(Dedicated to Alan Gilzean, The King of White Hart Lane.)
“Aged seven years old and sitting on my Grandad’s knee watching the 1961 FA Cup Final, I thought I was watching England.
On a black and white television, Spurs appeared just like the team I had watched previously on TV. Club football was not televised in those days and England always played in white shirts.
I was told that the team in white shirts were “dirty Spurs” by my Geordie Grandad. The fact that Spurs were not playing Newcastle United probably meant that I had free rein to support whomever I pleased on this occasion. They were playing Leicester City – and that didn’t sound as good as “Spurs” or indeed, the more noble sounding “Tottenham Hotspur”. Moreover, I used to buy the Hotspur comic every week!
If that had been Newcastle playing against either Leicester or Spurs that day I would have led an altogether different football life.
My family were all avid Newcastle fans. And I am from Darlington. The Quakers were in the 4thDivision. Everyone’s team was either Newcastle or Sunderland. Manchester United were everyone’s “second” team following the tragedy in 1958, so I had my work cut out to maintain my choice.
I cannot remember however, anyone ever trying to “persuade” me to change my new found allegiance. Perhaps that’s because the Magpies were relegated in 1961 and didn’t get promoted again until the 1964- 65 season.
In any case, can you imagine trying to convince me that Spurs were not worth following and that Newcastle were the correct team to support? Spurs win the double and Newcastle are relegated. No brainer – even at seven! I suppose I chose the successful team of the day and rejected the failures.
I have a theory that you are given a team when you are in primary school and it stays with you all of your days. That’s how it happened for me. And so I had to wait a long time to get to see Spurs live for the first time. Four and a half years! They appeared lots of times on TV playing in the European Cup – Dukla Prague and Benfica spring to mind. And of course the European Cup Winners Cup.
I particularly remember the 1961-62 FA Cup Final against Burnley when I watched for the first time, the greatest goal scorer of all time, Jimmy Greaves. I only had a few minutes to wait. Jimmy held up a pass, ran, jinked and then seemingly tapped a goal from the edge of the box with four or five around him!
Newcastle were eventually promoted and Spurs came to Toon on 23rdOctober 1965. My Uncle Tom (a regular at St James’ Park) and my non-football supporter Dad agreed to take me and we ended up in the Leazes End with me as a small eleven year old towards the front. I was near the corner flag on the left of goal looking towards the passionate and intimidating Gallowgate End.
I was to keep my mouth shut!
I remember a sunny day, huge excitement and the smell of tobacco and beer.
Jimmy Greaves was playing! And Alan Gilzean – we’d sadly lost John White the previous year and Gilzean was one of those brought in. I was disappointed not to have seen John White play, he was another hero. Kids are selfish sometimes!
Greavesie came across to take a corner. A corner for God’s sake. The fox in the box taking corners?
He looked every bit the hero. My hero! I couldn’t take my eyes off him!
“Ya stink, Greaves!” a little voice from a kid no bigger than me shouted.
“No he doesn’t – he’s great!”
I surprised even myself with the outburst and felt the immediate disdain of those around me, including my Uncle Tom.
And then, Jimmy Greaves said to me…
I am sure he did! We were only three or four yards apart. I am positive that he did! My Dad and Uncle didn’t hear it. I tried telling them afterwards that he had spoken to me. Laughter.
For the life of me, I cannot remember anything else about that game of football. It finished nil-nil and I was slightly disappointed with the result but elated with the experience.
Nobody believed me at school and I gave up trying to convince people. It is only lately, when I recount the story, that I get nods of approval.
That was the defining moment for me. No other team could or would ever supplant my obsession with Tottenham. I was a fan before that game – as much as you can be, living in the North-East – but Spurs were now the focus of my footballing future.
Years later, I met Jimmy at one of these signing events in Milton Keynes. It was the day the press announced the sale of Thierry Henry from Arsenal. We had a conversation about what good news that was for Tottenham. I didn’t mention the “Thanks, son” to him and wondered why afterwards.
You know what it’s like with heroes. Even at 50+ you go quiet!
There were 46,430 present in 1965. Strangely, when we played Newcastle United in 2011 at St. James’ Park there were only 10 people fewer in the crowd – 46,420.
Now that is an amazing statistic, considering the amount of money that has been spent on that stadium; they haven’t squeezed any more folk into the ground for a game that determined a top four place.
We should have won that game, too. Caught out in the last few minutes and Newcastle squeezed a draw.
At the time of writing, we are third. We are playing the best football in the Premier League and I am excited that we could be on the cusp of something great. The new year, 2012, beckons and we have some winnable matches early on. Could this be our best season in 50 years?
Let’s hope so!”
NB The original article was written a few years back, but the questions still stands – Ed