Spurs Legends Put The Champions League In Its Place

The setting was quintessentially English: the sportsclub lost at the end of a narrow lane, a ground with no stands and a pitch as green as grass in a five year old’s painting. On Saturday afternoon a few hundred Spurs fans gathered to share a minute’s applause for John White, tragically killed in 1964 as he approached his prime in the Tottenham midfield.

I never saw John play and neither had 95% of those present. Yet stories have been told about one of the finest midfielders to grace the white shirt, handed down through generations. People talk of Hoddle, Gazza and Ardiles, of Mackay and Blanchflower, then someone will mention John White and a far-away look comes into their eyes. Wistfully, they shake their heads in wonder. Now there was a player, they say. Proper footballer. If only…

A team of Scots travelled down to play the game. I travelled 60 miles to clap a man I had never seen. But I have heard the tales told and that was enough. It’s what Spurs means to me.

Spurs Legends are the opposition. Some are, frankly, more legendary than others, some are twice the man they used to be. If the Spurs Shop is out of size XXL shirts, there’s a reason.  Before the kick-off they pose for photos and do what footballers do, rip the pee out of each other.

The whistle blows, the Scots slide a ball through into the box. Stuart Nethercott takes off, quicker it seems than ever he was in the nineties. Who cares, it’s a friendly? Let it go. But he wins it and clears. He cared. Because he takes pride in being a pro. Because he wants to win. Because he’s wearing the white shirt. Because he is Spurs.

Next day, we have as much of the ball as the Legends did against scratch amateurs but we can’t break through, try as we might. Not everything worked. Not the most fluent performances but we kept at it. Three off the line I counted, one off the post, two good chances spurned. The second came to Gareth Bale and we held our breath as he advanced on the keeper. At last, the ball in the box at the feet of the one man who can make the difference. No magic from our saviour this time. The keeper saved and despite our heavy hearts we forgave the Welshman. After all he has achieved for us this season, how could we be angry?

Yet they pursued the win, knowing that it could all be futile. Despite the false hopes from Newcastle, our fate rested elsewhere. All we could do was win. They did not let up. Parker tried to win the game on his own, harking back to the urgent, compelling determination of last season, his only reward a cruel substitution. It may be his last match but he was Spurs. This is my team.

After the Legends game as we strolled back to the clubhouse, a willowy fresh-faced young American asked us who was signing autographs up ahead. It was Clive Wilson, a Gerry Francis free transfer on his way down the ladder until we gave him an indian summer at left back, cultured, quick and athletic, He’s added a pound or two since then but haven’t we all.

So we talked some more. Mike had come from the States to see his first ever game at the Lane. In the country for three days only, he  saw this was on and made it to Chigwell, just to see Spurs legends play. In Georgia, he wanted a team, his flatmate supported Liverpool, he chose Tottenham and here he was because he knows what Tottenham means to him.

So we talked Spurs, with Pete who comments every week, with Daniel Wynne who does the match commentaries, loves this club and gave up his time without a second thought. With Crackers who did the bonkers Spurs fanzone and who puts on meet the legends evenings and laments the fact that this generation of player won’t need or want to take part in these events in twenty years time.

This Spurs team play to the finish. Bale on the right, a pause, a deep breath then away. Left foot, body contorted over the ball to get the point of contact right. I am in line, as I was for the replica versus Southampton except this piece of brilliance flies into the top right hand corner rather than the bottom. The arc of the ball matches the desperate curve of the keeper’s body as he dives in vain.  No camera can match an image like that, which will stay with me until I die. A true and worthy Spurs legend at 23.

Back in the car, I turn on 606. Robbie Savage is touting Bale’s transfer. Why stay, he asks, when Champions League football could be his? It’s a reasonable question but there is an answer. Bale is still young, at 23. He has a young family, he’s well-paid and could get more this summer. Also, his income has leapt because of his sudden appearances in several undoubtedly lucrative adverts for the home market.

Perhaps, just maybe, he’s not focussed solely on getting as much money as humanly possible in the shortest possible time, a concept Savage appeared to have a problem grasping. Possibly he wants to be part of something that ultimately could be more fulfilling at this stage of his career than uprooting his life to live abroad (Levy wouldn’t sell to another Premier League side). A team that like him is getting better all the time, that like him has ambition, where he’s looked after and cared for by teammates, fans and his manager.

Perhaps the most revealing moment of this season was his lastminute goal against West Ham, not the stupendous mind-blogging talent that put the ball in the roof of the net from 25 yards to win the game but the headlong dash to celebrate in the arms of his manager. Perhaps that’s more important than the Champions League, at least for now.

It is to me. I’m disappointed that we didn’t make it and I’ll spit out the dirt as our north London rivals rub our noses in it once more. Neither will I forget the missed opportunities. Points dropped along the way, one from six from Wigan, and looking back a fatal home defeat by Fulham.

However, there’s more to being a fan, more to football than the Champions League. This time next year I may not be as sanguine but I reckon we’ll keep this team together, including Bale, for one more year. Unless Levy spends big, the hard work will be wasted but this is my team and I’m going to enjoy them.

606 and in the queue for the Blackwall Tunnel, three Chel**a fans call in. Never mind third place and the Europa League, all the first is concerned about is the fact Benitez did not come out for a lap of honour. The second thinks Rafa deserves little credit because it’s all down to the players, as if they run out onto the pitch and sort it all out then and there. The third introduced himself as a lifelong Blues fan who vowed not to support them until Benitez left.

If that’s what success does to you, I want no part of it. Caller three is no supporter at all. Supporters don’t lay down conditions, because it’s in the heart. Thick and thin, good times and bad.

Villas-Boas reaches the Shelf on the lap of honour. He’s done a fine job in building this side, encouraging them, getting them to play until the very end. The crowd sang his name and he deserved it. He knows what it means. He is part of Tottenham now, that’s why he has put so much into it. He knows.

Instead of acknowledging the crowd, he turns to his daughter who is little bigger than the flag she is delightedly waving. She probably doesn’t know they are cheering her dad. She looks pleased and bewildered at the same time but she’s willing to go along with it. He pauses, brushes a wisp of hair from her forehead and continues. Priorities right, attention to detail, everything as good as it can be. In the summer, Mr Levy, please back your man. He’s earned it. He’s one of us.

Young film-maker Ollie Smyth was at the game. Here’s his film and check out his Youtube channel for other Spurs stuff;

50 thoughts on “Spurs Legends Put The Champions League In Its Place

  1. Enjoyed your article & agree with everything you say.I was very sceptical of AVB’S appointment & the loss of Harry but ithink if the board backs him good times are ahead .


  2. That was bloody marvelous mate. For 20 minutes after yesterday’s game I was really down but now? I’m gagging for next season. I have this strong feeling that we’ve reached a turning point and this will be the last season you and the rest of us will have to spit the dirt looking up at a Gooner. I have a sneaky feeling that the Gooners know this too.
    But let’s set our sights a little higher and rub shoulders with the Manchester mob and the west London wide boys.


    • Oh they know. They surely know. That’s why they celebrated as though they won the title. But as for spitting out dirt? I say eff that. We’ve no reason to be ashamed, and the only reason they heap such scorn upon us is because they want us to feel bad about not being them. I for one am glad we’re not them. I for one am glad I support a side who has worked from the bottom up, and who picks itself up again every season to try again. I for one am glad to be part of a community of fans who still sing their hearts out after nabbing 5th instead of 4th, because we know what we’re worth.

      5th best side in the land? That means only 4 teams can claim to be ‘better’ than us. That’s something to be proud of. That’s something to smile about. That’s something to hang onto when they try to shove our faces in the dirt.

      We can’t be bullied if we refuse to let ourselves be bullied. So they’re 4th, and we’re 5th. So what. If that’s all they have to cheer about, it shows how important it was to them, and how scared they were. Us? We can just dust ourselves down, pat ourselves on the back for being better than all but 4 teams in the country, and get ready to try again.

      Eventually, their luck will run out, and boy won’t the fall be painful for them?


      • Could happen — like with Liverpool falling out of the golden foursome a few years ago, replaced by Man C after we Spurs had that glimmer of one season in the Champs League — and we gained a lot more Glory in that one competition, beating both Milans, than Arsenal has in the last how-many-competitions…


      • You see, I agree. Fifth is good, an achievement with our resources. Potential means we could have done better with better players but like you I’m proud of the manager and players.

        So we agree, many don’t. And it’s that I don’t agree with. Don’t want to accept the criticism of the players that abounds elsewhere.

        Regards, Alan


    • Even though I’m a gunner. I have to admit that AVB and the whole Spurs team has done a great job over the past 2 seasons, for that you guys have earned my respect. Ultimately, it will make our rivalry a lot more intense. Peace.


      • Thanks my man, very kind. We kinda envy how the Arsenal can reel off an unbeaten run when they seemed at their lowest ebb. No one will say that but between you and me, we do. If we had that kind of resilience. Nearly there…

        Regards, Alan


  3. WOW THAT LAST BIT BROUGHT A LUMP TO MY THROAT .HE’S ONE OF US . AND THROUGH THE GOOD AND THE BAD THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH THFC ALWAYS IN MY HEART. GUTTED ABOUT CL But very happy with our season and very proud of the team and club . And as the song says things can only get better …. COYS


  4. Great article, no good dwelling on what could have been, if we didn’t have bad luck we would have no luck at all !. Having suffered the “too good to go down” season and then seen Spurs play in the old Division 2 in ’78, puts missing out on CL football into perspective for me.

    New training ground, new stadium on the way, Gareth to stay (fingers crossed), key players back fully fit, new signings this summer, under 21 team in the final and a manager the board is backing for the long term.

    it’s not all doom and gloom even though at the moment it can feel like it !.



  5. Hello Alan,
    My first game was 1971. I was 7 years old but still remember my big brother-in-law and his father talking to me about John White, they reflected on the tragedy of his death but spoke mostly about his footballing talent and his humility as a man.
    The train ride from Bethnal Green to White Hart Lane was 30 minutes of magic that I unlock in my mind and bring out every year when the season comes to an end as a reminder of why I’m Spurs.
    Am I disappointed? Maybe, but only because we failed to put one over on that lot down the road.
    Did they deserve it? Probably, time to move on.
    We have a coach who displays rare humility for those in his trade, even when provoked by astonishing refereeing decisions that threatened to totally unerve his team. No post match ranting or screaming, just measured comments.
    Intelligent coaches find intelligent players so I feel that we’re in good hands, anyway a record points haul is a fine achievement for a first season, we support an excellent side.
    As for yesterday, Sunday’s results are now last seasons results and I for one am optimistic that next season will see us further improve.
    Just for the record, we beat WBA 3 – 2 that day in 71, and our manager wasn’t bad then either.


  6. A few random thoughts: arguably last year Modric was the most complete player in the squad. A big money move, that he agitated for, has left him one of a dozen bench warming big fish at an even bigger club. I can’t help but feel that Bale will leave one day soon, but not too soon if he likes the feeling of being indispensable, the biggest fish, guaranteed a game even if he’s only got one leg. He may not get that elsewhere.

    Too many silly points dropped – one year it’s Wolves, this year Wigan. Who else took four points off Manchester United? Who else too one off Wigan? I expect inconsistency, the heart in the mouth, but we do need a reliable striker. If there’s any money spent anywhere, there please.

    The manager – at the start of the season, the team was losing regularly in the last few minutes. Now they tend to win in the last few. Not the only difference he’s made. He’s learned from his experience at CFC (where the role he seemed to feel he had to play rubbed everybody up the wrong way, from players down to office staff) and seems to have bonded well with everyone. He won’t ever be perfect, but he seems to be a fine young manager.

    Always next season eh?


    • Agree – I said at the start of the season that Villas-Boas would learn from his Chelsea experience and for once I was right. Spurs are a good fit for his ambition, with a squad that will respond to him. And they have.

      Interesting that at the moment of supposed disappointment, all the commenters here are thinking only positive thoughts about next season. We really do have something to look forward to.

      Regards, Alan


  7. I saw John White play in some of my earliest Spurs games. In particular, I remember Spurs 4 Blackburn 1 on 11 January 1964. JW had come back from an injury and really galvanised Spurs to a famous victory.


  8. Hi Alan.
    Good article mate and so true in all well said.
    Was at the Memorial game Alan and would of loved to have met you. You may have seen me with my wife. I was easy to spot. Short cockney Cypriot with a telephoto bridge camera :-).
    Thank god I got the programme, as I only recognised the likes of Miller, Falco and Wilson, and talks sports Hawksby and the legend Cliff Jones, with whom me and my wife had a photo taken with him.
    In the 2nd half we were standing near a very old dear couple who were there with 3 generations of their family who were all staunch Spurs fans and, the great grandma was very vocal who would put a lot to shame at Spurs.
    Got to admit I did not recognise Garry Brooke, Tony Galvin and John Lacy, and only recognised them through pictures of them as they are now in the programme.
    On the Spurs situation am very sad at loosing out, but looking forward to next season and as you say Alan, levy must back him. AVB has proved his worth and,surely with the key additions we can only get better.
    Onwards and upwards for next season.


    • Shame we didn’t say hallo! Would have liked that. We were by the halfway line. Had a quick chat and photo with Cliff Jones. I spotted most of them, had to ask Rob re Danny Maddix and a few have a tenuous connection with the club!

      Thanks for all the comments this year. Here’s to next season.

      Regards, Alan


  9. I am pleased to be a part of such a group of true fans, I would like to think I am one of those, although I live in Canada now. I remember standing in the crowd of 80,000, after cycling from Chelmsford at the age of 15 (1936) that goes away back. I still remember the year standing there one day in thick fog to watch our team play the Russians (how many of you can remember that) I am 91 now but have not given up hope of seeing our wonderful team not only in the champions league but winning the Premier division. Go Spurs Go


  10. I read the column often but this is the first time I post a comment . This because the issue and the way the article was structured made me believe deeper, much deeper , that Spurs fans /supporters/lovers are different , more understanding , more humane, more humorous . I read some of the other sites out of interest and am puzzled by the arrogance, attitude , and mindless boasting of superiority. I say am a Spurs supporter since I was twelve and I continue to be one for a number of reasons : One we play ball with art, passion and love. Two even in lower categories we do just that . Three supporters believe (most times unconsciously) that History is not written always by the victors.Of course there are Spurs supporters who moan and groan and are impatient for trophies, who is not? Am a Spurs supporter first and a lover of the beautiful game. That’s why I love soccer poets like Ricky Villa , David Ginola and Dimitar Berbatov (and I dont care what you think of me) , artists like Waddle, Hoddle and Crookes, lions like Greaves, Lineker , Steve A , Ledley the King and gazelles like , Ossie ,Cliff Jones, Ruel Fox , and Danny (the magician) B. I won’t talk about Gareth B ( I cannot really comment on an extra-terrestial legent , it’s beyond my knowledge) or other recent players , but I will desist from criticising . We are all humans and defeats at Woolves and Wigan will happen again . The comments of the article were so moving , they really put back my faith in humanity.
    Because my faith in Spurs NEVER ends


    • Soccer poets and gazelles – beautiful. Thanks for reading the blog and if this is anything to go by, you should comment more often. You are a true fan.

      Regards, Alan


  11. It was difficult to know whether to laugh or cry listening to those classless Chelsea fans and Robbie Savage, an example of the worst of the modern footballer. A mercenary journeyman making his way through club after club taking as much as possible for himself, giving little to each club and their fans. Compare and contrast with the Spurs Legends who turned out on Saturday for John White or our club ambassador Ledley King. They understand that a football club like Spurs is more than just one player, one manager, one game or one season.
    It was a pleasure to be at both games this weekend. Saturday was a chance to meet Alan and people I’ve only read of or talked with on Twitter, to pay my own tribute to a player that died a year before I was born and that I know only through articles and the brilliant ‘The Ghost of White Hart Lane’ book written by his son Rob and Julie Welch. Sunday, another game decided by a late Bale bullet after the opposition do everything to keep us out. It was a final chance to see players who will go in the summer but have done themselves proud in their time here and to reflect on a season that ended in disappointment but had so much to commend it, a genuine ‘transition season’ perhaps?
    And to our new friend from America we met on Saturday, thank you for making the journey. We’re glad you had such a great time at the Lane and welcome to Spurs!


    • It was great.

      I loved the postscript – matchday commentator Daniel Wynne, who I had met very briefly about a year ago, took it upon himself to invite Mick on a tour of the ground, he sat in Andre’s seat on the bench and met some of the players. That’s generosity. That’s a real Spurs fan.

      Daniel Wynne ladies and gentlemen.

      Regards, Alan


  12. I only ever saw John White play once, in April 1964 ..my first time to the Lane (age 12) and my first top flight match. I can’t remember if he played well that day (we lost to the eventual champions, Liverpool) but I do know that I was incredibly fortunate to see ‘The Ghost’ play ..and I’m sure his ‘spirit’ will never leave Spurs. How magical football was then, and how ugly it can be now. I don’t mean in the playing of the game ..I mean the greed, the selfishness, the ‘lust’ for winning at all costs. Football history has its downsides, yes, but there was genuine loyalty back then ..no ’empty’ kissing of the badge as today. Robbie Savage, who couldn’t BE more alien to the Spurs ‘way’ and football history in general, is depressingly part of that culture who measure everything by winning trophies and money. Who, just because HE has apparently prostituted himself among many clubs, thinks everyone else should! If you’re any good ..go to Chelski or Manchesters Utd or UAE ..or go abroad and add even more bodies to the mercenary ‘foreign legion’ of Real Madrid etc. etc.. Why earn £150k pw when you can earn £250k pw?
    Thank God men like Savage weren’t TV pundits years ago. In fact, most TV pundits today wouldn’t have been allowed near a studio. ‘Bobby Moore? Best defender in the world and World Cup winning captain! What’s he doing with WEST HAM? He should leave and seek out bigger clubs if he wants more money or to win the League or European Cup!!’ ‘Geoff Hurst? The same! He’s got to leave if he wants to continue his success at the highest level, blah blah!!’ Well those ‘Greats’ stayed with their beloved Hammers, and they plyed their trade in mud around the country just months after that glorious July in 1966, and for many seasons after that. If someone suggested more glory/money, it would be solely in the context of trying to achieve both for club and country.
    Maybe Bale WILL leave, but I do know that he’s a more loyal Spur than the other fine players we’ve had in recent years. As good as the likes of Modric and Berbatov were, I feel sorry for them in their eternal chase for the dollar and trophies. They’ll never know what it’s really like to be worshipped by the fans, and any club they play for will never be more than a business (despite the ‘name’) who just happen to pay for their services.
    What is the point if you don’t have love for the club you play for? Ardiles was arguably the first successful foreign import, but by God he loved Tottenham! Carragher loved Liverpool, as Gerrard does. But do the Man U players love their club, or merely what the club brings to them? Fergie has commanded respect, resulting in a form of loyalty ..but was he loved?
    I hope Bale won’t be turned. He’s a decent lad who seems to love Tottenham and feeds off the fans’ adoration, and he respects the manager. He’s also very well looked after. Wigan has made the FA Cup ‘glorious’ again, and we need that to happen in the PL. Of course, I’m devastated we didn’t make the CL yet again, but it cannot be good for football that every time a club (that is not playing CL) has a top player, by right of might or indeed heavy persuasion (from agents, other clubs and football pundits), he should go simply to make the strongest teams even stronger!


  13. Funny how many “lifelong Blues” there are these days …

    Anyhow, another fine effort from Spurs this season. I am disappointed of course, and I think all told we should have made it this season (again), but just because the football media tells me modern football is all about the CL doesn’t mean I have to play along.

    I’m really looking forward to next season already, including the EL and FA Cup. And of course more TOMM.

    If Levy backs the increasingly impressive AVB, we’ll be right up there again, which is a fine effort, punching above our financial weight but the better of most of our rivals in so many ways.

    Thanks Alan (and commentors) for another fine season of TOMM


  14. Another great piece of work, Alan.

    After the inevitable result and heartbreak on Sunday, I was gutted, distraught & angry at what could have been.

    But your post has helped to inspired hope & confidence in me again. If we manage to hold onto Bale and Levy actually backs AVB BEFORE the season starts, not on transfer deadline day, then I think the season ahead could be a massive success.

    The one positive I suppose that can be drawn from missing out on Champions League this season is that players who will be signed this summer will likely join Spurs because they want to be a part of the club for the long-term. Now that there’s no guaranteed Champions League, they’ll come to White Hart Lane because they want to be a part of a developing project, because they want to play with the likes of Bale (who will hopefully still be here!), because they want to join an ambitious squad that is building each season towards the hope of greatness.

    I am equal parts optimistic and pessimistic right now – optimistic because Bale & AVB (and many others in the squad) could help take Spurs to glory, pessimistic because we’ve all seen Levy’s track record in the transfer market. Over and over again.

    But I am hopeful that this season will be different. Forever hopeful, I guess that’s just the Spurs way. And I’ll always be glad that we’re supporting a club that has a history, a sense of pride, and that both the supporters and the players seem to value priceless items like team spirit and trying to play the game beautifully much, much more than having a billionaire owner who is willing to pay greedy mercenaries absurd wages and only backing the team when they get the top results every single week.

    Give me the Spurs of today – both the exhilarating highs and the devastating lows – over the greedy, plastic, ungrateful, entitled fans of Chelsea and Man City, or the stagnant, arrogant (without cause to be), soulless, fickle ones of Arsenal.

    Here’s to a great season ahead – we hope!



    • Thanks mate, appreciate that.

      Glad you say how good watching the current Spurs team is. Nostalgia has its place but not at the expense of enjoying modern football. There’s so much to like.

      Regards, Alan


    • Thanks Simon, and thanks too for encouragement and support over the past year. High hopes for next season too.

      Regards, Alan


  15. As always Alan, a great read and eloquently put. Over the course of this season I think you and I have similiar views of our great club and I have enjoyed your company in these articles and with you and your family on match days and look forward to seeing you all again once the new season starts. Have a great summer and re-charge your pen ready for next season.


    • Very kind Steve. Watching the game has never been more of a pleasure because of the good company around us on the Shelf. Regards to your family and friends, see you in August.


  16. Hi Alan,

    Another good article.

    I count myself as being very fortunate in that my Dad started taking me to Spurs regularly towards the end of the “Double” season – saw five of the final seven games – and, of course, that meant seeing John White in his prime. Still have a memory of him crossing the ball from the old inside right position to the far post for Cliff Jones to leap like a salmon above a six-footer before powering a header into the net.

    Of course, his nickname, “the Ghost”, has a number of inferences – not just his appearance but also his ability to turn up in the most unexpected of positions. This wasn’t the result of some unearthly or emphemeral ability – it was the product of bloody hard work – the man could run all day. Neither of the two finals in the early 1960s were his greatest games – but check out the DVDs of the Leicester and Burnley matches. Runs from left to right and up and down. Passes, crosses and shots with both feet. Although much of what he tried didn’t come off on either day, it allows you to see why, when things did work, he was such a great player.



  17. Anyone seen the interview with Mr Barnett, Bale’s agent, on Spanish TV yesterday? Basically encouraging Real to launch a bid. Call me naive but that I did not expect. It feels like a dagger to the heart.


  18. Going off point as you are discussing other things but will you tell your chairman that if you want a certain Christian Benteke from our club then do not insult my club by offering a 30 year old and between 5 and 10 million. If you want him pay the price 25 million


  19. Pingback: Spurs: A Club Without A Heart | TOTTENHAM ON MY MIND

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