NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 228
Submitted by Norman Giller
As Gareth Bale’s wonder goal hit the back of the Liverpool net in the Champions’ League Cup final I fell forward and groaned: “There goes any chance Spurs have of buying him back.”
There was a strong possibility of restoring Gareth to Tottenham this summer to decorate the new stadium with his skill, but his fantastic overhead goal has changed the landscape.
Suddenly Real are wondering if they want to let go of such a prize asset, particularly as they could be losing the King, Cristiano Ronaldo, in a mega-money transfer. If you have a look at this Review of Bookie Pro page, maybe you could be in the money too!
Gareth, who is making out a case to be considered one of the greatest British footballers of all time, has said emphatically that he wants regular first-team action and not to be warming substitute benches.
His two goals on Saturday – certainly the first – was his statement to the world that he can still play a bit after collecting his fourth European Champions’ winners’ medal in his five years with Real.
His value shot back up into the stratosphere after THAT goal, which will be action replayed every time there is a Champions’ League final to the end of time.
This means his agent Jonathan Barnett can get top dollar from a wealthy club like Manchester United, rather than have to negotiate a more cash-restricted move back to Tottenham. So it looks like goodbye, rather than a good buy (imagine Gareth linking up with Our Harry!).
Spurs supporters have to come to terms with the fact that there is only so much that Tottenham can spend while facing a £515m debt mountain because of the super new ground.
Daniel Levy has already committed himself to paying out £165,000 a week to keep the maestro Mauricio Pochettino happy for five years, and he has also splashed out on Poch’s squad of coaches. This is the best bit of business Tottenham have done in a long while and guarantees consistency and continuity going into the new home.
They are likely to arrive without Toby Aldereirweld, who looks bound for Old Trafford – possibly with Anthony Martial coming south as a very desirable makeweight.
England international left back Danny Rose could also be on his bike, with all moves put on hold until after the World Cup.
Perhaps they could put all the money collected in transfer fees into a pot to help recapture Gareth Bale But don’t hold your breath.
I shall be a VIP guest in the Royal Box at Wembley on Saturday for the England/Nigeria World Cup warm-up match, along with the few other survivors who reported the 1966 World Cup final. Must remember not to jump up if Our Harry scores!
Yes, it’s going to be a long hot summer, with the standard set by THAT Bale goal. Phew, what a scorcher!
Danny Blanchfower, one of Tottenham’s all-time greats, once walked out on Eamonn Andrews and refused to accept his ‘This Is Your Life’ book. While waiting for the new season to get under way and Spurs to move into their state-of-the-art home, I will be telling you the story here that Eamonn could not tell. We kick off this serialisation of my book with the background facts to the night Danny ‘did a runner’ …
OUR journey starts in the production department of the ‘This Is Your Life’ office, based in the 1980s just off Tottenham Court Road in the heart of London’s West End. I was a member of the scriptwriting team for fourteen years, and it was part of the show’s legend how Danny had been the first person to turn down Eamonn Andrews and his famous Big Red Book.
The programme was scheduled for the evening of 6 February 1961, and here I was some twenty years later with the actual script in my hand.
I was always fascinated to know exactly what happened the night that Danny politely told his fellow-Irishman Eamonn where to stick his book. He was at the very peak of his footballing career, with Spurs two thirds through the season in which he captained them to the first League and FA Cup Double of the 20th Century.
The date the BBCtv producers had chosen to go ‘live’ to the nation was the third anniversary of the Munich Air crash that decimated the Manchester United team, and from which Danny’s younger brother, Jackie, had escaped with his life but injured so badly he could never play football again.
I read through the script and saw that they had planned to end the show by reuniting Danny and Jackie. What a tearjerker that would have been.
The brothers had played together a dozen times for Northern Ireland before Jackie’s career was so cruelly cut short. Eamonn was scripted to tell how Jackie had been given the Last Rites at the scene of the crash, so his story was even more dramatic and moving than Danny’s.
There were family guests who had been brought over from the United States and South Africa, and Bill Nicholson and the entire Spurs first team squad were lined up at the Shepherd’s Bush studio to welcome their captain, with whom they had trained at Cheshunt earlier that day. Relatives and old friends had been flown in from Ireland and several of his international team-mates were ready to tell their Danny stories.
So many myths have been perpetrated about the show that never was. Even to this day I meet people who say they saw Danny saying ‘no’ to Eamonn on television. Oh no they didn’t.
Only one man apart from Danny knew exactly what happened. This is what the sole eyewitness, Eamonn Andrews, told me:
"We got Danny along to Broadcasting House for what he thought was going to be a radio interview about the season so far. He did not know, but we had hidden cameras filming his every move from the moment he came into the studio. We were recording it to show it as the introduction to a live broadcast from Shepherd's Bush.
Danny was sitting at the microphone ready to start his interview when I came in carrying the Red Book. He took one look at me and was like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights.
As he stood up, he just said: "Oh no ... oh no... no way."
I did not have a chance to say a word to him before he dashed out of the studio as if shot from a cannon. If I could have got to Danny I might have been able to talk some sense into him, but he was away and out of range of our cameras.
One of our production team caught up with him and tried to reason with him, and explained that we had friends and relatives from all over the world waiting to greet him. He replied, ‘That’s your problem, not mine. You should have asked me and I would have said my private life is my private life.'
We were stunned. It had never happened before, but thank goodness we had a show from the previous month in the can – a Somerset doctor – and we ran that, with the viewers having no idea that it was supposed to have been a show featuring Danny. I've been asked more about this show that never was than most that we have screened!"
Many years later Danny confessed to me that it was a mixture of embarrassment and his belief that private lives should stay private that made him instinctively run away. He did not want to be dishonest or hypocritical about his family life in front of the camera. His three marriages and various dalliances give a clue to the fact that he had an eye for the ladies, but if you think my story is going to expose any of his romantic secrets you are going to be disappointed and I suggest you leave the page right now.
I am here to tell the story of Danny Blanchflower the footballer, the writer, the raconteur and wit, and also the rebel without a pause, who could be quarrelsome, charming, inventive, wise and weird and all this in the time frame of one thought process.
As well as watching many of Danny’s greatest moments on the playing fields of England and Ireland, I was lucky enough to share his life as a newspaperman. We were stablemates on Express newspapers, and his observations and opinions in the Sunday edition were often so contentious and controversial that he had football’s establishment figures choking on their cornflakes.
This gentle, quietly spoken Irishman with a core of steel liked to be in command. For example, he willingly went ahead with a ‘Face to Face’ interrogation from master interviewer John Freeman just a year after he turned down the chance to appear on This Is Your Life , and he also appeared on Roy Plomley’s Desert Island Discs on BBC radio in the summer of 1960. He told me:
"I was happy answering questions. That meant I was in charge and could say only as much as I wanted to say. In that This Is Your Life situation I would have had no control over what was being said, and to me it was an invasion of privacy. Call me sensitive, but I prefer to think of myself as having principles and sticking to them. Even if I had not been approaching something of a compromising position with my marriage, I would still have said ‘no’ to my old friend Eamonn. As I’ve often told him since, his show got more publicity from me saying ‘no’ than most of those where the victim – I use the word deliberately – said ‘yes.’"
Danny ‘doing a runner’ cost the BBC around £20,000 in production costs, a huge amount back in the early ‘sixties. They had to pay out travelling and hotel expenses for people coming from many parts of the world, and they went ahead with the traditional after-show party, the difference being there had been no show and there was no guest of honour.
They had held a full rehearsal in the studio in the afternoon, with one of the show’s researchers sitting in the seat reserved for Danny. Eamonn then left for the pick-up but, sheepishly, came back two hours later without his prey. He explained what had happened, and with his famous lop-sided grin toasted, “Absent friends.”
Bill Nicholson was furious with Danny over the This Is Your Life farce, not because he said ‘no’ but because he had wasted half a day. “My time is precious,” he grumbled. “I did warn the production team that they might find Danny being less than co-operative. He is not your normal run-of-the-mill person. He has his own ideas and away from football keeps himself to himself.”
Bill was scripted to act as spokesman for Spurs, and would have told Eamonn:
"Danny sometimes baffles us with his blarney, but underneath it all there is one of the most intelligent footballers in the world. He is the finest captain I've ever clapped eyes on, and leads on and off the pitch with a keen eye for detail. He is not the fastest thing on two feet, but is always a thought ahead of his opponents and drives the team forward with passes that are delivered with slide-rule precision. He is never short of a word or three, and he brings much entertainment both to the pitch and the dressing-room.
Danny is never frightened to say what he thinks and it is nearly always worth listening to, but sometimes you have to take him with a pinch of salt, because he is continually looking for the chance to wind you up just for amusement. We feel very fortunate to have him playing for Tottenham Hotspur."
For many weeks I tried to persuade Eamonn to make Bill Nicholson the subject of his show, but the producers always put the block on the idea because they feared he would “do a Danny.”
Jimmy Greaves, hugely influenced by Danny as a player and as a person, was another Tottenham man who made it clear that on no account would he agree to be a subject of the programme. It later switched from BBC to ITV, which included the Saint and Greavsie show among its flagship programmes. One idea was to feature a joint Life on Jimmy and Ian, but that was quickly scuttled at the Greaves end.
Jimmy gave his wife, Irene, strict instructions not to co-operate if ever an approach was made. I know that to be fact because I tried hard to persuade her at the request of first Eamonn and then Michael Aspel. But Jimmy was out of the Blanchflower school of not wanting to have anything to do with the show.
There was a lot of ill-informed Fleet Street conjecture as to why Danny refused to accept the This Is Your Life tribute, but he always publicly stuck to his reason that he wanted to keep his private life private. The fact that his marriage to his then wife, Betty, ended in divorce a few months later is evidence that his family life was in no shape for such a public spotlight back in the days when 15 million regularly tuned into This is Your Life.
Danny’s three marriages produced five children, and much of Eamonn’s eulogy in the-show-that-never-was centred on his contented family life. The picture that would have been painted was a false one, and nobody knew it better than Danny.
Ask any of Danny’s team-mates of the time about Blanchflower the footballer and they could and would have waxed lyrically for ages about his artistry with the ball, his ability to chip passes and captaincy that was always motivational and inspiring.
Ask any of Danny’s team-mates of the time about Blanchflower the man and they would have been unable to scratch below the surface of his life off the pitch. When most of the squad would gather at the Bell and Hare pub for after-match drinks and inquests, tee-total Danny would whisk away to places unknown to any but his closest confidants.
The newspapers often used to give gossipy hints about his dalliances, but any reporter probing too deeply would get minus nil co-operation from tight-lipped Danny. The only time he used to stop talking was if you asked questions about his private life. That was why Bill Nicholson was not surprised when he refused to accept the big red book from his friend and regular studio companion Eamonn Andrews.
In a quiet moment of reflection, Danny told me:
"They thought they could press gang me into it, but there was more chance of the Pope smoking pot than me appearing on that programme. It made me realise that even my own family did not understand me. If they had, they’d have known I would have run a mile at the first sight of Eamonn and his book. They should have known better than to co-operate in secret with the production team. It’s a superficial programme produced purely for entertainment purposes, and has as much depth as a thimble. Sorry, but not for me. It did nothing to harm my close friendship with Eamonn, and from then on we had a joke routine where I would frisk him for any hidden book before we settled down to a good old chinwag about the sports scene.
People don’t realise how knowledgeable Eamonn was about sport. He was amateur all-Ireland middleweight champion before making his name as a broadcaster, and I often appeared with him on his excellent Sports Report show on the steam wireless before he took off for ITV and that rather bare World of Sport show. Eamonn and I shared a love of boxing, and I used to greatly exaggerate my fistic ability with tales about how I was always the king of the playground scraps. I might easily have become an amateur boxing champion like Eamonn but for football getting first claim on my spare time at school.
The only good thing about the This Is Your Life show that never was is that it gave me the chance a few days later to be reunited with much-loved family members who had scattered to the four corners of the world. It was a very expensive way of organising a private reunion away from the prying cameras!
Eamonn, God bless him, took it on that big, wide chin of his, and we had many a good laugh about it in later years. On the night, I think he would willingly have challenged me to a fight to get me into the studio! He was as obsessive about his show as I was about not wanting to be on it. I won."
“I won”. There – nutshelled – Danny Blanchflower, a born competitor determined to be in control at all times. The Big Red Book on his life remained closed, until now.
Join us here NEXT WEEK for Part Two of the Danny Blanchflower story: The Boy from Belfast
This week’s totally trivial teaser, just for fun:
Who is the only football international to have collected the Premier League trophy as captain before joining Tottenham?
Please email your answer to me at Teaser4@normangillerbooks.com. Deadline: midnight this Friday. No prize, just pride and the satisfaction of being right!
Last week I asked: Who was the first Spurs player sent off in a post-war League match and two years later scored for Tottenham in an FA Cup final at Wembley? Clue: His middle name is Lander!
Yes, most of you who kindly took part came up with the correct answer: Frank (Lander) Saul, who scored the vital second goal in the 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Chelsea in 1967. He was later the makeweight in the transfer deal that brought Martin Chivers to White Hart Lane from Southampton.
Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS.
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