Peter McWilliam returned as manager of Tottenham in May 1938 after Jack Tresadern’s departure the month before. McWilliam’s first spell which had brought success to the club (1) had ended over eleven years before. The team he now inherited simply wasn’t good enough to win promotion. With the Board still paying off the cost of the East Stand he set about slowly bringing in the youngsters from the Northfleet nursery which he had been instrumental in developing ten years before.
The fans were high spirits and thought at last this was the man to lead Tottenham back to the top flight of the league, even if they had one eye on international events. McWilliam's second spell in charge would be short but certainly contained events whose ramifications would echo through the club in later years. The 1938/39 season started with a win at Southampton as he took his side to 8th place in the table seven points off the promotion places. Winning 19 of their games and losing 14 (only twice at home) of their 42 games. The season saw Spurs score 67 times and concede 62 whilst champions Blackburn managed 94-60.
Johnny Morrison who had been the major goal supplier managed only 9 in 27 games. While Willie Hall chipped in just eight. This in the season he would net seven for England. Albert (Bert) Hall fired home ten.
That opening game saw a debut given to Bert Sproston, an England international who had joined from Leeds for £9,500. Bert played just nine games for Spurs and complained of being unable to settle in London.
On November 5th he was in the Spurs party that traveled to Manchester City expecting to play. Before the game he was transferred to City and lined up against Tottenham that day.
Above - Billy Minter welcomes Peter McWilliam on his return to Spurs.
Bert (right) still won two England caps in that short term with Spurs, one of them against the Rest of Europe just nine days before he left.
He had also played at White Hart Lane for England V Czechoslovakia before joining us.
Another debut came on October 22nd when Bill Nicholson was drafted in at left back for the game at Blackburn. He would be followed into the side in February at Norwich by Ron Burgess who would skipper the side to success in the fifties.
A third Northfleet boy was Freddie Cox who scored on debut at Swansea in November. He moved to Arsenal after the war, when he won the DFC, and scored five times in four games V Chelsea in FA Cup semi-finals at White Hart Lane. He later managed Bournemouth when they knocked Spurs out of the Cup in 1957.
Left - Vic Buckingham who played over 300 times for Spurs, but never in the first division. Later as a manager he won the Amateur Cup. Before managing both Ajax and Baraclona.
That season saw Spurs dispatch Watford 7-1 in the FA Cup (2) before three games with West Ham. The second replay at Highbury saw us lose by the odd goal in three.
That summer saw Tottenham achieve something in the corridors of power they had been championing for some years. The players should wear numbers on their shirts at last the league agreed.
It also saw the arrival of Ronnie Dix from Derby. Ronnie had scored for England in what would be his only appearance for the country a week after playing for the Football League. Sadly Ronnie is one of many players whose career was ruined by the coming war. He did return to us and play until 1947.
The 1939-40 season saw Spurs start with a brace of 1-1 draw’s. The first at home to newly promoted Birmingham with Hall and Dix running the game with Dix setting up Sergeant for the Spurs goal.
A shot so fast the reports say the keeper could not have seen it.
The second draw was at Newport. The Daily Mirror claimed that ‘the spectators were delighted by the Spurs sparkle they nearly forget their own side and cheered the London team throughout.’ Burgess scored for us.
Left - Ronnie Dix is featured on the cover of the programme for the only Football League programme at White Hart Lane in the 1939-40 season.
Then on September 2nd we won 4-3 at West Bromwich. Johnny Morrison, on his first appearance of the season, hit a hat trick and Dix scoring his only league goal before the war for the club.
These would be wiped off the record books when the season was abandoned.
Tottenham went two up and Albion pulled one back, and that was in the first three minutes, Morrison scoring twice.
Morrison then set Dix up for his goal in the tenth minute. Albion pulled one back after the break before Jones missed a penalty for the home side. Morrison completed his hat trick with twenty minutes to play and Jones completed his hat trick for West Brom just before the end. As Spurs traveled home that Saturday night they sat 6th in the table one point behind the league leaders.
That sadly would be the last Football League action for seven years. Ron Burgess wrote of that time in his autobiography ‘each time we took the field we wondered if it would be our last game together.’
On the Sunday the players gathered at The Lane as they were due to play Southampton on the Monday evening (3). Over the weekend Germany had invaded Poland. At eleven o’clock that morning war was declared.
Amazingly McWilliam who had been in charge a short while in his first spell at the club when World War One was declared found himself just starting to implement his vision when the next war broke.
He returned north at first but returned to take charge once football was re-organized for the war time years. However this in real terms was the end of his time as manager and with ill health affecting himself and his wife he retired in June 1942.
We shall never know if he would have worked his wonders again and taken Tottenham back to the top flight and further glory. We do know that he inspired a number of young players will his methods and style of play, among them a certain Arthur Rowe, Ron Burgess and Bill Nicholson.
t- Keith 16024542
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Notes -1- McWilliam's first spell in charge starts at -
and continues in The Forgotten years starting at -
2 – This was the first time Spurs first team wore numbered shirts and is featured in Every Picture set four - http://www.indiaspurs.com/blog/every-picture-tells-a-story-set-four
3- See also - http://www.indiaspurs.com/blog/hotspur-towers-under-fire
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