In those long-gone glory days, Danny Blanchflower reigned supreme

Ham&High editor Geoff Martin has supported Chelsea for 40 hears, but a Tottenham legend was his first footballing hero 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: a teenage Pele scoring audacious goals for Brazil in the 1958

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: a teenage Pele scoring audacious goals for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup finals; a sublime Real Madrid team firing seven past Eintracht Frankfurt in a European Cup Final. And 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 scene with his virtuoso performances, Danny captained the valiant Northern Ireland team to 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.


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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 "Ulsterism" all right, but for me it made perfect sense. In his own mischievous way Danny was pointing out the folly of opponents who made the mistake of believing they had beaten little Northern Ireland even 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 hurly burly 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.

There were some nifty young footballers in my village and we all had those dreams, but in mine, Blanchflower never aged. He would be striding out 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 from the Windsor Park tunnel towards the dazzling sunlight and 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 Gracehill) 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 Danny and his Spurs through an historic 1960-61 season, it seemed only natural that they would do the double, and equally inevitable that the Bloomfield boy would again flash that winning smile and hold the silverware aloft after 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 souvenirs I was receiving in the post from an uncle, who just moved to a house situated virtually next door to a big football stadium.

That stadium was Stamford Bridge. Before long my bedroom was 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 soon 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.

My mother, now a few months away from her 90th birthday, still recalls me throwing a cushion at the television as Spurs went up to left the cup. If I did, it was only because there was nothing sharper to hand.

I'll be there on Sunday of course - hoping 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.

geoff.martin@hamhigh.co.uk

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