Danny Blanchflower, captain of the Double team, is one of the most respected and important characters in the clubs history. Part of his citation for the THFC Hall of Fame reads “He had every attribute an attacking wing half needed, skilful, graceful, a suburb passer of the ball and a suburb reader of the game with a knack of finding space and hurting defences. More than that he was an inspirational captain who earned the respect of the players around him.”
Danny was born in Belfast in 1926. His mother played for a local team, she was a center forward. He loved football from an early age and he would recall the story of how he turned out for three different teams over the same weekend. At the start of World War 2 he became a Air Raid Warden and later lied about his age so he could join the RAF where he trained as a navigator
He was an intelligent man with an eloquent turn of phase. He spoke his mind and did not suffer fools. Which did not always endear him to those on the receiving end. He played for Glentoran before moving to Barnsley in 1949 and then onto Aston Villa in 1951. He was a success at both clubs but never really happy. He would later describe the Barnsley chairman as “A self-made man who worships his creator.” Danny told the story, that Barnsley manager Angus Seed (2) refused to let the players practice with a ball during the week. Danny is quoted as saying “ I asked the manager for a ball to train with. He couldn’t have looked more horrified if I’d asked for a transfer. He told me they never used a ball at Barnsley. The theory was that we’d be hungry for it on Saturday if we didn’t see it for the rest of the week. I told him that come Saturday I probably wouldn’t recognise it.” (3)
Danny loved giving verse to show his love of the game. "Whether you're a player, manager, trainer, director, supporter, reporter, kit man or tea lady, football possesses the power to make the week ahead sparkle with a sense of joyous well-being. No play, movie, TV programme, work of literature or music induces such emotion on a weekly basis. We curse football for having this power but, conversely, it is football's power to corrupt the emotions and senses that is the addictive and enduring appeal of the game. It's an intangible power, existing somewhere out in the ethers. It is the heart of the game.”
Although Aston Villa did not want to sell him he became frustrated and set his heart on moving to a club which he believed had the same ambitions that he held. A long protracted transfer battle between Arsenal and Spurs dragged on for months.(4) Our manager Arthur Rowe had been tracking Danny for two years and knew he was the man he wanted to revitalise the aging team that won the Football League in 1951.
Rowe described his target “He was brilliant, he made other people play. I wanted Danny as a captain, he was a natural leader with the kind of commanding personality that compelled respect.” Rowe finally got his man this day, December 8th in 1954, for £30,000. A record for a wing half at the time and an incredible sum for a 28 year old.
Danny was the best wing half of the time. First hand reports claim he might not have been the fastest man around the pitch but his brain was lighting fast. He could anticipate, breakup the opposition and set Spurs flowing forward all in one movement. Another relative remembered that with one insightful pass he could light up the crowd. Danny himself once wrote of the supporters “The noise of the crowd, the singing and the chanting, is the oxygen we players breathe.”
A year after signing for the club Rowe resigned on health grounds. His replacement was Jimmy Anderson. Danny felt it was the captain’s right to make changes on the pitch when he saw they were needed. Anderson didn’t and felt all instructions should be his. Danny changed things and when they worked it was overlooked. The last straw in their relationship came in the 1956 FA Cup semi-final. Tottenham were losing and Danny sent Maurice Norman forward into attack, a ploy that had worked before. This day it did not and Danny was stripped of the captaincy. At the start of the 1958/9 season results were not going well and Anderson resigned due to ill health. Bill Nicholson took over as manager. There was the famous first game, a 10-4 victory over Everton, after which Danny said “How can we improve on that? We can only get worse.” He was proved right, they did and Spurs edged towards the bottom of the table. Bill Nicholson dropped Danny thinking the team needed more fight at the back. Then in March 1959 he restored him to the team and the captaincy in a game at Wolves, who would win the title. We drew that day and thrashed Leicester 6-0 the next week. Spurs finished 18th (from 22).
Danny famously led the team to the Double in 1960/61. At the FA Cup Final the teams were presented to HRH Duchess of Kent, she asked why Tottenham did not have their names on their tracksuits as Leicester did, Danny replied with a twinkle "Ah well, ma'am, you see we all know each other!" It was the FA Cup again the following season. Then in 1963 Tottenham were the first British team to reach and win a European Final. A game he nearly missed through injury. He only played as Mackay was missing and although he was a passenger for much of the game his influence was clear. He struggled on but he knew he was not playing to the standard he set himself and he retired in April 1964. He made 382 appearances with 19 goals for the club. Having given ten years service to the club. The THFC website describes him as “One of the most inspirational footballers of all time” and “left an indelible mark.”
Danny was a great leader of men, before the European Cup Winners Cup final Bill was talking about the Madrid team and describing their players. Danny felt Nicholson had gone the wrong tone and in his captains address he pointed out man for man Spurs were the better team. Speaking in 1984 about his partnership with Bill Nicholson he said “Bill and I became partners. Now we had lots in common with the best interests of the club at heart. We had total respect for one another when we learned that our different experiences and angles could blend into better teamwork. When he had doubts I could give him a second opinion. When I was too flippant he would bring me down to earth. It was not all buttering up. We often disagreed. But we agreed to disagree. After that, almost all our dreams came true. It was a hell of a time we had together. And every time we meet now that feeling is still there between us. You could call it a satisfaction that would be very hard to beat.
It was in the 1962 FA Cup Final that he wanted to try ‘something special.’ That something special is just an unbelievable tale you wont want to miss and we will recall that tomorrow in part 2 (5).
f- Peter Shearman (an old non de plume reserved for THFC).
Notes 1 - From the film Those Glory Glory Days. In which he made a cameo appearance about himself.
2 - Angus Seed was the brother of former Tottenham star, Jimmy.
3 - I’ve also seen this story credited to his Villa days. Possibly he head a similar type of conversation as he was not impressed with the training regime at either club.
4 - Remember there was no transfer window in those days, just a deadline day in March.
5 - Hotspur Towers 28, will be published 9/12/14.
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