Hotspur Towers - Russia 1959
The most important part of the tour that took Tottenham to Russia for the first time was what happened off the pitch. The twelve day trip acted as a massive team building exercise. Ron Henry later said that that tour was where it all came together for Spurs. The overwhelming memory from a number of the players and staff echo his thoughts. Bill Nicholson said ‘I was glad of the opportunity of getting the players together. I have said that we would go and see what it was like there. It’s a lot different.’
Cliff Jones in an interview a few years ago said “It was a very difficult trip, going out to Russia, the games were sort of waving the flag, if you like, particularly the Russians are very patriotic people and they wanted to win those games. It was a difficult pre-season tour, very competitive, but in many ways it started to bond us together because we started to take off the following season. It was an experience, there’s no doubt about that! It wasn’t the type of tour you really wanted in terms of taking it a bit easy because you couldn’t. They were games we had to win and it was difficult”.
Bill Nicholson wrote ‘there was not much chance for entertainment so we had every day for training. We trained hard and we played three matches. I cannot over state the value of that trip in terms of getting things together and we still had a very enjoyable time, very enjoyable’.
As Bill stated there was not much to do away from training and the players remember visiting Red Square (where the police asked them not to shoo the pigeons) and seeing the Mausoleum where Lenin and Stalin were then lying in state and being surprised at the queues of people waiting to enter. Terry Dyson, who toured but did not feature in the games found the country a depressing place and said it, was the worse tour he experienced as a footballer.
Ron Reynolds (left) wrote that several of the players were keen to have presents to take home but were frustrated in their attempts. At one point a couple of players (he gives no names) pocketed some of the cutlery from the hotel. This was quickly discovered and there was a lot of ‘screaming and shouting’ and threats to call the police until the items were returned.
Food was a major problem during the trip as everything was in short supply. Nicholson wrote in his autobiography ‘The food was awful and the facilities more rudimentary than we were use to but in those circumstances there was more to laugh about especially when it came e to ordering meals. Most of my time was spent working out menus with a catering manger it was like negotiating a wage deal with a trade union. Every item had to be thrashed out and then the manager would come back and say we have none of that. Can you order something else? When we ordered tea and toast one day there was no milk, sugar, jam or butter for the toast. When I said where was it I was told you did not order it you said you wanted tea and toast. Another day we ordered rice pudding and it arrived in slabs. This strangely reflects his own experience as a player at the1950 World Cup in Brazil (4).
The players were taken to see the Bolshoi Ballet. Whilst not all the players were keen and some thought Bill was joking when he told them before the trip, many later felt it was an amazing experience. The players and Nicholson in particular were interested in the pure strength and stamina required by the dancers.
Jones again remembers “But all of us were taken by the extreme fitness and brilliance of these ballet dancers.” Bill who had reservations about the stamina of some of the players the season before was certainly impressed. Whilst the players returned to their hotel Bill went backstage with his interpreter to discover more of the dancers training regime (5).
right - The programme for the game in Leningrad V A Russian Select XI.
Upon his return to London he contacted an Olympic weight lifter called Bill Watson and made him part of the backroom staff at Spurs. Watson had previously worked for Nicholson’s old team mate Vic Buckingham when he was manager at Ajax.
It certainly paid off as Cliff said “We worked a great deal on our stomach muscles with Bill, and it gave us that extra bit of power to react. Bill Nicholson was very forward thinking when it came to the game of football. That was very much a contributing factor in our success, to the extent that other teams could see our levels of fitness had gone up. The tour of Russia was the start of our journey to the Double,”
On the pitch the first game on 27th May was in a very cold Moscow against Torpedo Club who would return the visit with a game at White Hart Lane that autumn. Tottenham won the match with the only goal coming from Terry Medwin, after a slight deflection off a defender, this in the fifth minute following a Blanchflower free kick. Tottenham dominated the first half and should have had more goals but for the goalkeeper, including Brooks having a shot turned over the bar. The Russians had more of the second half but were restricted to just a few shots on goal. The Russians frustrations led to a few small niggles between players. The side for that first game as Bill Nicholson looked to build in preparation for his first full season in charge was Hollowbread; Baker, Hopkins: Blanchflower, Norman (3), Mackay; Medwin, Harmer, Smith, Brooks and Jones. Eddie Clayton replaced Harmer during the game which was played in front of 50,000.
The second match was playing in Kiev against Dynamio Kiev on the 1st June. The team had trained for three mornings on the pitch which was very bumpy and covered in dust. The game started with Brooks scoring in the 20th minute as he hooked home a shot following Medwin’s cross. Kiev pulled level with a shot into the top corner. Then with a quarter of an hour to play a move down the right involving Norman, Baker, Mackay ended with Clayton finding Dunmore. Dunmore rounded the full back and slid in Brooks to get his second goal as Spurs won 2-1. Ron Reynolds had replaced Hollowbread in goal. Ron Henry came in for Hopkins and Dave Dunmore for Smith. Smith and Clayton would come on for Dunmore and Medwin. The crowd was recorded at 60,000.
The third and final game on the 4th June was played out in Leningrad against a very strong CCCP Select XI which was basically their team for the following years Olympic Games (2) and we went down 1-3, in a game kicking off late at night in front of a 100,000 crowd.
Our goal was scored by Brooks. Jim lley replaced Mackay at left half, although Mackay came on for Blanchflower. The front line saw Medwin rested and Harmer move to the wing and Eddie Clayton coming in. Bobby Smith returned at center forward. Dunmore would replace Brooks. The game was played in front of an estimated 100,000 crowd.
Maybe the most famous story arising from that trip is told by Cliff Jones. One day in the hotel he banged on Bill Nicholson’s door and when Bill opened it Cliff asked if he could arrange for an interpreter to be sent up to his room. Bill asked him why did he needed a Russian interpreter and Cliff said not a Russian, a Scottish one, I’m rooming with Dave Mackay and I can’t understand a word he is saying.
Dave Mackay himself has been quoted as saying he believed the foundations of the team spirit and genuine friendships that were built on that tour and that those played a notable part in the success that Tottenham later achieved.
Whilst the players went off on holiday upon their return Bill Nicholson was hard at work. John Hollowbread had played throughout the previous season after Ditchburn’s injury was replaced by Ron Reynolds in goal for the last two games. Reynolds thought he had done enough to be first choice goalie for the following season and was upset when Nicholson brought Bill Brown (1) in soon after they returned to England.
When I asked fans of that period they tended to think Hollowbread was properly the better of the two and would make a good back up but neither was really of the standard to mount a serious challenge. Ron Reynolds was the first player to wear contact lenses during games and it was thought he was suspect at crosses especially under floodlights. The other new arrival that summer was the return of Tony Marchi for his second spell at Spurs after he returned from Italy.
This tour took place between the events described in the Prologue series parts 2 and 3.
See also – Connections – Russia and Ukraine.
Top image - The team at White Hart Lane waiting to leave.
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume)
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Notes – 1 – Bill Brown, was admitted to the Scottish Hall of Fame after being nominated by India Spurs. His profile can be found at –http://www.indiaspurs.com/blog/bill-brown
2 - Remember at the time the Olympic Games was not age related but just for amateurs, which all sportsmen in Russia would have been.
3 – Whilst the local fans were behind their own team, they took to Norman. Possibly because of his size and therefore ‘looked like a defender’ and he was cheered by the crowds.
4 – See the Flying Down to Rio series.
5- This wasn’t the only time that Ballet and Tottenham crossed paths. Keith Burkenshaw on Bill’s advice brought in a group of dancers in the early 80’s to look at their warm routines.
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