Friday, December 24, 2010

In Search of Alan Gilzean (a book by James Morgan)

Alan Gilzean signed for Spurs in mid-December, 1964 and made his debut in a home game against Everton. He scored his first goal for the club a week later on Boxing Day as Spurs achieved their first and only away win of the season at Nottingham Forest. Two days later he scored his first League goal at White Hart Lane when Spurs defeated Forest 4-0 in the return match. This was the game which saw me become a Spurs supporter and so following the team closely through the rest of the 1960s and early 70s, I am familiar with Gilzean’s successful career at White Hart Lane.

However, what of Gilzean before and after his Tottenham days? I knew that Gillie had signed from Dundee for a fee of £72,500 and that he had already played for Scotland before coming to Tottenham and that after retiring in 1974 he had played in South Africa before returning to manage a transport business and that his son, Ian, had been a young player at Tottenham. Beyond those few basic points very little was known of Alan Gilzean who while at the club was ‘The King of White Hart Lane’.

In the summer of 2005, into this vacuum came some internet rumours of Gilzean being down and out and living somewhere in the west of England but no-one knew for certain whether this was true or not but with the immediacy of the internet, rumours very quickly become fact. There was much disappointment and sadness among Spurs’ fans that one of their ‘legends’ who had brought such enjoyment and success to the club, could be living in hardship.
It was at this point that James Morgan, a sports journalist with the The Herald newspaper in Glasgow, set about trying to establish the truth of the matter. Morgan is a Spurs’ supporter and Alan Gilzean was his late father’s favourite player and he had frequently heard of Gilzean’s talent and contribution to Spurs’ success. His early research into Alan Gilzean yielded little, even Hunter Davies ‘The Glory Game’ shed little light on the subject, leading the author to feel that Gillie had become the forgotten man of both Scotland and Tottenham.

Morgan’s research has been extensive and he used his numerous contacts as a journalist to speak to former friends, colleagues and acquaintances of Gilzean in his endeavours to discover the truth. Everyone whom he spoke to regarded Gillie highly – in awe at his talent as a player and of his generosity as a person. His former colleagues recounted many stories of his playing days both north and south of the border and they regretted having lost touch with him and asked the author to pass on their best wishes to Alan if he managed to track him down.

Today, many sporting biographies detail the sensational lifestyle of a celebrity sportsman to shock the public and grab a striking headline for the newspaper serialisation. James Morgan has written this book about Alan Gilzean as a fitting tribute to the private man who displayed an exceptional talent as a player for Dundee, Tottenham Hotspur and Scotland.

‘In Search of Alan Gilzean’ covers his life from his youngest days in Coupar Angus in Scotland where he grew up and played football for the local team. It discovers the difficulties of combining National Service in the army with a developing football career. It details his successful career with Dundee when Gilzean was a vital member of the team that won the Scottish Championship in 1961- 62 and then was their star player as Dundee took European football by storm to reach the semi-final of the European Cup, only to lose in controversial circumstances, something all Spurs’ fans can relate to with their club’s experience against Benfica a year earlier.

Gilzean progressed to the Scotland team but suffered first with the selectors’ preference for players from the two Glasgow clubs while he was with Dundee and then their opposition to Anglo-Scots during his years at Tottenham. In total he made 22 appearances for his country and scored 12 goals but with a professional career spanning fifteen years in top flight football in Scotland and England, he surely deserved many more.

Gilzean arrived at Spurs following a protracted transfer saga as Bill Nicholson considered his suitability as the player to replace Bobby Smith. It was perhaps the two goals that Gillie scored for a Scotland XI at White Hart Lane in John White’s Memorial game that finally persuaded the manager to go ahead with the transfer. Gilzean immediately hit it off with his strike partner, Jimmy Greaves, who described him as ‘the greatest player I played with’.

Alan Gilzean was an adaptable player with an outstanding ability to head the ball both to score and to create chances for his team. He was a goal-scoring inside forward with Dundee but he played as centre forward for Spurs to support Greaves and when Martin Chivers arrived in 1967 he again adapted his style to play alongside the strong running centre forward. The arrival of Ralph Coates at Tottenham in 1971 suggested Gillie might be on his way out but he continued to be a part of the Tottenham team which won the UEFA Cup and a second League Cup to add to his earlier FA Cup success.

Gilzean seemed to improve with age and he grew in popularity among the fans as his partnership with Chivers and Martin Peters developed to such an extent that he was an important part of Spurs' creativity as his delicate headers created many goals for himself and his two colleagues.

His eventual departure from White Hart Lane in 1974 meant that Gilzean slipped off the football radar. Not for him, the corporate, hospitality work that many retired players have now become involved with. He moved out of football circles to retain his privacy and so became largely forgotten by all but a few ardent fans. Morgan discovered that many in Coupar Angus, his home town, had never heard of Alan Gilzean and the local council had done nothing to mark his contribution to Scottish football. The ‘forgotten man’ of Scottish football has only recently been inducted into both the Dundee and the Scottish Football Association’s Halls of Fame due to pressure from James Morgan who put Gilzean’s name forward as a worthy recipient for the award.

Many books have been written about Spurs since the 1950s and this book is a worthy addition to that collection and a fitting tribute to a Spurs great. Many players who have contributed much less to the Spurs' cause have had books written about them so it's good to have Gilzean's contribution marked in this way.

The author did a great job weaving the past detail of Gilzean's career with his search for the great man and his struggle to keep his emotions as a Spurs’ supporter in control was clearly evident as he met some of his past heroes for the first time so that his journalistic endeavours would be rewarded.

Many rumours and stories existed about Gilzean’s career and his life after football and Morgan has endeavoured to find answers for them and as one reads the book there is the constant temptation to turn to the final chapters to discover if the search was successful.

Why did Alan Gilzean so dislike Bob Wilson, the Arsenal goalkeeper? The comparisons with Dimitar Berbatov are considered. Did Morgan meet up with Gillie? Those are some of the issues and questions you will have to read the book to find out about.

While Alan Gilzean has spent the last thirty six years avoiding the spotlight in order to maintain his privacy, perhaps this excellent book by James Morgan will demonstrate to him how highly he is regarded by those colleagues whom he played with and by those supporters who sang his name every week from the terraces and that if he were to return to White Hart Lane he would receive a rapturous reception.

A place awaits Alan Gilzean in the Tottenham Hotspur Hall of Fame – a true legend of White Hart Lane.