NORMAN GILLER is still getting a buzz from writing about football, especially when he remembers the sublime skills of the likes of John White
I am coming to you bathed in perspiration having just fought a battle royal with a wasp the size of a Lancaster bomber. My writing regime demands that I am ready to start clattering my computer keyboard at seven o’clock each morning. Today, I had uninvited company.
Half asleep, I popped two slices of bread into the toaster and put the kettle on. What, I wondered, was that buzzing sound? Banging his stupid head against the glass window was a huge wasp, getting angrier by the second.
I reached forward and, in true Francis of Assisi spirit, pushed open the window and watched him fly off.
Then I shuffled to my study and switched on the computer. Just as I was about to return to the kitchen, my dopey new companion, who had aimlessly flown back in through another window, joined me.
But he was not coming in a mood of friendship. For reasons known only to him, he started to dive bomb me.
Perhaps I should mention at this point that I was starkers, as I followed my morning routine of tea-toast-computer-dressing gown. I had not got to the dressing gown bit.
Wasps worry me at the best of times. Standing naked in my 12-foot by 12-foot study, I suddenly knew what George Foreman felt like in the eighth round of his Rumble in the Jungle with Muhammad Ali. I briefly considered rope-a-dope but knew he would not fall for that old trick. I was trying to float like a butterfly while he was about to sting like a, uh, wasp. He ducked and dived like a born warrior as if he knew he was attacking a born worrier.
I found a feather duster as my weapon, and for several minutes of mimed madness I swiped away at him like a nude Errol Flynn. Not a pretty sight.
Just as I was about to deliver the coup de grace he was saved by the bell. Actually, the fire alarm. The bloody toast was burning, and I almost jumped out of my exposed skin. I had to wave my weapon – the feather duster that is – at the alarm to stop it dinging, and I was now seriously concerned about the wasp stinging.
It took me a full 15 minutes to finally knock him unconscious and deposit him in the dustbin. Once I have finished this column, I will see if I can mend the ceiling light fitting and bookshelf damaged during the altercation. And I will explain to my elderly upstairs neighbour how and why I woke her with the sounds of fighting and an alarm bell.
Oh yes, and I will make sure I am dressed. By the way, for those of you with rich imaginations I am no longer starkers as I type this blog with waspish wit.
MY REGULAR READER will know that I usually manage to find a nostalgic sporting theme from the unlikeliest of foundations and today is no exception. My thought process went wasp to Wasps to Alloa Athletic. The knowledgeable among you will know that is the Scottish Second Division club’s nickname, and it’s where John White – one of the great footballers of the 1960s – started his career.
John was as skilled and creative a midfield player as I have ever clapped eyes on, like a cross between Glenn Hoddle and Gazza. He was all guile and style, the poet of the exceptional Tottenham team that became the first 20th Century winners of the League and FA Cup double 50 years ago this season.
Everything rhymed for “Super Spurs” when John was in full flow, beautifully decorating a midfield dominated by Scottish powerhouse Dave Mackay and Irish pass master Danny Blanchflower, to my mind, the finest midfield trio ever in British football.
John did not take the eye like Danny Boy and the swashbuckling Mackay, and worked so quietly on behalf of the team that the fans called him The Ghost of White Hart Lane. It was only in after-match analysis that his influence became evident. More than 70 per cent of the goals scored in the Double year – 115 in the League alone – were found to have been blessed in some way by White’s magical touch.
Away from the pitch John was a real rascal, and you had to keep your wits about you if you were in his company. He thought nothing of dropping a salt cellar in your pocket, or tying your shoelaces together. John and his best pal Cliffie Jones – The Terrible Twins, as manager Bill Nicholson called them – were always up to mischief.
There was one famous time when the police were called to a Manchester hotel because it had been reported somebody was in danger. It was the morning of a Tottenham match against Manchester United, and to amuse themselves – as you do – John was dangling from a hotel window shouting for help, while Cliffie was hanging on to him from inside the room.
They used to drive serious-minded Bill Nick to distraction with their madcap behaviour.
But it was all in fun, and the day in the summer of 1964 that John was cruelly killed by a bolt of lightning during a solo game of golf, Bill Nick cried his eyes out. John was 27 and in his prime as a supreme footballer.
THE REASON I AM RECOUNTING all this is that his son, Rob White, is bringing out a book called The Ghost of White Hart Lane, In Search of My Father.
Rob was just a baby boy when his dad was so tragically killed, and he has been meaning to write the book for years. John would be so proud of his son, who is now an acclaimed photographer and creative enough to have set up a website on which he has been charting the progress of his book.
It is now nearing completion, and he has been wise enough to have as his collaborator the queen of football writers, Julie Welch.
I knew Julie when she was a mere princess, the first woman reporter to set foot in the male-dominated football press boxes (I won’t tell anybody, Jules, that it was more than 40 years ago). I was one of the hairy-arsed kings of the castle at the time, as chief football reporter on the Daily Express in the days when we sold 4.2 million copies a day.
When Julie made her first appearance, I told her in my condescending way, “If you’re struggling, love, don’t hesitate to ask for any help.”
She was a real blusher in those days, turned a nice shade of Liverpool red and mumbled thanks, while her eyes said: “Don’t call me love …”
I read her debut report in the Observer and it was my turn to blush. She made my report seem about as interesting as a dozy Dorset bus timetable. Not only had she broken through the male barrier, but she proceeded to write most of us under the table.
And she’s still doing it. This month we have both brought out books on the historic Tottenham League and Cup triumph of 1960-61. Hers, which has the official backing of the club, is so much better than mine ( which the club prefers not to stock) that I should not mention it in the same sentence.
Watch out for the book she is writing with Rob White on The Ghost of White Hart Lane. It is certain to be a cracker.
It will be a book with a sting in the tale, which is a fitting way to end this blog on how I nearly got a sting in the tail.
I will now buzz off.
Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.