‘Aristocrats’ Spurs On Show

On Sunday, August 28th, the Sky TV circus rolls into town to cover the City Ground late-afternoon fixture. Currently in the top ten of highest-earning clubs in the world, visitors Tottenham Hotspur, managed by Antonio Conte (a pitch-side pugilist of late!) and captained by Harry Kane (recent scorer of his 250th goal for the club), take on the Reds.

“Since the war there have been few more successful club sides in the whole world than today’s visitors, Tottenham Hotspur, and certainly in the last decade none that have captured the headlines more frequently.” Is this joint Premiership-Sky hype to promote the forthcoming game?

Clearly not. We’ve had other wars since, we could assume ‘the war’ to be World War Two. And it has to be said, a couple of other teams’ success has shone more brightly in the last ten years of the Premiership. The quote in question is from a section of my May 1963 programme (price – six old pence) called ‘Trentside Topics’. It was a First Division fixture and the first time I saw Tottenham live at the City Ground. I have no recollection of the match, other than it ended 1-1. Given the stature and status of Spurs at the time, that was a decent result.

It was one of the few occasions when my dad could sneak in a match between long shifts at Boots and we must have picked up my granddad because he always bought me a match-day programme. We stood on the kop and I remember being introduced to a word used in a new way by my dad: ‘aristocrats’. Tottenham Hotspur had just won the European Cup Winner’s Cup, the first British club to lift a UEFA trophy and now they were gracing us with their presence.

‘They’re like aristocrats,’ he said, reverentially. ‘They’ve got class. And cups. Look at what they’ve won.’ Captain, Danny Blanchflower, had overseen Spurs win the league and FA Cup double in 1960-61, the first club to ‘do the double’ in the 20th century. Next season, they retained the Cup and now we could watch a team with European silverware and the most talked-about striker that year: Jimmy Greaves, goalscoring
machine. They also had the ‘cultured’ John White . Forest had the reliable Peter Grummett in goal and their long-standing captain, Bob McKinlay at centre-half. And in the days of two wingers, they had Trevor Hockey and ‘Dick’ Le Flem, both of whom could score…occasionally.

During those years, my mum house-cleaned for a family in Edwalton a couple of times a week and called them ‘aristocrats’. If a neighbour couldn’t keep an eye on me in school holidays, I’d take the bus from Clifton with her and be under instructions not to touch anything or be a nuisance and to remember my manners. Mostly, the house was empty and I was left to roam downstairs whilst she rushed through her morning chores. I found a walk-in cupboard full of golf-clubs and wooden tennis rackets in their presses but no football. Finally, when I explored the rambling garden and tennis court, I saw an old and forgotten tennis ball. I hid it before we left so I could play footie again next time. Aristocrats and didn’t own a football!

“Introducing Our Visitors. The personalities of the Tottenham team are almost household names wherever people gather to talk about football…” True. That’s from the ’63 programme again. My football annuals and magazines of the early sixties were dominated by photos of their team. Even Mum was familiar with a few favourites. When she heard that John White – a year or so after I’d seen him play – had been struck by lightning and killed while sheltering under a tree on a golf course, she shed a tear.

The last time I saw Spurs at the City Ground was in February 1996, a Fifth Round FA Cup tie, remembered more for the weather than what happened on the pitch. ‘Stay here, Steve, you can’t drive home in this,’ pleaded my mum when I dropped Dad off after a slalom ride through Beeston and back to their house. Snow flurries plastered the windscreen on the drive up the motorway, intensified as we drove to the game, and had ground-staff shovelling to clear the pitch markings before kick-off. Then we had the unusual appearance of an orange match-ball and then a whiteout. Never mind spot the ball, you could barely make out the players and they soon returned to the dressing room. We waited for the snow to abate but it never did. Match abandoned and an exhausting return journey along the one lane of the motorway kept open.

For the record, the rearranged game – which I missed – was a draw. So too was the replay at White Hart Lane until Forest (with an inspired Mark Crossley goalkeeping display) ran out winners in a penalty shoot-out. It was an underwhelming period for Tottenham, despite having the likes of Sol Campbell and Teddy Sheringham (sold by Forest after scoring their first ever Premiership goal!) and the Reds weren’t setting the world alight as their cup run fizzled out in the next round.

Tottenham Hotspur and Forest have had familiar peaks and troughs in their time. Like all clubs, both had humble origins. Spurs still have a cockerel crest to remind us of the cock-fighting past at the White Hart pub which gave its name to their ground. That’s now been replaced by their 60,000 seat stadium. Forest, we know, have their own plans for City Ground development and now they are back to compete with the best.

Come Sunday, either at the ground or courtesy of Sky Sports, let’s hope we see the Reds rise to the occasion against the ‘aristocrats’!

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @SpursOfficial Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves in action verses Nottingham Forest.

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