Tasks don’t come much tougher than this: A match against treble-winners and Champions League holders Inter Milan at the San Siro tonight. As Tottenham Hotspur have risen from bottom of the Premier League two years ago when Harry Redknapp took over to playing on the biggest stage in Europe, the thoughts of former glory that come with heightened ambitions are cast back 38 years to when the Spurs side of 1971-72 won the inaugural edition of the UEFA Cup.
Having lifted the 1963 European Cup Winners’ Cup, Spurs beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate in the two-leg final to become the first British club to win two different major European trophies.
Bill Nicholson’s Spurs dispatched much weaker sides like Iceland’s Keflavík ÍF and Rapid Bucharest during the opening stages and finished the competition worthy winners. But it was the semi-final against A.C. Milan that was the high point of the season and provided the climax for one of the best books you’ll find in the “football/soccer” section at any fine bookstore, Hunter Davies’ The Glory Game.
When the Scots-born Davies moved to London at the start of the 1960s he began going to White Hart Lane because of the entertaining brand of football the famous 1961 double-winning side played. Davies was given the opportunity to follow his adopted team on a much more intimate level and document it in 1971 when, after being first being turned down by both Arsenal and Chelsea, he insinuated himself into the Spurs squad for the entirety of the season.
Davies, who went on to pen biographies of The Beatles and William Wordsworth among others, remains detached throughout the telling of the story as he observes the players, coaches, supporters and board that makes the North London club tick. While the book, released in 1973, provides us with much insight into the cultural setting of England in the 1970s (flared pants are the style, Nicholson’s not much of a fan of players with long hair and racism is prevalent), its themes are timeless.
As Davies describes in the introduction: “The fears, the tensions, the dramas, the personality clashes, the tedium of training, the problems of motivation, injuries, loss of form, the highs and lows, new people coming through, old stars beginning to fade, that stuff goes on, and will go on, forever.”
Anyone who has played the game, whether it be Sunday league or semi-professional, will on some level recognize the themes and characters Davies portrays. Perhaps that’s why The Glory Game, out of print during most of the ’80s, is now available in five different languages and is often cited as a classic of football literature.
Despite the book ending with Spurs capturing their second European trophy, the glory Davies writes of isn’t measured in silverware. “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning,” Spurs ex-captain Danny Blanchflower says. “The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
The Glory Game can be played at any level. It’s likely to be on display tonight when Redknapp’s Spurs meet Rafa Benitez’s Inter Milan at the San Siro. I’m looking to play it when I join my five-a-side team in downtown Toronto every Sunday at 10:15 p.m.