How Spurs broke my heart, back in the good old glory days

SPURS were my first love, but just weeks before my 14th birthday, they broke my heart. Let me explain. My earliest football memories belong to the era of flickering black and white TV images of a teenage Pele scoring audacious goals for Brazil in the 195

SPURS were my first love, but just weeks before my 14th birthday, they broke my heart. Let me explain.

My earliest football memories belong to the era of flickering black and white TV images of a teenage Pele scoring audacious goals for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup finals; of a sublime Real Madrid team firing seven past Eintracht Frankfurt in a European Cup Final; and of an incandescent midfield wizard by the name of Danny Blanchflower.

Danny was my first sporting hero. Actually, he was my first hero, full stop.

At that same World Cup where a 17-year-old Pele burst upon the unsuspecting footballing world with his virtuoso performances, Danny captained the valiant Northern Ireland team which reached the quarter finals. From seeing replays a couple of years later, I have a clear memory of the dressing room interview he gave after one unlikely victory.

Asked the secret of our success, he responded with a playful smile and a wink towards the camera. ''We just equalise before the other team has scored,'' he told a bemused reporter.

It was an "Irish-ism" all right, but for me it made perfect sense. In his own mischievous way he was pointing out the folly of opponents who made the mistake of believing they had beaten little Northern Ireland before a ball was kicked.

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''Everything in our favour was against us,'' was another of his memorable sayings, and he summed up his unique approach to the game thus: ''The great fallacy is that football is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.''

This comment in itself is enough to tell you that Danny was already one of a dying breed, but in the early 1960s, he was The Man. Rare among footballers, he could talk and write about the game as elegantly as he played it.

Even his name demanded attention. Blanchflower - "white flower"- what kind of a name was that for a kid who grew up on the mean streets of Belfast and first plied his trade in the uncultured kick and shove of the Irish League?

Blanchflower became an ever-present, almost mystical figure in my boyhood dreams of one day pulling on the green shirt and playing football for my country.

We all had those dreams, but in mine, Blanchflower never aged. He would be just ahead of me, never a day older than in that 1958 television interview, carrying an old brown laced-up leather football as he led us out of the Windsor Park tunnel towards the dazzling sunlight and into the rapturous acclaim of 55,000 fans.

Blanchflower's mythical status could only increase when I learned that as a lad he had once worked for the Gallagher tobacco company (they had just built a sprawling factory near our village) and had lied about his age to join the RAF during the Second World War.

In my mind he was invincible and by association, so was everyone around him. As I followed them through an historic 1960-61 season, it seemed only natural that Spurs would do the double, and equally inevitable that Danny Boy would again flash that winning smile and hold the silverware aloft when Spurs thrashed Atletico Madrid in the Cup Winners' Cup Final of '63.

So what happened between then and 1967, when I was so crushingly deflated by the sight of big Mike England and little Jimmy Greaves running around Wembley with the cup.

Well, by then Danny had gone and by a simple twist of fate, I had become the envy of all my schoolmates because of the footballing paraphernalia I was receiving in the post from an uncle, who just moved to a house virtually next door to a big stadium in London.

That stadium was Stamford Bridge. Soon my bedroom became a shrine to an emerging young team from SW6 who had just clinched promotion from the old second division.

The names of Bonetti, Cooke and Tambling were rivalling that of Blanchflower for my footballing affections, and by the time the first-ever all-London FA Cup Final took place, my heart belonged to Chelsea.

And so there was no joy, only utter despair, when first Jimmy Robertson and then Frank Saul fired the goals that won the day for Tottenham.

I'll be there on Sunday - hoping of course that my beloved Chelsea will prevail - but wondering if the ghost of the great Danny Blanchflower might be hovering over the new Wembley, urging the Lilywhites to do it again - all in the name of true footballing glory.

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