Elegant on the pitch and eloquent off it, Danny Blanchflower – who died 20 years ago today – left an indelible imprint on the history of British and Northern Irish football.
Born in 1926, the eldest son of a Belfast shipyard worker, the Tottenham Hotspur FC and Northern Ireland great's romantic footballing ethos can be summed up in one of his best-known quotes. "The game is about glory," the midfielder declared. "It is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."
Blanchflower fell in love with football at an early age. His mother Selina played for a ladies team in Belfast. It was in his DNA. Snapped up by local side Glentoran FC in 1945, he went on to sign for Barnsley FC four years later. The imaginative midfielder joined Aston Villa FC in 1951, where he made 155 appearances, before moving to Tottenham in 1954 for £30,000 – a huge fee at that time for a 28-year-old.
Blanchflower went on to play 382 matches for Spurs, where his vision and subtlety ensured he was twice named English footballer of the year, in 1957/58 and 1960/61. He captained the north London club to the first league and FA Cup double of the 20th century in 1960/61, and skippered them to further FA Cup success the following season. His place in White Hart Lane folklore was further cemented in 1963 when he became the first captain of an English team to lift a European trophy as Spurs beat Club Atlético de Madrid 5-1 in the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup in Rotterdam.
In Northern Ireland, Blanchflower's captivating wit and sage-like intellect saw him dubbed 'The Prince of Blarney' by local pressmen ('blarney' being a gift with words). Once asked how the national side would approach its next fixture, Blanchflower is said to have replied: "It's simple. Our tactic is to equalise before the opposition scores."
A player many believed to be ahead of his time won 56 caps for his country between 1949 and 1962 and famously skippered them to the quarter-finals of the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden.
In retirement, Blanchflower, whose brother Jackie played for Manchester United FC until he was seriously injured in the 1958 Munich air disaster, embarked on a successful career in football journalism. He managed Northern Ireland (between 1976 and 1978) and briefly Chelsea FC, only to resign citing disillusionment with the modern game. Cruelly, one of football's sharpest minds fell victim to Alzheimer's disease and infirmity in later years.
His legacy, though, is an immense one. During his decade at Tottenham, the charismatic Ulsterman became synonymous with the attacking philosophy of the club. During one game, Blanchflower jogged up to young Welsh team-mate Cliff Jones and asked: "You do realise the ball is round and rolls?"
"Yes," replied Jones.
"Why not pass the thing then," suggested the Spurs captain.
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