NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 234
Submitted by Norman Giller
I was just starting to write this blog yesterday in praise of Captain Kane and his crew when Steve Perryman rang to tell me that the great, the unique, the irreplaceable Alan Gilzean had passed on following his recently diagnosed brain tumour.
What a torpedo into my celebratory mood. The G-Men are no more. Greavsie is desperately ill following his stroke, and now Gilly has gone. This old hack is mortified.
‘We’ve not only lost a great footballer and Tottenham legend,’ Skipper Steve told me, ‘but we’ve lost a great man. We all loved Gilly. There was nobody who did not have a soft spot for him as a feller, and we were all in awe of him as a footballer. He could make the ball talk.’
I always described Alan as a Nureyev on grass, because he was so balletic. You could have set his movement on the pitch to music.
He danced many a pas de deux with Greavsie and then with big Martin Chivers as his partner. What music they made together, with Alan providing the subtlety of touch with either foot and glancing headers that were his trademark.
Gilly was an extraordinarily gifted forward who could thread a ball through the eye of a needle. He specialised in flick headers, and was an intelligent positional player who often popped up in unmarked places that caught defenders napping.
Born in Coupar Angus on 22 October 1938, Alan first made a name for himself as a free-scoring forward with Dundee and won the 1961-62 league title with them and helped the club reach the European Cup semi-finals the following season. He is as much idolised at Dens Park as he is at Tottenham.
Alan arrived at the Lane in December 1964 as replacement for the bulldozing Bobby Smith. The contrast was stark, but he was every bit as devastating as the mighty Smith and he majestically earned the title The King of White Hart Lane.
He and Greavsie went together like fish and chips and they were the most dynamic duo in the League for three or four years. Gilly won 22 Scottish caps, and settled to another winning partnership with Martin Chivers when Jimmy moved on in 1970.
He wound down his exciting and often eccentric career in South Africa, and cut his links with football after brief experience as manager of Stevenage. Spurs stats: 343 League games (93 goals), 96 cup matches (40 goals). His son Ian was a Spurs youth player and later scored goals for Dundee, just like his adored Dad.
After 30 years out of the spotlight Alan returned to the celebrity circuit to get the acclaim his talent deserved. It was claimed that he “had gone missing” but Gilly told me: ‘I always knew where I was.’
He had a famously dry and laconic sense of humour. When Bill Nicholson called him into his office to say that a supporter had seen him leaving a nightclub at 2am, Gilly said: “He’s got that wrong, Boss. I was just arriving.”
I interviewed him during the build-up to the 1967 FA Cup final and asked him to name his favourite partners. Quick as a flash he said: ‘Bacardi and Coke.’
There’ll never be another Gilly. RIP.
Gilly was a fiercely proud Scot and would not have given false praise to England’s progress through to the semi-finals of the World Cup. But he would have been delighted and supportive of the amazing Tottenham input.
Extraordinarily, there are nine Spurs players still in action with the final four contenders for the title:
England (5): Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose. I was tempted to add Kyle Walker, who still has a strong Tottenham tinge.
Belgium (3): Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele
France (1): Hugo Lloris
The main man standing between England and final glory on Wednesday is another former Tottenham great, Luka Modric. He is the midfield puppeteer who pulls the strings for Croatia and if England can cut out his passes then they have a huge chance of playing in Moscow next Sunday.
The dream remains alive of Hugo Lloris and Our Harry leading England out for the final. What a sight that would be for Tottenham fans.
Now, where’s my 1966 waistcoat …
Danny Blanchflower, one of Tottenham’s all-time greats, once walked out on Eamonn Andrews and refused to accept his ‘This Is Your Life’ book. While waiting for the new season to get under way and Spurs to move into their state-of-the-art home, I will be telling you the story here that Eamonn could not tell. Part Seven is a double delight for all Spurs fans …
Danny Blanchflower and Bill Nicholson were football’s Odd Couple, who could not have been more opposite in personality and presence. Bill was a blunt, sometimes stubborn, no-nonsense, say-it-as-you-see-it, almost stereotypical dour Yorkshireman. Danny was a romantic, occasionally a fantasist, always artistic, articulate and a born charmer, yet often argumentative. Bill’s only reading was football manuals, Danny usually had his head buried in classic novels. Danny went to work on an ego, Bill on an egg.
But they were both perfectionists who agreed on how the game of football should be played and plotted, and in the unforgettable season of 1960-61 they found the keys to paradise.
Danny, naturally, found his own way of describing their relationship:
“Bill and I were as far apart as you could be in our tastes and habits. It’s fair to say that socially we had little in common. But we could both look at an empty football canvas and see the finished picture. He would not claim to have been the best educated of men, but when it came to matters of football he was something of an intellectual. He and I balanced each other perfectly. Bill always talked commonsense and had his feet firmly on the ground, while I had an imagination that could send me flying up to the heavens. In that Double season, we often met in the middle.”
Bill said of Danny:
‘There were times when I had to pull Danny back because his optimism could get out of control. It put extra pressure on us because virtually every preview of any match in the newspapers and on TV and radio mentioned the Double. Confidence is good, but over confidence can be dangerous and draining.’
The season could not have got off to a better start. 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 an injury to defender Len Chalmers 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, 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.
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. Bill restored the artistic Irish playmaker at right-half in the No 4 shirt he had worn with such distinction n 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 outstanding qualities as a manager that he could listen as well as put across his own theories in an uncomplicated way that did not bamboozle or confuse his players.
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. Mix and shake them together with the brains of Blanchflower and you had a heady cocktail.
Bill Nick’s Double team was never defence minded – as is revealed by the fact that they conceded 50 League goals on their way to the First Division championship. But they were sufficiently steady at the back to allow heavy concentration on attack. And we meet each one of Bill’s players in next week’s instalment of the Danny Blanchflower story …
This week’s totally trivial teaser, just for fun:
Which current Tottenham player has been on loan to Watford, Peterborough, Bristol City and Sunderland?
Please email your answer to me at Teaser10@normangillerbooks.com Deadline: midnight this Friday. No prize, just pride and the satisfaction of being right!
Last week I asked: Which former Spurs player wears the No 22 shirt in the current World Cup and made his international debut for Morocco?
You were right if you said Nacer Chadli, who scored the winning goal in Belgium’s win over Japan.
Thanks for your company. See you same time, same place next week. COYS.
And good luck to Captain Kane and his crew against Croatia on Wednesday!
The "Giller Index" - listing all Norman's articles for Spurs Odyssey
Top of page | Spurs Odyssey Home Page