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Norman Giller's Spurs Odyssey Blog (No. 321) (01.06.20)

NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 321
Submitted by Norman Giller

Flashback to Bill Nicholson at the Double

Surreal times! As we await confirmation of the exact details of Tottenham returning to Premier League action against Manchester United behind closed doors at the new Lane, come with me back to arguably the greatest season in Spurs history.

My regular readers – okay, reader – will know that during the enforced standstill, we have been serialising my ‘Shooting Spurs’ book here on the unmissable Spurs Odyssey website.

This week we reach the golden Midas period when all that Tottenham touched turned to goals. It was the summer of 1960 when eloquent Irishman Danny ‘The Blarneyman’ Blanchflower told veteran Tottenham chairman Fred Bearman: “We’re going to win the League for you this coming season, Mr Chairman, and for good measure we will throw in the FA Cup, too.”

The elderly Spurs boardroom boss could be forgiven for thinking it was a piece of Blanchflower blarney. He was often using his wit and imagination to embroider stories until they were into fairyland. Mr Bearman was older than the century, and he knew better than most that the League and Cup double had become football’s “impossible dream”.

It had been beyond the reach of Herbert Chapman’s great pre-war Arsenal and Huddersfield teams, too difficult a target for an Everton side fuelled by the goals of Dixie Dean and then Tommy Lawton, and a bridge too far for the smooth, sophisticated Spurs push and run side of the early 1950s. And just in the previous three years Wolves and then Manchester United had got within shooting distance of the two supreme prizes, only to fall at the final hurdle.

Mr Bearman wanted to believe his club captain but must have harboured deep doubts. Superstitious Spurs supporters, buoyed by the fact that there was a ‘1’ in the upcoming year, also wanted to believe that a major trophy was coming their way. The League championship? Possibly. The FA Cup? Maybe. Both of them? Not a hope. The build-up involved in trying to capture the two trophies needed such contrasting preparations that it was too easy to fall between the two and finish empty-handed.

The race for the League title was a marathon that called for stamina, consistency, and a total commitment to trying to win week in and week out. The FA Cup was like a sudden-death sprint through a minefield with no knowing what explosions waited around the corner. The tripwire could be hidden at such unfashionable soccer outposts as Walsall (ask Arsenal), Bournemouth (ask Manchester United and Spurs), Yeovil (ask Sunderland), or Worcester (ask Liverpool).

No team in the 20th Century had achieved the elusive double, but Danny Blanchflower was not joking. He was quietly insisting that it could be done, and set about convincing anybody in earshot at White Hart Lane during the build-up to the season. As he spoke from a position of responsibility and influence in his role as Spurs captain he had to be listened to, but few really shared his belief at the start of what was to become an historic 1960-61 season.

When Spurs set a new First Division record by winning their opening eleven matches on the trot (or more at a smooth canter) Blanchflower found his was no longer a voice in the wilderness. Good judges began to wonder if – as Danny had been insisting from day one – this could be the year for the Double. Spurs were looking that good.

Aston Villa were crushed by six goals, Manchester United by four, and mighty Wolves were hammered by four goals on their own territory at Molineux. They were victories that brought gasps of astonishment and admiration right around the country, because Man United and Wolves were still living on their reputations of the previous decade of being the kings of English football.

It was records all the way as Tottenham romped to the League championship with eight points to spare over runners-up Sheffield Wednesday. Their 31 victories was a League record, as was their total of sixteen away wins. The 66 points collected with style and flamboyance equalled the First Division record set by Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal in 1930-31.

While winning the First Division marathon they also managed to survive in the minefield of the FA Cup, getting a scare in the sixth round at Sunderland, but winning the replay 5-0 at White Hart Lane.

The Final against a Leicester City team handicapped by injury problems was something of an anti-climax, but Spurs managed to win 2-0 to prove Danny Blanchflower as good a prophet as he was a footballing captain. Bobby Smith and Terry Dyson scored the victory-clinching goals past the goalkeeper who was to become a legend, Gordon Banks.

On the way to the League title, all five of Tottenham’s first-choice goal-hunting forwards reached double figures – Bobby Smith (28), Les Allen (23), Cliff Jones (15), John White (13) and Terry Dyson (12).

It was in midfield where they won most matches thanks to the combination of skill and strength springing from skipper Danny Blanchflower, schemer John White and thunder-tackler Dave Mackay. Blanchflower was the poet of the side, Mackay the buccaneering pirate, and White the prince of passers.

Previous manager Jimmy Anderson had fought with the influential and intellectual Blanchflower; Bill Nicholson had wisely forged an understanding with him, and took him into his confidence. He restored the artistic Irish playmaker at right-half in the shirt he had worn with such distinction in the push and run era, and he gave him back the captaincy that he had relinquished under the Anderson regime. It was one of Nicholson’s qualities as a manager that he could listen as well as put his own theories in an uncomplicated way that did not bamboozle his players.

Spurs Double Team

The historic Double winners, back row left to right: Bill Brown, Peter Baker, Ron Henry, Danny Blanchflower, Maurice Norman, Dave Mackay; front row: Cliff Jones, John White, Bobby Smith, Les Allen, Terry Dyson.

Nicholson had always been an admirer of the Scottish school of football and went north of the border to sign three players that he felt could put the finishing touch to the team he had inherited: goalkeeper Bill Brown, left-half Dave Mackay and inside-right John White.

In John White, Nicholson had bought a pulse for his team. In Mackay, he had purchased a heart. Bill Brown brought a safe pair of hands from Dundee.

Cynics could sneer that Nicholson was a chequebook manager. But Tottenham’s money could easily have been squandered if handled by a less discerning manager. He always spent with care and caution, almost as if the money was coming out of his own pocket.

There has rarely, if ever, been a more conscientious and caring manager. He matched even fanatical Wolves boss Stan Cullis for dedication to duty. It used to be whispered at Tottenham that he was the one man who could get away with bigamy. He had one marriage to his lovely wife, Grace, and another one to Tottenham Hotspur. So that he could always be on call he was content to live in a modest little terraced house within goal-kicking distance of White Hart Lane. Grace used to cycle to the shops, and Bill often used to walk to the ground.

Harry Miller, my best mate in my Fleet Street days, was my rival on the Daily Mirror while I was chasing headlines and deadlines on the Daily Express. Every Sunday morning we used to call into the Tottenham ground together for an hour-long natter with Bill, who used to be in his office catching up on paperwork.

To the outsider, Bill Nick was the epitome of a dour Yorkshireman – tough, guarded, stubborn and unsmiling. But anybody able to break through his defensive barrier found a warm, sensitive man with a nicely tuned sense of humour.

The eighth of nine children, he gave up working in a Scarborough laundry to move south to join Spurs in 1936 as a sixteen-year-old groundstaff boy at a wage of £2 a week. It is legend how he served the club for more than sixty years, and eventually had the approach road to White Hart Lane named after him: Bill Nicholson Way.

He broke down and cried at the wedding of one of his two daughters. “I suddenly realised I had not seen the girls grow up,” he said. He had given his life to football in general, and Tottenham in particular.

A tidy and determined player, Bill Nick was treated less than kindly by the England selectors, who awarded him just one cap against Portugal. He scored with his first kick in international football yet never got a second chance in an England shirt. The ever-consistent Wolves captain Billy Wright was recalled, and Nicholson joined the one-cap wonder club. His polished, yet at times pedestrian performances were just not eye-catching; fellow professionals, however, looked up to him as a player’s player.

“Bill didn’t take the eye of the spectators,” said Eddie Baily. “But his team- mates knew he was doing all the right things for the team. Alf Ramsey was creaking a bit behind him, and Bill was often his legs, getting him out of trouble. He was the most dedicated footballer I ever had the joy of playing with.”

Eddie and Bill later teamed up again when Baily was appointed Tottenham coach following the sudden death of Harry Evans, who had been Nicholson’s trusted and talented right hand man in his first three years in charge at The Lane (Harry was the father-in-law of the great John White, who was killed by lightning just a few months after Harry’s defeat by cancer).

When I asked Bill how he felt about never getting another England call-up, he said with typical shining honesty: “I understood. Billy Wright was a better player than me.”

Bill Nick always shunned personal publicity, and he used to wince when he saw the new cult developing of managers taking a stage that once belonged exclusively to the players. He used to be at his most articulate in defeat, cutting down any players he felt were getting an inflated opinon of their own ability. In victory, he was content to let his team’s performance do the talking for him.

He could be brutally candid, and never gave praise that had not been earned. His players found his compliments hard to come by because he was a perfectionist who demanded the highest level of performance at all times. He was not interested enough in self-projection as a manager to earn the public’s affection, but in the autumn of his life – after being reinstated at the club following a clumsily handled end to his managerial career – he became the father figure at Tottenham, and was warmly regarded by everybody who had close contact with him during those ‘Glory, Glory’ days.

There is still a campaign going on to get him a posthumous knighthood, for which he was shamefully overlooked during his life. But all those well-intentioned petitioners are wasting their time and energy. If they give one to Bill Nick, what do they do about the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Arthur Rowe, Jock Stein, Stan Cullis ... I could go on and on. Bill would hate the fuss.

His greatest strength as a manager was his tactical understanding of a game that he always believed should be kept simple. Remember, he had been heavily influenced by first Peter McWilliam and then Arthur Rowe. While too many coaches were trying to turn football into a sort of master-class chess, he kept it more like draughts. His teams played football that was easy to understand and beautiful to watch. And it was also stunningly effective.

The Nicholson record speaks for itself: League and FA Cup double (1960-61), FA Cup (1961, 1962 and 1967), European Cup Winners’ Cup (1963), Uefa Cup (1972), League Cup (1971 and 1973). But in a way it was all downhill after the Double Year. He was like a man who had fallen in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, and spent the rest of his years trying to find an exact copy. He never quite managed to recreate a team on a par with the ‘Super Spurs’ of 1960-61.

This was Bill Nick on that Tottenham team in a moment of rosy reflection:

‘Everything was right. The balance of the team. The attitude of the players. We managed to find the perfect blend and everybody gave 100 per cent in effort and enthusiasm. We had the sort of understanding and cohesion that you find in only the finest teams, and we tried to keep our football as simple as possible – imaginative but simple. I kept pushing an old theory: ‘When you’re not in possession, get into position.’ The man without the ball was important, because he could make things happen by getting into the right place at the right time. Running off the ball was as vital as running with it. Simple, simple, simple.’

His Double team was never defence minded – as is revealed by the fact that they conceded 55 League goals on their way to the First Division championship. But they were sufficiently steady at the back to allow heavy concentration on attack. Goalkeeper Bill Brown, one of the more efficient Scottish goalkeepers, had excellent reactions and a safe pair of hands, which made up for his occasional positioning misjudgement. He had a good rapport with the 6 foot 1 inch Norfolk- born giant Maurice Norman, a dominating centre-half who won 23 England caps. He was flanked in a fluid 3-3-4 formation by full-backs Peter Baker and Ron Henry, both of whom were disciplined and determined and had unyielding competitive attitudes.

Dave Mackay was always quick to take up a defensive position alongside Norman when needed and his tackles were like a clap of thunder. They used to say in the game that anybody who felt the full weight of a Mackay challenge would go home feeling as if he was still with them. Danny Blanchflower was not noted for his tackling but was a shrewd enough positional player to manage to get himself between the opponent in possession and the goal. He would defend with the instincts of a sheepdog, cornering the opposition by steering them into cul-de-sacs rather than biting them. He left that to the Great Mackay.

Dave Mackay and Billy Bremner in classic pose

This iconic picture was given to me by the man who took it, ace photographer Monte Fresco. The great Mackay hated it because it represented him as a bully. He was just telling fellow- Scot Billy Bremner to cut out the rough stuff!

The Tottenham attacking movements in that Double year were full of fluency and fire, a blaze lit in midfield by three of the greatest players to come together in one club team (up there with Best-Law-and-Charlton and Moore-Hurst-Peters). Blanchflower, an inspiring skipper for Northern Ireland as well as Tottenham, was the brains of the team who had an instinctive feel for the game and an ability to lift the players around him with measured passes and intelligent tactical commands.

He was the sort of confident captain who would sort things out on the pitch in the heat of battle rather than wait until the after-match dressing-room inquest.

Mackay, the Scot with an in-built swagger and a he-man’s barrel chest, was the heart of the side, always playing with enormous enthusiasm, power and panache. John White, an artist of an inside-forward in the best traditions of purist Scottish football, was the eyes of the team, seeing openings that escaped the vision of lesser players and dismantling defences with precision passes and blind-side runs that earned him the nickname, ‘The Ghost of White Hart Lane’. This talented trio were essentially buccaneering, forward-propelling players, but were sufficiently geared to team discipline to help out in defence when necessary.

Spearheading the attack in that memorable start to the swinging ’ sixties was burly, bulldozing centre-forward Bobby Smith, a 15-cap England centre-forward who mixed subtle skill with awesome strength. He was the main marksman in the Double year with 33 League and Cup goals.

The mighty Smith was in harness with Les Allen, father of future Spurs hero Clive. He was a clever and under-rated player who was the odd man out when Jimmy Greaves arrived the following season. Les contributed 23 goals to Tottenham’s championship season. Smith, Allen and Greaves all started their careers with Chelsea.

Out on the wings Spurs had Terry Dyson – tiny, quick and taunting, the son of a Yorkshire jockey – and the marvellous Cliff Jones, one of the ‘Untouchables’ of Welsh international football, who could take the tightest defences apart with his fast, diagonal runs. He was brave beyond the call of duty and his diving headers made him a super hero.

In reserve Spurs had players of the calibre of Welsh terrier Terry Medwin, fearless Frank Saul, cultured wing-half Tony Marchi and utility player John Smith, all of whom made occasional appearances during that golden season.

Danny Blanchflower, who became a colleague of mine on Express newspapers when he seamlessly followed playing the game with writing about it, was the spokesman for the team and always found the right words. He told me:

‘When I predicted to our chairman before the start of the season that we would achieve the double I said it quietly and confidently ... but not confidentially, because I wanted to get the message out. It was not a boast but a belief. I am a great believer that confidence, like fear, can be contagious, and I wanted our players to catch my belief.

I was impressed by the individual ability running through our squad, also its teamwork, and its whole personality. You could say we were one of the last of the good teams in which players were allowed to do things their own way, without restrictions from the coaching manual.

I sensed people grew to like us because we were a cosmopolitan team as well as a very good one. We had Englishmen, Welshmen, Scots and Irishmen, big guys, little guys, fat men and thin men. Also, we scored goals in so many different ways. I know if I had been a spectator I would have wanted to watch us. We were exciting, explosive and – virtually throughout the season – exceptional.’

The squad became even more magical the following season when it was joined by the man who was to become treasured by every Tottenham supporter, the one and only Jimmy Greaves. As a special treat, I will be bringing you Jimmy’s personal assessment of each of that great Double team. Here at Spurs Odyssey.


Spurs Odyssey Trivia Quiz League

Each week before we start season seven of the Spurs Odyssey Quiz League, I am asking you a trivial question just to keep you on your Tottenham toes. By all means send me your answer to SOQLTeaser@normangillerbooks.com but only for satisfaction, not points. I will, as usual, reply if I possibly can. This week’s off-beat Teaser:

Which former Spurs manager won two England caps and against which team was he sent off at White Hart Lane in 1967?

Last week’s question: Which former Spurs manager conceded a match-deciding penalty in a World Cup finals match against England, and on which club’s books was he at the time?

The answer: The much-missed Mauricio Pochettino, who at the time was with PSG (a major club he would like to one day manage). He conceded the penalty following a tackle on England’s Michael Owen in Sapporo in 2002. David Beckham scored from the spot to give England a 1-0 victory. To this day, Poch insists that Owen dived.

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

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