NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 20
Submitted by Norman Giller
These home thoughts from abroad come to you from somewhere in the Baltic Sea as the cruise ship Arcadia heads from St Petersburg for Copenhagen, and eventually arriving in Southampton … from where Mauricio Pochettino is due to depart for The Lane.
It seems my partner, Jackie, and I have only been gone five minutes, yet during our two-week cruise the political face of the UK has changed beyond recognition, my old mate Harry Redknapp is back in the Premier League, Gareth Bale has collected two trophies and Spurs have got themselves yet another new manager. One boss comes along, and another follows soon after.
I hope Pochettino finds the winning Farage factor. Mind you, he will want to conquer Europe rather than retreat. Let’s hope everybody gets behind Mauricio and gives him the 100% support that was sadly lacking for AVB and Tim Sherwood.
Once I am back on terra firma in England’s green and pleasant land I will start promoting my latest book: Danny Blanchflower, This WAS His Life. Profits are going to the Tottenham Tribute Trust to help those old Lane heroes who have hit hard times, and – hopefully to whet your appetite – I present here the introduction that paints the background to the book:
DANNY BLANCHFLOWER 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 (A Biography of a Visionary, Victor Gollancz).
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, Nicholas Kaye 1961). 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), 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 brings 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 want this 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 are, as I write, fighting the debilitating illness: Peter Baker, Ron Henry and the “indestructible” Dave Mackay.
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 this book 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, fifty-five years and counting.
Thank you for joining me for this, the 97th book with which I have stupefied the great reading public.
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 rewarded footballers.
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 have 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.
Thank YOU, on behalf of the Tottenham Tribute Trust for your support. Now sit back and relax as we go on a journey through the extraordinary life and times of Danny Blanchflower.
Danny Boy, This WAS Your Life …
THAT is the introduction to the book, and I hope you feel moved to want to read the story of Danny’s remarkable life and times. It will make a perfect Father’s Day gift for anybody with knowledge of his input to Tottenham’s history. I would suggest he was the most influential player ever to pull on the Lilywhite shirt. Please buy the book and judge for yourself. As well as telling Danny’s tale of the unexpected the book gives the most in-depth summary of the historic Double season you will ever read.
Please order the book ASAP from www.normangillerbooks.com It is not for sale anywhere else.
Thank you on behalf of myself and the Tottenham Tribute Trust for your support. We know all true Spurs supporters will get behind this great cause.
THE GILLER TEASER
Each week here in my Spurs Odyssey home I test your knowledge of Tottenham. Last week I asked: Which defender joined Tottenham from Norwich City and won 23 England caps?
Most of you came up with the correct answer in Maurice Norman, the rock on which the Double defence was built and who recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Mighty Mo is from that generation of footballers who played through the ‘Soccer Slave’ era when they were poorly rewarded despite continually pulling in 50,000-plus gates. He would have been a certainty for England’s 1966 World Cup squad but for suffering a horrific broken leg injury in a meaningless friendly against Hungary in the autumn of 1965. (Ed:- That was the first game I ever saw at White Hart Lane) It cruelly ended his career, and he went home to his beloved Norwich to make a living with his green fingers. Mo is the sort of hero that the Tottenham Tribute Trust keeps an eye on. Let’s help them.
The first name chosen at random from the correct entries to the Maurice Norman question is Jack Edwards, of Roehampton, who wins a signed hard-back copy of Bill Nicholson Revisited.
This week’s teaser is about another Tottenham golden oldie: Which defender joined Tottenham from Middlesbrough and took over the shirt worn for so long by Ron Henry?
A signed Bill Nicholson Revisited book (one of the few remaining hardback versions) to the sender of the correct answer whose name is randomly drawn first. Email your answer please to firstname.lastname@example.org
The book is now available in paperback, with profits going to the Tottenham Tribute Trust: www.normangillerbooks.com
Thank you for joining me. Now, I am going back to the deckchair. Somebody has got to do it.
Yes, what a load of Baltics. COYS!
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