While every club retains a period of sustained success and unmatched poignancy within their annals of history, there does feel something particularly seminal about the rich tradition that decorates Tottenham Hotspur.
White Hart Lane serves a proud shrine to the fabric of heritage that has defined this football club. Be it a peek at the domineering hoardings bearing the wisdom of Danny Blanchflower to a walk down Bill Nicholson Way to reach the West Stand, the club wears the legacy of those glory years, like a badge of honour.
Yet, while the club continues to look back with eternal fondness upon the likes of Nicholson, Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, John White and Cliff Jones and the like, there is one man who’s presence remains puzzlingly inconspicuous amongst the pantheon of Tottenham Hotspur Gods.
Arthur Rowe’s achievements as Tottenham Hotspur manager are listed only in black and white as the 1950/1951 Football League Champions. It is of course, a championship that exudes extraordinary historical significance for Spurs, constituting the first time they’d ever finished as the best team in the land.
But Rowe’s achievements are not simply quantifiable by merely a title on a board of honour or in a small corner of the club’s website. Rowe’s legacy was a catalyst for the Nicholson era, the seemingly impossible double in ’61 and the glory that the club enjoyed in its subsequent years. It was Rowe who laid the foundations for the wonderful ‘push and run’ brand of football that’s still talked about all these years later.
Yet there is no bronze bust of Rowe within the corridors of White Hart Lane. There is no road named after him or stand in his honour. Indeed, Rowe wasn’t even afforded a testimonial match for the club.
When Arthur Rowe took the helm at Tottenham Hotspur in 1949, it’s fair to say that he inherited a club entailed within some relative mediocrity. The Lilywhites struggled to get up and running as the league restarted following its World War II hiatus and their residence in the Football League’s Second Division was one which looked difficult to move on from.
But while things hadn’t necessarily worked out too well for previous incumbent Joe Hulme, he’d laid out a team that had some fledgling talents and Rowe had a promising team to work with. But no one could have possibly expected what was about to come.
Rowe quietly went about devising his blueprint to launch Spurs into the First Division and come the end of the season, Tottenham were champions, finishing an unprecedented nine points clear of second placed Sheffield Wednesday. But this was no ordinary, off-the-cuff promotion.
Arthur Rowe didn’t just get Tottenham Hotspur promoted to the top flight during the 1949/50 season, though. He took them to the First Division title in the following season – playing one of the most aesthetically pleasing brands of football the club – and in some respects, English football – had so far ever seen.
The late and great Sir Bobby Robson once rightfully described Rowe as ‘the master of push-and-run football.’ In his own words:
“Under Arthur Rowe, the ball was swept around the pitch by Ron Burgess, Eddie Baily, Alf Ramsay and Bill Nicholson. Push and run football meant playing first touch football as far and often as you could. You’d move the ball and run into space, knowing the lay-off was probably going to come your way. It involved movement and retaining possession.”
When people pine for the Spurs way of playing, for the esteemed principles of how supporters traditionally like to see their football played, this, was where it all began. Rowe cultivated not so much a brand of football, but a culture of playing the game in the way it should be played. Building from the back, devising short, 10-15 yard passes with both speed and verve. But this wasn’t all for show, despite the suspicions that his Spurs team greeted from the rest of English football. This led them to glory.
Rowe’s pioneering style of play swept away the First Division in 1951, as Spurs finished four points above a young Manchester United side to complete a truly remarkable achievement. This was supposed to just be the beginning. But as so often in football, the fickle fortunes of the beautiful game have a horrible way of turning, and for Rowe, this was as good as it got.
A lack of form and struggle to consistently reproduce the football that had changed the club’s identity, saw Spurs regress slightly to mid-table and Rowe’s health regressed even further. A breakdown in 1954 led to his eventual resignation in 1955 and from there, Rowe seemed to dissipate into relative obscurity.
Perhaps it was his penchant to avoid courting recognition – Sir Alf Ramsay once described Rowe as ‘man who could inspire confidence’ yet whom did so with such a ‘quiet manner’ – that has seen him reside as something of a forgotten man, but maybe more the awe-inspiring feats of his one time protégé.
Bill Nicholson took Tottenham Hotspur to heights that simply weren’t thought attainable, when he eventually took charge three years after Rowe departed. Winning the double in 1961 was always going to put Nicholson on another plateau of achievements and his sustained legacy of success in both the domestic cup competitions and within Europe, truly heralded a golden era for Spurs- the glory years.
Yet maybe in some ways, it is the very success that Nicholson enjoyed and that Spurs fans celebrate, that remains the biggest lasting tribute to Arthur Rowe. It was he who laid out the push and run foundations for Nicholson to run with. It was he, who captured the signing of one Robert Dennis Blanchflower. The very way in which Spurs fans demand that their team take to the pitch, is forged within his legacy.
It was 19 years ago on Monday, since Arthur Rowe passed away. Let’s make sure that this time next year, we all celebrate the life of a true Tottenham Hotspur legend. A man who in some respects, represents where it all began.