End Of An Era

Earlier this week I received formal notification that Tottenham Hotspur PLC is proposing to de-list its shares and become a private company again. As a shareholder, I’ve been kept fully informed even though the postage on the thick wad of legalese cost twice as much as the value of my holding. I have one share, literally a share holder, so that’s very sweet of them, although as a responsible shareholder I feel disappointed and concerned that the board have wasted this expense on schmucks like me for whom it makes no difference. Add up the postage, labour and paper, it’s enough to pay Manu’s wages for at least 12 hours.

Frankly I have no idea what it means for the club’s finances. Daniel Levy says the listing “restricts our ability to secure funding for its future development.” That is, the new ground is easier to fund this way and if that means we are a step closer to the NDP, I’m delighted. Levy is a master of his world, finance, and has always looked after the club in this respect. Even with our low capacity we made an operating profit of £32m, a rise of 42%, boosted by the Champions League pot of gold.

Management Today(what do you mean, you don’t read it daily?) takes a more cynical view, wondering

spurs blog 57

Buy Al's Share, Buy! Buy!

if the furore over the Olympic Stadium has lead Spurs to prefer life without the added scrutiny of external shareholders. Then there’s Redknapp’s forthcoming court case which is scheduled for January, the same time as the de-listing. Pure coincidence, but the assuredly bad publicity can now have no affect on the share price. It doesn’t mention suspicions that the ‘I’ in ENIC means they have half an eye on a future sale.

What I do know is that this is the end of an era. Nowadays it’s commonplace for football clubs to be listed companies but Spurs were the first and it wasn’t that long ago. In 1983 an ambitious businessman called Irving Scholar was determined to make his mark as our new chairman. Before then, the club had for many years been run as a private company by the Wale family but by applying the same business principles that had made him a wealthy man, Scholar aimed to drag football finances into the twentieth century even though it was almost over. In the process, Spurs would become the richest team in the land.

As well as going public and raising money on the Stock Exchange, Scholar took over two clothing and sportswear companies, including Hummel, fondly remembered for providing Alan Ball’s revolutionary white boots. The ground was empty save for one or two days a month, so use it for alternatives at no extra fixed cost. The space under the Park Lane became a factory. The income was to be ploughed back into the club, a secure stream unaffected by the uncertainties of league position.

Scholar shrewdly assessed the zeitgeist. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs (not easy for me to do but anyway..), we were in the midst of Thatcher’s property-owning democracy where the public could buy pieces of the de-nationalised industries, make some easy money and feel part of things. To borrow from contemporary politics, we were all in this together, except that times were good.

On top of that, Spurs fans were offered the unique chance to be a part of the club. Long excluded, unlike like any other fans we could now have our say and influence the future. It proved popular. I don’t have any statistics to back this up but I reckon the number one Christmas present for Spurs fans that year was a share certificate.  There’s no doubt that the share offer caught the prevailing mood.

spurs new stadium

I've helped buy that

I was given a hundred shares by my then girlfriend. It was worth about £160 but to me it was a priceless token, sealing my attachment to her and to the club. These were the only shares I have ever owned and I kept an eye on their progress, all the while thinking that like the family heirloom on the Antiques Roadshow, I will be delighted to be told it’s worth a fortune but I would never sell. Many fans of different clubs have their certificate framed on display, proving it means something.

At one point they were valued at over £500 but soon they plummeted, as did the relationship. By the time I was kicked out and the shares sold to get rid of a painful reminder of happier days, they raised less than £100. Spurs’ romance with the new ways faded just as brutally. We sold our finest players Waddle and Gascoigne to stave off financial ruin and the businesses failed. Maxwell was a telephone call away from taking over the club so perhaps we should be grateful for Alan Sugar sorting out the mess Scholar left behind. Actually, perhaps not, but again, that’s a story for another time.

It was then that the true nature of the new era became clear. Thatcher’s meritocracy was nothing of the sort. Power and wealth became concentrated in the hands of the few and the gap between rich and poor widened. As with society, so it was with football. The advent of the Premiership and the Champions League meant that the top clubs and Sky TV held sway. Rocketing admission prices transformed the fan experience with many alienated for good, never to come back, and others priced out of the game they loved. Kick-off times were at the whim of television. PLC not F.C. Far from being part of things, football fans had never been more helpless.

Now we’re all experts on football finance. We have to be because it’s all over the back pages and otherwise we can’t keep up with events at our clubs. Never mind 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, it’s the income to salaries gearing that holds the key to success. False 9 or false accounts? Ask some of the clubs that have gone down the tube. Despite the sterling efforts of fans’ organisations and protest groups, the legacy of football shareholding is that many of us feel more distant from the game, our game, than at any point in living memory.

I’m still in play, mind, thanks to the gift a few years ago from my daughter of a single Spurs share. It came in a fancy tin box (safety deposit, just in case?) with some blurb about the club. Now that’s a juicy business to be in – buy the share for next to nothing, add cheap packaging and charge £19.99. Football fans are nothing if not loyal and gullible.

So what to do about the de-listing? I don’t know where the certificate is but I recently found my last dividend cheque, £0.04, proudly un-cashed. The PLC tell me my share is worth 33p and I have until 11th January to decide. I could sell, and use the results of my foray into the murky world of high  finance to buy, say, a 6th of a cup of instant tea or coffee on matchday, or two gulps of water. I expect that I won’t be bothered, however, and will keep it as a souvenir of the days when the club couldn’t be bothered about me either.

Martin Cloake On Danny Blanchflower, Spurs’ Geezers and the Current State of Play

Dead easy, this interviewing malarkey. Turn on the recorder, sit back, arrange the gems in some semblance of order and there you have it. At least you do when you speak to someone with the infectious enthusiasm of Martin Cloake. A leading authority on Spurs in print, many books written alongside co-author Adam Powley, his ardent passion for the club as journalist and fan remains undiminished.

His latest venture is an E-book called ‘Danny Blanchflower’, the first in a series of SportsSpurs Blanchflower Shots, extended essays that permit the analytical depth of a book but are accessible and readable for those of us without the time or cash to invest in the longer form on a regular basis. It’s new, it’s exciting and Martin is an evangelist for the medium

“What we have is a set of ideas about the growth of e-readers. This series of Spurs E-books which we hope will be part of something bigger, is tapping into people. Longer than an article, shorter than a book.”

Powley and Cloake have spotted a gap in the market. Given the amount about the club on Amazon, Kindle has been slow to catch up. “If you look at the Kindle store, put Tottenham Hotspur in, there’s not a lot of stuff there. It’s a market that people are using. We may be arrogant enough to think we are good enough but we have written books that people buy. We’ve had very good feedback, so we thought let’s put it out there and see how it goes.”

“Blanchflower is the first one, one on Hoddle which has just been completed. We’ll see how they sell and at the moment we’re looking at individual player profiles but depending on how this goes we may expand into other areas. What we don’t want to do is do something that we could do with a publisher. Horses for courses.”

Martin is at pains to stress that he is neither neglecting nor in competition with existing publishing methods. During our discussion he repeatedly emphasises his admiration for Dave Bowler’s book about Blanchflower and for those of us who see the name Cloake or Powley as the kitemark of quality when it comes to Spurs’ writing, the news that they have an excellent relationship with their publishers Vision and Mainstream means there’s probably more of the good stuff to come.

The e-book is something different. “What we can do with the e-books is to get something into the public domain relatively quickly. We are doing a lot of the marketing ourselves anyway. We have the technical expertise to put this up. It’s a much more complicated process than you would imagine”

He’s researched this carefully, noting that whilst there’s some evidence that on desktops people read long-form journalism, on mobile devices they won’t sit and read the 50,000 words in a book. My mind wanders to a blogger’s comment on twitter recently about how he rejected an idea for a post because it would have absorbed 1500 words, whereas readers stop after 300.  Which if true means two thirds of anything I’ve written has been a waste of time, including this piece, but Martin’s energy pulls me back from the brink.

“To justify charging, it can’t be a blog post so we’ve gone for about 10 -12,000 words, shorter than a book, longer than an article. We’re still having a debate,” he muses. “Maybe we shouldn’t be obsessed by the length at all. It’s as long as it should be.”

It certainly works for me in terms of price, length and quality of content. It covers both Blanchflower’s career and the character of the man himself, as well as making pertinent links with contemporary football plus an evaluation of his lasting contribution to the game. £2 on my iphone, read on the train, thanks very much. Perfect. This is precisely the author’s intention.

“We will make sure there is plenty of information and some original comment as well. We’re conscious that a lot of content on the web is recycled, it’s easy to stitch stuff together and put it out there. That’s not the way we want to work. Without sounding high-falluting, we seem to have built up a reputation as people who do things that are high quality. It’s hard to build up a reputation and the quality of the content is what we hope is the thing that sells the books. Quick and quality reads that people can hang on to.”

For the first book in the series, Blanchflower was the natural choice because of his  influence not only on Spurs but also on Martin as a fan. “I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with Danny Blanchflower. I never saw him play – my first game was 1978, 1-0 against Bolton, Don McAllister diving header” We pause momentarily to consider the frankly frightening prospect that this journeyman defender could have been a formative influence on the young impressionable schoolboy, even at this, his finest moment in a white shirt. Less diving, more toppling earthwards, but who am I to say because we are both sufficiently obsessive to remember it.

Moving on swiftly. “I was aware of Spurs since the early 70s when I lived in Haringey. When I started looking at the history of the club, the Double and Blanchflower comes up fairly quickly. He’s a fascinating figure for me. Working as journalist, it became not just the player but the man himself. His journalism was very good. He was very much of a different generation. If we ever got the chance to sit down together we may not have seen eye to eye but I think he is a fascinating character for football as well as Spurs. You’d be hard pushed  to find a more significant figure. Just look at what he was about, what he did and represented.”

“I genuinely do believe that the team was part of something which completely changed the way British football operated. It finished the process started by Arthur Rowe’s push and run team in the early 50s. It changed English football for the better, taking it out of its insularity. Blanchflower was a real thinker and was attracted to us because the club was about changing the way English football was played. He’s a man ahead of his time.”

This boyish passion plus the ability to situate Blanchflower in a broader context makes the e-book compulsive reading. Forget the idea that this is a mere potted biography. It says more about its subject and the English game than a hundred best-selling autobiographies of modern players.

“Football can be self-important and we all slip into it, but Blanchflower wasn’t trying to be important, just a professional getting on with this job who thought about things.” Martin warms to his theme of the bigger picture. “I have 2 young boys. There’s a danger that being clever is seen as wrong, at school we took the pee out of swots. but Danny showed that ordinary people can be very intelligent, that it’s right to search out knowledge to improve things, to be good at something and think about how it was done. There’s a danger that people see intelligence as being elitist, a bit posh, so wrong and dangerous.”

Influential figure that he was, Blanchflower was met with considerable suspicion by chairmen and officialdom in general, threatened by his combination of prestige and intellect. He was overlooked for jobs in the game, including perhaps at Tottenham. Any antipathy was not helped by his public platform in journalism: Martin rates him highly in that respect too.

Blanchflower wasn’t averse to using the press for his own ends. There’s nothing new under the sun and Spurs are juggling with these issues at the moment, except it’s the manager rather than a player who is arguably using the media to influence club policy. Martin felt it was less sophisticated in Blanchflower’s day.

“He would never admit he was using the press but used a nudge and a wink as leverage to get what he wanted. He wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind.”

Inevitably when two Spurs fans get together, the discussion turns to Redknapp. Martin’s sense of dynamics of the club’s history once more enables some context for Harry’s proclamations, which I for one have criticised over the last few months, August in particular.

“The press loved Venables – he always had a quote. He defined his position regarding the chairman, and you can’t blame him for that.” Redknapp is doing the same, in other words. Martin goes on, “Redknapp is unfairly criticised sometimes. His relationship with the media protects us sometimes.”

Compare the reaction to a few bad results this season at, say, the Emirates or Everton with the silence that greeted our run of one win in 13-odd games last season. However, as Martin shrewdly concludes, “As the great philosopher Ronan Keating once said, ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’. It would be fascinating to sit down in a few years time with the present regime, it would be a great interview but I can’t see it happening”.

So how would it turn out if you did a ‘Boys From White Hart Lane’ with the current team? Martin can’t resist the idea but envisages problems that encapsulate the different status of the modern players and their relationship with outsiders.

“ You just wouldn’t be able to do it. You wouldn’t get access to players. They [the BFWHL squad] didn’t earn a lot. We tried to make sure everybody was looked after. These guys don’t need the money and they don’t need to talk to anybody. With the best will in the world they are on a different level. I’d love to sit down with Gareth Bale, watch that guy, you can’t take your eyes off him during a game. He seems fully grounded. Top of my list for BFWHL 2011! Benny is a hugely underrated full back and a fascinating character who understands where he comes from, that football is part of something much bigger. The squad seems to be full of likeable individuals. Luka has blotted his copybook but there are no whinging, unpleasant, offensive characters as in other teams. Van der Vaart seems like a good guy. Gomes, I’d like to sit down with him. No shortage of candidates and if they read your blog and they want to write it, give them my name and address, I would love to do it! I’d really love to get the real story, the inside story.”

Much as I like the idea of Bale or Gomes coming across TOMM and being inspired to unburden themselves, it’s unlikely, but if it does, Martin, you’ll be the first to know. Co-authors, OK?

What’s next? As you would by now expect, there’s no shortage of ideas. “Spurs have a rich history of players and personalities. Read these [i.e the ebooks] and find out a bit about the person, what they were like as a player and what they meant, but also look at the wider influences. I’d like to create a space for a debate, possibly a website for the books, forums maybe. Interactivity – the days when journalists or experts handing down wisdom from on high have gone. It’s about having that conversation with the audience who often know more about particular areas than you do. There’s also the opportunity to stretch the remit to include other teams and their players, other sports too, and perhaps other writers.”

Next up, Glenn Hoddle. “Ask any Spurs fan who was the greatest ever, he’s there but he had a lot more criticism than people care to remember. Spurs fans and football in general used to moan about him because he didn’t tackle back.” Like I say, nothing changes. One of my earliest memories at Spurs was hearing fans pile into Martin Chivers.

“He’s accused of being aloof, but just ask the other players about him. They are a bunch of geezers but they are amazed that there could ever be any animosity. Why would there be? They say he was brilliant and we were there to make sure that he could do the things he did. Good guy, we got on with him.”

I look forward to it.


Danny Blanchflower by Martin Cloake, edited by Adam Crowley, is available on Kindle from Amazon, £2.99









Spurs – What’s The Point of a Football Club?

We the fans clasp the precious heritage and soul of our club in our hands. In a mixed up muddled up shook up world, we and only we provide continuity and unstinting commitment. Players and managers come and go. They may kiss the badge or effectively trample it underfoot, we hold it close to our hearts. We will be back next week.

In the build-up to big games, the media turn to us to validate the significance: the atmosphere builds, the ground is rocking, the town is alight. Not literally, presumably. Yet in the cold light of day, we will be told that football is a business. Be realistic – make money in order not only to be viable but also to compete in the quest for the Holy Grail, the sacred, some would say mythical, Next Level. No one is quite sure where that is or how to reach it, but we’re on our way. Teams field weakened sides in cup competitions because the bigger prize is to climb one or two  greasy steps to mid-table mediocrity. Supporters kvetch about ticket prices. Crowds drop but that’s fine, as long as the drink is flowing in the corporate lounge. Success on the field is no longer the only goal. So what, exactly, is a football club for?

Until comparatively recently, there was a relatively straightforward answer. Each club was a private company run by a small board of directors who certainly controlled and probably owned the vast majority of the strictly limited shares. Well over 90% of the income was generated by fans coming through the gates. Those gates may have been ancient and rusting but the directors didn’t to need waste money on oil, let alone on any facilities inside the ground because the fans would come to see their team regardless. More success on the field, the fuller the terraces.

In the last 25 years, the number of stakeholders in the club, any club, has increased. The main newcomer is the shareholder because most of the big clubs are now public companies. Spurs were forerunners as Irving Scholar made us the first club to float on the Stock Exchange.

Now, when key decisions are made, as with any public company the interests of the shareholders must be taken into consideration, and that means profit. The composition of the board is different too. Directors are co-opted for their skills and influence. Most significantly, Tottenham Hotspur PLC is owned by ENIC, the English National Investment Company. The clue’s in the name – they need a return on that investment. Finally, football clubs still attract overbearing egos to their cosy boardroom, hoping to bask in the particular fame and glory that only our wonderful game can bestow. However, they are also doing what they do best, nose down on the trail of the filthy lucre. Alan Sugar is hardly revered for his achievements at Spurs, but despite a lack of success on the field and below capacity crowds, when he cashed in his chip he trousered a profit estimated to be anywhere between £25m and £35m overall. He saw an undervalued public company with assets and the capacity for growth.

Other stakeholders have elbowed their way into consideration. The F.A. always had a role in governing the game but it has been unceremoniously shoved aside by the all-conquering Premier League, whose aim is to generate as much money as possible for its members, rather than for the game as a whole. Sky TV is so close to the Prem, if we kicked the League up the backside, Murdoch would get concussion. The very fixture list is governed by their requirements. It’s the same in Europe. After a make-over, the revered European Cup, the ultimate prize, now rewards league failure with a lucrative and unnecessary group stage, so everyone has more chances of thrusting their noses into the trough.

This brave new world has distorted our priorities and our language. In the past, defining ‘success’ was easy enough – win something, if not, finish as far up the league as possible with a decent cup run thrown in for good measure. Now, success can mean other things. The prospect of winning a trophy, certainly of advancing as far as possible in a cup competition, is secondary to Premier league survival. The surprise is not that sides field a weakened team, it’s that anyone is surprised. Finishing fourth in most sports is finishing nowhere. In football, it opens the door to Aladdin’s cave. We fight, mewl and screech in the pursuit of also-ran status.

These issues apply to most top clubs in the country but at Spurs, recent events have thrown them into sharp relief. Setting aside the rights and wrongs of a move to Stratford, the debate created lines of battle. The Olympic site was the best decision in terms of the club’s finances, according to the board. Increased capacity and better infrastructure at an allegedly lower price was in the best interests of the club, as Daniel Levy put it. Many fans thought differently – it wasn’t in their interests, playing far from home, in another team’s territory in fact. Many would have gladly sacrificed the sanitised plazas with their cafes and leisure park and a trip on the Jubilee Line for a proper rebuilt football ground in our spiritual home, no matter how difficult it was to get a decent pre-match cappuccino.

In the long run, so the argument went, financial stability and  increased income benefits us all because this can be re-invested in the team. However, it also means better dividends for shareholders and the club is a far more attractive prospect for potential buyers, should ENIC wish to sell, bearing in mind that the object of any investment company is to maximise the return on its investment.

In the debate, the name of another stakeholder was taken in vain, the local community. In the desire to get planning permission for the NDP, much was made of the improvements it would bring to a run-down area of London. As soon as that permission was granted, the people of Tottenham were unceremoniously and ruthlessly jettisoned, having served their purpose. Now all that mattered was money.

This conflict has always been there. Once it was a walk or bus-ride to the club for most spectators. These days, fans come from far and wide and whilst they bring business to local traders, they also bring disruption and traffic chaos. The anti-Stratford lobby looked to local MP David Lammy for support but he has a duty towards his constituents, not the likes of you and me. I was talking to a Spurs fan who has lived in the area for many years. Despite the much-publicised community work and appearances of the players in worthwhile local projects, he is scathing about their lack of genuine commitment to N17, saying the club has little or no connection to the locality and no genuine interest in the issue.

I believe the club has a duty to the community of which it is a part, regardless of whether it increases gates. The activities that do take place are valuable and should be extended. There’s the education project that brings football and education to local children and to those with disabilities, plus charity donations and the support of a football team for homeless people.  Long may this continue, and should become a primary goal of the club, one of the benchmarks against which success can be measured.

My definition of success for the club is an organisation that has sufficient financial stability and the resources to function at the highest level of performance. Finish as high up the league as possible, and win something. This is not the be all and end all, however. The pursuit of profit and success on the filed at all costs must be mitigated by a sense of responsibility towards two other key stakeholders, the fans and the local community. If this means redistributing a proportion of our income or keeping a lid on ticket prices, then thinking twice about paying vastly inflated salaries, so be it.

Football and footballers are routinely vilified as poor role models for the young people who are in thrall to its charms. Watching my 11 year old grandson on a Sunday, their enthusiasm is infectious, However, there’s this one kid who hurls himself to the ground in agony if an opponent so much as touches him, others who mimic precisely bizarre gestures of open-palmed innocence if the ref blows against them. Ashley Cole brings a rifle to his workplace yet he’s free to play a few days later because it’s a vital game, one where one manager refuses to follow the rules that apply to all his peers and talk to a camera.

Football has a different, better message to deliver. Clubs should embrace the opportunities they have and exercise some social responsibility to their fans and their community and if this means success on the field or in the boardroom is harder to achieve, that’s fine. In fact, the League is so awash with money, this would cost but a fraction of their resources. Clubs can be role models too, of a organisation that understands its priorities, sticks to decent values and does the right thing. That would make us feel more part of what’s going on and ensure the club’s future by looking after the people who truly matter.

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In Search of Alan Gilzean

Looking back, Gilly almost ruined things, just as it all began. The impeccable touch, leaping headers and sharp finishing – even as a teenager I knew this was class. Trouble was, unconsciously I compared everything that followed with this benchmark, little realising that what I took as a wide-eyed youth to be the norm was in reality the gold standard, never to be surpassed. It took many years and a great deal of heartache before the penny dropped.

Even in his prime, Alan Gilzean did not look like a professional athlete, let alone one of the finest strikers the club has ever seen. Thinning hair slicked back and a shambling, slightly stooping gait made him look older than he was. He didn’t so much run as ambled, for all the world suffering from the hangover that surely must follow his legendary appetite for alcohol. Yet appearances can be deceptive because Gilzean is the very epitome of the modern centre forward, a man who scored goals and made them too.

In Search of Alan Gilzean

He had no pace to speak of but the mind was keen and clear. In the hurly burly of a frantic penalty area, the greatest remain calm and still. Let the others move, then the space is revealed. Gilly would be there, pouncing on a loose ball or touching home a cross.

Sometimes he would wait, then move a fraction ahead of the rest. Possibly others had tried the near post glancing header before but if so I don’t remember and anyway, Gilzean perfected the art. Other more orthodox crosses, he leapt, soaring from a standing start, so sure and certain was the contact that I swear I heard the smack of leather on bald pate above the celebrations of the crowd.

All truly great players possess a distinctive move, unique and unforgettable that marks them out as extraordinary. For Gilly it was the glancing header. Long ball or cross, he would step in front of the defender then rise to meet the ball, sometimes body tall and taut, at others contorted in effort but with the sole aim of head to ball for the perfect touch. If Chivers was stampeding through or Greaves loitering with intent, it arced precisely into their grateful stride. The accuracy was astonishing and there is nothing like it in contemporary football. If as an admirer states he was “Nijinsky in studs”, then Crouch is a three legged carthorse on his way to the glue factory.

On the cover is an iconic image. Gilly leans laconically against a post, legs crossed, maybe a slight smile playing on his lips. The area must be bulging with bodies but he’s alone, a master of his own time and space. Don’t be fooled – in the mud on shorts and legs lies evidence of sweat and labour. My own favourite photo came from an early 70s programme. Jennings saves his second penalty in the game at Anfield. As Beal and Knowles rush in to congratulate him, Gilly is already wheeling away with not a flicker of emotion on his face. It happened, now let’s get on with it.

He was an easy man to underestimate, but try telling that to the defenders who faced him. Many give testimony to his prowess in the book. He seldom blew his own trumpet, preferring to slide away after training, usually to the pub. Hunter Davies in the Glory Game concluded that he saw football as a job and that he didn’t like the game, but that was mistaken. He loved playing but could leave it behind at the club gates.

Part biography, part detective story, James Morgan’s excellent book is propelled by his quest to solve the mystery of why so little is known or remembered about a footballer who was prodigiously successful on both sides of the border. A lifelong Spurs fan, he involves the reader not only in his search for the great man, rumoured to be a destitute recluse, but also in his dogged pursuit to right a profound wrong and secure a place for Gilzean in the Scottish Hall of Fame.

Gilzean was born and brought up in Coupar Angus, a small Scottish town. A natural sportsman, he played with distinction for Dundee, for whom he totalled 113 goals in 134 appearances. When the time came to leave, Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham was always his preferred destination and he turned down several more lucrative offers, including one from Italy. Much was made at the time of his disloyalty in letting Dundee down. However, he made his move only after careful deliberation and at the age of 26, hardly a money grabbing tyro.

A great favourite of Billy Nick’s, he completed 10 years with Spurs, during which time he adapted his game to create two superlative partnerships with Greaves and then Chivers, no mean achievement as their styles could not have been more different. In the process, he selflessly put aside his own glory for the sake of the team, converting from an out and out striker into the perfect partner.

Gilzean’s apparent indifference on the field hid a fierce competitor who worked hard at his game. What emerges most from the many entertaining stories told by those who knew him and played alongside him was how well he was both liked and respected. His taciturn appearance belied a man with a playful sense of humour. His team mates revered his awareness and touch: he brought out the best in them, and they are grateful. When I interviewed Greaves recently, without hesitation he named Gilly as the greatest he played with.

Morgan is a fine storyteller, weaving his tale with the same dexterity as his subject demonstrated on the pitch. With thorough research and the copious use of anecdotes, he allows the reader to build up a detailed insight into the character of a man who hid from the limelight. Like any good mystery writer, he maintains the air of anticipation to the end and I found myself rapidly turning pages as the denouement of a possible face to face meeting approaches.

Along the way, there’s plenty of entertainment as he reels out stories from a bygone age of football. Gilly was a fearsome drinker with an eye for the ladies, and used to frequent the Bell and Hare with Mackay, Jones and others, chatting to the fans while Bill Nick turned a blind eye. It’s a different world, with home being an average semi in Enfield, outrage from Dundee when in the mid sixties he demanded an increase on his weekly wage of £25 (John White was on £85, after all…), reporters nicknamed ‘Scoop’ and, most tellingly in this age of the celebrity footballer, a move to London would mean greater anonymity, compared with small town life.

A passionate fan, Morgan need agonise no more that his subject has not received due credit for his achievements as his highly readable account has set the record straight. Not only an antidote to every ghostwritten, mind-numbing footballer biography that you have ever read, it’s a fitting tribute to a truly wonderful Tottenham Hotspur player.

As a kid, I didn’t know much about football and even less about life but I knew one thing about Gilly, the King of White Hart Lane: he had style, and when I watch our team, I search for it still and let me tell you, it’s hard to find. The very best thing about this book is that if you never had the privilege of watching him play, you’ll understand.

In Search of Alan Gilzean by James Morgan   Back Page Press

See links for website or click here: http://www.backpagepress.co.uk

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