Updated: May 10, 2020
As Adam Powley and I say in the introduction to our latest book: “There is a time in a football fan’s life when one team comes to symbolise all that is best about his or her club.” Keith Burkinshaw’s Spurs were, for the authors, that side. The team had bounced back from the ignominy of relegation at the first attempt, and were forging a reputation for attractive football.
We had Glenn Hoddle, the greatest talent of his generation, we had two Argentine stars at a time when ‘foreign footballers’ usually came from Wales, Scotland or Ireland, we had Crooks and Archibald up front and Tony Galvin on the wing, we had Steve Perryman – described by the team psychologist – another Spurs first – as “the greatest captain I ever worked with.” The team won cups, most famously The Greatest FA Cup Final of All Time in 1981 which was capped off with The Greatest FA Cup Final Goal of All Time and gave us Spurs fans something to be proud of again.
But telling the story of that team had attractions beyond those of club loyalty. Football people liked that Spurs side. We quote Patrick Barclay saying in a newspaper report at the time: “If every team played like Spurs, football’s only problem would be in pacifying the herds of supporters unable to get into packed grounds. They bring beauty to the game, and people like that.”
That Spurs side are one of the few that transcended tribal loyalties, and in the book we mention Brian Clough’s Europe-conquering Nottingham Forest side as another. And arguing that point takes us back to another age, and reveals the nostalgic vein which we also believed made this not only a story worth telling, but which made it a marketable one.
Even the thought of a football team ‘transcending tribal loyalties’ seems old-fashioned now in an age when the marketing monster that is modern football has so thoroughly commoditised supporter loyalty. An appreciation of the greater beauty of the game is seen as somehow detracting from the ‘need’ for the team you support to always win, to always achieve more. Spurs were no minnows, but the fact that they had come back from adversity after previous glories had faded underlined that most sporting of characteristics, that anyone had a chance of winning.
We believed the story of this team would be of interest beyond just the obvious market of Spurs fans for those reasons, and also for one other very significant reason. To quote again from our introduction: “What makes this group so special is about more than just what they achieved. They were, arguably, the last generation of players with whom the fans could really identify. They came from similar backgrounds as the vast majority of the supporters, and while they enjoyed a comfortable and glamorous lifestyle they took home only a fraction of what today’s often remote and aloof superstars can expect to earn”. It’s an unashamed pitch for the nostalgia spend, but also – we believed – a story worth telling, an age and a set of values worth preserving for posterity.
At the time we wrote the book, we described The Boys from White Hart Lane as making up “the last great Tottenham team”. Since then, another team has emerged to compete for affections of Spurs fans. As I write this, the 2011 vintage have yet to win any silverware but they have taken the club to heights not seen for years, playing attractive football under Harry Redknapp, a similarly no-nonsense manager. They may, in time, become the next great Tottenham team. But, in 25 years, it’s unlikely we’ll be discussing the night we beat AC Milan at the San Siro over a cuppa with Peter Crouch, or talking though every step of the goals against Inter with Gareth Bale in his back garden. The fact that we could talk at such length and so frankly with the Boys from White Hart Lane made the book a rare pleasure to write and, we hope, a pleasure to read.
• The Boys from White Hart Lane is available direct from Vision Sports Publishing in paperback for £6.99 or ebook on Kindle for £5.97.