With Spurs currently flying high at the top of the Premier League and everyone having had a look at Jose Mourinho under the microscope in the recent All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur series, memories of great Spurs teams of the past have been brought back.
It is also the time of year when the London Football Coaches Association held their annual dinner. Having been a member for a number of years now, I was very lucky, as I had gaffers who gave me the night off to attend in December. They would always hold the annual dinner on the first Thursday of the month at Highbury, the former home of Arsenal Football Club. Sadly, it no longer takes place.
Following Mourinho’s appointment at Spurs last year, I immediately cast my mind back to November 1991, when Wimbledon appointed Peter Withe to replace Ray Hartford. Back then I was looking to attend my first dinner and made enquiries about the event, which was a big event in the football calendar.
The organiser was Eric Gilston who had undertaken this task for many years. Having not been to one before, I was intrigued by this, so made contact with Eric who gave me the insight of the evening’s proceedings and explained the top table would include managers, assistant managers and coaches of all the London clubs who all got invited to attend. It was when Eric said that I have had to send an invite to Peter Withe who had just taken up the reigns at the Dons – just highlighting the precarious nature of our industry and has stuck with me ever since.
The guest list was a who’s who of football with guests from the FA, club secretaries, chairmen and television – including John Motson and Jimmy Hill – both of whom were staunch supporters of the evening. I count myself lucky to have been in the company of some of the games great contributors, hearing many great stories with their after-dinner talks. There was also the nine o’clock toast in that the guests paid tribute to those of the football family who had passed on during the year.
However, the reason those evenings were made so special was the attendance of former Tottenham Hotspur Manager Bill Nicholson – who pitted his wits both as a player and manager against the other greats of his time – Stan Cullis, Sir Alf Ramsey, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Don Revie.
In fact, there are many similarities between The Glory Game book by Hunter Davies which gave an in-depth insight into Nicholson’s time with Spurs and the All or Nothing documentary which Mourinho recently featured in.
I’ve read about those Tottenham sides he managed from 1959-1963, and of course not forgetting the famous League Championship and FA Cup double season of 1960-61. Sadly much of what he taught seems to have disappeared from today’s game – specifically the tactical ploys as exhibited in his sides. These included the use of a short corner with the receiving player along the goalline close to the kicker in order to avoid any offsides. The switching of flank players to confuse full-backs. The centre-forward standing between the centre-half and one of the full-backs so creating a marking difficulty. The long throw into the goalline (perfected by Makay to Smith, then Gillzean especially for the flick-on to Jimmy Greaves) and finally words of wisdom given in our magazine Soccer Coach of yesteryear included: ‘Habits learned whilst young whether good or bad will be the first things to manifest themselves under pressure’ and ‘Give the ball and go, then support and never stand back and admire the pass’.
He also saw the need to get all sections of the game together and one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday in the early 1980s, Bill Nich, along with the late Jackie Goodwin, for the coaches and Ken Aston and Stan Lover for the referees attempted to do just that in front of a large group from each of those groups. To this day, I have never heard of the experience being repeated, more’s the pity.
Not forgetting the many epic encounters with his local rivals Arsenal who were under the guidance of Bertie Mee, his good friend and they continued the friendship well into retirement. He was a gentleman, a genius, humble and caring. You won’t find anyone in football with a bad word to say about Bill, who would turn up on being announced and there would be the same response year in, year out. No one received a standing ovation of such magnitude as Bill Nicholson.
Memories flood back how pleasing it was to see so many people who wished to talk to him on these occasions and he had a word for all of them as he obviously welcomed our involvement in the game that he loved so dearly.