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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 305) (10.02.20)

Submitted by Norman Giller

Cliffie Jones: Jimmy Greaves saved my life

The beauty of a 10-day winter football break is that I have the time and space to wax lyrically (and a little hysterically) about three ‘proper’ Tottenham footballers. I give you Cliff ‘Welsh Wizard’ Jones, Steve ‘Skip’ Perryman and Glenn ‘God’ Hoddle.

They were among the guests at the sky scraping BT Tower on Thursday February 6 for the premier of the BT film ‘Greavsie’, coming to BT screens on Tuesday, February 18 at 10.30pm. I invite you to drop in on the conversations I had with this trio of Tottenham titans:

Let’s kick off with Cliff Jones, who was hugely emotional on what was the eve of his 85th birthday. He was accompanied by his son Stephen, who looked after his Dad like a precious Ming vase, and quite rightly as he is a Tottenham (and Wales) treasure. Cliff told me he has recently been diagnosed in the early stages of dementia, but he looks the picture of good health and fit enough to still play the game at which he was a master. Unquestionably, one of the greatest wingers the world has ever seen.

It was 62 years ago almost to the day that Cliff scored in a 2-0 victory for Wales against Israel in Cardiff on February 5 1958 when he was a Swansea player. At the same time, Manchester United were drawing 3-3 with Red Star in Belgrade in a European Cup quarter-final.

The next day Cliff travelled by train to London to sign for Tottenham Hotspur for what was then a record £35,000. It was nothing new to the Jones’ family. Twenty years earlier his Uncle Bryn had moved from Wolves to Arsenal for a world record £14,000, a fee that brought comments that football had gone mad.

Cliff was met at White Hart Lane by coach Bill Nicholson, standing in for unwell manager Jimmy Anderson. ‘Bill had tears in his eyes,’ Cliff recalled. ‘The news had just that moment broken that the Manchester United plane had crashed on take-off after refuelling at Munich. I started to cry too when I realised one of my best mates in the Army was on board, Duncan Edwards. He, along with John Charles, was the greatest footballer I ever played with. Fantastic player and lovely bloke.’

His memory now in full flow, Cliff said: ‘The Welsh team manager at the time was Jimmy Murphy, one of the most knowledgeable football people I ever knew. He was also Matt Busby’s righthand man at Manchester United, and he would have been on board that plane but for the game against Israel.

‘I made my debut for Spurs against the Arsenal at Highbury on February 22, and it was the start of a love affair with the club and its supporters that continues to this day. It was my honour to score 19 goals in our Double year, and the team became even better when Jimmy signed for us the following season.’

It was, of course, Jimmy who had brought us all together at the stunning BT Tower, and I asked Cliff how he rated him. ‘Simply the greatest British goal scorer there has ever been,’ he said without hesitation. ‘As good as Messi, and could Lionel have done it on the mud heap pitches on which we played and with defenders like Chopper Harris and Bites-Yer-Legs Hunter allowed to kick you from behind?’

Cliff started to choke up. ‘It’s not only as a footballer that I love Jimmy Greaves. He is a wonderful man, and he saved my life. But for him, I’d have been dead years ago …’

You will have to see the Greavsie film for the full story. No spoilers from me.

Steve Perryman with Norman Giller

Next, I was reunited with my dear old mate Stevie Perryman, and was delighted to see him looking ridiculously well after his health scares of a few years back. I put his recovery down to the love and support of his beautiful wife, Kim, who was at the premier along with Steve’s ghostwriter Adam Powley. Between them they have produced one of the sports books of the year: ‘Steve Perryman, A Spur Forever!’. Highly recommended.

I reminded Steve of how we first met when he was seventeen, just before the first of his record 854 games for Tottenham. Bill Nicholson introduced me to the baby-faced teenager with the words: ‘I want you to meet Steven Perryman, who is a diamond of a prospect …’

It was unusual for Bill to be so flamboyant in his descriptions, and he later told me he did it deliberately to build up Steve’s confidence before throwing him into the deep end during what was a dodgy period for Spurs.

I asked Steve, looking younger than springtime, for his assessment of Jimmy Greaves. ‘If there has been a better goal scorer in British football I’ve not seen him,’ he said. ‘He was getting to the end of his Spurs career when I got into the team, and I was in awe of him. But he treated me as an equal and his next boast will be his first. He and Gilly (Alan Gilzean) were magical together.

‘We became good mates when he started his road shows, and he was as funny a stand-up speaker as any of those professional comedians. It’s sad what’s happened to him with the stroke, but let’s remember the good times. What a life he’s had. Unbelievable.’

Steve Perryman, a prince among men.

Glenn Hoddle with Norman Giller

Third of my conversations was with Hod the God. If I had to name the finest footballers ever produced on the playing fields of England two high on my list would be Jimmy Greaves and Glenn Hoddle. Both were world class and I enjoyed telling Glenn of the first time I saw him. And again, Bill Nicholson plays a prominent part in my story.

Bill and I were standing on the touchline at Tottenham’s then training ground at Cheshunt in 1972, and as ever I was pumping him for stories for my newspaper in the days when I was chief football writer for the Daily Express (then selling 4.2m copies a day, I might add)..

As we were talking a gangly, 15-year-old kid almost casually trapped a high, lobbed pass on his right thigh, let the ball trickle down his leg and then, on the half volley, sent a 15 yard shot scorching into the top corner of the net.

‘Very good, young man,’ Bill shouted from the touchline, ‘but next time cut out the fancy stuff. You’re not a circus juggler.’

He then turned to me and said: ‘That kid is Glenn Hoddle. Note the name. When he fills out and concentrates on just doing the simple things he’ll be some player.’ Yes, Bill, some player.

Glenn laughed and told me: ‘I’ve not heard that one before but Bill said much worse things to we young players. He was always careful to keep us grounded. Bill only ever spoke common sense.’

I am glad to report that Glenn looked in excellent health, which is quite remarkable when you think he was at death’s door when he had a vicious heart attack on his 61st birthday on October 27 2018.

How did he rate Greavsie? ‘I grew up watching him and have never altered my opinion that he was a footballing genius,’ he said. ‘There was always a buzz when he collected the ball and the whole crowd suddenly came alive. It is a privilege to be one of those paying tribute in a terrific film.’

As a mate of Jimmy’s for more than 50 years, I am also proud to play a part in the BT tribute to mark the great man’s upcoming 80th birthday on February 20. It is an emotional rollercoaster and includes many of his greatest goals and footage that will make you laugh, cry, cheer and groan. It’s a masterpiece by producer/director Tom Boswell and his BT crew.

BT are putting it out on Tuesday February 18 immediately after the Atletico-Liverpool tie, and Jimmy’s old road show side-kick Terry Baker is organising a special big screen showing at Stevenage Football Club on the great man’s birthday (20th February). All proceeds will go to Jimmy to help with his medical costs, which includes four visits every day by carers. You can get full details from or call him direct on 07973 387294.

Meantime, I have composed a song in a personal tribute to my old pal, a close friend for more than half a century with whom I have written 20 books. The song is my revenge on Jim for always telling people that my piano playing suggested I went to the Les Dawson School of Music. As usual, he was bang on target. You can see and hear what he means here:

Apologies to music lovers everywhere. Yes, it’s a funny old game.

See you at Stevenage, I hope.

Spurs Odyssey Quiz League

Question No 28 in this 2019-20 SOQL season:

Who won 41 international caps, joined Tottenham from Leeds United in 2004 and against which team did he score his one and only Premier League goal?

Please email your answer to me at 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 won 97 caps, helped his country qualify for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup finals and from which English club did Harry Redknapp sign him in 2009?

The answer: Wilson Palacios and Wigan Athletic. It was heartbreaking what happened to his youngest brother. Palacios lost all appetite for football after he was kidnapped and killed by a gang trying to get Wilson's Premier League money. He and two other brothers were in the 2010 World Cup squad.

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.

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

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