New script in store at Spurs
A return to Europe's top table is a reminder of Tottenham's legacy, writes Paul Hayward
Published 12/09/2010 | 05:00
In Tottenham's last European trophy-winning year, the manager, Keith Burkinshaw, stood in the car park at White Hart Lane complaining to the sports writer Ken Jones about the way the game was going. Burkinshaw's gripe, in 1984, was that football was becoming just another business, detached from its origins as the working man's theatre.
A song came into Jones's head. It was a Joe Raposo composition from the Frank Sinatra album, Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back, and Jones recited a line to Burkinshaw: "There used to be a ballpark over there." The manager's concurrence went down in legend: "There used to be a football club in there."
Spurs are prone to self-doubt and inclined to live off old glories. But their Champions League group-stage debut at Werder Bremen on Tuesday brings a reminder that Tottenham's European pedigree is long and distinguished.
History did not start with the Year Zero of the Premier League. Nor did it lurch into being with the conversion of the European Cup into a sprawling marathon. With the 1963 European Cup Winners' Cup, Spurs were the first British club to bring home continental silver.
Sinatra's lament was for Ebbets Field, the deserted home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who fled to Los Angeles, traumatising the New York borough. In the year of Burkinshaw's elegy, Spurs won their second Uefa Cup, so those were hardly sterile years. More pertinently, given the Ebbets Field echo, the Lane is now booming, with a 30,000 waiting list for season tickets. "You can see why we need a new [56,000-seat] stadium," says a club spokesman.
Ken Jones is the cousin of Cliff, a star of the 1961 Double-winning side who went on to land the Cup Winners' Cup by beating Atletico Madrid. Cliff Jones scored 159 times in 370 outings for Spurs and was commonly regarded as the world's best winger. A £100,000 offer for him from Juventus in 1962 was considered to be "monumental".
Listening to him recall those honeyed days you realise just how shallow we are in dismissing any achievement of more than 10 years, or 10 days, ago. We denounce as nostalgia that which could otherwise be cited as tradition, as foundation stone.
Anticipating a group stage that pits Spurs against Inter and FC Twente as well as Bremen, Cliff Jones said: "Wolves went into Europe in the 1950s but we were the first to win a trophy. The European nights were the glory nights at White Hart Lane. They were massive. There were 62,000 crammed into the ground and we played in the all-white strip.
"Division One was very strong, with lots of teams who were very hard to play against. We were well prepared for Europe and found it a very exciting challenge, especially at White Hart Lane. We had a couple of physical types of the sort European players weren't used to."
Bill Nicholson's nonpareils succeeded the Arthur Rowe push-and-run teams of the early 1950s. "Push and run lasted three seasons but then got sussed as teams learned how to play against them and that period was over," says Ken Jones, one of the great football writers. "The architect of the period, Rowe, had a nervous breakdown. Bill Nicholson was a man who didn't appear to have a romantic side -- I don't think I ever saw him smile -- but he was a romantic about football. His teams didn't reflect his nature."
The inheritance, from the Dave Mackay-Danny Blanchflower-Cliff Jones era -- is an exuberant attacking spirit that was often sneered at when football went physical and long ball in the 1980s but is now in tune with Harry Redknapp's management style and the dynamic template for success set out by Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, under Carlo Ancelotti.
"Harry's brought the right type of players in and has a sense of the attacking traditions of Tottenham," Cliff Jones says. "And he's brought a belief and a confidence into the squad. It's unfortunate he has a couple of injuries to Michael Dawson and Jermain Defoe but Harry has done a fantastic job."
For this season's opening Premier League match, against Manchester City, the 50th anniversary of the 1960-'61 Double year began with the survivors padding on to the White Hart Lane pitch. Cynics joked that Spurs had probably enacted that ritual every Saturday for the last 50 years. But to see Mackay, Jones, Maurice Norman, Les Allen, Peter Baker, Terry Dyson, Mel Hopkins, Tony Marchi and Terry Medwin gather was to sense the club's enduring potential in a city dominated now by Arsenal and Chelsea.
"Some of the boys aren't as well as they'd like to be. Bobby Smith's very ill in hospital and Mel Hopkins isn't well, so a few are struggling," Cliff Jones says. "But we're still in contact. I have to say I don't think today's players will still be in contact in 50 years." Spurs are good at remembering. The European nights ahead promise plenty of new pleasures to remember.