A Tribute to Danny Blanchflower
by CosmicHotspur (Carol)
I was honoured to be asked to write a birthday tribute to Danny Blanchflower. I could write a book and make no apology for the considerable length of this contribution.
I was thrilled to hear the strains of McNamara’s Band still being played at White Hart Lane as the players came out of the tunnel when I managed to get to a game a few years back – the song was a tribute to Danny which perhaps not all Spurs supporters realise.
He was, without doubt, one of the most intelligent, intellectual and witty men ever to grace a football pitch. He played football like a chess champion, reading the game with wonderful accuracy and as a captain was second to none in directing and leading Tottenham during his ten years at White Hart Lane.
He was born Robert Dennis Blanchflower, the eldest of five children in a working class Belfast family who had their share of hard times through the war years and beyond. No doubt he inherited his early love of football from his mother who played at centre forward for a local ladies’ team. He won a scholarship from school to Belfast College of Technology where he studied Kinetics but decided to join a local cigarette factory instead as a trainee electrician. He played amateur football at College and at work. In 1943 he lied about his age to join the RAF as a trainee navigator. Back in Belfast in his old job at the Gallaghers Factory, playing football for three different teams, his obvious talent was noticed by local side Glentoran and they signed him in 1945.
English football scouts soon took an interest and Danny was transferred to Barnsley in 1948 for a fee of £6,000 where he stayed for two years until Aston Villa snatched him away for a £15,000 transfer fee. He put in 155 appearances at Villa Park but became increasingly unhappy with the training regime there which consisted mainly of running and physical exercise without any training on the ball.
Tottenham and Arsenal were interested in signing “Danny Boy” who had by then established himself as a fast-thinking half back. Luckily for us we topped Arsenal’s bid of £28,500 with one of £30,000 which was a record fee for the purchase of a player at White Hart Lane at that time and he joined Spurs in 1954 for a glorious career which was to last ten years until he finally retired, unable to beat a bad knee injury, at the age of 38.
Danny was capped by Northern Ireland 56 times between 1949 and 1963, playing alongside his younger brother Jackie until the Man Utd Munich plane crash in 1958 when Jackie sustained a bad leg injury which ended his football career.
There were some turbulent times at first at White Hart Lane for Danny and a period when he was about to be relegated to the reserve team. It was Bill Nicholson who had been a trainer there after his playing career with Tottenham who recognised his true potential and reinstated him as captain when he took over as Manager. In 1960, the two of them realised that a great side was being built and Danny accurately prophesied, “We have got a good side here, we will win the Double this season.”
1960-61 is a season no Spurs supporter will ever forget. Records were smashed and we became the first side to achieve the League and Cup Double in the 20th century. Ironically Aston Villa, Danny’s previous team, had been the last team to do it. The season ended with an eight point lead in the Division One table to win the title and culminated in beating Leicester City 1-0 in the Cup Final. True to his reputation for wit, when asked by the Duchess of Kent why the Leicester team had their names on the backs of their track suits and Tottenham didn’t, Danny replied, “Ah well, ma’am – you see, we all know each other.”
With Danny at the helm, Tottenham went on to finish third in the League in the following season and win the FA Cup again, this time beating Burnley 3-1 with Danny scoring one of the goals from the penalty spot. I was at that match and cried with delirious joy all the way home.
We were in the European Cup and went out in the semis on aggregate, beaten by Benfica and some truly awful decisions, particularly a goal by Jimmy Greaves which was ruled offside and absolutely wasn’t. So we were robbed of the chance of being in the final. However, in the 1962-3 season, we were the first British team to win a European trophy beating Athletico Madrid in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup. Holding that cup through the gates at White Hart Lane where the keenest of supporters congregated to meet the coach of the triumphantly returning players was an incredible thrill. [ar][/ar]
In 1961, Danny was the first person to refuse to go on “This Is Your Life”, later explaining that he thought the programme was dreadful and an invasion of privacy. Perhaps he thought that a messy divorce from his first wife would be made public but whatever the reason, when Eamonn Andrews brandished the red book and proclaimed, “Danny Blanchflower – this is your life!”, Danny’s response was, “No, it’s bloody not! Let me out!” and stormed out of the studio.
Danny had sustained a bad knee injury which plagued him during the 1960’s, even needing a pain-killing injection before the 1961 Cup Final. He was 38 when he finally hung up his boots in 1964. He knew he had slowed down and it was time to move on. He managed Northern Ireland from 1976-79 with some success and had a very brief spell as manager at Chelsea.
He was a respected journalist with the Sunday Express, writing with flair and wit. He loved his golf and played from a handicap of 4. When John White was killed by lightning on the golf course at Crews Hill, Enfield in 1964 my friend Jill and I got a mention in Danny’s column – we had seen and spoken to John on the day he died and turned up the next morning to lament with the players who came in that day to share in our shock and disbelief. We stood outside the gate in stunned silence and mourning and very little was said by anyone – there was just the shaking of heads and the tears. Until that time, we had no idea Danny had ever noticed us – he tended to be somewhat aloof and didn’t chat to fans as the other players did and we were always in awe of him. Getting his autograph was always a challenge. I remember getting past Old Bill the gatekeeper at White Hart Lane (known as Popeye because he’d lost an eye in the First World War) on one occasion and seeing Danny in earnest conversation in the car park with the late journalist, Peter Lorenzo. Danny saw me and acknowledged me with a smile but I backed off, not wanting to interrupt their conversation. I was still there, chatting to one of the reserve players when he walked by and he ruffled my hair. It felt as though I had been blessed and I walked home on a cloud that evening!
Danny was plagued with ill health and personal problems in his later years and died in 1993 aged only 67 in a nursing home. For a man of his intellect to have suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease was a really unfitting end.
He had been the first Footballer of the Year to win the title twice, in 1958 and 1961, and he was inducted into the English Hall of Fame in 2003.
A Spurs Director once said to him, “The trouble with you is that you think you know all the answers.” Danny’s quick-witted reply was, “Ah, God love you. You don’t even know all the questions.”
Robert Dennis “Danny” Blanchflower was a true footballing legend and I consider myself privileged to have seen him play.