Consent Preferences Spurs Odyssey - Norman Giller's Blog (No. 127 - 06.06.16)
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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 127) (06.06.16)

Submitted by Norman Giller

Norman's tribute to Muhammad Ali

Norman Giller pictured with The Greatest!

You will forgive me for going off Spurs message and talking briefly about the sporting topic of the moment, the passing of Muhammad Ali. It is completely dominating my thoughts, because I was one of those privileged to not only watch the great man in action many times but actually get to know and work with him in the summertime of his extraordinary life.

I have been expecting him to lose his beyond-bravery battle to survive for months now, yet the news of his death still came like a thunderbolt to the heart and left me mourning the departure of the most amazing man on this planet.

I discussed Ali’s standing yesterday with another great hero, Jimmy Greaves, whose thought processes have been dulled by his recent stroke, but he managed to convey in our telephone conversation that the world is suddenly a poorer place for Ali’s passing.

“Nobody greater,” Jimmy said, which was a perfect summing up in just two words of what Ali has meant in a life beyond measure, a super human who transcended boxing to become the best known face and voice in the universe. It was John Lennon who got The Beatles in trouble by saying they were more popular than Jesus. Nobody could have disputed Ali’s claim that he was more famous than any sportsman who has ever lived.

I was honoured and lucky to see every one of Ali's major contests, either at the ringside or live on cinema screens when I was the publicist for ViewSport, the No 1 satellite company in the days before TV pay per view. I worked closely with Ali and his PR team on his European fights when virtually every word he uttered was all about getting bums on seats. The master publicist.

He had the fast fists and feet of a middleweight, the heart of a lion, an Everest-size ego and the mouth of a prophet. Sadly, he was reduced to a shuffling wreck because the parasites who fed off him encouraged him to have ten fights too many. He should have hung up his gloves after the Thrilla in Manila, and then could have become a powerful force in politics, even perhaps the first black President, but that was probably too soon during the slow demolition of apartheid in some parts of the States.

When I first went to the ‘Land of the Free’ in the 60s the likes of Sammy Davis, Nat Cole and Count Basie had to go to some hotel gigs through the staff entrance. And people wonder why Ali was bitter.

It sickened me yesterday to see Donald Trump praising Ali, this the man who would bar all Muslims from the United States. Peak-years Ali would have made mincemeat of bullying bigots like Trump. He would have whupped him with words, and exposed him as a power-hungry fraud.

But let me get back to a football theme, as this is what our world here at Spurs Odyssey is all about. Here’s an Ali-associated story I share in my latest book on the 1966 World Cup final day (

“Higher up in the Wembley stands world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, still known to most as Cassius Clay, had gone almost unnoticed to his seat immediately alongside the press box. He was with his brother Rudolph Clay, about to adopt the Muslim name Rahaman Ali. He was back at the stadium where three years earlier Henry Cooper had dropped him on the seat of his pants. Something I learned when later working as a publicist for Ali fights in Europe was that no matter where he was in the world he kept his watch on American time. He ate and slept according to the demands of his US body clock. This explains why he slumbered through most of the final at Wembley.

‘I would have been happy to miss the match,’ Ali confided to me years later. ‘I only went ’cos promoter Jack Solomons told me tickets were going slow for my defence against Brian London the next week. We needed the publicity. It was unthinkable there could be empty seats when The Greatest was performing. Couldn’t get in the papers ’cos of the soccer. I had no interest. Back home it’s a game for little gals.’ He dozed virtually throughout the match (and the poorly attended fight cost Solomons a small fortune).”

Thanks for letting me trespass on your time and thoughts talking about my all-time idol. This was a little tribute I paid to him on line, and I am sure you will echo it:

Norman Giller's tribute to Ali

Muhammad Ali, iconic, unique, unmatchable, unequalled, yes, The Greatest.

The Managing Game (3)

Ok, back to matters Tottenham (with fingers crossed that our Famous Five come through the Euros with no injury problems). During the Premier League’s summer lull I am dipping into the pages of one of my early Tottenham books (The Managing Game), and will spotlight a different White Hart Lane boss each week. I know from the feedback I am getting that you enjoy these time-travels back to our formative days. Today, following on from the pioneering John Cameron last week, I am spotlighting the most unlikely manager in our club’s great history …

Spurs' third manager - Fred Kirkham

Born Lancashire, circa 1872. Died: 1949
Appointed 18 April 1907
Resigned 22 July 1 1908

TOTAL MATCHES P61 W29 D10 L22 F102 A73 Win% 47.54

FRED KIRKHAM’S appointment as manager of Tottenham Hotspur following the departure of John Cameron was a shock that could be measured on the football Richter scale. To this day, his selection makes no sense whatsoever. I have tried hard to get to the bottom of the decision by going through acres of archive material but there is no clue as to why he was chosen ahead of a procession of men much better qualified for the job. My educated guess is it was more political than for playing reasons.

Kirkham was a Preston-based, bowler-hatted, full-time commercial traveller and a part-time referee. He had the honour of refereeing the 1906 FA Cup in which Everton beat Newcastle United 1-0 at Crystal Palace, and also officiated in eleven international matches. There is no question he was one of the top referees of his time. But why would anybody think that a referee would be equipped to become a manager? I wonder how White Hart Lane supporters would react if it was suddenly announced that Howard Webb had been put in charge of the team.

Man-with-the-whistle Kirkham was, to say the least, given the job of Tottenham team boss in strange circumstance. On 13 April 1907 he refereed the Spurs-West Herts (later Watford) Southern League game. Just five days later he was introduced to the gob-smacked players as their new manager. It was April but not April Fool’s Day.

As a referee he was famous for being autocratic, robotic even and doing everything by the book. He treated the players almost with disdain, and he took this attitude into management with him. It was a disaster and during his one full season in charge there was an air almost of despair in the dressing-room.

The fans were not happy with his tactics or his manner towards them and attendances at Tottenham's new White Lane home started to drop along with the performances of the team. In the one Kirkham season Spurs finished seventh in the Southern League table, ten points adrift of champions Queen's Park Rangers.

Kirkham took up his job at the end of the 1907-08 season and left six weeks before the start of the 1908-09 campaign after negotiating a financial settlement on his contract. The club issued a terse statement: “Mr F.T. Kirkham has tendered his resignation as manager and will leave the club with immediate effect.” There were no tears shed.

Perhaps he suffered by following the silver-tongued Scot John Cameron, but his tight-lipped approach to his job won him few friends among the press and he rarely gave an interview.

The only quote of note that I have been able to find in my trawl through the archives was shortly after his shock arrival as manager:

“I am very honoured to be given this opportunity to manage this fine club. As a referee I have been fortunate to see how the best teams play, and I will be bringing this experience and knowledge to the job. It is a challenge I am looking forward to, and feel confident I can help the club move forward to take a place as a major force in the game. The players will have my full respect, and I expect the same in return.”

He was appointed against the dramatic backcloth of Tottenham having to almost beg for a place in the Football League. They were finally elected to the new Second Division for the 1908-9 season. It was a change of status loaded with stress and suspense. There was a school of thought that Kirkham had been given the manager’s job because of his contacts among the Football League hierarchy, but if that was true his presence brought no easy passage to a League berth.

Spurs had been given the impression they were guaranteed a League place, and surrendered their membership of the Southern League. It almost turned out to be a premature act of madness. Imagine the shock of chairman Charles Roberts and his directors when they went to the League annual meeting for what they expected to be a rubber-stamp acceptance of their nomination, only to find they did not have sufficient votes. Just as they were calculating the cost – and hurting from the humiliation – Stoke City announced they were having to resign from the League because of a financial crisis.

Their place went to Spurs, but not without heart-stopping drama. Lincoln, Rotherham and Southport were also up for election. Laughable as it seems at this distance, Tottenham tied with Lincoln on seventeen votes each. It was left to the eight-man Management Committee to decide, and Spurs got the nod by five votes to three.

The sigh of relief could have been heard all the way across North London, which was their sole territory without sight or scent of Woolwich Arsenal.

The directors were happy to see the back of Kirkham and decided they could run the show themselves. They went into the brave new world of the Football League with the club secretary in charge.It was like going to war with a corporal holding the general's baton. That’s next weeks chapter in the Tottenham Managers story.


As we patiently wait for the third Spurs Odyssey Quiz League to kick off at the start of next season, I am challenging you each week to a teaser test of your knowledge of Tottenham players, ancient and modern. Last week’s challenge:

“I won five England caps and then scored 19 goals in 128 League appearances for Tottenham after arriving from Anfield. For which player did I come on as a substitute in a winning Tottenham FA Cup final team at Wembley?”

As if that could stump you Spurs Odyssey know-alls … yes, Paul Walsh and it was Vinny Samways who made way for him in that unforgettable 1991 FA Cup final against Cloughie’s Nottingham Forest.

First name drawn: Vic Parsons, a Tottenham supporter since the early 70s when he lived in Harpenden but is now retired and watching Spurs from afar in Australia. I will be sending Vic a screen version of one of my Tottenham-themed books.

This week’s teaser: “I was born in Enfield, and made my international debut against Italy in the 2014-15 season. Who am I and for which team did I score a hat-trick in a League One match in 2013-14?”

Please email your answer by midnight on Friday to You will receive an automated acknowledgement.

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

You can purchase any of my books from me at, including No 101 out this week: July 30 1966, Football’s Longest Day, the full inside story of the day England won the World Cup. I was there, and was the only journalist to get into the dressing-room after the final. 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!

P.S - As if you were not already aware, the Euro 2016 Tournament starts on Friday. I have no doubt that Norman will be keeping us abreast of events in France in his regular weekly columns!

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