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*Tommy Harmer

Posted on 24 January 2003  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Like his great pal, Johnny Brooks, Tommy Harmer suffered the misfortune of having his Spurs career sandwiched neatly between the 1951 first division championship side and the double-winning heroes of 1961.

He missed the medals but, nonetheless, this gifted Tom Thumb character was feted as an entertainer supreme by the sports writers of the day and, to many, it remains a mystery why he never played for the full England side. NEALE HARVEY visited him to find out why?...

Fifty years ago, September 8, 1951 to be precise, a 23 year-old will-o'-the-wisp inside-forward called Tommy Harmer made his Spurs debut in a 2-1 win against Bolton at The Lane. His performance eclipsed a galaxy of stars on the field that day and grabbed the attention of newspaper headline writers for days afterwards. A star, who would grace our hallowed turf for nine years, but perplex supporters and pundits alike, had been born.

"Tottenham's Tiny Tommy A Hero" declared The Evening News in the wake of the Bolton match, and its correspondent, George Chisholm, was moved to write: 'The near-62,000 crowd got most delight from a hitherto unknown tiny fellow named Tommy Harmer. This Hackney lad, who looks 16 but is seven years older, played with the cool footcraft, dummy-selling waggles and foresight of a man who might have been fitted in the side for years'.

A regular member of the British Army football team while stationed at Colchester after World War Two, Tommy was destined to make the big time after signing professionally for Spurs in 1948.

He was a member of our Eastern Counties League and East Anglian Cup-winning junior side the following year but, at 5ft 5ins and weighing just 9st 4lbs, question marks were always raised about his diminutive stature and presumed lack of stamina. This situation irritated him and, he feels, led to manager Arthur Rowe favouring Eddie Baily during his early years.

"He was all right, Arthur, and I knew him well, but Eddie was in my position and I couldn't really get in until he got injured, or eventually left in 1956," said Tommy, as he relived some old times while relaxing with his wife, Jean, in the former Spurs house in Hornsey they have lived in since 1954.

"The papers talked about my physique and said the club was feeding me steak to build me up, but that was all rubbish. It did annoy me and I got fed up with it because it wasn't true.

"I didn't need the stamina to be the type of player I was, because I wasn't one of those who tore in. They used to call me the 'Artful Dodger' because I could beat people and lay goals on.

"I took penalties as well, but not in the normal way. I'd put the ball down, then stand sideways on, making sure the goalie saw me looking at the right-hand side. Then I'd run up, stop and kind of mishit it into the other corner. I only ever missed one, at Leicester, when the keeper went early, but I got him back later when he stuck out a foot and I went over it. I whacked the second one in the other corner. Lovely that."

Despite playing second fiddle to Baily, Tommy continued to earn rave reviews during the 1951-52 season and no less a commentator of the day than the respected Charles Buchan nominated him as a potential 1952 Sportsman-of-the-Year. Having won a 'B' cap in 1950 he seemed certain to become an England international in the eyes of many but, somehow, it never quite happened for him.

Newspaper headlines like 'Wasted Talent', 'Harmer Is A Must' and 'What About Letting Harmer Have A Go' started to appear and following a Harmer-inspired 3-0 win over Aston Villa at Villa Park in October 1952, press man Jack Peart wrote: 'Tommy Harmer, Spurs' lightweight soccer charmer, is too frail, has no stamina and is too cocky - according to his critics. What rubbish. Forget the myths, Harmer trampled them into the cloying mud of Villa Park in the greatest exhibition of inside-forward craft seen there for 20 years. Yet Harmer played only because Eddie Baily was unfit. How can Spurs afford to do without this pocket-sized genius?'.

Such heady praise did nothing to shake Rowe's firm belief in Baily, however, and amid growing frustration Tommy submitted a transfer request which almost led to an unthinkable switch to Arsenal in 1954.

"After the Villa game I thought I'd killed the lack of stamina story," says Tommy. "After 90 minutes in the mud there I felt as fresh as anyone and could have gone on without feeling tired. I asked for a transfer and almost went to Arsenal but they said I couldnÕt go, so I ended up staying."

Lucky for Spurs he did. After Rowe handed the reigns to Jimmy Anderson in 1955, Tommy came into his own and the transfer of Baily to Port Vale in January 1956 gave him the opportunity he craved. Although he did not rate Anderson much as a manager the fact remains Tommy enjoyed two of his finest seasons under him, often switching to play on the right-wing.

After helping Spurs reach the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1955-56 - he scored in a 2-1 quarter-final replay victory at West Ham before being controversially dropped prior to the 1-0 semi-final defeat by Manchester City - Tommy established a delightfully creative midfield partnership with Danny Blanchflower that almost brought the first division title to The Lane in 1956-57.

Despite eventually finishing eight points behind champions Manchester United, Spurs outscored the Red Devils, with Tommy contributing no fewer than 17 of our 104 league goals. As the chirpy-Cockney finally justified his headlines this was undoubtedly his finest period in a Spurs shirt.

"When I asked to go on the transfer list I only did it for one reason. Not because I lost my place in the first team, but because the playing style of Spurs didn't suit my own style. When Spurs were playing differently and I was back at outside-right, I was enjoying it.

"I had too many good games to mention! Seriously, though, I always played the same - consistent - and my best ability was confidence. I was a ball player who could push the ball about and create goals for others. I played the game the right way and Danny was the same.

"Danny used to say: 'I wish you were Irish because I'd have won some more caps then'. He was all right, Danny; a good player and good mate of mine, who would come round my house and get wound up talking about football. Danny never had a drink but heÕd get very excitable. All the lads would come round my house - Terry Dyson, Alfie Stokes, Mel Hopkins and Johnny Brooks - and I still keep in touch with Mel and Johnny.

"I have to say, though, that although Jimmy Anderson was okay as a person, he wasn't a good manager. We went to Blackpool once and he was telling us to whack the ball up the field. Danny couldn't stand him and had a right go. 'You want us to whack the ball?' asked Danny. 'Yes,' replied Jimmy. 'Bloody hell,' says Danny, 'You get on here and whack it yourself then!'

"We were a footballing side - push and run - and we didn't pull any punches with managers because we're not silly."

With Tommy back to his best, an England call up for the 1958 World Cup finals seemed a formality but, once again, the pundits were left scratching their heads after Walter Winterbottom ignored our 'Mighty Atom'.

When Bill Nicholson - who Tommy describes as 'a hard man' - took over from Anderson in 1958, Harmer the Charmer, as he had become known by then, continued his fine form and reputedly made nine and scored the other in a 10-4 thrashing of Everton in one of Bill Nick's first matches in charge. After the match, however, Tommy told Bill: 'It wouldn't always be like that' - and how prophetic those words would prove.

Following the arrival of John White in October 1959, all seemed well as Harmer continued to figure strongly while Nicholson constructed the side that would win the double in 1960-61.

But following a close shave in 1959-60, when we missed the title by two points, Tommy's own honesty inadvertently paved the way for a transfer to Watford in October 1960 which meant him missing out on our greatest triumph.

"The double team was coming together and I played all the time. I even captained the side when Danny was injured. But after John White arrived he was playing out on the right and I said to Bill: 'He's a good player and can come inside. I'm 32, so let me go now'. I almost joined Alf Ramsey at Ipswich and ended up with Ron Burgess at Watford, but because of that I ended up missing the double.

"I was a bit sorry afterwards because you'd have liked to be part of that. But it was me telling Bill and I 'did' myself really. I still keep in touch with many of that side and we had a reunion dinner recently. When I walked in they were all taking the mickey, going: 'Aaaaagh!'".

After a year at Watford, Tommy had two successful seasons at Chelsea and scored the winning goal at Sunderland to clinch promotion from the second division for Tommy Docherty's fledgling side in 1963.

With remarkable irony, Tommy's final league match for Chelsea came at The Lane, when he was made captain for the day and created two goals for Bobby Tambling as they beat us 2-1. Some things never change.

After retiring in 1964 at the age of 36, Tommy worked briefly as a PE instructor at a local school before going back into the printing trade he left in 1949. But in 1969 he joined a city bank as a messenger and went on to spend over 20 years working for the Hapoalim Israeli Bank before retiring in 1995.

Tommy remains as fit as a fiddle. He plays golf twice a week off a 17 handicap and was certainly nimble enough to defeat this writer from the penalty spot in his back garden.

He attends most games at The Lane and can often be found in the hospitality suites entertaining our corporate guests with daring tales of old.

"I enjoyed my time and I'm content," says Tommy. "We enjoyed ourselves and you'd like to go on playing, but you can't. I was glad to play when I did, when it was still a game, and playing in front of 62,000 at The Lane was always amazing."

By Neale Harvey, Spurs Monthly