast Celtic. He was persuaded to leave the RAF and sign professional forms for Glentoran. He did not suffer fools and soon found out that the rules were being flouted and that some of the other players were being paid more than the legal maximum.

By 1949, he was tired of the parochial outlook of playing for Glentoran and asked for a transfer. Barnsley paid 6,000 for his services after the transfer deadline had elapsed so he could not play for Barnsley until the start of the 1949-50 season. Blanchflower spent two years with Barnsley before making the further transfer to Aston Villa, a sleep giant of the Midlands that had rested on its achievements largely won before WW1 for many years. Villa paid 15,000 for his services. He made his debut for Aston Villa on 17 March 1951. Blanchflower was quickly disillusioned by Aston Villa as their ideas of football training did not co-incide with his. One aspect that he disliked was the fact the players were never allowed to practice with the ball during training but largely spent their time lapping the pitch.

Blanchflower had already made his debut for Northern Ireland, against Scotland, at Windsor Park, on 1 October 1949. He was destined to play for Northern Ireland for 14 years until he retired. The Irish were beaten 8-2 that day. The highlight of his international career was playing for Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup when Northern Ireland and Wales both reached the Quarter-Final stage of the World Cup, unlike England and Scotland, who both fell at the first hurdle. But Northern Ireland were tired and collapsed to France 4-0. They were not to qualify for another World Cup until long after Blanchflower had retired.

By then, of course, Blanchflower was playing for Tottenham. He had tired of the inability of Aston Villa to escape from the memories of the past and an inability to look at the change in tactics wrought by the continental game. Like anybody else, Blanchflower was ambitious. He had yet to win honours at club level and he wasn't getting any younger.

As soon as it was announced that Blanchflower was available for transfer, Arsenal and Spurs both put in formal bids for him. A Dutch auction saw Spurs and Arsenal top each other's bids until Arsenal refused to go above 28,500. Spurs secured Blanchflower's services for 30,000, a massive fee for someone of 28. Blanchflower made his Tottenham debut the week after Nicholson had retired as a player at Manchester City. But Spurs were sliding towards relegation and needed drastic surgery. Arthur Rowe took ill with the worry of it all and stepped down.

It came something as a surprise that Spurs appointed Jimmy Anderson as manager in succession to Rowe. But it is thought the appointment was a stop gap as Nicholson was already club coach and making various decisions even then. Anderson, however, picked the team and soon fell out with Blanchflower who wanted the authority on the field to change the team about if the situation dictated it. The row came to a head when Spurs lost the 1956 FA Cup Semi-Final to Manchester City. Losing 1-0, Blanchflower sent Norman up to help the attack but the equaliser refused to come. In the dressing room afterwards, manager and captain argued about the decision. Anderson sacked Blanchflower as captain and dropped him for a vital relegation match at Cardiff. Blanchflower refused to play along with the official line that he was injured and made it clear he had been dropped.

Spurs survived the relegation scare and had two good seasons under Anderson without ever looking likely to win the League. But at the start of 1958-59, Spurs made an awful start to the season and Anderson took ill with the worry of it all. On October 11th 1958, Anderson resigned as manager and Nicholson took over.

An early decision that Nicholson made as manager was to drop Blanchflower. He pointed to the fact that both Blanchflower and Iley liked to play an attacking role and that left great big chunks in defence for Norman to cover. Blanchflower promptly asked for a transfer saying that he had no wish to play in the reserves. But Tottenham continued to slide inexorably to the bottom of the table and Nicholson recalled Blanchflower, albeit as a replacement for Harmer. Blanchflower began to pull the strings and breathed confidence into Tottenham's shattered team. Nicholson restored Blanchflower to his proper position and re-instated him as captain of the team. That decision plus the arrival of David Mackay eventually saw Tottenham climb above the hurly burly of the relegation battle. Virtually the same side plus the arrival of Bill Brown in goal during the summer, John White in October and Les Allen in December almost snatched the championship the following season.

Most Spurs supporters should not need to know about the events of 1960-61. Suffice to say that Spurs won the first eleven games of the season, drew the twelfth, won the next four and did not suffer their first defeat until the seventeenth match of the season at Hillsborough. By the turn of the year, they were 11 points out in front and free to concentrate on the FA Cup. Eventually, they won the title by 8 points and beat Leicester City in the Cup Final.

The following season, Spurs almost achieved the Double again. Had they won one of the two games they lost to Ipswich Town, they would have done so. But they marched to the Semi-Finals of the European Cup when only sloppy match officials in the first leg in Lisbon prevented Spurs from snatching a crucial first-leg lead. Woodwork prevented Spurs from snatching a deserved equaliser and forcing extra time in the return game, when they would surely have gone on to beat Benfica and face Real Madrid in the Final. Their only reward from a brilliant season was to retain the FA Cup beating Burnley, 3-1.

In 1962-63, there were signs that Blanchflower was approaching the end of his career. He missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, returning just in time to play a decisive role in the European Cup-Winners' Cup Final against Atletico Madrid, which Spurs won 5-1. But Spurs had lost their grip on the FA Cup during Blanchflower's absence, losing a bad-tempered game on an icy White Hart Lane pitch in January 1963 when they lost 3-0 to Burnley. Several of the Spurs team that day were very lucky they were not sent off.

During the autumn of 1963, it was clear that Blanchflower's days were numbered. He could not cope with the pressure of playing twice a week and a portent of the future was shown when Phil Beal made his debut at Villa Park in September. Blanchflower's final first team appearance was at Old Trafford in November 1963 when Manchester United thrashed Tottenham 4-1. Denis Law had humiliated Blanchflower who knew the game was up. He did not immediately announce his decision as, officially, he was injured but he knew the time had come to announce his retirement and did so in his newspaper column in April 1964.

Blanchflower severed his connections with football for many years until briefly being Northern Ireland manager in the 1970s and also Chelsea's manager in the very late 1970s. Neither appointment was a success and Blanchflower was relieved to resume his newspaper columnist activities.

Sadly, he was suffering a number of personal problems and fell on hard times. Spurs arranged a testimonial for him on 1 May 1990 but it was clear to all who knew and remembered him that all was not well with him. He passed away in a nursing home on 9 December 1993, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. It was a relief for all who knew him that his suffering was at an end.

All of us who saw Danny play will remember him. He was a master tactician and a master of the incomparable epigram. All who saw him play will never forget him.

Cheers, Brian

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