(10th February 1926 - 9th December 1993)
Danny Blanchflower was unlike the other players of his time, or indeed any time. He was a man blessed with imagination, flair and intellect as much off the pitch as on it, and he possessed a rare insight into the game’s finer points. [ar][/ar]
Blanchflower made his debut at Glentoran in 1945 and after impressing there earned a move to Barnsley in England in a £4,500 deal. While the move to a bigger stage proved a big success, Blanchflower’s international debut was less memorable, as he was on the receiving end of an 8-2 home thrashing from Scotland. In 1951 he moved to Aston Villa for £15,000, but it was a mixed time. Blanchflower was a player who knew his own mind, and in a time of disciplinarian mangers his opinions were not always welcome. Of chief concern to Danny was the lack of training with a ball at Villa and he was not afraid to make himself heard. On the pitch he maintained his high standards but after 3 years he moved again.
Blanchflower was initially close to joining Arsenal but after that move broke down, Spurs stepped into to snatch him for a fee of £30,000, a record for a half-back at the time. Rarely have a player and club been better suited. At first Blanchflower appeared again to be an awkward customer but he was to the fore in the 1956/7 and 1957/8 seasons as Spurs finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Indeed Blanchflower was named Footballer of the Year in 1958 for his inspired performances.
It was to be a momentous year for both Spurs and Blanchflower as his former team-mate Bill Nicholson was appointed manager of the club. Nicholson was Spurs through and through having joined the club at 18 and been an integral part of Arthur Rowe’s famous push and run team. He was also a man who knew how to get the best from Blanchflower.
Whereas previous managers had been suspicious of Blanchflower’s leadership skills and tactical innovations, Nicholson recognised that in Blanchflower he had a player that could act as his voice on the pitch.
Nicholson’s first season did not go well, with Spurs slipping to near the foot of the table but the next season they were back with a vengeance. Spurs finished 3rd again (just 2 points behind champions Burnley) and had a dramatic effect on the course of the title, beating Wolves 3-1 at Molineux, to deny them a third successive title, a feat only achieved at that time by the sides of Huddersfield and Arsenal, both managed by former Spurs player Herbert Chapman.
[al] [/al]The next season was the finest in the club’s history and probably the finest in the history of English football. Spurs got off to a dream start winning the first 11 games of the season, and dropping just one point in their first 16 league matches (a home draw against Manchester City). Remarkably at the start of January Spurs had dropped just 4 points from 25 games, losing away at Sheffield Wednesday and a draw at home with Burnley in a surreal game that they initially led 4-0. Spurs continued to turn on the style in the second half of the season, finishing with 31 league wins (the highest in the history of England and a record that still stands) and 117 goals scored (the last team to score 100 in a season in the top flight). It was a magical season, but it did not stop there. Spurs had marched to the FA Cup final where they faced Leicester aiming to be the first club to do “the double” in the 20th century. It was far from a vintage final, with Spurs struggling to get into their rhythm, but, thanks to goals from Bobby Smith and Terry Dyson, Spurs prevailed 2-0. Previously they had said the double couldn’t be done, but Blanchflower had faith in himself and his club, lecturing Stan Cullis and Joe Mercer years earlier on the subject. What’s more Spurs did it in a style befitting of the achievement, not only scoring so many but having just one booking and conceding one penalty all season. Blanchflower was the man at the centre of most of it and was duly recognised as the player of 1960/1 by the Football Writers’ Association, becoming only the second man to win the award twice after Tom Finney.
The following season Spurs set out with the hope of going one better and adding the European Cup to the their domestic double. They made a good start seeing off the likes of Feyenoord and Dukla Prague to progress through the early stages while maintaining good league form. Then Nicholson went out and made the best even better, bringing Jimmy Greaves back to England from Milan for a fee of £99,999 in December, an English record. However, while Greaves soon set about destroying domestic defences he was unable to play in the European Cup until the semi-final stage where Spurs met Benfica, the defending champions. In Lisbon Spurs were soon on the back foot and conceded 2 early goals to Aguas and Augusto. Bobby Smith managed to pull one back for Spurs but Augusto hit back and left Spurs two down. Spurs were incensed by the conduct of the referee who had denied them two goals for offside on from Greaves and one from Smith, despite all independent observers agreeing that both were clearly onside. Blanchflower and Spurs were confident though that the deficit could be overhauled, indeed he had once said while on Northern Ireland duty “we equalise before the opposition”. The return leg at White Hart Lane did not get off to the start Spurs had hoped for as Aguas extended Benfica’s lead after 15 minutes. Greaves then unbelievably had yet another goal disallowed for offside, before Bobby Smith finally put Spurs on the score sheet. Just after half time Spurs were awarded a penalty and Blanchflower, one of the games coolest ever penalty takers, slotted the ball away to leave Spurs needing just one more goal to level the tie. Spurs pressed and pressed hitting both posts, before with just seconds remaining Dave Mackay leapt and headed powerfully against the bar. It was not to be Spurs night or tie, having hit the woodwork three times and had three goals disallowed they crashed out of Europe. [ar][/ar]
Yet Spurs still had the FA Cup, having seen their league form drop off with European commitments, and a final against Burnley. Spurs led early on through a superb goal from Jimmy Greaves, but Burnley, the league runners up, hit back with a Jimmy Robson goal. The deadlock didn’t last long though, within a minute Bobby Smith restored Spurs lead, and Blanchflower sealed the win with a penalty ten minutes from time. Spurs thus became only the second team to retain the FA Cup in the twentieth century.
It was little reward for a season that had promised so much, and had two games turned out differently (the tie with Benfica and the home league match against Ipswich in march) they could well have won the lot.
The next season saw Spurs determined to make up for their disappointment of the previous year. Spurs started in the Cup Winners Cup and faced Rangers in a “Battle of Britain” in the second round, thrashing them 8-4 on aggregate, but the victory came at some cost. Danny Blanchflower was caught by two Rangers players and damaged his knee, forcing him to miss 22 games through injury. It went a long way to explain Spurs’ failure to regain their title, missing their most influential player they finished 2nd behind Everton. However, even without their skipper Spurs had the quality to force their way into the Cup Winners’ Cup final where they met the defending champions Athletico Madrid.
The build up to the final did not run smoothly though as Dave Mackay, the tough tackling, no-nonsense midfield general that allowed Blanchflower the chance to dictate the pace of so many games was ruled out with a stomach upset. Added to this was the fact that Blanchflower had still not fully recovered to full fitness, but such was his importance to the side that he simply had to play. The usually unflappable Nicholson was said by many to be distracted by the loss of Mackay and gave a less than inspiring dressing room address. It was left to Blanchflower to rouse his troops, and he did not disappoint, giving each man the motivation to go out and claim yet more silverware.
Spurs took an early lead through goal-machine Greaves and doubled it in the 35th minute when John White, “the ghost”, netted to put them in a commanding position. Early in the second half Atheltico were awarded a penalty which was converted by Collar, and they pressed Spurs frantically for an equaliser. Yet just as the Spaniards were starting to dominate the game, the ball broke to Terry Dyson on the left flank and, spotting the keeper off his line, he managed to hit a perfect lob to give Spurs some breathing space. From there the game became a rout as Greaves and Dyson both added more goals to give Spurs an amazing victory. It was Spurs 4th major trophy in jut 3 seasons, and the first European trophy won by a British club.
Blanchflower never did regain his full fitness and the next season he retired at the age of 38. Such was his intellect and way with words that he soon became well respected and admired within the media, and carved out a successful journalistic career. In the late 1970s he had spells as manager of both Chelsea and Northern Ireland but despite his tactical acumen and motivational skills he enjoyed little success. Blanchflower died poor and alone in 1993, a tragic end to the life of one of the games most respected figures.
Blanchflower once said “Football is not really about winning, or goals, or saves or supporters- it’s about glory. It’s about doing things in style, doing them with a flourish; it’s about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom; it’s about dreaming of the glory that the Double brought.” Never has a quote better summed up a player, a club, an era better.
For Blanchflower and Spurs, the football, the winning, was of secondary importance, the way in which the game was played came first. Thus that the team which Blanchflower marshalled so expertly, also proved so successful is testament to quite how good the players it possessed were and what can be achieved with the right philosophy.