Alan Gilzean RIP : Elegance and Flair make for a Football Legend.

 

There are no heroes like the heroes of your youth.

And, none you miss more when they die.

The image of Alan Gilzean playing for Spurs alongside Jimmy Greaves always floods my mind and heart with sunlight.

To watch him play in his heyday was a rare and true privilege.

Just the mention of his name made you feel that sport and life could be expressed with elegance and style without any loss of effectiveness.

in his honour and with endless thanks I Reblog my earlier tribute to a unique footballer and a very fine man.

May he Rest In Peace.

 

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Elegance as a quality in life, sport and the arts is hard to define but easily recognised. It’s surely something to do with speed of thought, economy of movement, grace under pressure.

The elegant glide to triumphs without overt strain so that we catch our breath and sigh, ‘that’s how to do it!’. And, having seen the elegant work their magic with such panache we queue up to see them do it again so we can exclaim I was there and saw them do it.

Fred Astaire in every dance routine of his career. Lester Young launching into a saxophone soliloquy, Barry Richards caressing the cricket ball to the boundary, Barry John casually wrong footing an entire All Black defence.

P G Woodhouse crafting a perfect inimitable paragraph. Maria Bueno conjuring a Wimbledon winner.

The elegant performer wins your heart and your allegiance to their cause. This is not a matter of statistics, of heaped titles or medals but of indelible memories, stories of famous feats to be retold to your own and the following generations.

My own exemplar of elegance is the one and only Alan Gilzean a footballer whose fabled history at Dundee, Spurs and for Scotland feels more wondrous as each season passes.

At Dundee he scored an incredible 169 goals in just 190 games between 1959 and 1964. He was the glory of the best side they ever had under the tutelage of the great Bill Shankly’s brother, Bob.

With the Dark Blues he won the the league title in 1961/62 and the following year he was the spearhead of their thrilling run to the semi-final of the European Cup where they lost to the eventual winners – the lordly AC Milan.

At the end of 1964 the ever shrewd Bill Nicholson bought him for Spurs where he was to remain until the endof the 73/74 season. The Spurs fans quickly came to adore Gily recognising a player who met their demand for style as well as success.

In no time he was lionised as the King of White Hart Lane – a title he will hold in perpetuity!

The statistics relate that he scored 133 goals for Spurs in 429 games and that he was a member of the sides that won an FA Cup, two League Cups and a EUFA cup.

But, with Alan Gilzean it’s not the numbers that you remember it’s the breathtaking elegance of his play – the way he could amaze you game after game with the subtlety of his footballing imagination.

He insouciantly brought off feats of skill and technique that other fine players could only dream of – leaving opponents admiringly bemused and teammates exhilerated.

Alan Gilzean was to use a fine Scots term a supremely canny player. He seemed to have an advanced football radar system that allowed him to know exactly where he was in relation to his markers and his team mates.

He could compute the trajectory of any pass that came towards him on the ground or in the air and instantly assess whether the ball should be held up or delivered on.

He had exquisite touch on the deck regularly wrong footing defenders before setting up goal chances for himself or one of his strike partners.

His sense of football space and keen eye for opportunity made him one one of the great collaborators.

He forged a legendary striking partnership (the G men!) with the peerless Jimmy Greaves who profited greatly from Gilzean’s vision.

No one has ever been better at coolly converting chances into goals than Jimmy Greaves and Gilzean provided him with a wealth of those chances.

Indeed, Jimmy has called Gilzean the best player he ever worked with – some accolade. Where Jimmy was all poise and deadly sureness Gilzean’s other principal strike partner, Martin Chivers, was all power and swagger. Gilzean was a superb foil to both.

One of Alan’s great attributes was his ability to change the direction of play to open up seemingly closed paths to goal. He was the master of the shimmy, the feint and the dummy – leaving many a defender bewildered and bamboozled in his wake.

He turned the back-heel into an art form and won the plaudits for artistic impression from the White Hart Lane faithful.

However, the defining skill of his genius was his heading of which he was the supreme master.

To watch Alan Gilzean working his way through his heading repertoire was an intensely pleasurable privilege.

The power header, the precisely placed in the corner of the net header, the chance on a plate for Jimmy header, the eternal glory of the Gilzean glancing header and the masterpieces that were the Gilzean back headers will forever define the art and science of heading a football.

He seemed to intuitively understand a geometry too complex for Euclid when it came to directing headers.

Given his eminence and elegance as a player I propose some additions to the language to reflect his unique contribution to footballing and sporting culture.

Gilzean: Noun – A sporting term for a perfectly executed back header or back heel gemerally resulting in a goal being scored.

Gilzean: Verb – To display enormous technical skill with nonchalance.

Alan Gilzean was brave, hugely talented and gave unstintingly of those talents.

He is a footballing immortal whose legend will burn bright wherever elegance and beauty of style are celebrated.

God bless you Alan Gilzean.

Further reading: Happily there is an excellent book on our hero, ‘In Search Of Alan Gilzean: The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend’ by James Morgan.

RIP Dave Mackay: The noblest Hotspur of them all!

‘To each his day is given. Beyond recall man’s little time runs by: but to prolong life’s glory by great deeds is virtue’s power’. (Virgil, The Aeneid)

‘Nor have I seen a mightier man at arms on this earth .. He is truly noble. This is no mere hanger-on in a hero’s armour’. (Beowulf)

‘If he had served in a war he would have been the first man into action – he would have won the Victoria Cross’. (Bill Nicholson)

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Dave Mackay who has died at the age of 80 was by acclamation the finest player ever to play for Spurs, the finest player ever to play for his first club, Hearts and he would be certain to be selected as a member of Scotland’s best ever team. He was an inaugural inductee to the English and Scottish Football Halls of Fame, a Footballer of the Year and he rightfully graces one of her Majesty’s postage stamps! Yet no recitation of the many honours he won can serve to capture what made him such an admirable player and man. For that you have to consider his granite character.

I have reached the age when the heroes of my youth are becoming fixtures on the Obituary pages and all too often I reluctantly realise that perhaps those heroes, for all their accomplishments, had, like most of us, feet of clay. Yet, with Dave Mackay it is clear that the term hero is entirely justified. He really did fill every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run and anyone examining his career and wider life will have to agree that here indeed was a man in full. Dave Mackay’s qualities of bravery, modesty, loyalty and honesty applied under the glare of public pressure show manhood at its best.

Dave Mackay as a player combined complete physical and mental commitment with extravagant skill. With Hearts his pre-match party piece was to run out into the centre circle and then to back-heel the ball into the net on the half volley. At Spurs he would volley ball high into the stratosphere as he came out and then nonchalantly perfectly trap it as it came back to earth. Once the game started it was a very foolish opponent who imagined that they could intimidate Dave who could tackle with the force of a JCB. Once the ball was won with his head up and barrel chest out he could see the pass that would open up the opposition and then deliver it with casual aplomb.

As a captain he led by example – Dave Mackay never left the pitch without having given every ounce of effort possible and he demanded nothing less from his team mates. But, his leadership was not merely a matter of fist shaking exhortation: his greatest attribute as a captain was that all the players he played with wanted his good opinion. To have Dave Mackay pat you on the back and for him to say well done as he lifted a glass with you after the game was treasure far beyond the roar of the crowd.

Dave was a footballer’s footballer the canniest judges of a players worth, his fellow professionals, all knew that he was a very special player. All time great players such as George Best, Eusabio and Spurs own Jimmy Greaves all spoke with head-shaking wonder about Dave’s range of football talents and the physical presence and impact he brought to the game. To be on his team made you feel inches taller while to see him leading your opponents out was a sure signal that today your mettle was really going to be tested!

Dave Mackay was a winner. With Hearts in the 1950s he won the League title, the Cup and the League Cup. With Spurs he was a member of the immortal 60/61 double winning side which set a standard for thrilling excellence that has rarely, if ever, been matched in English football. A team which included the sublime skills of John White, the canny, pulling the strings of the game intelligence of Danny Blanchflower, the blistering pace of Cliff Jones and the battering ram belligerence of Bobby Smith made for an irresistible attacking force.

What Dave Mackay added was tempered steel as well as silky skill. Any team with Dave Mackay in it would never lack for heart and there could be no such thing as a lost cause while the final whistle was yet to be blown. With the addition of the genius of Jimmy Greaves Spurs became a team of all talents. FA Cups and the first European trophy for a British side filled the White Hart Lane Trophy cabinet and the memories of the glory of that side will never tarnish.

Though Mackay faced broken legs and the frailties of increasing age as the 60s ended he took the opportunity offered by Brian Clough with Derby County to show that his football brain and charisma made him the perfect mentor for a team filled with youthful burgeoning talent. Roy McFarland and his colleagues were treated to master classes in what it meant to be a footballer in every training session and in every game they learned under Dave’s watchful eye how to apply those lessons in the heat of battle.

Dave later won a league title as a manger with Derby and that team reflected his continuing belief that football was a Man’s game to be played skilfully with whole-hearted commitment .

Dave Mackay through his talent, his character and his achievements gave dignity and honour to the profession of football. He knew that he was blessed to play the game he loved at the very highest levels and he repayed those blessings in the fullest measure. We shall not see his like again.

Alan Gilzean: Elegance In Action

http://Embed from Getty Images

Elegance as a quality in life, sport and the arts is hard to define but easily recognised. It’s surely something to do with speed of thought, economy of movement, grace under pressure.

The elegant glide to triumphs without overt strain so that we catch our breath and sigh, ‘that’s how to do it!’. And, having seen the elegant work their magic with such panache we queue up to see them do it again so we can exclaim I was there and saw them do it.

Fred Astaire in every dance routine of his career. Lester Young launching into a saxophone soliloquy, Barry Richards caressing the cricket ball to the boundary, Barry John casually wrong footing an entire All Black defence.

P G Woodhouse crafting a perfect inimitable paragraph. Maria Bueno conjuring a Wimbledon winner.

The elegant performer wins your heart and your allegiance to their cause. This is not a matter of statistics, of heaped titles or medals but of indelible memories, stories of famous feats to be retold to your own and the following generations.

My own exemplar of elegance is the one and only Alan Gilzean a footballer whose fabled history at Dundee, Spurs and for Scotland feels more wondrous as each season passes.

At Dundee he scored an incredible 169 goals in just 190 games between 1959 and 1964. He was the glory of the best side they ever had under the tutelage of the great Bill Shankly’s brother, Bob.

With the Dark Blues he won the the league title in 1961/62 and the following year he was the spearhead of their thrilling run to the semi-final of the European Cup where they lost to the eventual winners – the lordly AC Milan.

At the end of 1964 the ever shrewd Bill Nicholson bought him for Spurs where he was to remain until the endof the 73/74 season. The Spurs fans quickly came to adore Gily recognising a player who met their demand for style as well as success.

In no time he was lionised as the King of White Hart Lane – a title he will hold in perpetuity!

The statistics relate that he scored 133 goals for Spurs in 429 games and that he was a member of the sides that won an FA Cup, two League Cups and a EUFA cup.

But, with Alan Gilzean it’s not the numbers that you remember it’s the breathtaking elegance of his play – the way he could amaze you game after game with the subtlety of his footballing imagination.

He insouciantly brought off feats of skill and technique that other fine players could only dream of – leaving opponents admiringly bemused and teammates exhilerated.

Alan Gilzean was to use a fine Scots term a supremely canny player. He seemed to have an advanced football radar system that allowed him to know exactly where he was in relation to his markers and his team mates. He could compute the trajectory of any pass that came towards him on the ground or in the air and instantly assess whether the ball should be held up or delivered on.

He had exquisite touch on the deck regularly wrong footing defenders before setting up goal chances for himself or one of his strike partners. His sense of football space and keen eye for opportunity made him one one of the great collaborators.

He forged a legendary striking partnership (the G men!) with the peerless Jimmy Greaves who profited greatly from Gilzean’s vision. No one has ever been better at coolly converting chances into goals than Jimmy Greaves and Gilzean provided him with a wealth of those chances.

Indeed, Jimmy has called Gilzean the best player he ever worked with – some accolade. Where Jimmy was all poise and deadly sureness Gilzean’s other principal strike partner, Martin Chivers, was all power and swagger. Gilzean was a superb foil to both.

One of Alan’s great attributes was his ability to change the direction of play to open up seemingly closed paths to goal. He was the master of the shimmy, the feint and the dummy – leaving many a defender bewildered and bamboozled in his wake.

He turned the back-heel into an art form and won the plaudits for artistic impression from the White Hart Lane faithful.

However, the defining skill of his genius was his heading of which he was the supreme master.

To watch Alan Gilzean working his way through his heading repertoire was an intensely pleasurable privilege. The power header, the precisely placed in the corner of the net header, the chance on a plate for Jimmy header, the eternal glory of the Gilzean glancing header and the masterpieces that were the Gilzean back headers will forever define the art and science of heading a football.

He seemed to intuitively understand a geometry too complex for Euclid when it came to directing headers.

Given his eminence and elegance as a player I propose some additions to the language to reflect his unique contribution to footballing and sporting culture.

Gilzean: Noun – A sporting term for a perfectly executed back header or back heel gemerally resulting in a goal being scored.

Gilzean: Verb – To display enormous technical skill with nonchalance.

Alan Gilzean was brave, hugely talented and gave unstintingly of those talents.

He is a footballing immortal whose legend will burn bright wherever elegance and beauty of style are celebrated.

God bless you Alan Gilzean – long may you amble!

Further reading: Happily there is an excellent book on our hero, ‘In Search Of Alan Gilzean: The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend’ by James Morgan.