The day a foreign invader overran fortress Wembley

  • September 07, 2018 11:13
  • Jon Henderson

In the autumn of 1953 Hungary became the frst team from beyond the British Isles to win at the citadel of the English game. Arguably, the limitations of the national team have never been properly fixed.


A small group of young players from Watford football club, shepherded by player-coach Johnnie Paton, arrive at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, in the early afternoon of Wednesday 25 November 1953.

They are in good time for the 2.15pm kick-off of the match between England and Hungary, a game that Paton, a 30-year-old whose former clubs included Celtic and Chelsea, is particularly keen his charges should see. ‘Hungary are an exciting team,’ he tells them, ‘and you’re going to learn something about the game from them today.’

Others are less convinced. Charles Buchan, a former England player and one of the most respected commentators on the game, has written in the build-up to the match: ‘The clever ball-control and close passing of the Hungarians do not alarm me in any way.’

Buchan’s smugness reflects the insularity that pervades English football at this time, a mulish refusal to admire Hungary inspite of the evidence: unbeaten in 24 games, unofficially ranked number one in the world and holders of the Olympic title. They are damned by being foreign.

Paton is not so blinkered. Having seen more of the world than most footballers during his service in the RAF, which included playing a great deal of football overseas, he is well aware that antiquated coaching methods and tactical dogma among English clubs are a serious worry for the prospects of the domestic game.

With his professional playing career coming to an end he has acted on this concern by enrolling on the Football Association’s first coaching course at Lilleshall, one of the few initiatives that points towards a more enlightened future.

On this November afternoon Paton takes his unease with him to Wembley. He has no faith in the argument that because England have never lost at home against a team from outside the British Isles Hungary are heading for defeat.

It is impossisble to be sure but almost certainly Paton is at odds with most of the crowd of 100,000. He can tell from the banter that the majority of the crowd, informed only by views such as Buchan’s, are expecting to witness confirmation of English football’s superiority.

Only some of them have taken much notice of reports that Hungary will parade a new style of football. Those who have and are unimpressed are in good company. Billy Wright, the England captain, says afterwards: ‘We completely underestimated the advances Hungary had made.’

He also confesses he ridiculed Hungary after the two teams first came onto the Wembley pitch. He told teammate Stan Mortensen, ‘We should be all right here, Stan’, having observed the visitors wearing what looked more like shoes than boots. ‘They haven’t even got the proper kit.’

Outside the ground, people are paying the ticket touts good money to see Hungary put in their place: a tenner for the £2 10s. top-priced tickets and more than a pound for the cheapest ones sold originally for 3s. 6d.

Paton and his group have seats at one end, behind a goal. They watch the Hungary team warm up before kick-off not by dashing about but by juggling the ball. Paton pays special attention Ferenc Puskas. He notices that Hungary’s captain and emblematic star is all one-footed but reckons if he wanted to he could keep the ball up all day with his foot, head, knee and shoulder. Around him Paton senses the spectators’ awe at what they are watching – and the match hasn’t even started.

Puskas continues to demonstrate his trickery until Wright, his fellow captain, joins him in the centre circle to toss the coin. It is the first time the two men have met. Puskas, having been intricately working the ball with his left foot, signs off by nonchalantly transferring it to his thigh and letting it run down his shin on to the centre spot.

Wright says afterwards that when Puskas then gave him a charming, you’ve-been-warned smile he realised his earlier ridicule had been misjudged.

It is arguable that English football has never learned the lessons of that 6-3 drubbing by Hungary in 1953. They certainly didn’t in the short term, showing little inclination to change their ways in two defeats that followed soon afterwards: an even heavier thrashing by Hungary, 7-1, in a return friendly in Budapest and a 4-2 loss to Uruguay that eliminated them from the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

The 1966 World Cup triumph was greeted at the time as a new dawn, but even this has become an ironic symbol of our continuing deficiencies. The English game is still admired for its commitment and endeavour, but neither of these dated virtues has done the nation much good in international tournaments, where technically superior sides have prospered.


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


Contrary, singular, brilliant – the great Danny Blanchflower

  • September 06, 2018 11:41
  • Jon Henderson

As captain of Tottenham and Northern Ireland he proved himself to be an exceptional leader – arguably the best ever.


‘There we are, typical Blanchflower.’ This, says Cliff Jones, is how Bill Nicholson, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, reacted to Danny Blanchflower’s refusal to appear on the massively popular TV show This Is Your Life in 1961.

The episode became an instant cause celebre – and it is not hard to imagine the sound of splintering furniture in the Spurs PR office if such a thing happened today.

The Northern Irishman, with no concept of positive image promotion, snubbed the show’s presenter, Eamonn Andrews, live on air. ‘We were all up there at Shepherd’s Bush studios,’ Jones, a brilliant winger for Spurs from 1958-68, recalls. ‘People had come from everywhere – Canada, Ireland, of course… Then on came the announcer and said, “Well, I’m sorry, for the first time in the history of This Is Your Life our subject has refused to appear.” Bill was not impressed.

‘But that was it. Danny was a special character, great intelligence and a brilliant player, too. We all sparked off him.’

The This Is Your Life incident came towards the end of Blanchflower’s defining season as captain of a great Spurs side – and, as Jones suggests, their greatness was as much a tribute to Blanchflower as anyone. Not only was he an original thinker but regarded professional football as good an arena as any in which to apply innovative ideas.

Spurs launched their glory years with a record run of eleven First Division victories at the start of the 1960-61 season, laying the foundation for winning the title by eight points. They then went on to win the FA Cup, completing a double not achieved since 1897.

What most impressed Jones about Blanchflower was the way ‘he would make changes out on the field during a game. These days the captain wears the armband and that’s it. He’ll make no changes.

‘But Danny, he would do it. He might switch a player – move somebody forward or bring somebody back.’

But it was not just at club level that the very singular Blanchflower made his mark. His outstanding leadership of Northern Ireland, especially at the 1958 World Cup finals, was arguably a greater achievement than what he accomplished at White Hart Lane.

Of the British Isles teams who played in those finals, Northern Ireland, whose record of being the least populous country to reach the finals would survive until Trinidad and Tobago did it in 2006, were the most impressive.

Their success in reaching the last eight, against tough opposition all the way, owed much to their adapting better than the others to the way the game was being played beyond the British Isles. And this was mainly down to Blanchflower, who, just as he did at Tottenham, took over managing the side once the players were on the field.

Peter McParland, a stellar member of Northern Ireland’s 1958 World Cup team, says that while his club Aston Villa were still largely faithful to the traditional WM formation, even though Hungary had so spectacularly picked it to pieces against England at Wembley five years earlier, Northern Ireland were trying new things.

‘We had four or five players who could play in midfield,’ McParland says, ‘and Danny would set it all up, crowding the middle of the park when necessary, but also getting players forward at the right time.’

It is impossible to say whether English football would have prospered if it had followed Blanchflower’s crede: that the game was not about battering and/or boring opponents to death but playing, as Hungary and the South Americans did, with style and a flourish and being tactically inventive.

It did not happen because English clubs failed to connect the Irishman’s presence with the success of the teams in which he played and dominated with his personality. Or, if they did make the connection, they ignored it out of an inbred distrust of what they saw as too much swank and not enough graft.

After he retired as a player Blanchflower turned to being a manager, but soon despaired of setting English football on a new course. In frustration he switched to making a living as a shrewd media observer.

Northern Ireland’s heroics had started in the qualifying competition for the 1958 finals when they eliminated Italy. This was, quite simply, an extraordinary result.

The Italians had been world champions in 1934 and 1938 and had reached the finals of every World Cup they had entered. A draw against the Irish would have seen them through. The fact that the match was being played in Belfast was not expected to be nearly enough of an advantage for Blanchflower’s team to survive.

What undermined Italy’s effort was that the tie, instead of being wrapped up in 90 minutes on the afternoon of Wednesday 4 December 1957, mutated into a six-week saga. This was after the Belfast-bound match referee, Istvan Zsolt of Hungary, became stranded in fog in London.

Although the match went ahead in Zsolt’s absence, it was downgraded to a friendly when the Italians refused to give official recognition to a substitue ref. It ended 2-2, which would have been enough for Italy to go through.

The long delay would play right into Northern Ireland’s hands, partly because it must have rattled Italy that the so-called friendly was such an ugly affair. Having to come back to Belfast in mid January could not have been an enticing prospect.

Not only did ‘both teams kick lumps out of one another’, as McParland puts it, in that first fixture, serious crowd trouble at the end incensed the visitors. One Italian newspaper described the Belfast troublemakers as ‘barbarians of a primitive epoch’ and the debate about what should happen next reached government level in both countries.

On top of this the extended pause before the rearranged fixture ideally suited the artful Blanchflower.

He had marked the visitors’ vulnerabilities in the friendly and insisted the Northern Ireland team gather three days before the rescheduled match. During this unusually long time to prepare, Blanchflower drummed into the players tactics that involved disregarding the formations that English club teams regarded as sacrosanct.  They would ambush the Italians with swift breaks from midfield.

In this way Northern Ireland controlled the game demonstrating that the virtues of the traditional British way could be successfully allied to new ideas. Italy even accepted that their 2-1 defeat was down to the Irish being the better team.

Blanchflower’s leadership and McParland’s goals – he scored five of the team’s tally of six – were the foundations of Northern Ireland’s feat of reaching the quarter-finals of the 1958 world finals. That they reached the knockout stage at all surpassed most expectations after they were drawn in a group with holders West Germany and Argentina, the 1957 South American champions, who flopped badly to finish in last place.

The one time Blanchflower lost of control of his team was during an incident that was pure pantomime but went virtually unnoticed. If it had happened in a World Cup today newspapers everywhere would have carried the story. McParland describes the shenanigans in Northern Ireland’s ranks in their opening match, a 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia:

‘Czechoslovakia bombed us for about ten, 15 minutes, but it didn’t help that our little left half, Bertie Peacock of Celtic, got on to Harry Gregg, our goalkeeper, for not coming off his line to take a ball that had come across the goalmouth.

‘Bertie was the next-door neighbour to Harry where he was born in Ireland but this did not stop Harry from taking offence and running after Bertie.

‘Meanwhile their outside right’s got the ball. I’d come across to stop him from getting a cross in, holding him out on the wing, but behind me Harry’s still running after Bertie to give him a punch and Alfie McMichael, our left back, is shouting, “Get back in the goal, Harry.” Luckily they did not score. If they had they might have destroyed our World Cup.’

After retiring as a player and manager, Blanchflower became a perceptive commentator on football and life in general. Sadly he died as a result of Alzheimer’s disease in 1993 aged 67.


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


The Honourable Ladies by Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith || REVIEW by Yazmeen Akhtar

  • September 05, 2018 11:40
  • Yazmeen Akhtar

The Honourable Ladies || REVIEW by Yazmeen Akhtar 


One could be forgiven for mistaking The Honourable Ladies for a biography on fierce Amazonian warrior women. The book contains profiles of every woman MP from 1918 to 1996. Attempting to breakthrough an otherwise ruggedly male political landscape, these women certainly emanate Amazonian prowess and heroism.

Whilst offering a fascinating insight into the achievements of the women who served as Members of Parliament, the book also recounts some of the witty, sharp, and sometimes scathing retorts these women employed in response to sexist notions on female intelligence and judgement (or lack thereof, according to patriarchy). One such woman who combined wit and sarcasm to fight for women’s suffrage, nationalism and independence from British rule was Cover grgdConstance Markievicz, the first female MP. In the Rising Maverick fought in St Stephen’s Green, and was sentenced to death, but the court recommenced solely on account of her sex. Maverick observed plangently, ‘I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me’.

And from Markievicz’s military endeavours to her multiple jail sentences one can see that these women fought not only with words, but exhibited immense physical courage. ‘Battling Bessie’ Braddock became the first woman to be expelled from the House of Commons for defying a ruling of the Deputy Speaker. On another occasion, Braddock smuggled two air pistols into the Commons in order to point out how easy it was to obtain unlicensed weapons. Markievicz and her fellow warriors were willing to suffer the consequences of championing female agency and social justice.

One might argue that the book’s preoccupation with the appearance of the MPs somewhat trivialises the women and their achievements. However, I think that the book's focus on what these women look like, how they dress, and how they speak, goes a long way in dispelling a long-standing stereotype of the political woman: a masculinised, sexless and grotesque harridan. Markievicz attended the first meeting of Sinn Féin and the Daughters of Erin society dressed in a ‘blue velvet ball gown with a train and a diamond tiara’.  Shirley Williams, former Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, claimed, ‘People like me because I look as crummy as they do.’ Not only does the book overturn sexist stereotypes, but also demonstrates that politics transcends class and background.

A portfolio that presents women from all walks of life battling their way through the political landscape, this is an all-empowering read!


Click here: The Honourable Ladies by Iain Dale / @IainDale and Jacqui Smith / @Jacqui_Smith1

Published: 4 SEPTEMBER 2018



You Are Not Human by Simon Lancaster || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton

  • September 05, 2018 09:56
  • Lauren Kirton

You Are Not Human || REVIEW by Lauren Kirton / @kirton_lauren


It is clear to all that it was Hitler’s public presentation of the Jewish people as ‘other’ that paved the way to the events of the Holocaust, but how often do we stop and think about the effects of our private everyday language? In You Are Not Human, author Simon Lancaster considers how metaphors can dramatically alter our perception; making what was previously disturbing appear pleasant.

As one of the world’s foremost experts on communication, Lancaster provides expert commentary for the BBC and Sky News, as well as writing columns for The Guardian and Total Politics. He began his career in the late 1990’s writing for Tony Blair’s Cabinet, and currently has clientele in some of the world’s biggest companies.Cover you are not human

Considering this experience, where speeches must be tailored to speaker and audience, it’s no surprise that the book reads well. It begins by explaining the basic premise of a metaphor, that something isn’t just similar, but is something else. Using a conversational style, Lancaster compels his readers to consider their frequent use of metaphors; love can ‘blossom’ or ‘grow’, ideas can ‘take root’ or ‘become embedded’. This style makes for an interesting and enjoyable read, as though there are ideas and themes between, chapters can be read as individual essays.

These ideas are then related to tangible examples of how metaphors have been utilised and abused throughout history. The book's first discussion centres on how the non-apple of René Magritte’s work, came to inspire todays biggest technological brand, representing ideas of fruitfulness and growth. This focus on contextualising the use of metaphors allows the reader to grasp the true power of language.

You Are Not Human continues with meditations on the problems of the term ‘vegetative state’ in the medical industry, the Nazi’s use of animal imagery to demonise the Jewish, and considers the modern day ‘troll’ phenomenon. A truly fascinating book, You Are Not Human is a success that Baroness Warsi stated is “a timely and pressing reminder why politicians should think before they sound bite…".


Click here: You Are Not Human by Simon Lancaster / @bespokespeeches

Published: 11 SEPTEMBER 2018


Major Buckley ruled nothing out – even monkey glands, so the story went

  • September 04, 2018 17:14
  • Jon Henderson

Leeds United was one of seven clubs served by the First World War veteran who was one of the game’s greatest innovators.


It was a Lancashire Combination match between Clitheroe, the home team, and Darwen in the early 1950s – and it was pouring with rain.

Roy Wood was in goal for Clitheroe and remembers the pitch was a terrible one at the best of times, laid out on a pronounced slope. This particular day the weather was making it even worse.

What Wood couldn’t understand was that although ‘it was still banging it down with rain, there was this chap behind the goal. He’d got on a trilby and a military mac and was soaked to the skin.’

Wood told him he was going to get his death of cold. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ the man replied.

Before leaving at halftime, the stranger approached Wood with an unbelievable offer for someone who thought of himself as a jobbing goalie. ‘I’d like you to sign for Leeds United,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to make up your mind now. You’ve got until the end of June. When you make up your mind, ring this number and we’ll do the rest, your travel and everything like that.’

The man was Major Frank Buckley whose name may largely have disappeared into the mists of long ago but was a substantial figure in football’s postwar development. As a character he would almost certainly have stamped his personality and ideas on whatever profession he had chosen in whatever era.

With limited funds, it is reckoned he served Leeds exceptionally well as manager between 1948-53, during which time he oversaw the early years of John Charles’s outstanding career.

Buckley was born in Urmston, Lancashire, in1882. Photographs of him in middle age show a strong face with a slightly wry expression. A physiognomist would almost certainly have concentrated on the well-set chin. Had he been a Hollywood actor in the 1940s and ’50s he would have been much in demand as a gunslinger. Gary Cooper might not have got the High Noon part.

He had served in the army briefly from 1900, advancing rapidly through the ranks before buying himself out to play football professionally until the outbreak of the First World War. On 15 December 1914 he travelled to London where he was among the first to sign up for the Footballers’ Battalion, officially known as the 17th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

Sir William Joynson-Hicks, Conservative MP for Brentford, addressed Buckley and his fellow recruits, telling them: ‘I am inviting you to no picnic. It is no easy game against a second-rate team. It is a game of games against one of the finest teams in the world.’

None of these ‘games’ was more hideously fought than the Battle of the Somme where Buckley received lung and shoulder wounds.

Generally, despite the wounds, he had a good war and given his previous military experience he was awarded a commission, rising to the rank of Major. Although intended only as a temporary title, Buckley chose to keep it. It chimed so perfectly with his character as an unbending disciplinarian and organiser that even his wife took to calling him the Major.

Despite being wounded at the Somme, Buckley played on briefly after the war before turning to management. He took the reins at seven clubs in all and made his name as the most innovative manager of his time. Some of his ideas and methods survive to this day.

His shrewd deals, such as when he was at Leeds acquiring the unproven Roy Wood, went largely unnoticed but were the sort of thing that could transform a club’s finances. As manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers from 1927-44, Buckley was remembered for making the club a six-figure profit in transfers in a single year.

He also came up with numbering on shirts and the first structured scouting system.

Above all, though, it was his attention to coaching that singled him out. Coaching hardly existed before the Second World War and sports psychology was a distant whisper. Buckley engaged with both. In particular, he was at the forefront of introducing routines with a wider purpose than simply keeping players fit.

For a start he challenged the quaint notion that practising with a ball was unnecessary because players saw quite enough of it on Saturday afternoons. Buckley put practice matches at the centre of his coaching and demanded a direct style of play rather than excessive elaboration.

He developed a contraption that shot out balls in no particular pattern to sharpen players’ close control and stressed the importance of being able to kick with either foot. He even encouraged players to do ballroom dancing to improve their poise and balance.

He also introduced rowing machines so that fitness sessions were not simply a case of running up and down the stadium terracing.

Some of his other ideas were downright strange, including his opposition to players marrying. He thought it suited neither partner: the wife being a distraction to the husband and the threat of a career-ending injury to the husband being a constant worry to the wife.

An even wackier idea associated with Buckley was the use of monkey glands.

The story went, and maybe/probably it was just a story, that Buckley was persuaded that monkey-gland implantations helped with stamina levels, recovery and improved mental performance. It was said he tried them on himself and the Wolves players.

Nothing was conclusively proved and after Wolves lost by three goals to Portsmouth in the 1939 FA Cup final – sometimes referred to as the Monkey Glands Final because Portsmouth were also said to be sampling the treatment – the whole episode was consigned to being one of Buckley’s more bonkers ideas.

Roy Wood had heard all the talk about Buckley’s plans ‘to plant monkey glands into footballers to give them a boost’ but was offered nothing more stimulating than a bog-standard contract. It carried with it the promise, maybe, of a slightly better life than his current one.

Buckley’s journey to Clitheroe and decision to sign Wood on the flimsiest of evidence demonstrated a keen intuition, although the early signs were not promising. Wood took time to settle after making his debut for Leeds in the 1953-54 season when the regular goalkeeper, John Scott, was injured. He played in ten games that season, letting in 20 goals, including five at Nottingham Forest on Christmas Day.

As things turned out, though, Buckley’s judgment proved flawless. In the three seasons from 1955-58, which included the season 1955-6 when Leeds gained promotion to the First Division, Wood played 125 out of 126 League games. In all he appeared in 196 League games for Leeds and seven FA Cup ties.


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