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Danny Blanchflower - captain, leader, all-time great

Posted on 10 February 2016  - 10:00

One of the club's all-time greats, double-winning captain Danny Blanchflower, would have turned 90 today (Wednesday, February 10).

All smiles with Bill and the lads after recording a record 10th straight win at the start of the 1960-61 double-winning campaignDanny at the Lane in 1955Danny with the team after clinching the championship in April, 1961Shaking hands with Atletico Madrid captain Enrique Collar ahead of the 1963 European Cup Winners Cup FinalParading the European CWC in 1963

This excellent programme article on Danny Blanchflower, originally published in April, 1984, under the apt headline ‘Giant from the Past,’ told us so much about a man who was probably our greatest ever player that we re-print it here.

AS Danny Blanchflower prepared to leave Aston Villa after three years with the Birmingham club, he faced an agonising decision.

Would he accept Arthur Rowe’s offer of a £30,000 move to Tottenham... or would he go to Arsenal?

Fortunately he opted for Spurs, leading us to the League and FA Cup ‘double’ in 1961, the FA Cup once again the following season and European Cup Winners’ Cup glory in 1963.

His influence on the side at the time proved so strong that one wonders what would have happened if the unthinkable had occurred and Danny moved to Highbury!

Rowe first met Blanchflower after watching Wales beat Northern Ireland 3-0 at Swansea in 1952. Despite the scoreline, Blanchflower was brilliant that day and made a big enough impact on the Spurs chief to encourage him to monitor his progress from then on.

He was brilliant that day,” recalled Rowe.  “He made other people play.”

Below: Danny with the spoils of the double, the league championship and FA Cup trophies

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Two years later Rowe paid a record fee for a wing-half to bring the Belfast-born Blanchflower to White Hart Lane. And, despite early hiccups, it was to be an inspired signing.

“I wanted Danny as a captain,” continued Rowe. “He was a natural leader with the kind of commanding personality that compelled respect.”

Blanchflower and Rowe shared the same ideals and ideas. So when they met again in the old billiard room at Villa Park they gelled immediately. They were on the same wavelength from the onset.

Blanchflower had been reputedly offered £500 – a lot of money in those days – to stay at Villa. But Danny, who had always played and talked football with authority, could not be bought.

His destiny was to lead one of the greatest teams in modern times to glory. Yet, in those early days, life at Tottenham turned into the sort of nightmare that players these days assume to be only a current phenomenon.

Blanchflower had been playing for Glentoran for £3 a match after RAF service during the war. He joined Barnsley in 1949 but less than two years later he was on his way to Villa.

Now he was at Tottenham and the world seemed his oyster with Rowe, as promised, making him captain. But uncertainty and aggravation were just around the corner.

Within a year Rowe retired. His assistant Jimmy Anderson took over and, within a short space of time, dropped Blanchflower for making tactical changes during a game.

The confrontation blew up in the 1956 FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park where Spurs lost to Manchester City. Blanchflower had swapped Johnny Brooks with centre-half Maurice Norman in an effort to pull back the deficit. It was a good idea that failed and Danny was banished.

Yet the partnership that was about to shock the soccer world was just around the corner. In late 1958 Bill Nicholson replaced the ailing Anderson and quickly offered Danny his old job.

“Danny had always felt that making changes on the field was the captain’s responsibility,” recalled Bill. “But it took two long meetings before he would accept the job again.”

Nicholson’s assessment was that he probably had the best players in each position in the country. But he conceded that, in a crucial game, where a switch needed to be made, he would leave it to Blanchflower’s commonsense. From then on the partnership clicked.

In the twilight of those ‘Glory Years,’ Blanchflower was struggling with a knee injury and took on the role of Nick’s assistant. It was the end of a glorious playing era but Blanchflower threw himself into coaching with gusto.

He had steered Northern Ireland to the last eight in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and had controlled Tottenham’s greatest years.

He was 37 when they carried him shoulder high around the Feyenoord stadium after that great 5-1 win over Atletico Madrid. Despite the knee injury, Danny had inspired Spurs to one of our greatest nights. But already that Spurs side was breaking up.

The bludgeoning Dave Mackay, the speed of Cliff Jones, the guile of Jimmy Greaves combined with the power of Bobby Smith and the no-nonsense Maurice Norman were fading. Age, that destroyer of perfection, was already at the dressing room door.

It was machine of sweet majesty oiled by the sweat of necessity and driven by Blanchflower. It may never be matched.

Danny, twice Footballer of the Year, called it a day and in 1964 chose to concentrate on journalism, although he spent three years as manager of Northern Ireland and nine months, in 1979, in charge of Chelsea.

By then he was seeking values in the game that no longer existed. But he has never soured the memory of a career that spanned the greatest years in Tottenham’s history.

As he once said: “I am not disillusioned with the game because I never had too many illusions to start with.”

Below: Danny after we retained the FA Cup in 1962

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There were sad times too. His younger brother Jackie, a promising wing-half with Manchester United, lost an arm and almost his life, in the Munich air disaster in 1958.

Danny was nicknamed the ‘Rabbit’ as a young player because he was so slight and labelled a rebel at Barnsley and Villa because he spoke his mind. He even arrived at Oakwell with two other players as the cheapest part of a combined fee of £7,500 – hardly a confidence booster at that age.

He survived all the hardships and deserved all the laurels as a brilliant tactician combining vision, precision and inspiration, gaining 56 international caps without ever letting soccer rule his life.

His words, on leaving his role as Northern Ireland manager, could be his epitaph.

“I would rather leave a little too early than too late,” he said.

Danny Blanchflower played 382 matches for us between 1954-63. As captain, he led us to the double in 1961, retained the FA Cup in 1962 and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1963. He passed away in 1993.