Happy Paddy’s Day.
This won’t be exhaustive, rather hopefully a kindly tribute to an extraordinary man – an Irishman – who’s influence still burns brightly on today. Many, many fans, including those born after he last kicked a ball are still able to fondly recite his quotes.
Now it would be insane for me to try and write a piece on someone I’ve only seen in shaky footage and magnificent photographs.
So here are some thoughts of a man who played alongside him and a man who in later years later was a not just a colleague, but a friend.
First Jimmy Greaves…
Danny was the poet of Spurs, he was the captain and gave the team style in every sense of the word, inspiring the players around him with his almost arrogant performances and lifting them with words of wisdom.
His contribution through the team was as important as Bill Nick’s, with an influence that went much farther and deeper than his performances on the pitch. He was the dressing room tactician, the training ground theorist, the man who talked up players in moments of crisis and misunderstanding.
And what a beautiful player. He rivalled even my old team mate Johnny Haynes for firing a pace through the heart of a defence. He was a reader of the game and had an inbuilt radar system that guided him to the right places at the right times.
He could lift and motivate the players before vital matches with Churchillian-class rallying speeches and a wit that was as sharp as a razor blade.
The man was different class.
So when you’re up to your larynx in the old black stuff tonight, raise a glass to an old friend.
And now Norman Giller…
Danny Blanchflower and I were team-mates with Express newspapers in the days when I was chief football reporter for the Daily and Danny the thought-provoking columnist for the Sunday. We remained good pals after I had tunneled my way out of Fleet Street to become an author (pretentious, moi?) and a freelance television scriptwriter and newspaper contributor.
One of my roles was The Judge of The Sun, answering readers’ questions and settling pub arguments. One day I received a question that read: “If the job offer came along, would Danny Blanchflower consider returning to football as manager of Spurs?”
Danny, who could be witty, wise and weird in equal measure and all within one thought process, prided himself on never ducking a question, but on this occasion he was unusually prickly.
“All right, what do you know?” he said. “I’m sworn to secrecy.”
Purely by coincidence I had stumbled on a developing story of major proportions.
“This is a genuine question from a reader,” I told him. “What’s going on?”
There was a long silence, which was a rare thing when talking to Danny because he liked to fill every waking moment with original ideas and unique observations. To wind him up, I used to call him Danny Blarneyflower.
“I don’t want to tell you on the telephone,” he said, mysteriously. “Meet me at the Alex Forbes café in half an hour.”
This was a coffee house near Blackfriars’ Station, a short walk from Fleet Street. It was years since it had been owned by former Arsenal star Alex Forbes but was still known to football journos by his name. It was the sort of nondescript place where you could melt into the background while meeting contacts.
There was a touch of a Len Deighton spy thriller about Danny’s entrance into the coffee house. He was looking around furtively as if making sure he had not been followed. “What’s with all the cloak and dagger stuff?” I asked.
Danny was obviously agonizing. “I’m going to have to ask you to give me your word that all I am about to tell you is confidential,” he said. “You’re going to be desperate to break the story, but because I cannot tell a lie I am going to take you into my confidence. If it leaks, it could stop me getting a job I have always dreamed about – manager of Spurs.”
I spluttered into my coffee cup. “You’ve known me long enough to realise you can trust me,” I said. “Thank goodness I’m not a staff reporter any more. My duty then would be to the newspaper.”
“And then I wouldn’t be telling you,” said Danny, with his usual good sense. “The fact is that Bill Nick is on the point of resigning from Spurs, and he wants to put my name forward as his successor.”
The newspaperman in me was aching to get that sensational story into print, but Danny had tied me into a straitjacket of secrecy.
“When you rang me and asked that question as The Judge, I thought it was your crafty way of saying you were on to the story,” he explained. “Bill confided in me a week ago what he was planning, and I have been trying to talk him out of it. I’ve never known him so low and so lacking in appetite for the game that has been his life. He is completely disillusioned with the game. He doesn’t like what he sees with the galloping greed of the players, and the violence on the terraces has sickened him. I said that perhaps he was trying to pass me a poisoned chalice.”
It was a month before Nicholson’s stunning decision to quit became public, and the veteran manager made no secret of the fact that he wanted Tottenham icon Danny Blanchflower to take over from him.
The board made a complete botch of it, and decided instead to hand the reins to Danny’s fellow Irishman Terry Neill, a man with Arsenal-red blood.
“It can only end in tears,” Danny told me privately. “Terry is an intelligent man with lots of bright ideas, but he has as much chance of being accepted at Tottenham as the Archbishop of Canterbury has of being installed at the Vatican.”
It’s history, of course, that Danny did eventually come back into football – as manager of Chelsea; which made as much sense as Terry Neill being appointed boss at White Hart Lane.
It was a total disaster that could be measured on the Richter Scale. Chelsea won only five of 32 matches on their way to relegation in 1978-79, and a completely humiliated Blanchflower was shown the door after just nine months in charge. Truly, a Bridge too far.
I interviewed Danny in happier times in 1971, getting him to compare the Tottenham Double-winning side with the Arsenal team that completed the League and FA Cup double exactly ten years after Danny had led Spurs to the historic “couple.”
These were his considered man-by man-ratings:
GOALKEEPER, Bill Brown v Bob Wilson: “Not a lot to choose between them. Bill used to give me grey hairs with some of his positioning, but he had a good safe pair of hands and never let the side down. Wilson has made enormous improvement, and is now just a fingertip ahead of Bill in all-round goalkeeper skills. So I select Bob, but he is not in the same class as Pat Jennings.”
RIGHT-BACK, Peter Baker v Pat Rice: “I often felt guilty about taking my wages because Peter did so much covering behind me. I had a dodgy knee in my last three seasons at Tottenham, and I would not have been nearly as effective without Peter working so hard. Pat is a good, solid and reliable right-back but my conscience insists I give the nod to Peter.”
LEFT-BACK, Bob McNab v Ron Henry: “Ron was greatly under-estimated, and deserved more than his solitary cap for England. He had good ball control, and could tackle with venom. Bob McNab is a tigerish player who uses the ball intelligently, and just edges out Ron in my opinion.”
RIGHT-HALF, Danny Blanchflower v Peter Storey: “As if I’m not going to select myself! With the greatest respect to Peter, he does not have my experience which meant I could dictate matches not only with my passing but with my thinking. It strikes me that Peter is played mainly in a destructive role. He does it efficiently but it is too negative for my taste.”
CENTRE-HALF, Maurice Norman v Frank McLintock: “Frank and I had the captain’s responsibility in common, and I think it fair to say we were both key players for our team. Of course, Frank was right-half in the Leicester team we beat to clinch the Double in the FA Cup final. He has switched to centre-half with impressive skill and determination, and – while Maurice had a distinct edge in the air – I would have to pick Frank to fill the No 5 shirt.”
LEFT-HALF, Dave Mackay v Peter Simpson: Sorry, but this is no race. Peter is one of the most consistent defenders in the country, but he is not in the same League as Dave Mackay. If I was picking a world eleven, Dave would be one of my first choices. He energised the team, frightened the life out of the opposition and had exceptional skill to go with his strength.
RIGHT WING, Cliff Jones v George Armstrong: We are talking world class – Cliff – against a good-quality domestic player. Cliff had the speed, the skill and the courage to take apart the tightest defence. His bravery was beyond belief and he used to make me shudder the way he would dive in where others feared to tread. George is a fine creative winger but cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the Jones boy.
INSIDE-RIGHT, John White v George Graham: Again, this is no race. John was the hidden ace in our team, making it tick with his measured passes and opening the way to goal with clever blind-side running. George has good skills and is a player of vision, but the inventive John White was a class above him.
CENTRE-FORWARD, Bobby Smith v John Radford: At his peak in that Double year, Bobby broke down the best defences in the land with his battering-ram strength and explosive finishing. He was not all raw power, but had deceptive changes of pace and excellent close control. John is a determined player with good positional sense and a deft touch in front of goal, but you ask any centre-half whom he would least like to mark out of Smith and Radford and I guarantee they would all go for the Tottenham man.
INSIDE-LEFT, Les Allen v Ray Kennedy: Les was the perfect partner for Bobby Smith in that Double season, playing with subtlety and skill that balanced Bobby’s strength. He was unlucky to lose his place the following season to the one and only Jimmy Greaves (we are talking genius). Ray Kennedy is a strong, willing and promising player but has some way to go before he can be considered as effective as Allen.
LEFT WING, Terry Dyson v Charlie George: Our Mr Dependable, Terry could be counted on to run himself into the ground for the team. But going on potential and promise, I am giving Charlie George the final place. He is an outstanding proespect, and has natural finishing skills that you cannot teach.
So Danny’s combined ‘Doubles’ team lined up like this (in 4-2-4 formation):
Bob Wilson (Arsenal), Peter Baker (Spurs), Frank McLintock (Arsenal), Dave Mackay (Spurs), Bob McNab (Arsenal), Danny Blanchflower (Spurs), John White (Spurs), Cliff Jones (Spurs),
Bobby Smith (Spurs), Les Allen (Spurs), Charlie George (Arsenal)
I so wish there was a happy ending to this Danny Blanchflower Revisited tale, but – as Danny would say – it ended in tears. When I went to see him in 1991 for a thirtieth anniversary chat about the Double year I was devastated to find he could barely remember the name of a single player.
He was into the early stages of the Alzheimer’s Disease that tragically made the last few years of his life a blank before he passed on in 1993, aged 67.
In his peak years, Danny was one of the most skillful and certainly most intelligent footballers I ever had the pleasure to watch and write about. Rest easy, Danny Boy.
With sincere thanks to Jimmy and Norman. Can I gently guide you toward the work of Norman Giller? Without the painstaking and lovingly produced efforts of Uncle Norman treasured memories, priceless anecdotal heirlooms would be lost. The Lane Of Dreams, The Golden Double, Jimmy Greaves At Seventy and many more great books are available HERE in a never to be repeated deal.