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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 136) (08.08.16)

Submitted by Norman Giller

The Managing Game (12) - Bill Nicholson

Norman Giller writes for Spurs Odyssey Dare I say we may have got a glimpse of the future as Tottenham took Inter-Milan apart with that 6-1 thrashing in the unlikely setting of Oslo on Friday?

We must never read too much into these pre-season friendlies, yet the quality of the goals and some of the football made Spurs pulses race. Yes, Inter’s defenders played as if they had cement boots, but even allowing for their lack of competitiveness there was much in the Tottenham performance to breed optimism as the new season looms.

I allowed myself to day dream for a moment and imagined Our Harry Kane facing Premier League defences with Flying Dutchman Vincent Janssen as his side-kick.

They were just briefly in partnership against Inter, and we saw enough to recognise that they could be blood brothers. Kane played just ahead of Janssen and they matched each other for positivity and the desire to shoot for goal at every opportunity.

In my little dream world I wondered how Premier League defences would stand up to not one Harry-type goal hunter but TWO! It will be fascinating to see how long Mauricio Pochettino can resist putting them on to the field together.

And how long before the Tottenham fans are singing to the tune of Don McLean’s Vincent: ‘Starry starry night, Vincent’s scoring in blue and white’?

I am sure his presence is going to be an extra motivation for Harry to add a new dimension to his game. If his confidence took a knock in the Euros, there was no sign of it against Inter. But we will not know for sure until Saturday’s testing opener against Everton at Goodison, where crafty tactician Ronald Koeman will be wanting to prove he can close the gap on Liverpool.

It is going to be a revealing season in which the reputation of at least two major coaches will be burned to a cinder. We have eight of the world’s top coaches drinking from the golden pond that is the Premier League. They cannot all be winners, and by Christmas you can bet your boots one or two of them will have supporters baying for their blood.

My hunch is we are going to have the two Manchester clubs setting the pace, with Chelsea at their heels, and fourth place a dog fight between the Arse, Liverpool, defending champions Leicester and, fingers crossed, Tottenham.

The Champions League will be No 1 on the Pochettino bucket list, and that could take total concentration off the chase for the Premier title.

Spurs have shown great progress under the Argentine generalissimo. Now – in our final season at the old White Hart Lane – is a good time to produce silverware to go with the promise.

It’s going to be a season full of excitement, excellence and emotion. We invite you to stay with us here at Spurs Odyssey throughout the season and enjoy the microscopic eyewitness match reporting of Paul Smith, plus my weekly (hopefully) balanced comments. Buckle your safety belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.


We come to the final chapter of my history of Tottenham managers, No 12 and the king of them all … the Master of White Hart Lane …

Spurs' twelfth manager - Bill Nicholson

BILL NICHOLSON (1958-1974)

Born Scarborough Yorkshire 26 January 1919
Died Hertfordshire 23 October 2004
Appointed: 11 October 1958; Resigned 29 August 1974

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BILL NICHOLSON was officially announced as new Spurs manager at midday on Saturday 11 October 1958. At 3pm his team greeted him with an astonishing 10-4 victory over Everton. No manager in the history of the game has been given such a remarkable send-off. How on earth could he follow that? Well, how about within three years becoming the first manager of the 20th Century to lift not only the League championship trophy but also the FA Cup: the elusive Double. Welcome to the legend that is Bill Nicholson … ‘Sir Bill’, the Master of White Hart Lane.

Every blue-and-white-blooded Spurs fan thinks Bill Nicholson should have been/should be knighted. While I share this view, just let me point out that knighthoods are not handed out posthumously. Golfing great Henry Cotton received his accolade after he had died, but had accepted the honour before going to the great fairway in the sky.

If the Palace were to make it Sir Bill Nicholson now, how about the claims of the likes of Bill Shankly at Liverpool, Jock Stein at Celtic, Don Revie at Leeds, Bobby Moore at West Ham, Billy Wright and Stan Cullis at Wolves, Herbert Chapman at that place down the road, and so on ad infinitum.

I have long campaigned for the introduction of a knighthood award, given posthumously to the many deserving men and women who slipped through the net. It could be listed, for example, as Sir Bill Nicholson-pm, or in another area Sir Eric Morecambe-pm, pm as in post-mortem (“You are waffling, Uncle Norman .. get back to the managers …”).

I reckon during the many years I knew and loved (yes, loved) Bill Nicholson, I must have written several million words about him and his teams. So how to do him justice here in this series on the history of Tottenham managers, with him far and away the greatest of them all?

I've decided the best way is to repeat a feature I wrote about Bill that covers his career in an off-beat way that nobody else could replicate and that, I hope, gives him the acclamation he deserves. Here goes …

During my fourteen years as a member of the This Is Your Life scriptwriting team, I was continually trying to get Bill Nicholson ‘booked’. One of my roles was to prepare dossiers for the show's producer, Malcolm Morris, who would run them past Eamonn Andrews and, for the later series, Michael Aspel.

Some of the sporting celebrities whose Life stories I scripted included Nigel Mansell, boxing great Jack 'Kid' Berg, tennis commentator Dan 'Oh I say' Maskell, Frank Bruno, Terry Lawless, Jim Watt, Reg Gutteridge, Billy Wright, John Surtees, Peter Shilton, Denis Compton, rugby legend Cliff Morgan, Peter Alliss, snooker aces Jimmy White and Joe Johnson, plus many more. But sadly I failed to get my hero Bill Nicholson's story to the screen. For various reasons a much deserved tribute never got past the programme planning stage. But at least this Spurs Odyssey series gives me the chance to take a magnifying glass to Bill's life and times.

One of the reasons the programme producers were nervous about featuring Bill was that his close confidante Danny Blanchflower had famously turned down Eamonn and told him politely where to stick his red book. He was the first to refuse to take part as the subject because he said he saw it as an invasion of privacy. The fact that he was having marital problems at the time, of course, had nothing to do with it! It cost thousands of pounds to scrap the planned show, because relatives, clubmates and friends had been brought from all parts of the globe to join in a tribute to Danny Boy. The pipes, the pipes were calling, but Danny was not answering. The fear was that Bill – a shy, private man – might be tempted to "do a Danny.”

I was privileged to get friendship-close to Bill Nick during my Fleet Street reporting career for the Daily Herald and Daily Express, so I knew him better than most. Bill was one of the few managers who used to work every Sunday, going to White Hart Lane from his nearby end-of-terrace house to catch up on the paperwork that he hated. He was very much a tracksuit manager, and only really content when at the Cheshunt training ground working on tactics and theories with his 'other family' – the players.

Virtually every other Sunday during the football season my best pal Harry Miller, of the Daily Mirror, and I would drop in on Bill at his cramped little White Hart Lane office. It would always start off with him moaning at us for interrupting his letter-answering chores. 'Here they are again, bloody Miller and Giller Songs-At-The- Piano,' he would say, but then once he relaxed we would not be able to switch him off as he talked football matters. We rarely got stories for our papers because Bill did not go in for the sort of gossip editors were interested in, but it was so fascinating to hear him giving his thoughts on the game that we used to almost sit in awe at his feet.

I have fished out the dossier I compiled for the eyes of Eamonn Andrews in 1985, and here it is in the original note form (the quotes were put in to give Eamonn a taste of what the guests might say). We had to give each proposed subject a codeword, because if ever it leaked out that a Life show was being planned it would be instantly shelved. Here are my confidential notes, exactly as they dropped on to the desk of that legendary broadcaster, Eamon Andrews:

Suggested codeword: Cockerel

Summary: William Edward Nicholson, ex-footballer and later football manager: born Scarborough, Yorkshire, 26 January 1919; played for Tottenham Hotspur 1936- 55, manager 1958-74, managerial consultant West Ham 1975-76; currently managerial consultant at White Hart Lane; capped once for England 1951; OBE 1975.

Personal: Married to Grace (known as Darkie, a brunette who has a twin sister who is blonde) … They have two daughters (Linda and Jean), and throughout his managerial career with Tottenham he and the family lived in an end of terrace house within walking distance of the White Hart Lane ground. Darkie famously cycled to the local shops on a push bike.

Quote (circa 1970) from Mrs Grace Nicholson a down-to-earth and bubbling lady who taught needlework at the local comprehensive school: "I accept that Bill has two marriages – one to me, the other to football in general and Tottenham Hotspur in particular.. Even when we are on summer holiday in Scarborough his mind is eaten up with ideas for the following season. Sometimes I wonder if he should have a bed put in his office at White Hart Lane!”

EARLY LIFE: Born and raised between the wars in Scarborough, the second youngest of a hansom-cab driver's nine children. Grew up during the Depression, and on leaving school at the age of 14, he took a job as a laundry boy and played his football for Scarborough Young Liberals and Scarborough Working Men's Club – holding his own against grown men. In 1936, aged 16, he was spotted by Spurs and moved south to join their nursery club, Gravesend and Northfleet, before turning professional in 1938. Best person to cover this part of his footballing life is Ronnie Burgess, who captained Spurs and Wales in the 1950s and was Bill's close pal.

Quote (circa 1961) from Ron Burgess: "Bill was the most conscientious footballer I ever played with. He gave 100 per cent in everything that he did, and would always put the team first. In those early days at Gravesend and then in the first-team he unselfishly agreed to play at left-back, even though he was essentially right footed. He lost his best years to the war, otherwise he would have won a load of England caps.”

WAR YEARS: Bill had just started to establish himself in the first-team when war was declared in September 1939. He served in the Durham Light Infantry, stationed mainly in England – first as an infantry instructor showing how to load rifles and fix bayonets, then a physical training instructor. Bill found time for Saturday wartime League guest appearances with Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Darlington. When he reported back to Tottenham in 1945 he first of all played at centre-half and then switched to right-half, the position in which he was to establish himself as one of the most reliable and industrious players in the League. He became a key man in the Tottenham 'Push and Run' team that in back-to-back seasons 1949 to 1951 won the Second Division and First Division titles.

Note to Eamonn: Ideally we should bring in Alf Ramsey here, but he always refuses to do the show. I think he is in fear that he will be the subject, and likes to keep his gypsy background private. Instead, we can go for Eddie Baily, who was the schemer in that Push and Run team …

Quote (circa 1967) from Eddie Baily, England and Tottenham inside-left and later coach, who was nicknamed the Cheeky Chappie after comedian Max Miller: "Bill was a players' player. He did not hunt personal glory but gave everything he had to the team. You could count his bad games on the fingers of One Arm Lou (a notorious ticket spiv of the time). The Push and Run side would not have functioned nearly so well without Billy's energy and enthusiasm. He covered for Alf behind him and prompted the forwards with neat rather than spectacular passes. He left those to me! He learned a lot from our great manager Arthur Rowe, and when he retired it was obvious he would make an outstanding coach and manager. He was a born tactician.”

PLAYING CAREER: Bill played 314 League games for Spurs as a defensive midfield player, and scored six goals. He won one England cap for England as stand- in for injured Billy Wright – against Portugal at Goodison Park in May 1951 when he was 32. Remarkably, he scored with his first kick in international football, hitting the net from 20 yards with a first-time drive in the opening minute. He never got another call-up because of the consistency of Billy Wright.

Quote (circa 1980) from Billy Wright, England and Wolves captain, former Arsenal manager and now Head of Sport at ATV: "Typical of Bill, when I told him he had deserved another chance with England he said, 'No, you're the better player and the No 4 England shirt belongs to you.' By the time I moved to centre-half Bill was past his peak, so he did not get the extra England caps that his ability and dedication deserved. I have rarely known such a modest man, and he is the perfect role model for young players coming into the game and also young managers. I may have been a better player, but it was no race as to which of us was the better manager! He was one of the top three in the game, and he is respected throughout the world. His coaching ability was second to none.”

THE COACH: In 1954, Bill was honest enough to admit that his troublesome knee would not allow him to play at full power any more and he voluntarily stood down from the team, and after helping the reserves for a while retired to concentrate on his first love of coaching. He gained his FA coaching badge at the first attempt and worked with the Tottenham youth squad and also with the Cambridge University team. In 1957 he became assistant to manager Jimmy Anderson, who had replaced the unwell Arthur Rowe. In 1958 he was a member of the coaching staff that travelled to Sweden for the World Cup finals.

Quote (circa 1968) from Sir Walter Winterbottom, England manager 1947-1962 and later chairman of the Central Council for Physical Recreation: "I assigned Bill to watch the Brazilians during the 1958 games in readiness for our match. He came back with his head full of tactical plans, and we sat down and worked out how we could stop a team that was beating everybody in sight. It was largely due to Bill's creative input that we held Brazil to a goalless draw. It was an extraordinary performance against a team that became arguably the greatest world champions ever. Bill has proved beyond question that he is one of the most astute managers and coaches our game has ever produced.”

Bill juggled his Tottenham manager's role with taking charge of the England Under-23 summer tours for many years, and was the choice of a lot of good judges to take over the England job before his old Tottenham team-mate Alf Ramsey was made manager in 1962.

THE CLUB MANAGER: In October 1958, Bill was appointed manager in place of Jimmy Anderson and on the very day that he took charge Spurs beat Everton 10-4! The star of the match was 'Tom Thumb' Tommy Harmer, who scored one goal and helped created seven others …

Quote (circa 1980) from Tommy Harmer, Tottenham's tiny tot midfield schemer and now a messenger in the City: "It was one of those matches when everything we touched turned to goals. When we came off at the end I said to Bill, 'Don't expect this every week, Boss.’”

The greatest feat with which Bill will always be associated was the League and FA Cup Double of 1960-61, the first time it had been achieved in the 20th Century and considered the 'Impossible Dream.' Bill and his captain Danny Blanchflower were the driving force that lifted Tottenham into the land of legend. Many experts rate that Double team the greatest British club side of all time.

Note to Eamonn: The perfect person to produce here would be Danny, but after your previous experience I am sure you will not second that opinion! So I suggest Dave Mackay, the heart of the Spurs …

Quote (circa 1984) from Dave Mackay: "Bill was a master tactician, who could see a game in his mind before it was played. He had a photographic memory when it came to footballers, and could recall instantly the strengths and weaknesses of almost any player he had ever seen. I considered myself fortunate to play under him and tried to take his attitude and application into management.”

The summer after completing the Double, Bill went to Italy and bought Jimmy Greaves from AC Milan for £99,999 (not wanting to give Jimmy the pressure of being the first £100,000 footballer). That following season Spurs won the FA Cup and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup, going out in controversial circumstances to eventual champions Benfica.

This should be when we spring Jimmy Greaves (with whom I am currently writing our sixth book together):

Quote (circa 1985) from Jimmy Greaves: "Bill would not be my choice as company for a night out on the town, but he would be first on my list of managers. He can be dour, and tunnel visioned where football is concerned, but he does not see his job to be a comedian. His teams always entertain on the pitch, and that's because he gives them free rein. He never tried to put any restrictions on me and I enjoyed the freedom. We won the FA Cup for Bill in 1962, which was consolation for not beating Benfica in the European Cup final. I had a perfectly good goal ruled off-side, which would have given us a chance of reaching the final.”

The following season Tottenham created history by becoming the first British team to win a major European trophy, with a 5-1 victory over Atletico Madrid in the European Cup Winners' Cup final in Rotterdam. We could have fun here by bringing on Bill's big pal Bill Shankly …

Quote (circa 1973) from Bill Shankly, legendary Liverpool manager: "Bill is the canniest manager in the business, who always comes up with tactical thoughts that make the difference between winning and losing. He showed us all the way to win in Europe, and has set standards that we are all trying to match. I have enormous respect for him as a manager and as a man.”

In less than a year Nicholson lost the engine room of his dream team. Skipper Danny Blanchflower retired with a knee injury, the swashbuckling Dave Mackay suffered a twice-broken leg, and John White was tragically killed when struck by lightning on a golf course. Bill set about rebuilding his side and brought in Pat Jennings from Watford, Cyril Knowles from Middlesbrough, Alan Mullery from Fulham, Mike England from Blackburn, Alan Gilzean from Dundee and Terry Venables from Chelsea.

Quote (circa 1984) from Terry Venables: "It was close to an impossible job to follow in the footsteps of that great Double side. That is the sort of team that comes along only once in a lifetime. But we did our best and managed to win the FA Cup in 1967. Bill set the benchmarks for all future Tottenham managers.”

There were victories in the the League Cup (1971 and 1973) and the Uefa Cup (1972), but Nicholson set his targets high and – disillusioned by the pay demands of several of his players, and hooliganism among a section of the supporters – he resigned in 1974, but was coaxed back in a consultancy capacity by manager Keith Burkinshaw after a brief interlude at West Ham.

He was rewarded with an OBE for his services to football, while most in the game and certainly the Tottenham supporters feel he should have been given a knighthood.

As a surprise guest at the end of the show I suggest we spring Arthur Rowe, manager of the Push and Run Spurs who was a huge influence on Bill both as a player and as a coach. Bill will be thrilled to see him.

That is the end of my dossier for the eyes of Eamonn, who did not think we should risk the modest, unassuming Bill turning us down. His life was football, football, football all the way, and he won lasting respect and admiration for the dignified and creative way in which he represented the Beautiful Game. He would have thoroughly deserved the accolade of being presented with the Big Red Book.

It was heartbreaking for those of us close to the Master to see in the mid-70s him losing his enthusiasm for the job that had been his life. It was a mixture of the hooliganism of the 1970s and the growing greed of the players that made him fall out of love with the game at the age of 55.

I remember Bill describing the night that Tottenham played Feyenoord in Rotterdam in the second leg of the Uefa Cup final on May 29 “the saddest night of my life” It was what happened off the pitch rather than on it, where Spurs were soundly beaten 2-0 to give Feyenoord a 4-2 aggregate victory.

The Uefa Cup had been the exclusive property of Football League clubs for six successive years, but Feyenoord deservedly became the first Dutch winners of the trophy after a final that turned into the blackest event in Tottenham’s proud history.

Spurs had been flattered by a 2-2 draw in the first leg at White Hart Lane. A goal just before half-time from centre-half Mike England and an own goal by Van Daele cancelled out goals by the highly skilled tandem team of Van Hanegem and De Jong.

Feyenoord were comfortably the better team in the second-leg, and a section of so-called Spurs supporters could not stomach seeing their team being made to look strictly second best.

The Dutch masters clinched victory with their second goal two minutes from the final whistle. Earlier there had been disturbances triggered by out-of-control Spurs followers, and on a best-forgotten night there were 70 arrests and 200 spectators were treated for injuries.

Bill Nicholson, choking back tears, appealed over the public address system for sanity. “You hooligans are a disgrace to Tottenham Hotspur and a disgrace to England,” he said. “This is a game of football – not a war.”

That night Bill Nick was close to walking out on his beloved Tottenham. He said in an emotional after-match statement:

”This is a heartbreaking night for football in general and Tottenham in particular. It makes you wonder if it is all worth it when you see people behaving like animals. It is not just a football problem. It is a social problem, and hooliganism is eating into our great game. Questions should be asked as to whether there is enough discipline in homes and schools. Feyenoord were worthy winners, and I am extremely embarrassed that a minority among our supporters – people we should disown – were unable to accept the fact that we were beaten by a better side.”

Bill’s departure was delayed just a few months. He festered and fretted throughout the summer, waiting for the new season for the first time in his career without enthusiasm. He felt the club had been badly wounded by the incident in Rotterdam, and he was disillusioned by the way widespread hooliganism was scarring the face of the once Beautiful Game. His lovely wife, Darkie, confided that she had never known him so low.

He had suddenly lost the ability to motivate his players, and he slipped into a deep depression as Spurs got off to their worst start ever with four successive defeats. On 29 August 1974, ‘Mr Tottenham’ handed in his resignation, bringing to an end 39 years service to the club and 16 of them as the most successful manager in Spurs history.

It was not only hooliganism that had robbed Nicholson of his appetite, but also player power and greed. He revealed: “Players have become impossible. They talk all the time about security, but they are not prepared to work for it. I am abused by players when they come to see me. There is no longer respect …”

He dropped a bombshell at a press conference by divulging: “I have recently found it impossible to get the players I want because at Tottenham we pride ourselves in not making under-the-counter payments. It is expected in the London area for players to ask for £7,000 tax free. That’s the minimum asking price by the agents of players. I want no part of that world.”

Skipper Martin Peters and long-serving defender Phil Beal made a private visit to Nicholson on behalf of the players to ask him to change his mind and stay on, but he said there was no going back. The Tottenham directors wrung their hands, and allowed the King of Tottenham to leave, when an arm around the shoulders and warm words of encouragement could have made him change his mind.

Eddie Baily, another long-time Spurs servant and a highly regarded and sometimes acid-tongued coach, departed with Nicholson, complaining loudly about what he considered miserly contract-settlement terms. Bill Nick got a ‘golden’ handshake that he confidentially described to me as “pathetic.”

There were strong rumours that Lane icon Danny Blanchflower would take over. This is what Bill Nicholson had advised, but he found the directors deaf to his suggestions. Instead, the Board appointed another Irishman, who had Arsenal stamped all the way through him. Terry Neill’s reign could only end in tears.

Bill Nicholson – Sir Bill – was an impossible act to follow.

For the record, these have been the managers in charge at the Lane since the golden days of Bill Nicholson, including caretaker roles:

Terry Neill (1974-76)
Keith Burkinshaw (1976-84)
Peter Shreeves (1984-86, 1991-92)
David Pleat( 1986-87,1998, 2001, 2003-94)
Terry Venables (1987-91)
Doug Livermore/Ray Clemence (1992-93)
Osvaldo Ardiles (1993-94)
Steve Perryman (1994)
Gerry Francis (1994-97)
Christian Gross (1997-98)
Chris Hughton (1998)
George Graham (1998-2001)
Glenn Hoddle 2001-03)
Jacques Santini (2004)
Martin Jol (2004-07)
Clive Allen (2007)
Juande Ramos (2007-08)
Harry Redknapp (2008-12)
André Villas-Boas (2012-13)
Tim Sherwood (2013-14)
Mauricio Pochettino (2014- )


For all regulars, a reminder that we kick off the third Spurs Odyssey Quiz League next week! Meantime, I am challenging you to a teaser test of your knowledge of Tottenham players, ancient and modern. Last week’s teaser:

“I am a Geordie and have won 34 England caps, and scored two goals in 64 League games for Spurs. Who am I and from which Lon-don club did I join Tottenham in 2004?”

It was, of course, Michael Carrick, who joined Spurs from West Ham before being snapped up by Alex Ferguson for Man United, where he has enjoyed an exceptional career.

First name drawn: Geoff Rowlands, from Swansea, a Spurs supporter since 1958 when his idol Cliff Jones signed for the Lilywhites. I will be sending Geoff a screen version of one of my Tottenham-themed books.

This week’s teaser: “I am a Yorkshireman, have won seven international caps and also played four times for the Great Britain team. Who am I and from which club did I join Spurs in 2007?”

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.

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

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