NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 314
Submitted by Norman Giller
As I approach the big 8-0 (Saturday, folks … and a great one-man Cockney knees-up party!) I find myself being continually pulled into debates as to who has been the greatest Tottenham player of my long life time.
Everybody expects me to say (with some justification) my dear old mate Jimmy Greaves, who is in all our thoughts as he battles with his latest health crisis. Unquestionably the greatest British goal scorer of any time. But I am looking past Jimbo, and even modern masters like Glenn Hoddle, Gareth Bale and Our Own Harry Kane.
Coming joint top in the cavalcade of great players queuing on my memory screen are two maestros who wore the No 6 Lilywhite shirt with pride, power and super proficiency. I give you Welsh dragon Ron Burgess and Scottish Braveheart Dave Mackay.
Burgess was the driving force behind the magnificent Push and Run Spurs that won the Second and First Division titles in successive seasons from 1949 to 1951. Don’t just take my word for it. Let me call an expert eyewitness.
Master manager 'Sir' Bill Nicholson was something like George Washington in that he could not tell a lie. He was one of the most honest men ever to cross my path, and so when I once trapped him into naming Tottenham's greatest player of his lifetime you had to sit up and take notice. The player he selected was Burgess, a goliath from the Welsh valleys.
I used to sit at Bill's feet listening to his tales of football days past in my time as chief football reporter for the Daily Express in the 1960s through to the 1970s. One day I challenged: 'If I put a gun to your head, Bill, who would you select as the number one player for Spurs in your era as player and manager.’
Bill would usually have ducked the question, but I had caught him in reflective mood. 'Of the early 1960s side it would be a toss up between Danny (Blanchflower) and Dave (Mackay),' he said, 'and without question the number one forward Jimmy (Greaves). But I would pick one player ahead of all of them … Ron Burgess, skipper of our Push and Run team.’
'What made him so special?' I asked, having only seen him play through schoolboy eyes.
'He had it all,' Bill said, looking off into the mid-distance as if transporting himself back in time. 'Strength, skill, a lion in defence, a motivator in attack, a cool head, a precise passer of the ball, able to read the game to perfection and, above all, a colossal heart. He was an inspiring captain, and carried out manager Arthur Rowe's instructions, yet not being afraid to make tactical changes if situations on the pitch demanded it. And don't forget, like a lot of us, he lost his peak years to the war.’
Then there’s the great Mackay! `(A pause here for our thoughts and prayers to be with his widow Isobel, who their proud daughter Valerie tells me is battling with the terrible coronavirus …).
Dave once told me that Isobel was the most important person in his life and gave him the x-factor that drove him to be a master footballer and manager.
He mixed brain and brawn into a perfect cocktail, and it was his opponents who were shaken and his team-mates who were stirred. Jimmy Greaves, his Tottenham pal and partner on the pitch and at the bar, told me long ago: “Dave made us try twice as hard to keep up with him. He was only just over 5ft 7in tall, but with that barrel chest of his he had the impact of a giant. Because of his reputation for being hard, people tend to forget that he had exceptional technique. He used to win all the skill competitions in the gym and he could be delicate as well as powerful with that left foot of his. Many’s the time I’ve put my hands together and offered a prayer of thanks that he was on our side and not against us!. Definitely the most inspiring skipper I ever played with.’
So that’s the verdict of this near-octogenarian … in joint first place Ronnie Burgess and Dave Mackay. The memory of them has suddenly brought light to the darkness of my island of self isolation. Hope you’re having a good Easter! Please stay safe. Very pious of me, but I would like to share this Easter message with all Spurs Odyssey visitors …
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 all 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 fourth man to join Tottenham’s 100 League and Cup goals club …
Born Mexborough, Yorkshire, 22 February 1910
Died Bolton, Lancashire, 19 September 1996
Playing career span with Spurs: 1930-1937
Goals in 198 matches: 138
GEORGE HUNT was a no-nonsense, hard-as-iron goal hunter from the West Riding of Yorkshire, who always sniffed the shortest route to goal and was happy to take the ball and the goalkeeper into the net in an age when shoulder-charging was an accepted dish on the menu. I am sure today’s pampered goalies would not have an appetite for the punishment that used to be handed out in what was then known as ‘a man’s game’.
The success of Hunt’s aggressive tactics is inscribed in the Tottenham record books. He was leading Lilywhite goal scorer for three consecutive seasons, from 1931 to 1934, and his 32 smash-and-grab League goals in 1932–33 helped Tottenham snatch promotion back to the First Division where they belonged following the meltdown under the management of Billy Minter. His goals output in 1934 included three hat-tricks in six days, which was prolific even by Greaves/Kane standards.
Yet even Hunt’s prodigious scoring was made to look almost pedestrian by Tottenham team-mate Willie Hall, who playing for England against Northern Ireland in 1938 scored five goals, including a hat-trick in three and a half minutes!
Hunt lived up to his nickname – "The Chesterfield Terror" – after arriving at the Lane from the lowly Derbyshire club for what was then a huge transfer fee of £1500. Sturdy and 5ft 8in tall, he played with fire and fury, while behind him spreading calm and confidence was a polished centre-half called Arthur Rowe, for whom greater fame lay ahead as a manager.
The man in charge during most of Hunt’s Tottenham career was Percy Smith, who had been an equally tough and uncompromising forward in his playing days with Preston and Blackburn. He navigated a sinking Spurs ship back into calmer waters by following the Peter McWilliam code of doing the simple things well, and it suited his philosophy to have Hunt as a battering ram centre-forward interested only in getting the ball into the net.
His goals collection attracted the England selectors and he won three caps in his most productive 1933-34 season. He was prominent in a bold challenge for the League championship in Tottenham’s first season back at the top table, but they finally finished third but with the satisfaction of scoring more goals (79) than champions Arsenal. Ten defeats away from home scuppered Tottenham’s chances of lifting the title, yet they managed a 3-1 victory at Highbury, with Willie Evans scoring two of the goals.
Spurs came roaring out of the traps at the start of the 1934-35 season but then suddenly – in a nightmare replay of the Billy Minter collapse – went into free fall. Hit by a succession of injuries to key players including the redoubtable Hunt, they had one of the worst runs in their history and after a nightmare 22 defeats were relegated back to the Second Division in a humiliating bottom place. It might have been about then that the irritating term ‘Spursy’ was born.
Hunt appeared to have lost his shooting boots, but was back in the headlines when sold in 1937 for what was described as “a substantial fee” to ... Arsenal! He was only the fourth player to cross the great North divide in the direction of Highbury, and was bought as an emergency part-time replacement for injured England centre-forward Ted Drake.
He spent only a season with the Gunners but it was enough to earn him a First Division championship medal in the George Allison-managed team following the death of Gunners legend Herbert Chapman.
Hunt moved on to Bolton in 1938 for £5,000 and scored 24 goals for them either side of the Second World War before winding down his playing career with Sheffield Wednesday.
In 1948 he returned to Bolton as coach, and anybody who remembers the Wanderers team from that era will realise he preached his take-no-prisoners code to them. There’s rarely been a harder team in Football League history, and their skipper and centre-forward Nat Lofthouse played the Hunt way when he barged Man United goalkeeper Harry Gregg and the ball into the net in the 1958 FA Cup final. “George taught me a lot about positional play and the importance of making your physical presence felt,” Lofty said when Hunt passed on in 1996, sadly suffering from the footballer’s dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. He will always be remembered as a Legend of the old Lane.
Next week: Johnny Morrison, the player nurtured in the Nursery.
We are carrying on with our weekly Spurs Odyssey Quiz League, and hope you continue to take part. Question No 37 in this 2019-20 SOQL season:
Who played 209 games for Tottenham, was one of the squad singers on Ossie’s Dream but did not play in the FA Cup final, and from which Lancashire club did he join Tottenham?
Please email your answer to me at SOQL37@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: Which marksman started his La Liga career with Real Madrid, has played 12 times for Spain and who was the manager that signed him for Tottenham from Valencia?
The answer: Bobby Soldado and André Villas-Boas, two men who were both popular at the old Lane without ever reaching their promise.
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!
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