If one man was born to play for Spurs then that man was Johnny Brooks.
Despite hailing from Reading, the young Brooks was a Tottenham fan from day one, attracted to the Lane by manager Arthur Rowe’s magical 'Push and Run' side that raced to promotion in 1950 and then eclipsed Division One the following year.
Johnny joined us from his home town club in February, 1953, when Rowe showed that he mirrored Johnny’s affection for Spurs by beating a number of other top clubs to his signature and allowing home grown pair Dennis Uphill and Harry Robshaw to make the reverse journey to Elm Park in exchange.
Brooks understandably found the transition from Division Three South to the top flight a tough one in the early days but, once he became a first team regular in 1955, he adapted to the challenge with such casual ease that he stepped up for his senior England debut within a year.
Looking back, the fact that he scored twice in three international games should have brought him further recognition but he was unfortunate to play in an era when Johnny Haynes was first choice. It was an exceptional goals per game ratio that these days would see him pencilled in as the first name on the team sheet.
So Johnny just went back to Tottenham, doing what he did best and what he revelled in at any level – sticking that ball in the old onion bag! He scored 46 times in 166 league outings for us plus another five in 13 FA Cup games. And he created so many more.
So why did Bill Nicholson sell him to Chelsea in December, 1959? Well, for starters such was his deserved reputation that we received seven times the fee that we paid for him. And although Nick particularly wanted Les Allen, so successful a component in our Double side, Bill once told me that he would have kept John but Chelsea boss Ted Drake insisted. Drake also knew that Brooks was unique while the player himself was far too good to play a supporting role in our side, with a few cameo appearances but mostly confined to general squad duties.
Former Spurs player and manager Terry Venables provided his own written tribute which was read out at Johnny’s well attended ‘service of celebration and thanksgiving.’ In it he revealed that Brooksy never gave it the 'big one’ but genuinely could not fathom the confidence and admiration that others applied to him.
Indeed, Venables rated him so much that he included Johnny in his 2001 book of ‘Football Heroes,’ with Brooks in there alongside the likes of Pele, Bobby Moore, George Best, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Alfredo di Stefano, John Charles, Tom Finney, Duncan Edwards and company.
Said Terry: “His ability amazed me. His ball control was exceptional – and he had this rare ability to run faster with the ball than without it. Johnny could also pass the ball wonderfully well. He had an unforgettable body swerve... one that could also make supporters fall out of their seats!”
The two were at Chelsea together when Terry described Johnny as his ‘hero.’ In fact Brooks was in the side when Venables made his Blues debut at the age of 17 and naturally Terry still remembers the game.
“I was playing with my hero so it was a big moment for me. At half-time I was sitting opposite Johnny in the dressing room. He stood up, mug of tea in hand, strolled over in that impressive style of his, sat down next to me and I thought this was it – words of advice or encouragement, some gold dust from my idol.
“Instead he turned round to me and asked: ‘How do you think I’m doing, Tel?’”
Not only was Johnny a wonderful player but his enthusiasm was infectious. He just loved playing football – even, as Terry recalled, to the detriment of his winkle-pickers in park kick-abouts.
And that fact was continually aired yesterday as his family and former team mates spoke of him as a man always willing to join in any game as he played on into his fifties with various Hertfordshire amateur sides, in what was a fascinating insight into his overall footballing outlook.
A different man, a different footballer. But clearly a special one.