Myths of football
The myth of English footballing supremacy has long gone. I am not sure how this myth was created but I’m pretty sure the fact that the rules were recorded in this Sceptred Isle had something to do with it. English myths need heroes and the name Arthur is synonymous with that. One such Arthur is part of footballing mythology that is worthy of a tale of his own. We English folk are proud of our history.
Current football banter would have us believe Tottenham Hotspur were a club without success. They are certainly a club without a home. Their Arthur played centre-half for them from 1929-1939. He was appointed their manager 10 years later. Myths have a habit of repetitive phenomena.
Arthur: King of the magic moves and Prince of modesty
Arthur Rowe made some 182 appearances for this largely unsuccessful club but his real impact was in his leadership. In his first season as a manager, he took on a second division side and resurrected them. He certainly added some magic to Tottenham. This modest figure is really someone who has had a major impact on the game both at home and abroad.
All heroes learn their craft from another. Rowe credited the Scottish coach Peter McWilliam as an inspiration for the footballing revolution that came out of White Hart Lane. I don’t know if it was playing in harsh windy conditions that lead McWilliam to introduce his players to a short, precise passing game or his advanced understanding of space and movement. Either way, the idea of passing the ball to a teammate and running to space in order to receive the ball and move it up the pitch seems such a basic idea.
This was a novel idea back in 1949 and it saw Tottenham romp all the way back to Division One. They only lost once in the first 25 matches where this short passing game was introduced. They were top of the table for the whole season too. This style of play means that more players were given the opportunity to score. Les Medley was the top scorer that season with 18 and Len Duquemin netted 16. This second division side had four players selected for the England squad in the 1950 World Cup. Bill Nicholson, plus the newly-signed Alf Ramsay were selected along with goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn and inside-forward Eddie Baily.
Playing the Spurs way
This style of play captivated all who saw it and football was being transformed into the game we know today. On average, some 54,000 people came to watch Tottenham play every week which was more than double than any other team in that Division. They enjoyed the distinctive style of play that was known as ‘push and go.’
This method was flourishing on the continent too. Pre-war Rowe had been employed by the Hungarian government to train coaches. He might have stayed there had it not been for one A.Hitler. The Hungarians liked his ideas so much they used them to vanquish England at home, thereby ending the myth of English invincibility on their own soil. I am glad it was Gusztáv Sebes and Ferenc Puskás and the “Mighty Magyars” who did it and not the aforementioned dictator. In losing 6-3 at Wembley during a friendly, England took note and changed their style. At least Alf Ramsay took note!
Newly-promoted and on top
Tottenham won the First Division Championship the first season they were promoted. They seemed to demolish defences and work a kind of magic. I wonder if they would have won if Eddie Baily had been killed in action during World War Two. He was rumoured to have met his demise and they thought that his registration with Tottenham had lapsed. He decided to sign for Chelsea as he wanted to continue playing.
Who were the knights?
I am not sure quite how such a mix up could happen but he went to White Hart Lane much to the surprise of the staff. Chelsea benevolently released him from his contract and he resumed his pre-war career path. Can you imagine such openness today? Well, he was a key player in the side that won the League in 1951 and fans today still count him as one of the side’s greats.
Bill Nicholson was one of the other knights of Rowe’s table. He was playing when they lifted that trophy and managing when they won the first ever double in 1961. Without the inspiration of Arthur Rowe, none of this would have been conceivable.
Rowe had a small squad even by the standards set during the 1950s, and yet they had such impact. He made two notable signings, one being Alf Ramsay. England should note the impact of Tottenham on its ability to win trophies. I hope Gareth Southgate is taking note.
Arthur Rowe took early retirement from management due to ill health. Before he left, he made his second signing: Danny Blanchflower. Blanchflower captained the side of 1961. I guess the 10-year cycle of Tottenham is not really a myth after all. The myth is beyond legend as the achievements speak for themselves. The two-time winner of “Footballer of the Year” captained Tottenham when they became the first club to lift a European trophy. They won the Cup Winners Cup in 1963.
Legacy and inspiration
It is important to know your club’s history. In the days where the majesty of the game spoke for themselves, quiet unassuming gentlemen could have an impact. Without memes and media hype, the game-changing men may largely be forgotten. Arthur Rowe would have gladly let other people take credit for the magic he inspired.
We enjoy the fruits of his ideas and philosophy. The legions of Tottenham fans are waiting for another Arthur to rise and take them to glory once more. They will lift that Holy Grail once more and maybe, just maybe, England will awaken.
I think I am conflating myths and legends here. In the spirit of that myth let us hope for an English revival and with many Tottenham players leading the way who knows what will happen in Europe. Let’s do it in memory of the greatest Arthur that England has ever known.