Jones heard it right – Spurs were going to watch the Bolshoi Ballet

  • September 19, 2018 11:20
  • Jon Henderson

Nearly 60 years ago an evening at the ballet in Moscow watching Rudolf Nureyev dance had a profound effect on how Tottenham prepared for their greatest season.


The year was 1959 and Bill Nicholson, the Tottenham manager, never a man averse to trying something new, decided a trip behind the Iron Curtain, to Moscow, would be good for the team that he was building into one of the most successful in Football League history.

Cliff Jones, the Wales international winger who is arguably the best left-sided attacker Spurs have ever had, was on that trip, a wide-eyed 24-year-old who had recently moved to London from Swansea. He still remembers it as vividly as any excursion he ever went on with club or country.

‘Bill took us on the pre-season tour and I’m telling you something Communism was rife, people were like queuing to go into the mausoleum to see Lenin and Stalin lying in state; they were very patriotic people … It was just unbelievable and we had three games against club sides and they were all battles.’

Jones describes the trip as ‘a great bonding experience because we all really came together as a team, but it was such a difficult tour.’

Not least of Jones’s personal difficulties was bonding with the no-nonsense Scotland player Dave Mackay. ‘I roomed with Dave, a very unfortunate experience,’ Jones says. ‘For a start, he was so untidy, our room was a complete khazi, and I couldn’t understand a word he said.’

When Jones asked if he could have an interpreter, Nicholson presumed he meant a Russian one. ‘No a Scottish one,’ Jones told him, ‘I don’t know what Mackay’s saying. Nay ou, ay ouze. Dear me.’

At the other end of the cultural spectrum from sharing a room with Dave Mackay was a night out at the Bolshoi Ballet, an experience Jones believes significantly influenced the way the great Spurs team of the 1960s played.

When Nicholson told Jones that was where they were going Jones thought he was joking. ‘No,’ Nicholson repeated emphatically, ‘we’re going to the Bolshoi Ballet.’

‘So we went there,’ Jones says, ‘and a young Nureyev was dancing. Can you believe that. It was an amazing experience. These ballet dancers, they were so fit and powerful. And of course Bill Nicholson was so taken with this he wanted to find out how they were so fit. And a lot of it was down to weight training.’

As a result, when Nicholson returned to London he sought out Bill Watson, who had been an Olympic weightlifter. Watson taught that everything came from the stomach, this was the core of a person’s fitness and reactions.

‘Watson got quite a lot of work after helping us,’ Jones says, ‘because our fitness definitely went up a gear. Bill’s whole approach to football was that you will play the way you train. He said that if you train with method and if you train with effort you’ll play exactly the same way, you’ll take that out on the field. And it just worked for us.’

A year later Spurs embarked on perhaps their finest endeavour, the 1960-61 Double-winning season.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing


Even the meticulously organised Ron Greenwood had his difficult days

  • September 14, 2018 13:56
  • Jon Henderson

Before he became a manager of England respected for his studious devotion to the game, Greenwood was a fine player – although things did not always go the way he would have wished.


It was the Christmas holiday 1951 when Brentford, ‘going great guns’ near the top of the Second Division, met Southampton at Griffin Park on an afternoon of filthy weather.

Ron Greenwood and Jimmy Hill were playing for Brentford that day, and so was Johnny Paton.

‘It was a heavy day. Raining,’ Paton says. ‘It was a terrible pitch, muddy, hardly any grass on it. We were drawing and it was just before halftime.

‘Southampton had an inside-right, Frank Dudley, who was a big fellow. Not a great player but dangerous, unpredictable. He got the ball in his own half and started running with it and I thought, “He’s too far away for me, I can’t chase him. He’s 30 yards away.” It was heavy mud and in any case it wasn’t my job.’

The problem was that it was no one else’s job either, the consequence of a system devised by Greenwood, later to become the England manager but at this point still playing for Brentford as a defender.

‘Ron, a great tactician, had evolved a system at Brentford known as the retreating defence,’ Paton says. ‘So no one went out and tackled big Dudley and he kept running with it, running with it, running with it. Then I think he must have shut his eyes and taken a big a swing at it. The ball flew into the net.’

In Paton’s estimation, the effect of Dudley’s blind swing at the ball has reverberated down the decades for Brentford FC. ‘We came in at halftime and I think that what happened next ruined Brentford football club right to the present day,’ he says.

Jackie Gibbons turned on Greenwood, holding him responsible, as captain and author of the retreating defence, for Dudley’s goal. ‘Why the hell didn’t someone go and tackle Dudley,’ Gibbons said. ‘Ron Greenwood, you’re the captain.’

Greenwood pointed out that it was thanks to the retreating defence that Brentford had one of the best defensive records in the League.

Paton kept his mouth shut, ‘but, unfortunately, poor old Jimmy Hill, who couldn’t resist giving his opinion, joined in and took Ron Greenwood’s side’.

‘You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t even come in for the team meetings on a Friday,’ Hill said, referring to the fact it was Greenwood who took charge of these meetings.

‘Shut up,’ Gibbons snapped at Hill.

Brentford lost 2-1 and that was the end of Hill and Greenwood as Brentford players. Hill moved to Fulham and Greenwood headed to Chelsea.

Not only that, Paton says, his memories still deeply etched, ‘we sank from near the top to down in the middle of the table [they ended up in tenth place] and the atmosphere at the club was never the same.

‘The next home match after Dudley’s goal – and I have a picture in my mind of this – I came running out of the tunnel before kick-off and passed Ron and Jimmy in their civvies. I’m not sure about Jimmy but Ron never kicked another ball for Brentford.

‘It’s almost unbelievable but the club never recovered from that defeat. You look at the history books and that was the highest up the Football League Brentford have ever got since their First Division peak in the late Thirties.’

Greenwood, though, was far from finished. He went on to play for Chelsea and Fulham before becoming the much-respected manager of West Ham United from 1961-74. At West Ham his role in developing the playing skills of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst were reckoned to have played a major part in England’s success at the 1966 World Cup.

Sixteen years later Greenwood himself was the manager when England reached the second round group games of the World Cup finals in Spain. They were eliminated at this stage despite not having lost a match.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


'I Still Find That Offensive!' by Claire Fox || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton

  • September 14, 2018 10:56
  • Lauren Kirton

'I Still Find That Offensive!' || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton


Originally published in 2016, Claire Fox’s book ‘I Find That Offensive!’ has recently been re-released with a new preface. Expanding on her original polemic, Fox establishes that society continues to suffer from oversensitive ‘snowflakes’ who take issue with everything, to conclude that if you hear the words, ‘I find that offensive’, you’re probably being told to shut up. This updated edition shows that, for Fox, nothing has changed, as reactions to certain opinions – particularly from young people – are still over the top and unnecessary.

Cover 123A particularly timely release for this month – with new students flocking to universities in their thousands – Fox begins with a brief comment on the issue of censorship, recognising that there has been an increase in the amount of campus debates and events being shut down. Though some try, it cannot be denied that this trend has gained traction in recent times, and this book questions how valid this is: why do the feelings of a few matter more than the right to free speech?

Refusing to walk on eggshells, Fox faces this issue head on, and considers the possible causes of a generation she takes credit for dubbing ‘snowflakes’, in an attempt toughen up our society. With this work, Fox doesn’t attempt to silence this group but, in fact, she calls for a wider debate; a debate that may offend some, but which will allow for a more open conversation.


Click here: 'I Still Find That Offensive!' by Claire Fox/@Fox_Claire

Published: 16 August


In Defence of Political Correctness by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton

  • September 14, 2018 10:16
  • Lauren Kirton

In Defence of Political Correctness || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton


In this instalment of Biteback’s ‘Provocations’ series, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown discusses the issues of free speech and political correctness, and asserts that the latter should remain a part of modern society, if only out of basic human decency.

In recent times the idea of being PC has become increasingly scoffed at, with many reacting in an oppositional manner in an attempt to avoid what they believe is oppression. In this timely polemic Alibhai-Brown maintains that this response is simply an attempt to justify racist, sexist and homophobic views: ‘these warriors feel persecuted or endangered all the time’. Wherever you stand on the issue of PC versus free speech, this text is the perfect opportunity to develop your opinion.Cover 9781785904141

One specific instance discussed in the Introduction is the outrage that followed the announcement that the word ‘Easter’ had been removed from the Cadbury annual egg hunt, to make it more accessible to those of different faiths. This was an entirely untrue statement that was met with uproar, and even the Archbishop of York accused the organisers of spitting on the grave of the company’s founder, John Cadbury. Ironically, as explained, this reaction was entirely unfounded: John Cadbury was a Quaker, who wouldn’t have celebrated Easter. This amusing example is only one of many that are utilised throughout this thought-provoking book to illustrate the point that anti-PC reactions are often simply a means to excuse prejudice.

With this work Alibhai-Brown presents a concise account of the status of PC today, and justifies her reasoning for continuing to be politically correct in the face of an ever-evolving alt-right free speech movement. Though she admits that PC has many weaknesses, she argues that its nature is ultimately derived from a place of compassion and understanding, two things we could all do with a little more of.


Click here: In Defence of Political Correctness by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown/@y_alibhai

Published: 28 SEPTEMBER 2018


Near tragedy that started as a simple nose bleed

  • September 13, 2018 12:15
  • Jon Henderson

Footballers today take for granted – and rightly so – a swift, high-quality response when they’re hurt, whatever the circumstances in which they sustain the injury. It’s a huge improvement on what their predecessors could expect.


Frank O’Farrell tells a harrowing tale of a medical emergency during his time playing for Preston North End in the Fifties. Had it happened today, it is hard to imagine it would have come so close to tragedy.

He was suffering from a heavy cold when his nose started to bleed during a training session.

‘Jimmy Milne took me into the treatment room,’ O’Farrell says, ‘but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. It just kept bleeding, bleeding, bleeding. So they took me to the hospital, Preston Royal Infirmary, and they couldn’t stop it either.

‘They started injecting me with something that would clot the blood, vitamin K I think it was. I lost half my blood supply, four pints of blood. I had the last rites. The Jesuit priest from the local Catholic church came in and gave me the last rites. They thought I was going to die. It was that serious. I was in there for a couple of weeks.

‘They never found out what it was except that there was a weakness in the blood vessel. They thought this could have been the result of when I had a clash of heads with my own centre half at West Ham. We were going for the same ball and I needed six stitches in my eyelid, my eyelid was hanging off. I spent a couple of days in London Hospital where they sewed the eyelid back on.’

Grim stuff, but with O’Farrell any story, however dark, usually comes with the a humorous twist. ‘After I’d recovered,’ he says, ‘I was talking to some of the men in the ward and they said that when I came in they asked, “Who’s that?”, and were told, “Oh, some Irishman called O’Farrell.”

‘So they all thought I was some Irish drunk who’d been in a fight.’

Tony McNamara, an Everton player from 1947-57, suffered a succession of injuries that eventually blighted his career – and it was a leg wound, incorrectly treated, that had particularly disastrous consequences.

McNamara says the trainer strapped up his leg with the wrong side of the tape against his skin. ‘It meant my leg couldn’t expand and I was in a lot of pain.

‘In the end they sent a doctor from the club to the house and when they peeled off the tape the sticky side was against my leg. It pulled off all the skin. The shock of that caused psoriasis to set in.’

McNamara says he doesn’t think he ever fully recovered from this, but he compliments Everton on standing by him more than half a century later. ‘I have two false knees now,’ he says, ‘and to give the present Everton set-up their due it was they who paid for me to have them done.

‘When the club found out that I was struggling, rather than let me go on an NHS waiting list they looked after things for me. That’s one thing about Everton now, they look after their former players.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.