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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 316) (27.04.20)

NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 316
Submitted by Norman Giller

Greavsie and I are victims of fake news

Well, that was a weekend that has been tucked away into the ‘You couldn’t make it up’ memory bank. As if times are not surreal enough, my self-isolation was interrupted by two bizarre incidents that I shall record here for your eyes only. I wouldn’t want a lot of it to be made public.

I was just preparing to take to my bed on Saturday night when jumping out of my Twitter and Facebook pages (yes, I am sad enough to have two online screens) was the eye-popping post: “Jimmy Greaves dies.”

As I tried to get my head around the crushing ‘news’, my social media network went almost into meltdown with concerned and distraught Tottenham (and Jimmy) supporters contacting me for confirmation and passing on their condolences.

Many know that Jimmy and I are life-long pals, and well meaning people were messaging me their grief as what had been rumour was suddenly being turned into fact.

I tried to contact members of Jimmy’s family without luck and held back from calling his lovely wife, Irene, because I didn’t want to go jumping in at such a delicate time.

After a night of anguish and anxiety, I braced myself to make a suitably sympathetic call to my dear friends. Irene answered, to hear my funereal voice asking if everything was all right.

“You don’t sound too good,” was the response. ‘Are YOU all right?”

I explained about the internet posts, and Irene chuckled. ‘Well he’s sitting here alongside me eating his Weetabix and banana breakfast,’ she said. ‘He’s not left us yet.’

Relief hit me like a tidal wave and I had to hold back the tears as Irene and I discussed the beautiful blue skies and the strangeness of isolation. Jimmy – I am delighted to report – is still with us, and I kicked myself for being taken in by fake news. Jimmy would have told them where to stick the banana.

Now prepare for a sentence you will rarely read on Spurs Odyssey, or any other website …

All this Greavsie grief hit me while I was helping Interpol with their attempts to catch a gang of West African ‘sexploiters’.

I had naively accepted an unsolicited Skype call from an unknown number, and I found myself passing the time of day (all right, night) with a beautiful, thirty-something French lady. Her name was Maria, and she told me she was lonely because of the isolation rules.

She asked the rather leading question: “Do you want to have some fun?” Uh, it was as enticing as being offered disinfectant by Donald Trump.

I told her I was old enough to be her grandfather, to which she responded that this scenario appealed to her (or words to that effect). She said that she found me devastatingly handsome, and my joke about her going to Specsavers was lost in translation. She had found my weak spot – an ego bigger than my head.

We chatted for about 20 minutes during which I wanted to turn on background music, Elton John’s I’m Still Standing.

Anyway, it was a very pleasant interlude that definitely broke the monotony on my Self Isolation island.

Comes the weekend and I get hit with a barrage of emails from a gentleman calling himself Daniel Owusu. He and his accomplices had filmed my reacting to Maria’s charms and mixed and shaken it with photographs hi-jacked from my Facebook archives and life facts lifted from Wikipedia.

The pièce de résistance was a mocked-up newspaper front page featuring a story of how I had made an innocent lady the victim of MY ‘sexploitation.’

Mr. Owusu kindly informed me that they would not publish if I paid him the little matter of £1,000 in untraceable Bitcoins. I had no intention of giving him a cent, but kept him typing on a Skype messaging page while tipping off Interpol on another screen (two computers working to my advantage).

It is now all sub-judice, but I do not hold out much hope of trapping the West African gang because the Interpol agent told me they have hundreds of complaints every day.

I only tell the story here so that you or any of your colleagues can be tipped off to beware unsolicited calls. I am sure you would be much too sensible to take them. Not everybody is an egotistical, devastatingly handsome 80 year old twerp.

My new ambition is to get shot dead by a jealous husband in his wife’s bed when I am 100.

Back to Spurs Odyssey fare …


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, with all profits going to the Tottenham Tribute Trust. It focuses on every player in Tottenham’s history who has scored more than 50 League and Cup goals since the formation of the club in 1882. Today we spotlight a man who scored only a handful of goals for Spurs but who set the style and the culture for Tottenham generations to come …

ARTHUR ROWE AND THE PUSH AND RUN REVOLUTION

Arthur Rowe

Arthur Rowe, the Professor of Push and Run

When the Tottenham players reported back for League duty at White Hart Lane after the Second World war they found themselves under the management of a man who had been a legend ... with Arsenal. Enter Joe Hulme, whose flying right wing exploits in the Herbert Chapman era had made him a hero at Highbury.

Hulme steered Spurs to the 1948 FA Cup semi-final, where they were beaten at Villa Park by Matthews-inspired Blackpool. But he was never totally accepted by the old enemy, and when he moved on in 1949 to a distinguished career in journalism it was a Spurs-through-and-through-man – Arthur Rowe – who took over as manager.

I now dip into previous Tottenham history journeys of mine to give Arthur Rowe the platform he deserves in this tribute book to White Hart Lane legends. I caught up with Arthur in my Daily Express reporting days when he was ‘curator’ of the short-lived PFA-supported Football Hall of Fame in Oxford Street in the early 1970s (a venture that quickly died because of lack of public interest before being revived in Manchester).

A gentle, kindly man, Arthur was easy to talk to and we had many long conversations about his career in the game in general and his management of Spurs in particular.

He revealed that the art of push and run football – the signature style of Spurs – was born against the walls of North London. Tottenham-born Arthur, the chief architect of the meticulous method, remembered playing with a tennis ball against the wall as an Edmonton schoolboy and suddenly thought to himself: “That’s how easy and simple the game should be!”

I caught Arthur in reflective mood twenty years after he had entered the land of football legend by steering Spurs to back-to-back Second and First Division titles. Speaking quietly, with a discernible Cockney accent, he told me:

‘My philosophy was that the easier you made the game the easier it was to play it. So I used to tell the players to push the ball to a team-mate and then run into space to take the instant return pass. It was making the most of the ‘wall pass’ or the ‘one-two.’ Make it simple, make it quick. It was easier said than done, of course, but I got together a squad of players with the football intelligence to make it work. We used to operate in triangles, with Eddie Baily, Ronnie Burgess and Les Medley particularly brilliant at the concept out on the left. It was amazing to watch as they took defenders out of the game with simple, straightforward passes and then getting into position to receive the return. Over on the right Alf Ramsey, Billy Nicholson and Sonny Walters were equally adept at keeping possession while making progress with simple passes. It was very similar to the style I introduced while coaching in Hungary before the war.’

Arthur, as modest and likeable a man as you could wish to meet, was never one to want to take credit for his own genius. He would always stress that the real father of Push and Run was his old Tottenham mentor Peter McWilliam, who had been a noted tactician in two spells in charge at White Hart Lane.

McWilliam was building the 1921 Tottenham FA Cup winning team when Arthur joined Spurs as a schoolboy. The Scot helped launch Arthur’s playing career with the Spurs nursery team Gravesend and Northfleet. He developed into a thinking man’s centre-half for Tottenham throughout the ’thirties until a knee injury forced his retirement after an international career confined to one England cap. He travelled through Europe as a full-time coach and was on the verge of accepting the Hungarian team manager’s job when war was declared. There is a school of thought that it was his ideas passed on to young Hungarian players that was the foundation for the Magical Magyars of the 1950s, who buried England under an avalanche of 13 goals in two mesmeric matches.

His son, Graham, who lives in Los Angeles where he works as a financial adviser, made perfectly pertinent points about his father’s impact on football in a 2006 letter to the sports section of the esteemed Financial Times. I tracked down Graham in California, and I am grateful for his permission to publish his letter here:

"Sir, In his piece "Magyars mourn their lost magic", Jonathan Wilson states: "Half a century ago Hungary were not merely the best in the world but possibly the best team there has ever been."

I disagree with his assessment of the Hungarian soccer team. The great Hungarian team of 1953 played the same fast, short-passing game that humiliated England and was played by Tottenham Hotspur from 1949 to 1953. During that reign they won the then Second Division championship, followed by the First Division title, and followed that by being runners-up to Manchester United and FA Cup semi-finalists.

In 1952 they toured North America playing an attractive style of football called ‘push and run’, a fluid, fast-moving style that entertained capacity crowds wherever they played. That Spurs team was managed by my father, Arthur Rowe, who had won championships while in charge of Chelmsford City, a Southern League club, from 1946 to 1949.

After a stellar career as a Tottenham player in the 1930s, my father took a coaching position in Budapest, Hungary, before returning to England in 1939 to join the army.

In Budapest were sown the seeds of the ‘push and run’ approach, which for the next 13 years, incubated and ultimately manifested itself in that great Hungarian team. But it was a style that was first played by the glorious Spurs team of 1949-53.

In an FT article of July 1 1998, Peter Aspden wrote of ‘the beautiful version of the game, invented by the Hungarian side of the 1950s’. The Hungarians did not ‘invent’ the beautiful version of the game. If anyone ‘invented’ it, it was my father.

On my wall at home there is a photograph of my father with Ferenc Puskas, the peerless member of the Hungarian team of the 1950s, and my thoughts turn to what kind of a game might have been played between those two great teams. What a feast it would have been. Graham A. Rowe, Los Angeles.’

Yes, what a feast. It would have been a banquet of football at its purist and best; definitely the Beautiful Game.

On his war-forced return to England from Hungary, Arthur became an army physical training instructor and then manager of non-League Chelmsford, making him ideally placed to take over at White Hart Lane as successor to the far from popular ex-Gunner Joe Hulme in 1949.

His first major signing was Southampton right-back Alf Ramsey, a player he knew shared his keep-it-simple principles. Nicknamed ‘The General’ because of his fanaticism for talking football tactics, Ramsey took the secrets of simple football with him into management, and there was something of the push and run style about the Ipswich side he steered to the 1962 League championship and the England team he led to the World Cup in 1966.

Spurs waltzed away with the Second Division title in Rowe’s first full season in charge, but sceptics said their “playground push and run” tactics would be exposed in the First Division. Wrong!

They powered to the top of the table, eventually taking the League championship with 60 points, four ahead of Manchester United and the highest total since Arsenal’s record 66 twenty years earlier. It was their attack, led aggressively by Channel Islander Len Duquemin, that took the eye, but the defence was a vital part of the jigsaw. It featured the safe hands and acrobatics of goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn, the towering presence of centre-half Harry Clarke, the perfect balance of full-back partners Alf Ramsey and Arthur Willis, and two of the finest half-backs in the League in Bill Nicholson and skipper Ronnie Burgess.

Eddie Baily’s inch-perfect passing from midfield was a key factor as Spurs took apart the best defences in the land, scoring seven goals against Newcastle, six against Stoke, five against West Brom and defending champions Portsmouth and four in three of the first four matches of the season.

Push and run became more like push and punish. It was wonderful to watch, provided you were not the team on the receiving end.

In my privileged position as chief football reporter with the Express, I was able to ask Arthur Rowe, Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson who was the most influential player in that push and run team. Each answered without hesitation: “Ron Burgess.”

Bill Nick even went so far as to add: “Ronnie was the greatest player ever to pull on a Tottenham shirt. Yes, with a gun to my head I would even have to put him ahead of Dave Mackay.”

That was some admission, and when I asked Ronnie Burgess the same question while he was managing Watford in the 1960s he told me in his lilting Welsh accent:

"There was no individual more important than the rest. We had that vital all-for- one-and-one-for-all spirit, which I suppose was a spill-over from the war. We’d all been in the forces during the war and knew the importance of teamwork. If you have to single out one man, then it has to be Arthur Rowe. It was his philosophy that we followed. Keep it simple, keep it quick, keep the ball on the ground and pass with accuracy."

Legend has it that Burgess, a powerhouse of a player, trod on every blade of grass on every pitch on which he played. He was at left-half, with Bill Nicholson a perfect balance with his more disciplined and careful approach on the right.

Behind Nicholson was the immaculate Alf Ramsey, a model of calm and consistency. Scot Tommy Docherty once said spitefully of him that he had seen milk turn faster, but it has to be remembered that Alf was pushing thirty by the time of the push and run era and he had learned the art of conserving his energy by clever positioning and intelligent marking.

Arthur Willis, workmanlike at left-back, was an ideal foil for the more artistic Ramsey, with Charlie Withers as a more-than-capable stand-in. Harry Clarke – recruited from Lovells Athletic in the Southern League – stood oak tree solid in the middle of the defence. He had a great understanding with goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn, who would have won dozens more than his six England caps had it not been for the powerful presence of Frank Swift.

The attack piston on which Spurs fired was provided by effervescent Eddie Baily, the Cockney ‘Cheeky Chappie’ who proudly patrolled in midfield with a Napoleonic air of authority. His uncanny ability to lay a pass on a handkerchief made goal scoring much easier for twin strikers Len ‘The Duke’ Duquemin and the often lethal Les Bennett.

These were the wonderful days of flying wingers and they did not come much better or more of a handful for full backs than Sonny Walters and Les Medley.

Both were encouraged to make their touchline dashes by fans belting out choruses of the following song based on the old Bing Crosby classic McNamara’s Band (which was first Fife Band featured four McNamara brothers; not a lot of people want to know that!):

We are Spurs Supporters and we love to watch them play
We go to all the home games and we go to those away
With us supporters following them we know they will do right We loudly cheer when they appear, the lads in blue and white

We’re very proud of our football ground it’s known throughout the land And while we wait for the game to start we listen to the band
And when we see the teams come out you should hear the roar
We know it won’t be long before the Spurs they start to score

The ref his whistle proudly blows, the linesmen wave their flags The Duke is ready to kick off as he hitches up his bags
We cheer Sonny Walters as he toddles down the line
And the ball like magic is in the net and makes us all feel fine

There’s Ronnie Burgess with his skill holding up the line
With Alf, Bill, Harry and Charlie way up there behind
And not forgetting good old Ted whose hands are sure and strong And Eddie and the Leslies who are always up-a-long

And when the game is over, when the game is through
We cheer the winners off the field and the gallant losers too
The Cockerel proudly wags his tail, he gave the Spurs their name In honour of the Lilywhites who always play the game

Now come on all you supporters and join our merry band
No matter what your age is, we’ll take you by the hand
We’ll pin a cockerel on your chest, it shows the world that we Are members of that loyal band, the S.S.C.!!!!

There was something almost inevitable about Tottenham’s great escape from the Second Division in the early weeks of the 1949-50 season. There was an attitude about the team that set them apart from the opposition; it was almost as if they were strutting their stuff and saying: “With this sort of football, we deserve a place at the top table.”

Yes, there was a touch of arrogance about it, and much of the cocksureness emanated from pass master Eddie Baily. A fellow East Ender of mine and an old and treasured mate, Eddie spent a couple of wind-down seasons at Leyton Orient when I was sports editor of the local paper. We used to chinwag for hours about the “good old days,” and he described the push and run side as “the perfect football machine.”

Never one to hold back on an opinion or three, Eddie told me:

"We were far too good for the Second Division, and played our way to promotion with ease. I remember we were top of the table from September and had a run of twenty-three matches without defeat. These days I suppose I would be called a playmaker, but then I was just a good old-fashioned deep-lying inside-forward. My job was to provide the passes for the goalscorers, and I think you’ll find I had a foot in the majority of the goals we scored. That’s not me being big headed. That was fact.

An important aspect is that we had a very good dressing-room spirit. There were no stars. We all took equal praise when winning, and shared the blame if things went wrong. Max Miller was the big comedian of the time, and I was given his nickname ‘Cheeky Chappie’ because I was always clowning.

We were the thinking man’s team. Players like Alf, Bill Nick and Ronnie Burgess were obsessed with tactics, and of course dear Arthur Rowe was the man who led us with clear and concise instructions. There was no mumbo jumbo. We just got on with playing the game in a simple direct way that bewildered the opponents."

A goal that Eddie scored against Huddersfield in the 1951-52 season is still talked about by fans who know their Tottenham history. His corner kick whacked against the back of the referee, knocking him to the floor. He collected the rebound (illegally touching the ball twice) and crossed for Duquemin to head into the net. The ref, still scrambling to his feet, awarded a goal that gave Spurs victory and pushed Huddersfield towards relegation. Eddie was to feature again with Spurs as he started a new life as a coach. More of that later. Back to the team he helped make tick.

By Christmas 1950 they were top of the First Division following a sequence of eight successive victories. Among their devastating performances was a 7-0 destruction of FA Cup giants Newcastle United. They achieved that without skipper Ronnie Burgess, who sat in the stand nursing an injury. “That was the finest exhibition of football I have ever seen,” he said later. “It was only by becoming a spectator that I realized just how special this side was. We paralysed Newcastle with our push and run tactics that a lot of so-called experts had said would not work in the First Division.”

Spurs push and run side

Scanned from my scrapbook, the 1951 Push and Run champions: Back row, left to right: Bill Nicholson, Alf Ramsey, Harry Clarke, Ted Ditchburn, Arthur Willis, skipper Ronnie Burgess, manager Arthur Rowe; front row, Sonny Walters, Les Bennett, Len Duquemin, Eddie Baily, Les Medley.

Sitting on the touchline bench was Arthur’s schoolboy son, Graham, who recalled:

“Tottenham played football out of this world against Newcastle. If there had been television cameras around in those days, they would still be showing the match today as a classic and as an example of how to play the game to perfection.

“My father was a modest man who did not like or seek the limelight. He was happy to let his team do the talking for him on the pitch, and they were very eloquent. Anybody who saw that push and run side will, I know, never forget it.”

In this truly golden season White Hart Lane attendances averaged 55,486 as Tottenham captured their first League championship. They notched 82 goals and were beaten only seven times. In their post-Championship campaign it looked as if they were going to lift the title again as they finished like trains, taking 20 points from the last dozen matches. But Matt Busby’s Manchester United hung on to win the crown after finishing runners- up four times in the previous five years. Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-0 on the final day of the season for the considerable consolation of pipping Arsenal to second place.

It was the FA Cup that brought Tottenham greatest success the following season, when they finished an unimpressive tenth in the First Division. They battled through to the FA Cup semi-final after surviving four away ties. Waiting for them at Villa Park, as in 1948, were Matthews/Mortensen-motivated Blackpool.

Victory was handed to Blackpool on a plate by, of all people, safe-as-houses Alf Ramsey, who in a rare moment of carelessness played a back pass intended for Ted Ditchburn into the path of Blackpool goal poacher Jackie Mudie. It became a skeleton in Alf’s closet, and I hardly dared mention it in the many hours we spent together during the 1960s. He once confided, after a G and T too many, that the memory of it kept him awake on many nights, playing over and over again what he should have done. But his poker face never conveyed to the Tottenham fans that he was even more devastated than they were. Alf was always harder to read than a closed book.

Remarkably, Spurs managed to produce their flowing football on a White Hart Lane pitch that was little more than a mud-heap during the winter months and was a disgrace when compared with John Over’s original billiard table surface. The erection of stands right around the ground was good news for the spectators but not for the groundsmen, who were dismayed to find their grass refusing to grow properly without full sunlight. The players joined Arthur Rowe in pleading for a surface suited to their on-the-carpet passing style. When the pitch was finally dug up in 1952, workmen were amazed to find the remains of an old nursery so lovingly tended by original ground owner George Beckwith. There was a concrete water container, snaking rows of iron piping and greenhouse foundations.

The following year floodlights were erected, set high on four corner poles. Racing Club de Paris accepted an invitation to become the first visitors to appear under the lights and were beaten 5-3 in what was something of an exhibition match. Spectators complained about dark patches on some poorly lit parts of the pitch, and the lights were upgraded in 1957. This meant a transfer of the cockerel – quiet, noble witness of all comings and goings at The Lane – from the West Stand to the East Stand.

Unfortunately, the stress and strain of managing Spurs took its toll on Arthur Rowe and he reluctantly had to stand down in 1954, with the team he had created, cajoled and championed showing the sign of advancing years. His last signing for the club was a player who was to become a Lane legend – Danny Blanchflower, bought from Aston Villa for £30,000 and in Arthur’s expert estimation the perfect player to carry on the push and run philosophy.

Push and run was poetry in motion, and it was Arthur’s lasting legacy. They should build a statue to him at the new Lane in memory of the man who pumped the pride and the passion back into Tottenham.

Next week: Les Bennett, one of our centurions who put the goal power into Push and Run.


Spurs Odyssey Quiz League

We are carrying on with our weekly Spurs Odyssey Quiz League, and hope you continue to take part. Question No 39 in this 2019-20 SOQL season … just two weeks to go to the dreaded shoot out for the title of Spurs Odyssey Quiz League champion 2019-20. No virus is going to stop us!

Who began and ended his career with Solva, was with Spurs for five years, won 58 international caps and which manager bought him from Peterborough?

Please email your answer to me at SOQL39@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. That is now just three weeks away. Gird your loins.

Last week’s SOQL question: Who came on as a substitute to collect an FA Cup winners’ medal with Tottenham, and against which club did he score a spectacular last-minute winner in a European Cup Winners’ Cup final?

The answer: Nayim, who scored that memorable goal for Real Zaragoza in the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final against Arsenal, with a 42-yard lob in the final minute of extra time that completely deceived goalkeeper David Seaman. The Spaniard, of course, substituted In the 91 FA Cup final for Gazza and laid on both the goals in the 2-1 win over Forest.

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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