Friday, April 15, 2011

How Long It's Been: Tottenham Won the League

This Sunday is April 17, 2011. Exactly 50 years, half a century, earlier, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club – a.k.a. "Tottenham" or "Spurs," and if you don't like them you can think of a number of other names for them – last clinched the championship of the 1st division of the English Football League, now known as the English Premier League.

The clincher, on the exact same day as the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, came at their home ground, White Hart Lane in Middlesex (it would be brought into London as part of a 1965 boundary redraw), against Sheffield Wednesday, then 2nd in the League. Les Allen scored the winner as Spurs, managed by Bill Nicholson, came from 1-0 down to win, 2-1.

On May 6, Spurs beat Leicester City in the FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium, to "do the Double." It was the 1st time in the 20th Century that a team had won the Double, since Birmingham-based Aston Villa turned the trick in 1897.

Since then, Spurs have won a few trophies, though their last major trophy was the FA Cup in 1991. Twenty years. The League?

April 17, 1961. Fifty years. Half a century. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

The Wembley Stadium at which Spurs won the League has been demolished, and a new one built in its place. Spurs' North London arch-rivals, Arsenal, have built a new stadium. Spurs have been trying to get a new stadium built, to replace White Hart Lane and its meager 35,000 seats, or to at least get permission to play in the main stadium that London is building for the 2012 Olympics, but have failed thus far in the former and appear to have completely failed at the latter.

(UPDATE: Construction of Spurs' new stadium is well underway as the 2017-18 season is underway, and the old White Hart Lane is gone -- a mercy killing. They are playing the season's home games at the new Wembley in the 2017-18 season, and the new stadium will be completed, they say, in time for the 2018-19 season.)

Since Spurs last won the League, either as The Football League or as The Premier League (or "The Premiership"), Liverpool have won it 13 times. Manchester United have also won it 14 times. Arsenal have won it 6 times. Everton, "the other team" in Liverpool, have won it 4. Chelsea, of West London, and Leeds United have each won it 3. Derby County have won it twice. And the following clubs have won it once each: Aston Villa of Birmingham, Blackburn Rovers, Ipswich Town, Manchester City and Nottingham Forest. Spurs? Not once.

To make matters worse, of the clubs that have won it since 1961, Derby, Forest, Ipswich and Leeds aren't even in the Premiership this season, and most of those have not been in it for quite some time – although both Leeds and Forest have a shot at promotion to it for the next season, 2011-12.

(UPDATE: Into the 2017-18 season, neither Leeds nor Forest have yet been promoted, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have each won two more titles. Leicester City has added 1. Arsenal ended their trophy drought by winning the 2014 FA Cup. Tottenham still haven't won a trophy since 2008 or a major trophy since 1991.)

The European Cup Final was won by Benfica, of Lisbon, Portugal, although their sensational Mozambicquean forward Eusebio was still a rookie at the top European level and did not play. Benfica beat Barcelona. This was the 1st time in the 6 years that the European Cup was contested that it was not won by the other big club in Spain, Real Madrid.

No British team had yet won it. The following season, as defending English champions, Spurs would advance to the Semifinals, but would lose to Benfica as Eusebio dazzled. Some Spurs fans still think the refs cheated them, and that they would have beaten Real Madrid, with Alfredo di Stefano, in the final, as Benfica went on to do.

Some of the clubs that have gone on to define European football in the years since were virtual unknowns outside their own countries: Liverpool, Chelsea, Olympique de Marseille, Juventus, Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern Munich. The two Milan clubs, AC Milan and Internazionale, were known but neither had yet won the European Cup. Manchester United was known, but was still struggling to recover from the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, when they were trying to take off after refueling on their return from a European Cup Quarterfinal against Yugoslavian club Red Star Belgrade.

Arsenal, of course, were known: When Dynamo Moscow, then the dominant club in the Soviet Union, wanted to tour Britain in 1945, right after World War II, they insisted upon playing Arsenal at Highbury, saying it wouldn't have been a true test of their mettle if they didn't. If they knew who Tottenham were, they didn't show it.

Of the 1960-61 Spurs: Midfielder John White was struck by lightning and killed on a golf course in 1964, only 27 years old; Captain and midfielder Danny Blanchflower died in 1993, manager Bill Nicholson and goalkeeper Bill Brown in 2004, forward Bobby Smith in 2010; and the following are still alive: Right back Peter Baker, left back Ron Henry, centreback Maurice Norman, midfielder Dave Mackay, winger Cliff Jones, forward Les Allen and winger Terry Dyson.

(UPDATE: Henry died in 2014, Mackay in 2015, Baker in 2016. Norman, Jones, Allen and Dyson are still alive as of November 2017.)

In America, their version of professional football had stretched from coast to coast by 1946, but the other major sports had only just done so. Basketball was in its 1st season with the Lakers, formerly in Minneapolis (Minnesota, "the Land of 10,000 Lakes") in Los Angeles. It was only in 1958 that baseball teams arrived in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The South had just gotten pro football in Dallas and Houston, and a Houston baseball team existed on paper to debut in one year, but the National Basketball Association would not arrive until 1968. In 1973, a basketball team called the San Antonio Spurs would begin play, and have now won 4 titles. (UPDATE: They have now won a 5th.)

The National Hockey League still had only 6 teams, all in the northeastern quadrant of North America: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, and the teams that had just finished the Stanley Cup Finals the day before, Chicago beating Detroit. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on April 16, 1961, and finally ended their 49-year drought, 2nd-longest of any team in NHL history, on June 9, 2010. So even the Hawks have gone all the way more recently than Spurs.

All but one of the 16 teams then in MLB were playing in stadiums with permanent lights, but there were no artificial turf fields, and no domes (retractable or otherwise). There was no designated hitter, and no regular season interleague play. And no divisional play or Playoffs, just the World Series: If you won over 100 games and another team won more – as would happen that year, with the Detroit Tigers winning 101 and still finishing 8 games behind the New York Yankees – you were out of luck.

Most of the big records in North American sports still stood. Babe Ruth was still the leader in home runs for a single season and in a career. Ty Cobb still held the records for hits in a career and for stolen bases in a season and in a career (although the last of these is dubious, as 1900 was often a cutoff point and there was a player before that who had more career steals). Walter Johnson still held the record for pitching strikeouts in a career; Bob Feller for a single nine-inning game and a season (although an official finding an error would later discover that another pitcher held that last record).

The record for points in an NBA game was still 71 by Elgin Baylor, but Wilt Chamberlain would break that record the next season with 78, and then again that season with the still-standing 100. Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion had just become the 2nd hockey player, after his recently retired Montreal Canadiens teammate, Maurice "the Rocket" Richard, to score 50 goals in a season; Richard still had the career mark.

No NFL player had yet passed for 40,000 yards, nor run for 10,000, and only Don Hutson had scored over 100 touchdowns. Nor had any player passed for 4,000 yards nor run for 2,000 in a single season. The record for sacks in a game, a season, a career? Nobody knew, as David "Deacon" Jones, the great Los Angeles Rams defensive end who created the term for a tackle of the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, was still a few days away from entering the NFL through its draft. Floyd Patterson was the heavyweight champion of the world.

Spurs had dethroned Lancashire club Burnley as League Champions, and West Midlands club Wolverhampton Wanderers as FA Cup holders. They would win the Cup again the next year, defeating Burnley. The defending champions in American sports were the aforementioned Blackhawks, the Boston Celtics, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Green Bay Packers. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Ingemar Johansson.

The defining athletes of my childhood? Most were still in school. More to the point of the team and sport in question: Charlie George was 10, Ossie Ardiles was 8, Liam Brady was 5, Glenn Hoddle was 3, and none of the players on the Arsenal and Spurs teams that played each other in the 1991 and 1993 FA Cup Semifinals had yet been born except for Gary Lineker and Pat Van Den Hauwe of Spurs, and David O'Leary of Arsenal. That's right: Tony Adams, Alan Smith, Michael Thomas and Paul Gascoigne weren't even twinkles in their daddies' eyes.

Terry Venables, who managed Spurs in those games, was an 18-year-old rookie at Chelsea when Spurs last won the League; Arsenal manager George Graham was 16 and a few months away from making his professional debut with Aston Villa. Arsene Wenger was 11, Harry Redknapp was 14. Alex Ferguson was playing in his native Scotland for St. Johnstone. George Swindin, former Arsenal goalkeeper, was Arsenal manager, but without success. Liverpool was in the Second Division, although under Bill Shankly it was about to get promoted back to the First. Walter Winterbottom was England's manager, Johnny Haynes its Captain.

Elizabeth II was on the throne of Britain -- that hasn't changed -- but Prince Edward had not yet been born. Nor had Diana Spencer. The Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan. Alec Douglas-Home was his Foreign Secretary, Edward Heath his Lord Privy Seal. Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden were still alive. Harold Wilson was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher were also in Parliament. John Major was working in his father’s garden-ornament business. Tony Blair was about to turn 8, Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman were 10, and neither David Cameron nor Nick Clegg had been born yet.

John F. Kennedy had just been inaugurated as President, Lyndon Johnson as Vice President. Dwight D. Eisenhower had just left the office, with his Vice President, Richard Nixon, beginning an odd semi-exile. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman, and the widows of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, were still alive. Gerald Ford was in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was farming in Georgia, and thinking about running for the State Senate.

Ronald Reagan was still an actor, and still a Democrat, although an increasingly conservative one: He had given speeches denouncing JFK's economic and social plans, saying, falsely and stupidly, "Under the tousled boyish haircut, it is still old Karl Marx."

George Herbert Walker Bush was in the oil business in Texas, and his family included a 14-year-old boy named George who was a freshman at his father's alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In junior high school were Billy Blythe and Hillary Rodham, although we don't remember them by those names today. Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson (Obama) had not yet been born.

The Governor of the State of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, the Mayor of the City of New York was Robert Wagner Jr., and the Governor of New Jersey was Robert Meyner. The Pope was John XXIII. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, the Father Joseph Ratzinger, was teaching at the University of Bonn in his native Germany. The holder of the Nobel Peace Prize was Albert Lutuli, President of the African National Congress.

There were 22 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. There had been Civil Rights Acts in 1957 and 1960, but not that of 1964, nor the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, Title IX or legalized abortion. Children in American public schools could still be forced to say a Christian, most likely Protestant, prayer. There were still living veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Boer War.

The Soviet Union had just sent the 1st man into space a few days before Spurs last won the League. The United States followed soon thereafter, and President Kennedy then told a joint session of Congress that America "should commit itself, before this decade is out, to reaching the goal of putting a man on the Moon, and returning him safely to the Earth."

It would not be done with computers as we now understand them. Most computers took up much of a big room. My mother, who was in high school at the time, claims that one of her first jobs was in a city office building where a computer took up an entire floor. There was no Internet. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee? They would all have their 6th birthdays that year.

There were a few cars with telephone hookups, but not many, and there were certainly no cordless phones – indoor or outdoor. It would be another year before Telstar was launched, making satellite television possible. Color television existed, but was not in every American home. It would be 1965 in the U.S., and 1969 in the U.K., before most TV shows were in colo(u)r. The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building. Credit cards were still a relatively new thing, and there were no automatic teller machines.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times, Canada 3 times, Japan 3 times, Austria twice, France twice; and once each in Mexico, Germany, Russia, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Norway, Australia, Greece, Italy and China. The World Cup has since been held in Germany and Mexico twice each, and once each in America, England, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa.

Major films of 1961 included the film version of West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, El Cid (in which Charlton Heston solidified his lucky bastardhood by fooling around with Sophia Loren at the peak of her Lorenness), La Dolce Vita, the original version of The Parent Trap, and what might have been Elvis Presley's last good feature film, Blue Hawaii. There hadn't been a live-action Batman since Robert Lowery in 1949, and with the previous year's death of George Reeves, Superman was in an interregnum as well.

Major novels of 1961 included Ian Fleming's James Bond story Thunderball (but there had been, as yet, no Bond films), John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers, and J.D. Salinger's last published work, Franny and Zooey.

Joseph Heller published a novel about a World War II pilot, and wanted to title it Catch-18. But Leon Uris had just come out with Mila 18, so, thinking it a funnier-sounding title, changed it to Catch-22. Tennessee Williams produced his play The Night of the Iguana, the late Frantz Fanon's nonfiction work The Wretched of the Earth was published, and Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

No one had yet heard of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Alex Portnoy, John Rambo, Spenser: For Hire, George Smiley, The Punisher, Rocky Balboa, T.S. Garp, Arthur Dent, Jason Bourne, Hannibal Lecter, Celie Harris, Kinsey Millhone, Jack Ryan, John McClane, Alex Cross, Bridget Jones, Harry Potter, Robert Langdon, Bella Swan, Lisbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen.

Television shows that debuted in 1961 included The Avengers (the British spy series that wouldn't be shown in the U.S. until 1966), ABC Wide World of Sports, Car 54 Where Are You (cop comedy), Mr. Ed (sitcom about a talking horse), Ben Casey (medical drama), The Dick Van Dyke Show (a groundbreaking sitcom) and The Mike Douglas Show (a groundbreaking daytime talk show).

The Number 1 song in Britain was Elvis' version of "Wooden Heart," from his film G.I. Blues. His version was not released as a single in America, but a cover version by Joe Dowell would hit Number 1 there. In America, the current Number 1 hit, soon to top the British charts as well, was the Marcels' doo-wop reworking of the 1934 Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart classic "Blue Moon." This would be turned into the unofficial theme song of the blue-clad Manchester City Football Club, and rewritten about a thousand other ways for British soccer teams.

The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best – did not yet know of the existence of Brian Epstein, nor he of theirs. They did know Ringo Starr as one of the best drummers in Liverpool, but the idea of him replacing Pete was, at the time, ridiculous. And the idea of a British music group topping the U.S. charts was ludicrous.

Bob Dylan had recently arrived in New York, and was getting his first notices. Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were in the 6th grade. Michael Jackson was 2 1/2 years old.

Inflation has been such that what $1.00 would buy then, $7.55 would buy now -- or, in the nation in question, what cost £1.00 then would cost £17.97 now. (This was before the British pound was "decimalised" on February 15, 1971.) A U.S. postage stamp was 4 cents. A New York Subway token was 15 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 27 cents, a cup of coffee 35 cents, a McDonald's meal 45 cents, a movie ticket $1.00, a new car $2,850, and a new house $12,550. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had closed the day before at 692.06. 

In the spring of 1961, there were successful coups in South Korea and the Dominican Republic, and a failed one in Portugal. Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann went on trial in Jerusalem. Amnesty International was founded. The Freedom Rides, challenging public-facilities segregation in the southeastern U.S., began.

Gary Cooper, and George S. Kaufman, and Carl Jung died. Lothar Matthaus, and Don Mattingly, and Isiah Thomas were born. So were actors Eddie Murphy, George Clooney and Tim Roth. And British Isles-born singers Enya and Susan Boyle.

April 17, 1961. Tottenham Hotspur won the English Football League. They have not done so since.

Will they ever do it again? Men have gone broke, old and insane while counting on it.

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