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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 292) (11.11.19)

NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 292
Submitted by Norman Giller

It's back to the drawing board for Pochettino

How long before we have supporters demanding their money back in matches where VAR turns football into farceball? Ok, it worked in Tottenham’s favour on Saturday but it is sucking the lifeblood out of the Beautiful Game.

You need to be as one-eyed as Nelson not to accept that Sheffield United deserved all three points, and they justifiably felt hard done by when a VAR decision rubbed out their goal because of an off-side call by the distance of a big toe.

Our guru Paul H. Smith gives his on-the-spot description of the controversy HERE, but it’s disturbing that once again it is VAR rather than the football that is the talking point.

As at Goodison last week, the spectators were kept in the dark while the VAR check was made and for three minutes 47 seconds the crowd was treated with silent contempt.

Why on earth does the referee not go instantly to the pitchside monitor and then set VAR in motion if he cannot make a quick decision from a replay?

The system needs an urgent overhaul at the end of this introductory season, or the game could be hugely damaged – with paying spectators staying away in protest.

I was hoping Tottenham’s polished performance in Belgrade last Wednesday was going to be the turning point for this damp-squib season, but the rare draw against the Blades was better than they deserved. The boos in their ears from their own fans at the final whistle signalled that this is not a happy ship.

Spurs now have the international break in which to catch their breath, and Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom team can go back to the drawing board and work out how to regain last season’s tempo and penetration.

Sheffield United’s bright manager Chris Wilder said he was baffled by the VAR decision that took away their goal before they equalised, and Pochettino agreed with him. ‘I would understand if Chris complains,’ the Spurs boss said. “I empathise because it happened to us at Leicester when Sonny had a goal (disallowed). That was difficult for us to accept. ‘I’ve talked about it before. The referee must be the person that decides things on the pitch.’

VAR chat is getting monotonous. Can we please have our game back!


The following tale has a sprinkling of Spurs stardust and I pass it on out of respect for a dear old Fleet Street colleague of mine. Ken Jones – the late, great Welsh sports bard Ken Jones – will not mind me telling this story about his recent funeral. I promise it will lift your spirits.

Thanks to the meticulous planning of his daughter Lesley-Ann (an exceptional writer in her own right), we gave Ken a rousing Welsh send-off; Abide with me, of course Cwm Rhondda, a reading of Dylan Thomas’s Villanelle recorded by Richard Burton, and a suitably moving-mixed-with-Cockney-humour eulogy by doyen of boxing writers, Colin Hart. True, proud Welshman Ken certainly did not “go gentle into that good night”, having raged on the pages of the Daily and Sunday Mirror, Observer and Independent with great authority and deep sporting intelligence.

He had been a good-class professional player himself until an achilles injury brought an early retirement and a shift to a distinguished writing career. Ken came from the most famous footballing family in Wales, with both his father and Uncle Bryn pre-war stars. Bryn had played for Wolves before joining that club down the road for a “crazy” world record transfer fee of £14,000.

The final fond farewell to Ken was staged in front of a standing-room-only congregation of family, friends, gnarled old Fleet Street colleagues and – in particular for this story – two once-idolised international players who had been rivals on the football fields of the 50s and 60s … Ken’s flying winger cousin Cliff and 1966 World Cup hero George Cohen.

As the adorable Kathy Jones, Ken’s wife for the little matter of 64 years, led their small army of children and grandchildren out of the Chapel at Beckenham Crematorium, the focus of our attention – Ken – was still lying in his coffin. Kathy decided she did not want to see that chilling moment when the curtains close.

I found myself standing alongside the departed sportswriting master, reminiscing with Cliff and George, of whom both Ken and I had written about many times in the previous century when they were opposing each other for Tottenham and Fulham and England and Wales.

“I gave him a few kickings in our day,” George said with an old rascal’s smile as he leant on his zimmer frame that he uses like a chariot of fire.

“Come off it,” I said. “He was like greased lighting. You got nowhere near him.”

“Oh no,” said honest Cliff, “George was one of the few full-backs who was as quick as me. It was always a sprinting match when we played against each other.”

Cliff, at 84, is still built like a Welsh whippet. “You look as if you could play for Spurs tomorrow,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed George, “I hope I am as fit as he is when I reach his age. I’m eighty today.”

This took a while to sink in. George Cohen. “Eighty today.” Arguably England’s greatest ever right back, and a true miracle man who has been fighting cancer since he was in his 30s. Eighty today.

He and Cliff – old rivals, old friends – hugged each other. Two champions of the football field united in octogenarianism.

Instinctively, with Ken in his coffin behind me, I said aloud like a ring announcer to the hundred or so mourners who had not yet left the chapel: “Excuse me, friends, I know Ken will not mind me telling you this, but this man here – the great George Cohen – is eighty years old today. Eighty!”

Everybody loudly applauded in what was a surreal moment. And I swear I could hear Ken joining in the applause.

I later got a telling off from the lovely Lesley-Ann … not, I’m happy to say, for my appalling etiquette but for not calling the family back in so that they could have sung ‘happy birthday’ to George,

“My Dad would have loved that,” she said. “It’s just the sort of thing he would have done.”

I know, Lesley. Like Colin Hart, I travelled the world with him and he better than anybody knew a good story that needed telling.

This was too good a story not to tell. George Cohen eighty, and Cliff and Ken Jones there to share the joy.

Rest easy, old friend. And happy birthday, George.


Spurs Odyssey Quiz League

Question No 15 in this 2019-20 SOQL season:

Who won four England caps, played 312 times for Spurs, and which club did he join from Tottenham two years after being in a winning League Cup final team against them?

Please email your answer to me at SOQL15@normangillerbooks.com. Deadline: midnight this Friday. I will respond to all who take part.

The rules are the same as in previous seasons. I ask a two-pronged question with three points at stake. In the closing weeks of the competition I break the logjam of all-knowing Spurs-history experts with a tie-breaking poser that is based on opinion rather than fact.

Last week’s SOQL question: Who has captained Spurs, won 50 international caps, once played for Viborg in Denmark and from which club did he join Tottenham in 2014?

The answer: Ben Davies, who captained Spurs at Goodison last week and joined Tottenham from Swansea. He started his career with Viborg when his father was working in Denmark (and I caught few of you out with that red herring).

This year’s prizes for the champion: a Harry Kane framed and signed photo, two books from my Spurs collection with autographs from Jimmy Greaves, Steve Perryman and Dave Mackay, and, most important of all, a framed certificate announcing the winner as SOQL champion.

You will be better informed if you buy my SHOOTING SPURS book that features every player who has scored 50 or more goals for Tottenham since the club was formed in 1882, with special in-depth features on Jimmy Greaves and Harry Kane, plus focus on exceptional managers John Cameron, Arthur Rowe, Bill Nicholson and current master, Mauricio Pochettino.

Cliff ‘159 goals’ Jones has provided the introduction, and profits go to the Tottenham Tribute Trust to help our old heroes who missed the gravy train and now have to pay medical and care bills.

It costs just £9.99 and I will send a signed copy to anybody buying direct from me at www.normangillerbooks.com. There is also a screen version for £4.99.

I hope you will support this great cause.

See you back here same time, same place next week. COYS!

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