Tottenham's Double 60 years on: conquering 'soccer's Everest'

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Tottenham players parade the FA Cup after completing their historic league and cup double, L-R: Ron Henry, Bill Brown, Peter Baker, Danny Blanchflower, Cliff Jones, Maurice Norman, Terry Dyson, and Bobby Smith - Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images
Tottenham players parade the FA Cup after completing their historic league and cup double, L-R: Ron Henry, Bill Brown, Peter Baker, Danny Blanchflower, Cliff Jones, Maurice Norman, Terry Dyson, and Bobby Smith - Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images

The road to Tottenham’s 1961 Double, the diamond anniversary of which supporters commemorate today, May 6, began in the Soviet Union. It had its roots in other places, too: Bill Nicholson’s native Scarborough, where the manager inhaled a terse style of Yorkshire stoicism with his mother’s milk; in Musselburgh, birthplace of Dave Mackay and John White, Nicholson’s two most audacious transfer coups, and on the streets of Cheshunt near Tottenham’s training ground where the players undertook ‘Bill’s Road Run’, essentially a brisk five-mile walk followed by a one-mile dash devised by their manager as their regular conditioning routine.

But it was in Moscow, during a post-season tour in 1959, where individuals forged a bond that would turn them into a team, transforming them from a side that finished 18th in 1958-59, the season Nicholson took over, to one that would miss out on the title by only two points in 1960.

They went to the circus, too many times for even the most diplomatic members of the squad, saw Rudolph Nureyev dance at the Bolshoi, visited the Kremlin, queued to see the embalmed bodies of Lenin and Stalin in the Red Square mausoleum, and played three friendlies in front of packed stadiums in the capital, Kiev and Leningrad. “It was neither an education nor an adventure,” Mackay wrote. “[But] I shall always believe we laid the foundation of the team spirit and genuine friendship which has since played a notable part in the success of Tottenham Hotspur.”

Because the League and Cup Double has been won nine times in the past 60 years, it has been forgotten that for most of the last century it was often called “the impossible Double”. Aston Villa were the second team to have achieved it in 1896-97, finishing top after a 30-match First Division campaign and winning the FA Cup, which had only four ‘proper’ rounds before the final.

Yet teams were edging closer to the impossible towards the end of the Fifties. The Busby Babes won the title in 1957 and were only denied the FA Cup in the final, coincidentally by Villa, in large part by virtue of Peter McParland bulldozing the United goalkeeper Ray Wood after six minutes and shattering his cheekbone. In an era before substitutes, let alone substitute goalkeepers, 10-man Manchester United, with centre-half Jackie Blanchflower in goal, were defeated 2-1.

In 1960 Wolves had led the league on Saturday night after completing 42 games only to be pipped by Burnley on the Monday, winning their game in hand to take the title by a point. Wolves had the consolation of winning the Cup five days later but their manager, Stan Cullis, refused to congratulate Burnley for ruining his dream. “I am disappointed and do not wish to make any comment,” he said.

Those near misses persuaded Jackie Blanchflower’s elder bother, Danny, the captain of Tottenham, that far from being inconceivable, the Double was possible and that Spurs were just the team to prove it. Danny was 34 in the summer of 1960 and remains one of the most influential British players in the long history of our national game. The right-half was elegant, erudite, radical, waspish, astute and the author of pithiest of homilies, one of which, “the game is about glory”, has become part of his club’s branding.

Tottenham Hotspur Double Winning Season. FA Cup Semi Final v Burnley. Danny Blanchflower leads the team out followed by goalkeeper Bill Brown. - Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur Double Winning Season. FA Cup Semi Final v Burnley. Danny Blanchflower leads the team out followed by goalkeeper Bill Brown. - Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Blanchflower came to believe it could be done on his return from the USSR, saying there should be no bashfulness about it. The Double had to be an explicit goal to which the whole club must subscribe. “It couldn’t be done with a weak heart and the team which might do it would have to really believe it could do it,” he said. First, the “impossible” prefix had to be banished. Nicholson, usually so hard-boiled it was said he laboured under the belief that “smiling takes up precious time”, surprised his captain by agreeing: “I think it can be done too.”

The captain was a season premature with his announcement when, after beating Newport County in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1960 with Spurs at the top of the league, he told the press that the Double was on. They were still in first place when they demolished Crew Alexandra 13-2 in a fourth-round replay but the balance of the team, particularly at inside-right, and the fact that White was still serving his final year of National Service in Berwick-upon-Tweed, making a couple of games unreachable after a full day’s duty, undermined their progress. Blackburn Rovers beat them in the fifth round and mid-April home defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea, who would finish 16th and 18th respectively, ruined their title bid. Had they won either of those games, they would have won the league championship on goal average instead of missing out by two points.

Fred Bearman, the Tottenham chairman, had joined the board in 1909 and must have heard it all during his 51 years’ service. But instead of taking an unsentimental tone when his romantic captain told him on the eve of the 1960-61 season, “We’ll win the Double for you”, he replied: “All right, my boy. I believe you will.”

“We started – as Robb Wilton used to say – like a house on fire,” wrote Blanchflower in his autobiography, quoting the late, droll star of music hall, radio and film. It was like a palace on fire, in truth, as they won their first 11 games, a record that still stands, putting six past Aston Villa, four past Manchester United at the Lane and hammering Wolves, champions in 1958, 1959 and runners-up in 1960, 4-0 at Molineux.

With the barnstorming, buccaneering and deceptively skilful Bobby Smith at centre-forward, the far more mobile and elusive White replacing Tommy Harmer at inside-right, and the prolific, tireless grafter Les Allen at inside-left, plus the dynamic Terry Dyson, also a son of Scarborough, on the left wing, the blisteringly quick and mesmerisingly skilful Cliff Jones on the right, Spurs simply overwhelmed opponents. In 42 games they were scoreless in just two, scored more than one goal in 32 matches and ended the season with 115, a post-war top-flight record.

For all the verve of their forward line the half-backs were the chief ‘glory’ of Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur. With the creative prompting of the fulcrum Blanchflower at right-half, Maurice Norman in the centre, with his heading prowess at both ends, his uncanny gift for interceptions and forays up front when all four limbs would seem to work independently of one another, like an octopus on speed, and the imperious Mackay, one of the ten greatest British footballers, in the No6 shirt, Spurs were irrepressible. Mackay’s talent is too often demeaned by overplaying the fierceness of his competitive zeal and physical aggression. He was a fine passer, long and short, had a thumping left-foot shot, which hammered in a 35-yard screamer at Goodison in December, and a mastery of the ball the equal of any fancy Dan.

Dave Mackay - PA Photos/PA Wire
Dave Mackay - PA Photos/PA Wire

Frank McLintock, who would become the century’s second Double-winning captain with Arsenal in 1971, recalled how Mackay, Scotland's injured captain, used the sureness of his touch and his indomitable, gallus spirit before a match against Spain at the Bernabéu in 1963 when Francisco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano and Luis Del Sol tried to intimidate the Scots in the warm-up with their skill and swagger. “We all knew Dave Mackay’s party-piece,” said McLintock “and Jim Baxter decided now was the right time to unveil it. Jim called over and shouted, ‘Hey Marquis, see if you can catch this!’”

With that he tossed a coin 20ft in the air and Mackay “thrust out his right leg, bent at the knee, and caught the coin on his toe. He stood there for a second then flipped it back up in the air, caught it on his forehead, knocked it back up and caught it in his left eye socket then rolled it down his shoulder into his open blazer pocket and waltzed off back to the dressing room to thunderous applause.” Scotland won the match 6-2, a victory most of the players put down to Mackay’s capability to fight Spain’s psychological warfare in kind.

Spurs lost only once before Christmas, defeated at Hillsborough by Sheffield Wednesday who would run them closest in the title race. But it was the way they responded to a couple of draws and back-to-back defeats in March, which whittled their 10-point lead down to three, that proved their mettle. They hammered Chelsea 4-2, Preston North End 5-0 and edged Chelsea (again) 3-2 on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday. Three crucial wins in four days. Given that Tony Marchi deputised for the injured Mackay in the first two of those victories, it also proved that they were a fine enough side to cope with the loss of their brightest talent.

The Easter resurrection followed by a 3-2 victory over Birmingham City meant that beating Sheffield Wednesday on April 17 at White Hart Lane would clinch the title with three games to spare. Sixty-two thousand fans packed into the ground to watch a fiery, exacting match in which Tottenham fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1, Smith and Allen scoring in two late first-half minutes before Blanchflower punctured the intensity by shrewdly slowing the tempo after the break. Ten years after their first title in 1951, when Nicholson and his assistant Eddie Baily were in the side, Spurs were champions for the second, and to date final, time.

Bobby Smith, Terry Dyson, Cliff Jones, John White, Bill Brown, Maurice Norman, Ron Henry, Front row, l-r, Dave Mackay, Bill Nicholson (Manager) Danny Blanchflower, Peter Baker (hidden), Les Allen  - Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images
Bobby Smith, Terry Dyson, Cliff Jones, John White, Bill Brown, Maurice Norman, Ron Henry, Front row, l-r, Dave Mackay, Bill Nicholson (Manager) Danny Blanchflower, Peter Baker (hidden), Les Allen - Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

“Five thousand crazy fans, drunk with success, brushed police aside and rushed to join the gigantic chorus in front of the directors’ box calling for Danny, Danny, until I felt my ears would split,” wrote Peter Lorenzo in the Daily Herald. For once, a tearful Blanchflower was almost lost for words, but rallied to say something that was drowned out by the roars. Part one of their quest had been achieved and that was creditable enough. But scores of teams had won one of the two trophies in the preceding 64 years. Part two would come at Wembley 19 days later in the FA Cup final against McLintock and Leicester City.

Tottenham’s toughest encounter on the road to Wembley came at Roker Park in the sixth-round tie against Sunderland who had at last found some form in the Second Division after a precipitous slump since relegation in 1958. “The great Roker crowd, starved of glory for so long, could not contain itself,” wrote Blanchflower, a multi-talented man with a notable blind spot in theology, going by his description of the Roker reaction to the home side’s goal in the 1-1 draw: “They shot over the fence on to the field, hundreds of them, like mad Hindus waving their arms to the glory of Allah for the equaliser.” It was but a minor inconvenience, they beat them 5-0 in the replay back at the Lane in front of 65,000 and defeated the champions, Burnley, in the semi-final 3-0 at Villa Park.

The night before the final against Leicester City, the only side to beat them at home while the title race was still alive, Nicholson took the players into the West End to see The Guns of Navarone. Smith, frightened of his manager finding out how severe his knee injury was, crept out of the Hendon Hall Hotel the following morning at the crack of dawn to have two painkilling injections in his knee administered by his GP.

Tottenham Double -  Barnard/Fox Photos/Getty Images
Tottenham Double - Barnard/Fox Photos/Getty Images

The greatest occasion in the English football calendar, the FA Cup final, had been rendered a turkey in recent years by injuries and the prohibition on substitutes. Forest’s Roy Dwight broke his leg in 1959, Blackburn’s Dave Whelan fractured his the year after and both the 1952 finals – when four Arsenal players were hurt and limped on as passengers – and the 1953 classic, in which Bolton’s Eric Bell hobbled gamely out on the flank and even scored a goal, were distorted. The same was true of 1961 when Les Allen caught Leicester’s Lenny Chalmers with his studs and the right-back retreated on one leg to the wing for 70 minutes.

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It turned the match into a dull, attritional affair, Leicester understandably cautious, Tottenham lacking the usual fluency. It was settled by Smith, who scored the first and set up the second for Dyson in the 2-0 victory. When Blanchflower went up for the Cup there was a feeling of relief as much as elation. Nicholson, of whom one newspaper wrote “he shaves in ice water”, barely cracked a smile. “If anything, I felt a slight sense of dissatisfaction,” he wrote in his autobiography. "I had wanted us to play well and show how good we were, but the match had not been particularly entertaining.”

It was left to the mercifully more ebullient Cliff Jones to put it in proper perspective: “The Double - the Everest, the four-minute mile of soccer – had been done. And I was a member of the team that achieved it.” And as such, to Tottenham fans, his name will be immortal. The following afternoon the team gathered at Edmonton Town Hall for the open top bus parade down Tottenham High Road. The players had been doubtful, asserting that no one would turn up on a Sunday to see them. But the streets were packed and, as they passed the Royal Dancehall, the band was stationed on the balcony and serenaded them with the players’ anthem, Macnamara’s Band.

Tottenham Hotspur football club celebrate from the roof of an open top bus on their way to Tottenham Town Hall for a reception given by the Mayor, after winning the League title and the FA Cup 'double' - Fox Photos/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur football club celebrate from the roof of an open top bus on their way to Tottenham Town Hall for a reception given by the Mayor, after winning the League title and the FA Cup 'double' - Fox Photos/Getty Images

Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen and Dyson will always trip off the tongue of football supporters of an advanced age. Nicholson and Baily, too, and some will recall the contributions of those who also served: Marchi, Terry Medwin, Frank Saul, John Hollowbread, John Smith and Ken Barton. That’s what a ‘legacy’ is, not a dismissive slur on the dedication of generations of supporters from the places these clubs and players represent. Those who sing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Cups at White Hart Lane” will not forget the men who brought them there.