NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 312
Submitted by Norman Giller
A question I've been asked several times since the virus-forced shut down: 'Have you ever known such a long spell without any football to watch?' The answer is yes. We still have some way to go to match the blank out of nationwide soccer in the Big Freeze of 1962-63, when the snow was banked as high as a white elephant’s eye and caused total chaos to sports fixtures for more than two months, from Christmas through until March.
Let’s take our mind off the virus for a while and travel down Memory (and even White Hart) Lane. For we sports writers, imaginations ran riot as we tried to think of ways of filling acres of space without any live sport to report. I was on the Daily Herald at the time, which was in its death throes before morphing into the broadsheet “old”, pre-Murdoch Sun.
Among the ideas I remember us considering at morning conferences was the Champion of Champions Big Snow Race, with a £500 cash prize for the contestant first to get from the starting point of Wigan Pier to the finishing line at Wembley Stadium.
We decided on a line-up of 10 sporting favourites, each of them to be paid a whacking £100 fee: Henry Cooper, Lester Piggott, Fred Trueman, Richard Sharp, Graham Hill, Mike Hailwood, Peter Alliss, Billy Boston, Tottenham hero Jimmy Greaves and ‘for women’s interest’ tennis goddess Christine Truman. And, of course, there would be a £500 donation to “Cha-ri-dee”.
The idea melted away when somebody asked the fairly challenging question: “How do we get the competitors to Wigan?” There were no trains and all the roads north of Watford were blocked. “It just might give Wigan’s Billy Boston an unfair advantage,” said the logical one on our committee.
No matches were allowed under floodlight to save electricity, so Tottenham played Burnley on an ice rink of a pitch at White Hart Lane in the third round of the FA Cup at 2.00pm on Wednesday January 16. There must have been lots of grandparents’ funerals that day, because 32,756 spectators gathered to watch Tottenham get trounced 3-0 by the team they had hammered 3-1 in the FA Cup final eight months earlier. Greavsie said of the pitch: “They should have fitted us with bleedin’ ice skates rather than football boots.’
There were some cracking stories during that period from the “you-couldn’t-make-it-up” school:
Groundsmen at Norwich City had the bright idea of clearing the snow from the Carrow Road pitch by using military flamethrowers. It worked so well that the pitch was flooded and unplayable. What Delia might have called overcooked.
Up at Bloomfield Road, they heated the Blackpool pitch to such good effect that overnight it became a sheet of ice. England team-mates Jimmy Armfield and Tony Waiters were pictured ice skating on it.
Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty had a good plan. He hastily arranged a friendly in Malta to keep his promotion-chasing players match fit. They played and won. That was the good news. The bad news: UK airports were closed, and it was more than a week before they could get back.
There was virtually no racing at all from December 22 to March 8, but the papers still ran racecards just in case. Another idea at our Herald conferences was “Phantom Races”, with a panel of experts picking the winners. Another non-runner.
The Thames froze over to such an extent that they held a car rally on it, and people were going to work on skis. Honest.
The FA Cup third round took 66 days to complete after 261 postponements. One London-based freelance went to heroic lengths to get to a tie that was actually played, a replay between Portsmouth and Scunthorpe. He drove on treacherous roads to get to Fratton Park just minutes before the kick-off – 250 miles away at Scunthorpe.
Football reporters of a certain age will remember the daftest assignment we ever had. The call each of us got from our sports desks: “Get down to the Connaught Rooms. They’re about to announce the football results.”
This was the launch of the Pools Panel, and its first day of full operation on Saturday, January 26, 1963 was the nearest I ever knew to reporting an episode of The Goon Show.
The panel – dreamed up by the bankruptcy-fearing Pools companies – was chaired by flamboyant Tory MP Gerald Nabarro, with former footballers George Young, Ted Drake, Tommy Lawton and referee Arthur It’s A Knockout Ellis as the result-deciding experts.
The BBC’s flagship Grandstand was in those days brilliantly anchored by David Coleman (pictured above). We pen-pushing reporters – particularly the deadline-chasing Sunday men – were more than somewhat put out when it was decided the results would first be relayed to the nation before we were told them.
While Coleman, struggling with his earpiece, was straining to hear the phantom results being read monotone to the London studio, there was pandemonium off camera. One of our Sunday brethren, who had helped himself too liberally in the hospitality room, was laying into the Pools representatives because the demands of television had been put before the needs of newspapers (a battle we lost long ago). Nabarro, he of the huge handlebar moustache and ego the size of Big Ben, walked into earshot and was greeted with the question: “How the f—k could you say Port Vale would beat Northampton? You wouldn’t know a football if it hit you in the f——-g face.”
Nabarro, not a man renowned for his sobriety, took a step back to reply: “Sir, you are drunk. Even if you were sober you would get the same response, ‘No comment’. And you can quote me on that.”
Just a few weeks later it was decided that perhaps Nabarro was not quite the man for the Pools Panel chairmanship when, live on Any Questions?, he let rip with an appalling racist diatribe including the “N” word, and West Ham manager Ron Greenwood – a pioneer in bringing black footballers into our game – was moved to say: “Mr Nabarro should keep his racist comments to himself. If one of our MPs is using this sort of language, what chance of encouraging young black British footballers to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Pele and Garrincha?”
The Pools panel would have put it down as a home defeat for Nabarro.
Stat fact: The worst Saturday ever for football postponements was in 1940 when 55 of 56 scheduled wartime League games were called off because of heavy snow. The only game that survived was at Plymouth, where Bristol City were the visitors. City were soon wishing they had not battled through the snow-blocked roads. They lost 10-3.
Nobody then was allowed to report that it was one of the worst winters on record. It was a state secret. What a load of Colemanballs.
The snow-hit season ended on a warm note for Spurs when they became the first British club to win a major European title by lifting the Cup Winners Cup and they finished runners-up to Everton in the League championship. Greavsie top scored that season with 37 goals, in his shooting boots of course. Happy days.
Our Spurs Odyssey guru Paul H. Smith and I have decided the only safe and rewarding place to exist at the moment is in a pleasant past where we remember our old heroes who brought us together as Tottenham disciples.
The enforced standstill in the season gives us the chance to remember and revere the achievements of Lane Legends. So – continuing today here on the Spurs Odyssey stage – we serialise my latest book lauding the past performances of our goal-grabbing players.
The book is called Shooting Spurs, and focuses on every player in Tottenham’s history since the formation of the club in 1882 who has scored more than 50 League and Cup goals. Today the spotlight is on the second man to join Tottenham’s 100 League and Cup goals club …
Born Willenhall, Staffs, 29 March 1890
Died Harringey, North London 14 June 1968
Playing career span with Spurs: 1912-1922
Goals in 217 matches: 106
HERBERT (Bert) BLISS was another of those unfortunate players who lost some of his best years to the First World War, in which he served in the newly formed Royal Air Force. He was a bomber on the pitch, even though at 5ft. 7in. little more than a welterweight yet carrying dynamite in both boots, particularly the left.
Bert’s career started at his local Willenhall Swifts Football Club and Tottenham signed him in 1912 as a striking partner for the prolific Billy Minter. He cost the statutory £10 signing-on fee, and gave up his job as a “brass caster” in a firm of upholsterers to become a full-time professional at the age of 22.
His arrival coincided with Peter McWilliam taking over as manager at The Lane. The softly-spoken Scot had been an exceptional wing-half with Newcastle and Scotland, and the Geordies nicknamed him ‘Peter the Great’. He joined Spurs after injury had ended his career at the age of thirty-three, but the War interrupted before he could make any impact. As war clouds were gathering, he uncovered in Arthur Grimsdell an even better wing-half than he himself had been, while Jimmy Seed shone at inside-right, and Bert Bliss and Jimmy Dimmock formed a potent left wing partnership. The squad was further strengthened by the arrival from Northampton of wee wizard winger ‘Fanny’ Walden, along with assured right- back Tommy Clay, and the two Jimmys – Cantrell and Banks.
After the War was over, McWilliam completed the jigsaw by bringing in goalkeeper Alex Hunter, centre-half Charlie Walters, hard-as-nails right-half Bert Smith and specialist left-back Bob McDonald. When Billy Minter decided to hang up his boots, it was Bliss who emerged as a vital cog in a forward line that was rated one of the most potent in the Football League. They romped away with the Second Division title in 1919-20, with Bliss leading the charge by becoming the first Spurs player to top 30 goals in a season. The sportswriters of the time had a ball with puns on ‘Life of Bliss’ and ‘Blissful’ Spurs.
Peter McWilliam was the Mauricio Pochettino of his day, a tactical genius whose philosophy of purist football was a tradition to be carried on by two of his young disciples by the name of Arthur Rowe and Bill Nicholson.
The terraces of football grounds immediately after the First World War heaved with huge crowds as the game in England rivalled cricket as the national sport. The Roaring Twenties promised peace and progress ... except with the blind and bland rulers of the Football Association. They obstinately reigned over a shameful age of soccer slavery. As well as contracts that bound them hand and foot to their clubs, the players were told at the start of the 1922-23 season that the maximum wage was going to be cut from £9 to £8 in the season, and £6 to £5 in the summer. Strike action was threatened, but it proved an empty threat.
The wages chop was forced on the players because of the entertainment tax, introduced to help pay off war debts as the Government cashed in on the game drawing record attendances. There were a spate of injuries and even deaths caused by over-crowding at grounds, and in a bid to keep spectator numbers down and lessen the chances of mass injuries, the FA increased prices for the 1921 FA Cup final between Tottenham and Wolves at Stamford Bridge. It cost a guinea (21 shillings, £1.5p) for the best seat in the house, and two shillings (10p) to stand. The match still drew a capacity crowd of 72,805 and record receipts of £15,400.
It was the wettest final on record, with everybody getting soaked by a thunder storm and a non-stop downpour. Newly promoted Tottenham, with skipper Arthur Grimsdell, Jimmy Seed and left wing partners Bert Bliss and Jimmy Dimmock in dominating form, kept their feet better on the quagmire of a pitch. “Dodger” Dimmock scored the only goal eight minutes into the second-half from a Bliss pass to make Tottenham the first southern winners of the Cup since they first won it twenty years earlier as a Southern League outfit.
Manager McWilliam, a winner with Newcastle in 1910, became the first man to play in and then manage an FA Cup winning side. His winning 2-3-5 team:-
Smith Walters Grimsdell
Banks Seed Cantrell Bliss Dimmock
Spurs finished sixth in the League that season. A year later they were second to Liverpool, and went out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage against Preston after having a perfectly good looking goal from Bert disallowed. Preston considered justice had been done because they were convinced one of Bert’s two goals in the 1921 semi-final should have been ruled out.
The Cup final triumph was a memorable pinnacle for Bliss, who two weeks before the Stamford Bridge match won his only England cap at the age of 31. In a best-forgotten match at Hampden Park, Scotland swept to a 3-0 victory against an England team also including Bert’s Tottenham team-mates Bert Smith, skipper Arthur Grimsdell and Jimmy Dimmock.
King George V presented the Cup to Grimsdell, who was the Bobby Moore of his day, captaining club and country while wearing the No 6 shirt. He often prompted Bliss and Dimmock as they formed a triangle on the left side of the pitch.
In December 1922 the now veteran Bliss joined Clapton Orient and scored 20 goals in seventy League appearances before taking his final shots at Bournemouth. He later became a capstan lathe machine operator and was warmly remembered by the Tottenham fans for his goals and pleasant personality.
The late Leslie Yates, Tottenham historian and the man who used to write all those pocket-size sixpenny programmes Spurs fans used to buy in their thousands in the fifties and sixties, interviewed Bert in 1961, shortly before the FA Cup final against Leicester when Tottenham clinched their historic League and Cup Double. This is what he told him:
"The thing I remember most about that 1921 FA Cup final is how it rained all day to such an extent it’s a wonder we didn’t drown. There was a thunderstorm just before the match and we wondered whether the game would be postponed, but the King was on his way and they had a team of volunteers clearing the puddles off the pitch. I had been a Wolves supporter when I was a schoolboy because they were my local club, and so it meant a lot to me to beat them. Most of my family were Wolves fans! We had a great forward line, and all five of us knew how to find the net.
Believe me, we would have given today’s Tottenham a run for their money. Bringing the FA Cup back to White Hart Lane was a day I’ll never forget. All the roads leading to the stadium were packed as we paraded the trophy around the streets of North London, and each of us took turns holding it high so that everybody could get a good look at it.
That was a very special day, and shaking hands with the King and getting my winners’ medal was the icing on the cake. I always remember that the King’s aides held an umbrella over him all the way through the presentation. We should have been in the final again the following year. I scored with a left foot shot but as the ball went into the net the referee whistled because a Preston player needed treatment from the trainer. We were not pleased with that decision, and went on to lose 2-1."
Bert, who passed on at the age of 78 in June 1968, was one of the first footballers used in a national advertising campaign. He endorsed DeWitt back pain pills in a series of newspaper commercials. His fee: £30. Eat your heart out Harry Kane!
We are carrying on with our weekly Spurs Odyssey Quiz League, and hope you continue to take part. Question No 35 in this 2019-20 SOQL season:
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 was released by Manchester City without playing a game, scored for England in the 2018 World Cup finals and from which club did he join Tottenham?
The answer: Kieran Trippier, who joined Tottenham from Burnley. We will have to wait for the memoirs for the full story of why this skilled right-back moved on to Atletico Madrid at the peak of his career. There’s no doubt that the one-eyed Tottenham boo boys who made no allowance for his injury after the 2018 World Cup finals played a part in his decision to take his talent abroad.
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. Carry On Regardless. COYS!