Danny Blanchflower: A Tribute by SpurSince57

Discussion in 'Columns' started by SpurSince57, Feb 9, 2007.

  • by SpurSince57, Feb 9, 2007 at 9:15 PM
  • SpurSince57

    SpurSince57 Well-Known Member

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    A Tribute to Danny Blanchflower
    by SpurSince57 (Mike)


    I first saw Danny Blanchflower when I was just short of eight years old, on a sunny October Saturday afternoon in 1958. Saw him play, that is, for I’d been aware of his existence for maybe three years, hearing his name and that of our other players spoken by my father and grandfather when they returned from the at-first mysterious ‘Lane’ to which they vanished every other Saturday.

    I knew what he looked like, because his face regularly featured in the football card sets which came in Lion and Tiger, and on the back pages of the Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Evening News, and sometimes on the flickering black-and-white screen of the television - on the occasions it could actually be persuaded to work. And I knew, of course, that he was our captain, which meant that he was one of our very best players, and that he was captain of Northern Ireland, too, although I only had the dimmest notion of what Ireland was beyond the fact it was another country, somewhere or other.

    I’d been to the Lane a few times before, the previous season and that, but only to reserve games; my mother wasn’t too happy about me going to the first team games because of the crowds, but this Saturday when I went through my ‘Can I go to the game this afternoon, please, please?‘ and ran off the names of schoolfriends whose mums always let them go, throwing in the information that I’d been very good at school and got so many gold and silver stars, she relented, much to my surprise. It was Bill Nicholson’s first game in charge, my grandfather said, we were playing Everton and the crowd wouldn’t be too big, and I would be all right. So, after lunch, grandad and I got into dad’s Morris Oxford and set off, dad and grandad assuring mum yet again that I would be alright, and yes, they wouldn’t let me get passed down to the front over all the heads, which rather disappointed me.

    We parked in White Hart Lane by the old grammar school and joined the crowds streaming to the ground. I was amazed. Attendances for reserve games in those days could be pretty substantial, but this was something else; I’d never seen so many people before. We were three of over 38,000 at the Lane that day, not a particularly large crowd, as my grandfather had forecast, rather less than two-thirds capacity, in fact, but still an astonishing sight to me. We took up our usual spot in the upper tier of the Park Lane, and a little before three the teams came out. Grandad pointed everyone out to me: there was Danny, there was Bobby Smith, Tommy Harmer, Jim Iley, Georgie Robb, Johnny Hollowbread, Maurice Norman … in fact, as I clutched my programme, it was Big Maurice Norman who fascinated me, for he towered over everyone else on the pitch.

    At this distance in time I can remember virtually nothing of the game, other than that there were ten blokes in white shirts and ten in blue running around, and that every few minutes a huge roar went up, and at slightly longer intervals a rather more subdued ones from the Everton fans who’d made the trip, and after a couple of these I got the idea and went mental along with everyone else.

    Fourteen goals went in that afternoon, ten of them to us. Afterwards my grandfather told me, ‘It won’t be like that every time, son,’ words which have always seemed very good advice for a Spurs supporter, and then turned to my dad with a bit of a grimace and said, ‘The first thing Nicholson’s got to do is sort out that defence.’

    So that was my first sight of Danny Blanchflower, not, as I say, that I could describe a single thing that he did that afternoon other than kick the ball.

    Danny had joined Spurs from Aston Villa a little over four years earlier, in December 1954, Arthur Rowe’s last and best signing for the club. It had been a protracted and convoluted transfer saga which had begun with his handing in a transfer request in September, and Villa informing those clubs interested that he was available for £40,000, an unheard-of sum for those times. They themselves had paid Barnsley £15,000 for him three years earlier. We and Arsenal were both interested, but unwilling to match Villa’s price. We made a gentleman’s agreement that neither of us would go above £28,000, and the choice would be Danny’s. Somewhat surprisingly, Arsenal kept their side of the bargain, and eventually Danny chose us. Villa, however, held out for £30,000.00, and Rowe had to go to the board and persuade them to pay the extra £2,000.00. They were reluctant, for Danny was almost twenty-nine, but Rowe won them round. He had seen something very special indeed in Danny, and was convinced he was the ideal man to take over from Alf Ramsey as captain and Bill Nicholson as right-half. The board finally agreed, and Danny signed: £30,000 was a colossal sum in the mid-fifties, the equivalent of a £15,000,000-£20,000,000 signing today, and shattered the then record. It was, however, to prove money very well spent, a bargain indeed.

    What had appealed to Rowe was not merely Danny’s outstanding qualities on the field, but his vision and intelligence. His ‘push-and-run’ side had revolutionised English football and taken the First Division by storm three seasons earlier, but its stars, like Nicholson, were ageing now and our fortunes had taken a sharp dip. Rowe had made himself so ill with overwork as he fought to turn things around that he had been hospitalised. He would shortly retire and hand over the reins to his assistant, Jimmy Adamson, but he had seen in Blanchflower a man who would be one of the two linchpins of our revival. The other, of course, was Bill Nicholson, who had been appointed club coach and assistant to Adamson. It was, however, generally thought that Adamson was a stop-gap, and that Bill would be pulling many of the strings.

    For his part, Danny had recognised a kindred spirit. He had grown increasingly frustrated with the conservatism and backwardness of English football thinking since arriving at Barnsley from Glentoran in 1949. There, he had been amazed that there was no practice with the ball whatsoever, merely a concentration on physical fitness, and things had been little better at Villa. There seemed to him to be him to be a complacency, a lack of ambition, a sense that the club was looking backward, not forward; his attempts to persuade his team-mates to adopt new thinking had fallen on deaf ears, for Villa, like almost every other club in the land, were locked into the ‘dribble and hoof’ mentality of the long ball which had dominated English since the thirties. Danny was deeply envious of his younger brother Jackie at Manchester United, where Matt Busby was almost the only top manager other than Rowe who was attempting to break out of the straitjacket. But he had been greatly impressed by Spurs when Villa had played them, seeing in Rowe’s philosophy and tactics something very much in line with his own thinking: speed, precision, skill, and, above all, grace and style.

    In the end, the decision between us and Arsenal was not too difficult. Danny made his first appearance in the Lilywhite on 11th December, in a goalless draw against Manchester City at Maine Road. A week later he stepped out on to the White Hart Lane turf for the first time, ironically, against Villa.

    (Continued below)
     
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Discussion in 'Columns' started by SpurSince57, Feb 9, 2007.

  1. SpurSince57
    (Continued from above)

    However, Danny and Adamson soon fell out. He had an absolutely uncompromising attitude, a refusal to compromise his ideals that could be construed as mule-headed stubbornness and arrogance. When he joined Spurs he was already a regular newspaper columnist for a Birmingham paper, and had contracted to write for one of the nationals. The FA informed Spurs that this was against regulations, and the club asked him to stop. Danny refused. In the end a compromise was reached whereby the club would vet his articles, but Bill Nicholson later said that no-one ever saw them before they were in print. But things went much further than that. It was Danny’s firm belief that tactical decisions on the pitch were the captain’s prerogative, and it was not only his right but his duty to ignore the manager’s instructions if he saw fit. When he began ordering his full-backs and centre-half forward to support attacks Adamson was seriously alarmed; at the time, it was virtually unheard-of for defenders to cross the halfway line, and even Rowe had not contemplated such a radical departure from conventional wisdom. For Adamson, it laid the team wide open to counter-attacks, particularly as Danny and his counterpart at left-half, Jim Iley, were both highly attack-minded players; for Danny, defenders were simply wasted standing around in their own half. Adamson also wanted a return to more conventional tactics, and suggested more use of the long ball, anathema to Danny. “What exactly do you mean by a long ball?” Danny asked. “How does a long ball roll?”

    The 1955-56 season saw us struggling badly in the league, but we had an excellent cup run, reaching the semi-final. Playing the eventual winners, Manchester City, we were 1-0 down, and Danny sent Maurice Norman up to support the forwards. There was no equaliser, and afterwards a major row saw Danny stripped of the captaincy and dropped for the relegation decider against Cardiff. The official line was that he had been injured, but, typically, he refused to go along with this. We survived, and had two good seasons, Danny returning to the team and the captaincy, but the 1958-59 season began with three straight defeats, and although things stabilised somewhat, Adamson resigned and Nicholson took over.

    After that Everton game I only saw Blanchflower in the reserves for a while, because the old argument over responsibility for tactical decisions flared up anew. Nicholson dropped him, later somewhat disingenuously claiming that a player of his quality was wasted in a weak time, but no-one was fooled as to the real reason. Danny asked for a transfer, Nicholson refused, and whilst they locked horns things went seriously downhill on the pitch. We were scoring freely, but leaking goals. Finally, Bill had no option but to eat humble pie, recall Danny and restore him to the captaincy. His direction on the pitch, the arrival of Cliff Jones, Bobby Smith’s 32 goals and contributions from Terry Medwin and others, including Danny himself in a 6-0 rout of Leicester City, saw us pull clear of danger, although eighteenth place was certainly a little close for comfort. Perhaps Bill and Danny both learned a lesson, for thereafter they worked in tandem, with a shared vision, with results we all know. Bill gave Danny carte blanche for decisions on the field, and in the close season strengthened the team in key areas with the signings of Dave Mackay, Les Allen, John White, Bill Brown and Tony Marchi, and the promotion of young Frank Saul from the reserves. In 1959-60 we finished third, and at the start of the 1960-61 season Danny told chairman Fred Bearman “We’ll do the Double this year.” We did.

    Nevertheless, Danny could still be exasperating. Bill was once heard to mutter at a club reception, “That Blanchflower, I — He’s impossible!’ (This was possibly the same occasion that he asked Danny if he would like his glass topped up, as it was half-empty, only to be told, 'No, thank you, it was half-full.') Once, an unnamed director told him, “The trouble with you is that you think you know all the answers.”: riposted Danny, “Ah, God love you, you don't even know the questions.” But most famous, and certainly most public, was his memorably brief appearance on TV’s This is Your Life. Host Eamonn Andrews would ambush his subjects outside a venue to which they had been led unwittingly, whilst friends and family waited inside, with the words, “[name], this is your life!” The show went out live. One night in 1961 we were clustered around the television when Danny stepped into shot. “Oh, great it’s Danny!” we exclaimed. “Danny Blanchflower, this is your life!” said Eamonn Andrews. “Oh no it isn’t,” replied Danny, and walked away. Total confusion ensued, and after a few minutes a repeat of a previous programme came on. Inside, Bill grumbled to Cliff Jones, “Jesus Christ! Trust him! Trust him to do it! Bloody typical! I’ve wasted a whole day for this!” The show never went out live again.

    But what was he like as a player? Again, alas, my recollections are altogether hazy; although I got to the majority of our home games, I was really far too young truly to understand what I was seeing. Greaves’ and Smith’s goals, Mackay’s tackling and Jones’s miraculous runs stand out much more clearly, and of course Greaves, Mackay and Jones were still playing when I was old enough to appreciate them fully. But for sheer elegance and finesse, he stood out, even in that great team; only the tragic Johnny White was in the same class. He made everything seem effortless, in the same way that Glenn Hoddle would twenty years later, but never infuriated in the same way that Glenn sometimes could. He was constantly driving the team forward, finding our forwards with passes that seemed always to reach their target, yet hurrying back to organise the defence. He was rarely, if ever, caught out of position, or out-thought. Whilst certainly not averse to getting stuck in when need be - pretty much a prerequisite in the 60s - his tackling was the opposite of Mackay’s; he was a consummate stealer of the ball, often whipping it away from an opponent’s feet before they knew what was happening. Last season I watched our game against Bolton at the Lane with my father, who is the same age Danny would be now (and whom I have to credit for this summary of his skills); when Aaron Lennon swooped in from nowhere to dispossess Nakata and save Paul Stalteri major embarrassment, dad turned to me and said admiringly, “That was pure Blanchflower!” The one thing he rarely did was score goals, just 15 in the league and 21 in total, but he was a notably cool taker of penalties. But above all there was a complete assurance about him; he seemed totally confident in every ball he played, and every decision he made as a captain, and was seldom wrong in either. And he took his genius for sharp repartée on to the pitch, of course. Having clattered him, the young Nobby Stiles crowed, “Blanchflower, you’re finished!” “Sorry, son,” Danny replied, picking himself up, “I haven’t read the programme today. Who are you?”

    I was not quite into my teens when he played his last game for Spurs. It was in November 1963, a month short of the tenth anniversary of his debut, against Manchester United at the Lane. He was, by then, 38, and unable to contain a brilliant young Denis Law, who completely stole the show as United won 4-1. Two seasons earlier, Danny would have dealt with Law, but he was now visibly not the player he had been then; he had never quite recovered from a knock against Rangers in our 1962 European Cup campaign, and missed much of the following season, although he was back for one final Glory Night when we destroyed Atlético 5-1 in Rotterdam to win the Cup Winners Cup and become the first British side to lift a European trophy. He knew it was time to hang up his boots, and so did Bill. The club put out a statement that he was injured, but as the weeks went by it became increasingly apparent that we would never see him in a Spurs shirt again. When Alan Mullery arrived from Fulham in March 1964, that feeling became a certainty, and Danny announced his retirement via his newspaper column a month later.

    He continued to entertain and educate in his column, in interviews and sometimes as a commentator, one of the greatest thinkers the game has ever known, and never one to mince his words. Commenting on an early NASL game, he pronounced, “These teams can’t play.“ The producer, horrified, instructed him to “Accentuate positive truths rather than negative truths.” “These teams positively can’t play,“ said Danny. Bill wanted Danny to succeed him as manager when he retired in 1974, and recommended him to the board, but Danny’s outspokenness and refusal to accept compromise, or fools gladly, rebounded on him, and Spurs. To general disbelief and horror, and, as it turned out, a justified foreboding, the board appointed Terry Neill instead. Perhaps Danny would have been no more successful, for his one brief foray into management, at Chelsea, was something of a disaster, but at least we would have gone down with style, with an honourable man whose heart and soul was with the club he loved.

    Danny died in 1993, sadly, after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years. He would have been 81 today.

    Robert Dennis ‘Danny’ Blanchflower, captain, inspiration and legend. 10th February 1928 - 9th December 1993, R.I.P.
  2. CosmicHotspur
    A great read - I'm glad so many of us are contributing to Danny's tributes.

    For those who saw him play, there are some wonderful memories. For those too young, lots of information on one of our true legends.
  3. 2bearis2do
    A fantastic read. Very enjoyable.

    Interesting to note what his transfer would be worth today even at the age we bought him. (29years- 15m-20m)

    We just don't have a captain these days do we? (Ok King when fit, but thats not quite the same)
  4. guate
    Thanks Spurssince57 for taking the time out to research and edit this excellent article on one of Tottenham's true legends.

    Although I got to see Danny boy play quite often I still envy people like your father who had the privilege of consistently seeing him over year after year

    How we could do with his influence now, along with McKay's, so as to make our midfield into what's needed in order to take this present squad forward.

    Personally I feel that Jol is so close to putting together an exceptional team but there are still 1 or 2 key positions that need filling before this happens

    The trick is to be able to do so before all our best players leave for Champion's league football, as did Carrick.

    QUE VIVA LOS SPURS
  5. GDG
    A great read, SS57, thanks for spending the time to put it together.
  6. easiman
    What a great read, thanks for taking the time to publish.
  7. Sally_G
    It's all just beautiful stuff isn't it.

    I love it. Well done SS57, and Ms Cosmic and Mr Chosen One. I never saw Mr Blanchflower play, but everything I hear about him makes me proud.
  8. fanof51
    Tributes to Danny

    Really enjoyed the lead article from SS57. I am pleased at the opportunity to add my voice to those who recall the incomparable Danny Blanchflower, who would have my vote as one of the most intelligent and influential players in the history of Spurs. His passing was immaculate but above all he inspired that team to levels which possibly surpassed their individual abilities. We old-timers may be inclined to nostalgia, but we have much to be nostalgic about, and we'll never forget the experiences provided by such as Danny B.
  9. DC_Boy
    Great article 57 :) - being a bit younger I only saw Danny 'live' in his last year at Spurs - but vividly remember his TV penalties v Benfica and Burnley - coolness itself

    As I've posted elsewhere it's indicative of our fall since 1963 that in those days and the immdiate preceding years we could outbid clubs like Arsenal - whil chelsea and Liverpol weren't even realistic competitors (63 pool being newly promoted - along with orient :)

    Now it's it's hard to see us ever again being able to afford the likes of Blanchflower Mackay Greaves and Jones - still I suppose the wheel may turn again in our favour :)

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