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
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
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.
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