Consent Preferences Spurs Odyssey - Norman Giller's Blog (No. 75) - 08.06.15
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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 75) (08.06.15)

Submitted by Norman Giller

Norman Giller writes for Spurs Odyssey

Peter McWilliam - The second man to win Spurs the FA Cup

I am having trouble typing today’s Spurs Odyssey blog because my fingers are firmly crossed that the strong rumours connecting Hugo Lloris to Manchester United do not morph into reality. He is one of the greatest goalkeepers on the planet at the moment, and we should be worried Tottenham can’t offer him the Champions League stage that has always been his target.

If he makes the £30 million move, it will explain why Daniel Levy brought in the highly regarded Michel Vorm as understudy. This could prove an insurance buy in case Lloris gets nobbled. And might the £25m that Spurs are reportedly splashing on French striker Anthony Martial be to soften the blow of losing Lloris? I hope not.

So, having passed my concerns on to you, I am going to escape back into the past. It’s comfortable there.

I am enlightening (or boring) you each week by shining the spotlight on some outstanding characters in Tottenham’s rich history. Last week I featured trend-setting player-manager John Cameron, and now it’s the turn of another great Scot, who could arguably claim the title of Father of Spurs.

I give you Peter McWilliam, who rarely gets the recognition he deserves as one of the most influential of all Tottenham managers. His story includes the Great Arsenal Con Trick, so be warned that some of the following facts are not for Spurs fans with a nervous disposition.

Peter McWilliam - Spurs' second trophy-winning manager

McWilliam carried on the Spurs tradition started by fellow-Scot Cameron of encouraging football that was smooth, stylish and sophisticated, and played along the ground. "It's a game of fit'ba not heed ba'" he was fond of saying in his strong Scottish burr as he watched contemptuously the teams who played the hump-it-high-and-long game, a crude version of what is known today as Route 1. He wanted the kick-and-rush method rooted out, and laid the foundations to the style that became known as push-and-run.

His methods not only brought winning results but also had a huge influence on the thoughts and deeds of two future Tottenham legends, Arthur Rowe and Bill Nichoslon.

McWilliam arrived at the Lane in December 1912 at the age of 33, after an appalling injury had forced his retirement from a successful playing career with Newcastle United, where the fans admiringly knew him as ‘Peter the Great.’

A snakehipped player, he was famous on Tyneside for introducing the 'McWilliam Wiggle', a move in which he would shimmy past defenders with a wiggle of his hips. Many years later we used to see the same sort of mesmerising trickery from another imported Newcastle favourite, Gazza.

Peter had started out with his local club Inverness Thistle before taking his talent to Newcastle in 1902, playing a key role in helping the Geordies win three League titles and to reach four FA Cup finals.

A stylish, upright left-half with a magic wand of a left foot, he won eight Scotland caps in the days when there were only a handful of international matches a year. Even I am not old enough to have seen him play, but from all accounts he was a player in the mould of that Rangers genius of the 1960s, 'Slim Jim' Baxter.

His playing career came to an abrupt and painful halt when he was stretchered off with a horribly damaged leg while captaining Scotland against Wales in Cardiff in 1911.

Described to me by Arthur Rowe as ‘a thoughtful, inspiring, pleasant-mannered man,’ McWilliam made it known that he was interested in management, and Tottenham chairman Charles Roberts lured him to The Lane with the offer of a wage of £12 a week.

He struggled to make an impact in his early days in charge, mainly because he inherited players who were past their best or unable to play with the sound technique that his style of play demanded.

As war clouds were gathering in Europe, he uncovered in Arthur Grimsdell an even better wing-half than he himself had been, while Jimmy Seed shone at inside-right, and Bert Bliss and Jimmy Dimmock formed a potent left wing partnership. The squad was further strengthened by the arrival from Northampton of wee wizard winger ‘Fanny’ Walden, along with assured right-back Tommy Clay, and the two Jimmys – Cantrell and Banks.

War had already been declared when – despite all their new talent – Tottenham were relegated in bottom place in a 1914-15 season that most sensible people felt should have been abandoned. It seemed obscene to be playing football while thousands were dying on the battlefields in France and Belgium.

McWilliam resumed control at White Hart Lane as the unspeakable horrors of the First World War were laid to rest beneath a riot of celebration that turned the 1920s into what F. Scott Fitzgerald concisely and colourfully summed up as The Jazz Age.

Peter, who took to wearing a distinctive trilby hat even when taking training sessions, completed his jigsaw by bringing in goalkeeper Alex Hunter, centre-half Charlie Walters, hard-as-nails right-half Bert Smith and specialist left-back Bob McDonald.

The Football League roared back into action nine months after the November 11 1918 Armistice, boasting of being “bigger and better” than ever. They expanded from 40 clubs to 44, with the First and Second Divisions now made up of 22 clubs each.

The shock, particularly for Spurs, was that the restructured First Division included their new-to-North London neighbours Arsenal – but not Tottenham. It was naturally assumed – with the extra places available – that the teams that finished in the last two places in the 1914-15 season, Chelsea and Tottenham, would automatically retain their First Division status, with Derby and Preston promoted as the top two teams in the Second Division to make up the 22 clubs.

But nobody took into account the Machiavellian manoeuvres of Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris, a sort of small-time Septic Blatter. He secretly negotiated behind the scenes and behind the backs, and had powerful Liverpool chairman and League president John McKenna – nicknamed ‘Honest John’ – giving him surprisingly strong support.

Despite finishing only fifth in the Second Division in 1914-15, it was Arsenal who were promoted along with Chelsea, Derby and Preston. The team that lost out was Tottenham, and all these years later it still rankles and irritates, like an itch that will not go away and the more you scratch it the worse it gets.

Chairman Charles Roberts, who always apparently played by the book, was speechless, even apoplectic. Privately, the Spurs directors and – more vociferously, the supporters – were wondering just how ‘Honest’ John McKenna was. Goodness knows what he would have been called had social cyberspace networks like Facebook and Twitter been around in those days. I think the internet might have gone into meltdown.

It was not only Tottenham who felt left out in the cold. The stench carried all the way up through the Black Country and to the coalfields of Yorkshire. Wolves and Barnsley had finished third and fourth in the old Second Division, and they could not fathom how Arsenal had managed to leapfrog them without a ball being kicked.

Norris, the man who stubbornly transferred Arsenal to Highbury from Woolwich against the wishes of most people in 1913, got the comeuppance wished on him by Tottenham. In 1927 the Football Association suspended him and a fellow director, and the club was censured for illegally inducing players, including the great Charles Buchan, to join Arsenal.

Sir Henry became embroiled in a huge libel case against the FA and the Daily Mail, who alleged he had been using Arsenal funds to pay his personal expenses and the wages of his chauffeur. It was the FIFA-gate of its time.

The newspaper produced evidence that he had pocketed what was then a whopping £125 from the sale of the club team bus, endorsing the cheque with the forged signature of manager Herbert Chapman, and paying the money into his wife’s account.

The cheers in Tottenham when he lost the case could no doubt be heard all the way to the Law Courts. Norris, whose ancestor had been beheaded for – euphemistically – flirting with Anne Boleyn, fitted the image of a Victorian villain, complete with a huge twirling moustache and a monocle that distorted his features.

A former Conservative MP, Mayor of Fulham and chairman at Craven Cottage when he tried to merge the club with Woolwich Arsenal, Norris was drummed out of football for the rest of his life.

Arsenal, the team he talked and tricked into the First Division, has been at the top table ever since – without ever earning the right to a place on the field of play.

These shenanigans gave Tottenham the motivation to win a First Division place through playing rather than politicking, and in Peter McWilliam they had the man with a plan and the players to implement it. The on-fire Lilywhites ran away with the Second Division championship in 1919-20 with an avalanche of 102 goals and a six-point advantage over runners-up Huddersfield (this, of course, in the days of two points for a win).

Their collection of 70 points from a possible 84 was a Second Division record and the best in the Football League for twenty-seven years.

Next target for the McWilliam Marvels was the FA Cup in 1921, with Wolves the opponents in the final at Stamford Bridge. It cost a guinea (21 shillings, £1.5p) for the best seat in the house, and two shillings to stand. The match drew a capacity crowd of 72,805 and record receipts of £15,400.

It was the wettest final on record, with everybody getting soaked by a non-stop downpour. Newly promoted Tottenham, with skipper Arthur Grimsdell, Jimmy Seed and left wing partners Bert Bliss and Jimmy Dimmock in dominating form, kept their feet better on the quagmire of a pitch.

“Dodger” Dimmock scored the only goal eight minutes into the second-half to make Tottenham the first southern winners of the Cup since they first won it twenty years earlier as a Southern League club.

Manager McWilliam, a winner with Newcastle in 1910, became the first man to play in and then manage an FA Cup winning side. The triumphant team:

Hunter; Clay, McDonald; Smith, Walters, Grimsdell; Banks, Seed, Cantrell, Bliss, Dimmock

Spurs finished sixth in the First Division that season. A year later they were runners-up to Liverpool, and went out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage against Preston after having a perfectly good looking goal disallowed.

The profits from the 1921 FA Cup run were ploughed into ground rather than team improvements, when age was beginning to catch up with several key players. White Hart Lane had become dressed up with nowhere to go.

Tottenham managed to lose the man who had been their key to success when McWilliam was allowed to move to Middlesbrough in 1927 for what was then an astronomical salary of £1,500 a year. It made McWilliam the highest-paid football manager in the world.

The softly-spoken Scot did not want to leave, and told the board that if they would up his wages to £20 a week – an extra fiver – he would stay. Charles Roberts and his fellow directors saw it as blackmail and refused, so McWilliam reluctantly left for pastures new. But one day he would return to continue the grassroots team building that he had introduced at Gravesend and Northfleet, where the Kent club was used as a testing ground and eventually a launching pad for future Spurs players.

In a 1925 interview, he said:

“I am a great believer in bringing in young players straight from school and indoctrinating them with the Spurs way of playing football. That way you get continuity running through every team from youth, through the “A” side and reserves and up to the first-team. We train the players to have only good habits. I tell them to treat the ball as their best friend and always to pass it with care and consideration. Belting the ball with an anywhere-will-do mentality has no place in the Tottenham way of doing things.”

McWilliam had a nightmare first season at Middlesbrough and in 1927-28 he took them down to the Second Division, accompanied by a Tottenham team that had also fallen apart.

Arsenal, of all teams, coaxed McWilliam back to North London as chief scout before he returned to White Hart Lane in 1938, and he was in the early stages of a rebuilding plan when for the second time in his Tottenham career a World War intervened.

During his two spells at Spurs, Arthur Rowe and, later Bill Nicholson, sat at his feet, listening and learning. They would put his principles into practice to bring post-war Glory-Glory years to Tottenham, and all with a nod of appreciation for what they had picked up from Peter the Great.

There, hope that took your mind off the Hugo Lloris dilemma! Next week: the Gentle Executioner Arthur Rowe.


Each week while waiting for the kick off to the second Spurs Odyssey Quiz League, I will be challenging you here with a question to test your knowledge of Tottenham.

Nearly everybody got last week’s teaser right …

Name the defender who joined Tottenham in 2005, played 236 League games, scored 7 goals and won four England caps; plus, from which club did he sign for Spurs?

Yes, it’s Michael Dawson who joined Tottenham from Nottingham Forest and gave his all every time he pulled on a Spurs shirt. How sad to see him relegated with Hull City.

First name drawn from the correct answers is Jim Logan, born in Tottenham, and now based in Sanderstead. I will email a screen version of one of my Tottenham-themed books to Jim, who has been addicted to Spurs since 1962.

This week’s teaser:

Who played for Chelsea and Tottenham in the 1990s and won 43 international caps, and which club did he join from Spurs?

Email your answers, please, to

Don’t forget to add your name, the district where you live and how long you’ve supported Spurs.

With Father’s Day galloping up, don’t forget you can purchase any of my books from me at, including No 99 that I have written in tribute to Muhammad Ali for whom I worked as a publicist on his European fights. He needed a PR like Einstein needed a calculator. All profits from my Tottenham-themed books go to the Tottenham Tribute Trust to help any of our old heroes who have hit difficult times.

Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS!

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