Danny Blanchflower famously told the Spurs Chairman, Fred Bearman, that they would win the Double for him at the start of that famous 60/61 season. Without taking anything from the great man or his team what you might not realize is that this wasn’t quite the amazing act of foresight it might at first appear. The Double had long been a dream of many and we know for a fact that Danny had been talking about the feat since the summer of 1958 (at least) and that summer (before Nicholson took over) he was telling people that he thought Tottenham would be the team that would achieve it.
Bill Nicholson when asked about Danny’s prediction in later years simply said that Danny was something of a romancer. Bill did admit he entered that season optimistic, he had a good squad of players and felt that Spurs could have a successful season after narrowly missing out on the title the year before. The Double of the Football League and the FA Cup had long been talked about within the game but many thought it impossible. The League which was 42 games was one thing. The Cup, just six games, was another, it was so unpredictable. Teams lay themselves open to the draw, bad pitches on rainy nights, officials and any number of other hurdles that maybe the problems were just insurmountable.
It had been done just twice, Preston North End in 1889 and Aston Villa in 1897. Preston’s triumph took just 27 games whilst Villa played 37. Without distracting from their fine achievements both teams campaigns contained a number of games where the opposition wasn’t really that strong. Villa in particular become very upset (maybe rightly) when this is suggested. While many historians over the years have pondered if Preston would have won the Cup if the strictly amateur Corinthians club did not have a principle of not taking part in competitive matches.
When Villa had last managed it the day they won the Cup saw Bury lose a League match thus giving the Birmingham side that title as well. In the years since the war a number of teams had gone close but failed. Only the season before Tottenham’s win in the League at Wolves had cost that side the title. A few weeks later the Midlands side won the Cup but the Double had eluded them. The thought of maintaining the challenge over 48 games seemed too many like climbing Everest. In theory there was no reason why it couldn’t be done but in reality the teams that attempted to conquer both competitions had failed when the prize looked in their grasp. Although like Everest once one side had managed it others found the belief that they too could attempt to scale the heights. Tottenham can relish the fact that history embraces the first.
Left - Two of the engine that drove Spurs to glory. Dave Mackay and Danny Blanchflower (here seen in 1959).
It’s said the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. In that case the Double was won on the playing fields of Cheshunt. Bill Nicholson spent the summer fine tuning his side in a programme based on ball control rather than just fitness. Dave Mackay (1) recalls Bill saying on the first morning back, ‘I naturally feel disappointed we did not win the League Championship last season after such a fine run but the defence did extremely well we gave away fewer goals than anyone else now I hope the forwards will get more, and it’s up to us all to see that they do.
In his autobiography (2) Nicholson describes how the side spent hours of practice perfecting corners & free kicks. Spurs were the first team to put a marker on the man taking throw ins as well as sending the center back up for corners and free kicks. He placed a man on each post when defending. The players also worked on developing their individual skills, for example, Terry Dyson the smallest man on the pitch most weeks spent time working on his heading and it paid off as you will discover as the series unfolds. Once the season commenced the players only used Cheshunt once a week spending most of their time at WHL.
Tottenham didn’t tour that summer and the only first team friendly had been back on May 25th when we met Juventus away. We put in a good performance but went down 0-2. There was a plan they would meet Real Madrid who had just won the European Cup for the fifth season running but the clubs couldn’t agree a date. Madrid did suggest playing the game in the second part of the season or at the start of 61/62 but the fixture never occurred. Spurs did play the then traditional public trial game, quite common amongst clubs at the time. After no transfer activity bringing new players to assess during the summer the gate fell to 11,000, about five thousand less than the year before. The reserve side contained several players who would be first choice at other clubs. Nicholson would call the game ‘a dismal failure’ as the Whites / first team went 4-1 up with twenty minutes to play before the Blues / reserve side pulled back to 4-4. Nicholson, clearly unhappy on the sidelines later admitted ‘if there had been no crowd we would have stopped it.’
The League kicked off on the 20th August. Once Bill Nicholson had settled on his first team it would only be changed during the season in the case of injury (3). When he pinned up the team sheet in the dressing room on the Friday he named a side that had never played together before in a competitive match.
It was Bill Brown; Peter Baker, Ron Henry; Danny Blanchflower, Maurice Norman, Dave Mackay; Cliff Jones, John White, Bobby Smith, Les Allen and Terry Dyson. Six Englishmen, Three Scots, One each from Wales and Northern Ireland. A side described by Bobby Smith as ‘a team for all seasons.’
Profiles for all of these players can be found in the Hotspur Towers series – http://www.indiaspurs.com/blog/hotspur-towers-the-archive
The other six players who appeared during the season will be discussed later in this series.
This genesis of this series (which has taken two years to reach you) is told in ‘Talking Tottenham – Adventures in N17.’ I have attempted to unravel the tale in the way I experienced, hearing and reading it as a young lad, wonder, glee and nail biting included using as a starting point texts that were written at the time and if possible by the people involved. Later while cross-checking detail I did delve into more contemporary texts. I will provide a comprehensive list at the end of the series, as I’m sure there will be a little tinkering, I must however give my endless thanks to those who related the tales to that young lad at the time and Ralph Flynn’s ‘Spurs Supreme’ and Julian Holland’s ‘The Double.’
Cliff Jones once said there was a lot of sense and a lot more nonsense written about The Double, I hope my enthusiastic bumblings fall under the former. So if you’re ready, let’s travel back to a very different world where at times it seems the only things that are the same today are the passion of the fans and Spurs playing football the right way.
In part 2 – The Entrancing Danger, the season gets under way and Spurs make a flying start.
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See Also - Talking Tottenham - Adventures in N17.
Notes - 1 - Soccer My Spur - Dave Mackay.
2 - Glory Glory, My Life with Spurs – Bill Nicholson.
3 - Unlike today’s managers his side only competed in the two competitions. There was a new competition that season, The League Cup, but Tottenham like a number of other top flight clubs did not enter as they did not want the distraction.
Flying Down to Rio
History of T.H.F.C.
Tribute to Bill Nicholson
The Road to Turin
Most Read Articles
The 100 Year War
Interview with Marina Sirtis
A Long Dark Shadow
By Royal Appointment
School Report: An Insight into the Younger Eric Dier
All Change At Spurs
History Of THFC: Part 1
Passage to India: Rohan Rickets
Thanks For The Memories
Our Tommy Carroll
The AVB Files: Part1
You The Jury
The Hand Of Hugo
Connection - Argentina
Creating a Reputation
Flying Down To Rio