Updated: May 10
The book is Rob White’s story of his relationship with his father, Spurs legend John White. Rob was just a few months old when his dad was killed by lightning at a golf course in Enfield in 1964. So he grew up knowing all about his dad, but at the same time knowing almost nothing. Rob and Julie have together written a compelling book that says as much about family relationships and notions of masculinity as it does about sport.
And if that sounds a bit too sociological or personally confessional, it’s not. It’s written in a direct and honest style that leaves you in no doubt about the authenticity of the feelings expressed. So you get a clear sense of just how good a player John White was as well as a portrait of a man who seemed to have been universally liked. And you also get a fascinating portrait of family bonds and of the challenges of living in the shadow of a legend.
As far as I know, this is the first time John White’s influence has been so fully assessed, with comment from journalists and former colleagues painting a picture of a star of yesteryear who could have held his own with the best of today – including Barcelona. Interviewed on the radio after the book’s launch, Rob made the interesting observation that John’s death marked something of a passing of power from Spurs to Manchester United. Bill Nicholson had planned to build his second great team around John’s abilities, but instead the late Sixties saw Manchester United rise playing the kind of successful and attractive football that had characterised the Spurs team in the public’s imagination. There are plenty of White’s former colleagues from Scotland who also argue in the book that 1966 could have been a very different story if John had been playing for Scotland too.
John’s Scottish background features large in the book, with Rob’s keen sense of place providing some atmospheric passages. Rob’s remarkably honest about his feelings without being mawkish, and his exploration of family connection and identity is every bit as engaging as the tale of John’s career – this could have been a book of two halves but the two strands have been expertly woven together. There’s plenty here about male role models, the challenges of being a dad, and the realisation that even legends have human flaws but that this makes them more human rather than diminished legends. In fact, it’s one of the most engaging reads about male identity in a sporting context I’ve read since Tony Cascarino’s Full Time.
I should mention that I’m lucky enough to know and have worked with Julie, and to have worked a little with Rob too. In fact, the initial contact that led to this book was made when Julie and I were part of the team that worked on the Spurs Opus. Designer Doug Cheeseman introduced the pair, and Rob was extremely helpful to us with the 61 – The Spurs Double book. But I’m not praising the book to big up my mates. It really is a thoroughly recommended read and a welcome original contribution to the world of sports books. And you will need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the conclusion.