In late 2016 a poll was held to find the greatest Spurs XI in their fabled history. Steve Perryman passed on the results to me (see below) and I must admit I was more than surprised at the final XI so I decided to pick my own. Over the next few months it will be revealed and I hope you enjoy reading about my selections and the wonderful memories this labour of love evoked.
Perryman (248), England (141), King (252), Knowles (136)
Mackay (218), Hoddle (308), Ardiles (193), Gascoigne (247)
Greaves (229), Bale (260)
Nothing to choose between Ted and Pat Jennings. In an era when the England team was selected by an anonymous panel, Ted Ditchburn won a paltry six caps in an international career that spanned eight years. He should have won more. A lot more. Remarkably, he was capped before and after contemporaries Bert Williams and Gil Merrick, both of whom were selected over twenty times each. Ditchburn often found himself in the international wilderness. The probable reason being that he was far too unorthodox for the selectors liking. Ted was the goalkeeper's goalkeeper. He stood out amongst the crowd during the 1950s thanks to his physique and fitness, which were the result of serving in the army as a PT instructor. But it wasn't just for his saves that he was so celebrated - Ditchburn was a tactical innovator. In a time when keepers would punt the ball down field as far as possible whenever they got the ball, big Ted opted to roll it out to one of his full-backs (Alf Ramsey), inventing the patient build up in the process. It doesn't sound particularly revolutionary now, but Ditchburn's plays laid the foundations for manager Arthur Rowe's famous 'push and run' strategy, which moved the emphasis away from route one and towards short, controlled passes. Ditchburn was naturally modest about the whole affair, blaming his "awful kicking" as the real reason behind the switch, but the move paid dividends as Spurs won the Second and First Division titles back-to-back in 1949-50 and 1950-51. He originally made his debut for Tottenham in 1940 during a wartime league match but had to wait six years for his "official" debut. Despite having lost a large chunk of his career to the War, Ditchburn went on play over 400 games for the White Hart Lane side before retiring after breaking his finger in a game against Chelsea in 1958.
In the “Push & Run” team he instigated playing from the back instead of simply hitting long, hopeful balls into the opposition half of the field. Alf would get the ball from Ted Ditchburn and be the instigator of every Spurs attack although Ted often said it all began because his kicking was hopeless. Alf was responsible for the introduction of a new phrase into football’s dictionary: “the cultured fullback”. Until Ramsey came on the scene, fullbacks had, with the notable exceptions such as Tommy Clay (more about Tommy later), been men whose job was simply to defend, to dispossess their opponent and, unless a simple pass was on, kick the ball as far as possible. It mattered not whether that meant into row “Z” or to the other end of the field, so long as it was away from the danger area they had done their job. Alf Ramsey or “The General” as he became known changed all that. When Arthur Rowe replaced Joe Hulme as manager he immediately spent £21,000, a record for a fullback, to persuade Southampton to let Ramsey leave. Alf Ramsey was to Arthur Rowe what Danny Blanchflower was to Bill Nicholson, a manager on the field. Not for Ramsey was the hurried clearance of his contemporaries. Everything he did was calm and meticulous, his thinking so advanced he knew what he was going to do with the ball not the next time he got it but the time after that. “The General” commanded Spurs from the back, taking control of situations and dictating the play. Whether over five yards or 25 yards, his passes were accurate to the inch and played so carefully his teammate would always have instant control. He applied the same philosophy to taking penalties. Instead of blasting the ball he always placed it just out of the goalkeeper’s reach. It made him one of the most successful penalty takers of all time.
Ramsey won 31 England caps as a Spurs player, captained Tottenham following Ron Burgess’s departure and led England in the absence of Billy Wright. A great thinker on the game, he left Spurs in August 1955 to manage Ipswich Town and after taking them from the Third Division South to the Football League title, led England to their greatest football achievement in 1966.
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