Book review: Blanchflower: the ego and the elegance

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The Independent Online
Danny Blanchflower - A Biography of a Visionary

Dave Bowler (Victor Gollancz, hardback, pounds 16.99)

In his time and in his way, Danny Blanchflower was British football's most significant figure. He was a man of measureless ambition and ego but he was also a man undyingly faithful, in a manner, to the game and his public.

The men who spent their youth playing side by side with Blanchflower remember. They remember him more clearly than the sportswriters who travelled with him or the fans who watched him; even more clearly, perhaps, than the women - the wives, daughters and girlfriends - who loved him. For they knew the extent of his imagination and influence. "When I remember him it is with a smile," the Tottenham Hotspur and Welsh international Cliff Jones says in Dave Bowler's biography He'd say `Football's a beautiful game,' and that's the way he played it, the way he lived his life."

However, not all you have ever heard about Blanchflower on a football field is necessarily the truth. He did have exceptional gifts and superlative football instincts. He did put his stylish stamp on a brill- iant Tottenham team and represent the game's best values. But in an ordinary team Blanchflower could be more of a problem than a blessing.

Bowler doesn't appear to be entirely convinced about this but he quotes the reasons Bill Nicholson gave for leaving out Tottenham's elegant captain in 1959 when trouble threatened. "Danny was a culprit in that bad run," Nicholson said, "taking too many liberties. In a poor side he was an expensive luxury."

In attempting to get at what Blanchflower was really like Bowler calls up many witnesses but touches only lightly on the paradoxes in the Ulsterman's nature. In fact, he was absorbed in himself and his talent and, although generous to team-mates and fans, less than tactful, sometimes less than sensitive.

Blanchflower gained international status as captain of a surprisingly successful Northern Ireland team in the 1958 World Cup finals but it was not until Tottenham set off on the great adventure that brought them the League and Cup double in 1961 and fame throughout football that he achieved greatness as a player.

Nobody made the autumn of Blanchflower's career more comfortable and filled with renown than Dave Mackay who provided a great deal more than the aggressive support Bowler imagines. In suggesting that Blanchflower's brief experience at Barnsley alongside a notable hard man "Skinner" Normanton was a hint of things to come, Bowler overlooks the marvellous extent of Mackay's skill, the probability that he, not Blanchflower, is the greatest player in Tottenham's history.

- Ken Jones