Chapter Seventeen – Comes The Revolution (cont.)
The players had acted firmly and with dignity through these long negotiations, and always with restraints in their public utterances. All this must have seemed a triumph. At least, that was how the Press hailed the settlement. Certainly the League officials had used some Victorian language in their references to the players, who felt that right, and increasingly, public opinion was on their side. Every club had formed strike committees and almost every committee had arranged alternative jobs for most of the players. Jimmy Hill canvassed all the top stars of the game and they all pledged complete support to what we all considered a common cause. It was an exciting time. But as the game went on uninterrupted and the weeks passed, some ominous mutterings came from club chairmen – they were worried about the ‘freedom’ of the players at the end of contracts, they said they had given no mandate to their representatives to make any such agreement, this would be the end of organised football as we had known it, and so on. And at a meeting in March, the club chairmen went back on the agreement! They said they would accept the abolition of the maximum wage but not the changes in the retention clause, despite the fact that a newspaper more than a year earlier had taken QC’s opinion on the legality of the footballers’ contract and got the ruling that it would not survive examination in the courts. Mr Ted Hill, chairman of the TUC said this was the most diabolical double-cross in the history of industrial relations, questions were asked in the House of Commons and there John Hare (pictured, right), by implication, agreed with Ted Hill. It was clear that if the players had won a battle, they had not yet won the war. Communiqués from the battleground had filled the newspapers for day after week after month, flooded the television screens, bruised the airways, yet despite this critical battling in the board rooms and conference rooms, something wonderful was happening on football fields up and down the country. The Spurs had quickly emerged as the team of the season, and some said the greatest team in the history of the game.
They were certainly that in one respect – achievement. Spurs won the League Championship and the FA Cup, the magical ‘double’, the thing that so many people said and believed could never happen again. To do it, Spurs had to play fifty tough, first-class matches. They set up records galore – a record number of opening wins, of successive open matches without defeat, record number of points away from home, and equalled the maximum number of points ever won in a season and on and on and on. It is all in the record book now. Their achievement was astonishing, so astonishing that it may take us quite a few more seasons to appreciate it fully. Not for sixty-four years had any team done the double and then Aston Villa did it in vastly different and easier circumstances. Indeed it might be another sixty-four years before any other team repeats it.
Almost as important as the achievement itself has been the manner of the achievement. In the nature of things, apart from the matches in which Fulham played them, I saw Spurs very seldom, mostly on television and I do not take much notice of that. But they obviously played brilliantly throughout the season. They acquired a faculty of playing in tremendous concentrated bursts of accurate football at the highest possible speed. These have almost always proved irresistible. When we played them at Tottenham they went off like eleven bombs at the start – flat out for fifteen minutes, and a nice lead built up.
For perhaps an hour in between we seemed well in the game. We had the score pulled back to 2-1 down and got close to equalising. Then for the final fifteen minutes they stormed again and although we had thought we might equalise and save the match, they produced the late goals and walked off with it, 5-1. Yet we were convinced we had had as much of the game as Spurs! At the Cottage, we had a prodigious game with them, a match played at furious speed, helter-skelter, full of marvellous shooting from both attacks, marvellous goalkeeping, but no score – and Fulham playing perhaps their best game of the season. It probably had to be, just to hold them. Spurs probably reached a point where they thought, each time they walked on the field they would win, and the possibility of losing simply never entered their heads. As the season went on, they forced super-football from every other team.
It's All In The Game was published by Arthur Baker Limited.
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