Cliff Jones: “You could say we played for the double that day at Villa Park”
59 years ago today - a crucial win in the double season
Wed 18 March 2020, 13:40|Tottenham Hotspur
There were, of course, so many notable games in our double season of 1960/61.
Victory against Villa on 24 September set a record for successive wins - 10 - at the start of a season, soon extended to 11 at Wolves, but halted with a draw against City on 10 October. Victory over Sheffield Wednesday on 17 April secured the title with three games remaining. The historic double was achieved with a 2-0 win against Leicester in the FA Cup Final on 6 May.
Yet for many, the key match was the FA Cup semi-final against Burnley 59 years to this day, 18 March, 1961.
Led by Harry Potts, Burnley were the reigning champions, sitting fourth in the table and packed full of stars - the likes of Jimmy McIlroy, Jimmy Adamson, John Connelly, huge players at the time - and no doubt determined to stop our run to league and FA Cup glory.
Throw into the mix that we’d had a minor stumble - one league win in five in late February/March - and our lead had been cut by Sheffield Wednesday from 12 to four AND we were bidding for our first FA Cup Final since 1921 (we’d lost semi-finals in 1922, 1948, 1953 and 1956) AND our first final at Wembley Stadium (1901 was at Crystal Palace and then a replay at Bolton’s old Burnden Park, 1921 at Stamford Bridge) - and you can imagine the pressure not just on the players, but felt by the 22,000 Spurs fans who travelled to Villa Park to cheer us on.
They needn’t have worried.
As was the case in that season of seasons, Bill Nicholson and the players delivered. After a tough game, Burnley were eventually dispatched 3-0 thanks to two goals from Bobby Smith and one from Cliff Jones. With that major hurdle overcome, the rest of the pieces fell into place. Title secured, FA Cup won, double and greatness achieved.
Now 85 and one of the Club’s all-time greats, Cliff fondly remembers this defining moment. “The week before we played Cardiff City and Bill took us off to the Gower, Swansea (to The Mumbles seaside town) to prepare for the semi-final, the beaches, fresh air,” he recalled.
“The weather was good, and it was an amazing time down there, perfect preparation. This was a crucial game, don’t worry about that, certainly in terms of the double.
“Burnley and Tottenham were the teams to watch at that time. They were the champions and we put bums on seats. It was felt whoever won that semi-final would then fancy themselves to go on and win the final (Leicester, who finished sixth, played Sheffield United, then in the old Division Two, in the other semi-final – Leicester won after a replay).
“Look at our teams," he continued. "We had Danny Blanchflower, they had Jimmy Adamson. They had Brian Miller, we had Dave Mackay. Then there was John Connelly, a very quick winger, and myself, but I was quicker, scored more goals and was better looking!
“We knew if we could beat them and get to the final, then hopefully wrap up the league title (that was done against Sheffield Wednesday on 17 April) then we’d be on. You could say we played for the double on that day at Villa Park.”
Burnley had lost narrowly to Hamburg in the European Cup quarter-finals (5-4 on aggregate) that week and came out firing on all cylinders. Bill Brown saved well from Connelly and Jimmy Robson. Bobby Smith fired in the opener and then cracked a spectacular volley from 20 yards for 2-0, goals either side of half-time leaving us in command, with Cliff wrapping it up in the last minute. Wembley, here we come!
“It was one of our best performances, a great win,” said Cliff. “It was a special feeling to get to the final. It was the Club’s first at Wembley and we were the first team in the modern era to go on and clinch that double.
“People always remember firsts - Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier, Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon - and we were the first team to win the double. It’s been done since, but that will never be taken away from us.”