My first post on this site regarding Alan Gilzean was on 27 September 2009 and asked the question that had been bugging me since a conversation with Martin Chivers at a game many years before. It was answered by a comment that appeared on November 17 from Danny B who I now know to be James Morgan informing me that they had been speaking the previous night.
That alerted me to Gillie’s induction at the Scottish Hall of Fame and after some web searches I was able to come up with some links to display including pictures and I then published the page about Alan and have added to it since. Using my power as “the webmaster” I replied to James “off air” and we began a dialogue that has continued to this day.
We met at Waterstones Enfield on the day that Morris Keston and Nick Hawkins held a book signing which included Pat Jennings and at that point James was close to completing the book. Now completed the book can be purchased from BackPage Press by clicking the picture of the front cover on the home page of this site and I must say what a worthwhile addition it will be to the library of any Spurs fan.
Mac: James when we met you emphasised how keen you were to record Gillie’s career factually and you appear to have succeeded putting right lots of misinformation told to you along the way. Are you pleased with the way it has turned out?
I don’t think authors are ever fully satisfied with their final product but, in general, I have to say that considering how elusive Alan has been over the last two decades it answers a lot of questions that might have remained unanswered had I not written it. I think the book totalled around 120,000 words in the end but I could have gone on for much longer.
In the months since finishing ‘Gillie’ I have heard a number of stories which would have made the final cut but that weren’t known to me at the time of writing. A search in some ways continues even after the finished product is on the shelves. Suffice to say there are two stories which I love that didn’t make it in.
Mac: The first?
Gillie was on a Scotland trip with Willie Johnston, the former Rangers winger, back in the 70s. Johnston had bought a diamond for his wife on a day out shopping. That night, sitting around a coffee table Gillie told Johnston he’d been sold a dud. Johnston proceeded to drag the diamond across the table, fully expecting the glass to cut as he had seen the diamond merchant do earlier that day in the shop where he had bought the jewel. Instead the diamond crumbled to dust.
“I think you’ve been had son,” said Gillie with a smile.
The next day the Scotland team were on board a coach waiting patiently for Gillie who was nowhere to be seen. After some time, Gillie appeared with a huge transistor radio – which was about the size of a suitcase – and when he finally boarded the team bus he was asked if it picked up Radio Scotland to which he replied “It picks up whatever you want, son”. Gillie turned on the radio and nothing happened, then took it apart only to discover that it was an empty shell.
“I think you’ve been had, son,” said Willie Johnston, quick as a flash.
Mac: Brilliant, the other?
The other story was told at the book launch by Pat Liney, the goalkeeper when Gilzean starred in the Dundee that won the Scottish league title in 1962. Recalling an FA Cup tie between Spurs and Bradford City in the 1970s, Pat recounted the teamtalk before kick-off. “Our manager, Jimmy Wheeler, was making plans for setpieces to Spurs,” said Pat. “He was telling Norman, our centre-forward, to come back and pick up Martin Chivers every time Spurs had a corner. He went through most of the team. And then I said to him, ‘What about Gilzean?” and he said, ‘Is he good in the air?’. To which I replied ‘Well, he scored about 50 goals one season in Scotland and 40 of them were with his head.”
Mac: Jimmy was clearly a manager known for his homework. As I remember Chivers took a lot of corners!
Should the book extend to a second run, I would hope to include these and some of the other stories which were missed in the first edition.
Mac: I don’t want to give too much away but I love the way you lead us through the search before springing what appears a bit of a bombshell at the end. Was that always a deliberate ploy on your part?
Yes. I had spoken to one my colleagues for advice on how to finish the book and he had always said to keep people guessing right until the end. It seemed the natural way to go about it since it was a search to find Gilzean – both figuratively and literally. The lack of available information on his career meant that I had a duty to record the factual stuff.
The search added a different dimension and allowed me to personalise it in parts. One early review has claimed there is an “element of suspense”. It’s hard for me to pick that up because I know the story but I was really pleased to read that.
Mac: One of the interesting things is the contrast between Dundee and Tottenham both on the playing and personal side. At Dundee an out and out striker, scoring for fun, starting at Spurs like that before becoming the master provider.
It amazed me to discover that Gilzean had been such a prolific striker at Dundee. I was aware that he had scored fairly regularly at Tottenham but he was absolutely clinical in Scotland, scoring 169 in 190 games. Some might argue that Scotland was, and is, not at the same standard as England – and to an extent they are correct – but Gilzean scored nine goals in eight European Cup games as Dundee reached the semi-finals of the competition in 1963; Lionel Messi, the leading scorer in last season’s Champions League scored eight and over the course of more games.
His tail off at Tottenham can be ascribed to a change in the style of his play. Greavsie was already the arch-goalscorer at Tottenham and in many ways Gilzean was brought in to fill two roles in that Spurs team. He replaced Bobby Smith as centre-forward and John White as a creator. But he was a contrast to both, delicately flicking the ball with his head where Bobby had used sheer force but perhaps not as refined as John with the ball at his feet. He was, I suppose, the quintessential modern link striker, well before anyone knew of such a thing.
Mac: Then on the personal side no mention of drink at all in Scotland yet at Spurs a bit of a reveller through the well known stories about him. My family are from the North and some had a propensity to drink a lot which when outside of their local group took on the tale of legends. Maybe this accounts for some of this?
I think the move to London played some part. There are signs that he enjoyed a drink at Dundee but never to excess. The Spurs team he was moving into had its fair share of guys who loved a good booze up and there was certainly a drinking culture at the club which Bill Nick never really concerned himself with.
I think it’s easy to forget in these days of dietary programmes and abstinence that drinking and football went hand in hand and that those who didn’t have a drink were the exception rather than the norm. That’s not a value judgment just a statement of fact.
Mac: Having seen the YouTube clip of the Hall of Fame induction Alan seems a modest quiet character and this is the man you portray. It is clear that he recognises the difference between a good and a great player from a Manchester United example he cites but does he really think that he does not fit into the latter category?
I don’t think even the great players would come out and say ‘I am a great player’. Those players that tend to indulge in that kind of self-promotion tend not to be great in any case. Those that know how good they are don’t tend to talk about it, they just know it.
Gilzean’s natural reticence would never allow him to claim he was ‘great’ and that is perhaps something to do with his upbringing. Growing up in a small, humble town like Coupar Angus seems to have given him a good grounding. But, at the same time, there does appear to be this genuine sense that he didn’t realise just how good he was.
Mac: Like me we are unfortunately too young to have seen his pomp years. I did see him play for Spurs alongside Chivers and as a young supporter was constantly reminded by my father “but who laid on that goal for Chivers”. Your own father’s description in the book has a familiar ring to it.
My dad thought Gillie was just great. He used to say he was a proper footballer. I think he liked the fact that Gillie looked like an old man and yet here he was showing the younger ones how to do it. However, my memories have faded somewhat.
I would love to know what my dad thinks of the book – it is dedicated to his memory – alas, he passed away in 1999. Knowing that I was writing it for him provided a great spur (excuse the pun) at times when I felt like I could have given up.
Mac: In your search you had the opportunity to meet a lot of former Spurs players and talk to others on the telephone. All said very genuine things about the great man. Who impressed you most?
Alan Mullery and Phil Beal were just fantastic and couldn’t have been more helpful. I couldn’t believe how sprightly Cliff Jones is. He was 74 when we met (now 75) but he looked as fit as a fiddle and he told me some wonderful little anecdotes.
Mac: I agree he is a lovely man
But I have to say that meeting Steve Perryman was a dream come true. I had grown up watching Keith Burkinshaw’s Spurs team and had idolised Stevie P. To discover that he was an absolute gent was particularly fulfilling. There was a nice symmetry to the meeting too. Here I was in search of one of my dad’s heroes while meeting one of my own at the same time.
Mac: I took Dad to see Greavsie’s show at The Mercury in Colchester and whilst enjoying all the football stories the thing he liked most was the tribute he played to Gillie recognising him as the best player he partnered. That comes through time and time again from all of the players you interviewed.
Absolutely. Gillie is one of those players who seems to be so well quoted. Johan Cryuff, Cliff Jones, Dave Mackay, Denis Law, Greavsie and many others spoke about him in glowing terms and it gave some idea of the esteem when so many greats had so many favourable things to say about him.
Mac: I know from talking to you before that the Dundee situation remains massive. How has the book been received north of the Border?
I couldn’t believe how much Gillie was idolised at Dens Park. I always thought Tottenham fans had the monopoly on their affection for Gilzean but over the course of writing the book I came to realise that it is a very close run thing. I think Spurs fans might just hold the edge in their devotion though, primarily because Gillie hasn’t been seen at White Hart Lane whereas he has made a number of appearances at Dens Park in recent years.
Mac: Have you had any contact at all from the family post publication letting you know what they think of the book?
Not as yet. I have been in regular correspondence with Alan’s best man and he has often acted as a conduit between Gillie and myself. I know that Alan’s best man believes the book to be “long overdue”. Hopefully, I will hear from him again soon and, hopefully, the book will help McNamara’s Band’s campaign to bring the great man back to White Hart Lane. I know we have discussed lobbying the club to achieve that aim and I know we would both pay good money to see his and the Tottenham fans’ reactions if he were to step out on to the pitch at half-time in the near future.
Mac: Might a chance still exist to get him back – if only the once – to White Hart Lane maybe with his fellow G Man for that elusive half time interview that many many Spurs fans would welcome?
I am aware of a new development in the Gilzean story which I heard for the first time today. It’s an exciting one and although unrelated to his return to White Hart Lane it is something that we hoped we might achieve with the publication of the book. If it comes off, though, it’s very exciting and might just convince Gillie that the time is right for a return to White Hart Lane. If we could see Greavsie reunited with him one more time before the move to the new stadium, well, I think the roof would come off.
Mac: Since reading the book I’m more thoughtful on this matter and have put together a forthcoming post on the subject and both mens absence from the Tottenham Hotspur Hall of Fame.
What I can tell you is that my blog stats for the last 30 days say that of 309 searches producing my site 207 of them relate to Gillie and of the most frequent searches, 1,885 of them, set out on the last 12 month list 935 (nearly 50%) relate to Alan Gilzean. My site has a bias towards Gillie but even so those are surprising numbers for a man who thinks he is forgotten. Would he be able to comprehend this do you think?
I’m not sure I comprehend it! In all seriousness, I don’t think he would. I think it’s fairly easy to tell when someone is being pseudo-sincere and I never once got the impression that Gillie was that type of person.
We forget all too easily that these old legends are just regular guys. They left football a long time ago and have had lives as normal as the rest of us for most of their time on this planet. They are not hugely wealthy and until very recently had mostly been forgotten by the clubs they served with great distinction. They are, in many ways, the antithesis of the modern footballer.
Mac: At the end you were suggesting that there may have been some realisation from Gilzean that he would be welcome at Dundee, Spurs and Scottish football gatherings. He might not be as forgotten as he thinks. Do you know if he has been seen at anymore events?
The last I heard of his reintroduction into the spotlight were his appearances on the Scotland’s Greatest football team programme which was screened earlier this year. That Gillie appeared in successive weeks on the programme came as a real surprise to me.
BackPage Press did try to entice him north for the book launch last weekend but he had just returned south from a trip home to see his son Ian in Carnoustie and I think he felt it was too soon to make the trip again. I am optimistic that we haven’t seen the last of him in the public eye.
Mac: They say there is a book inside everyone. Is this yours or have you plans for what to do next?
I put my heart and soul into the book at a time when my first child had just been born. I missed out on his very earliest days in doing so and as a result I’m going to spend some time with him and my long-suffering wife. However, that’s not to say I won’t consider writing another book if the right idea comes along. Suffice to say, I think it might be a hard to act to follow though!
Mac: James, thanks for your time I know this has been a consuming exercise for you but I think it is to quote your Dad “Brilliant” ( and once you’ve read the book you’ll know how to put the emphasis into this word!). I hope that you sell lots of books.
Thank you and thanks for all your support. It has meant an awful lot and it’s been great to have McNamara’s Band as a companion on the journey. Long live the King!
To watch the Alan Gilzean induction interview please go to the “Where is Alan Gilzean” page and scroll down.
To buy James Morgan’s book “In Search of Alan Gilzean” please click the book cover in the sidebar above. It currently stands at Number 1 in the Football books section on Amazon.
You can follow James Morgan on twitter at http://twitter.com/jaydeemorgan