Robert Dennis Blanchflower, popularly known as Danny, was born in Dunraven
Park, in the Bloomfield district in the east end of Belfast, on
10 February 1926. He was the first of five children – three boys, two
girls in a typical working-class Presbyterian household. His parents, John
and Selina, had been married two years earlier. Times were hard as Europe
was hit by the depression. His formative years were spent at Ravenscroft
Public Elementary School. He soon became interested in football and his
first exposure to the game came when he played for a representative
Belfast Cubs side against the Dublin Colts in 1937. His footballing hero
was Peter Doherty, who began his career with Glentoran and left for
Blackpool, later moving to Manchester City.
As he grew older, Danny began to play football more and more, often
playing three times on a Saturday. He played for the school in the
morning, the Boys Brigade in the afternoon and the local team in the
evening. By the summer of 1941, he had set up his own football club,
Bloomfield United. They played in the East Belfast Summer League.
In 1943, anxious to do his bit for the war effort, he lied about his age
and joined the RAF. He obtained a place on a short course run by St
Andrews University in Scotland, where he attended from December 1943 to
April 1944. In his spare time he played for the University football team.
It was here he began to play golf, another passion of his.
In the spring of 1945, Danny was posted abroad to Canada for further
training. But the war in Europe ended before his course could be completed
and he returned home in August. There was not much to do while he waited
to be demobbed and he started playing again for Glentoran, making his
senior debut in a match against the now defunct Belfast Celtic. He was
persuaded to leave the RAF and sign professional forms for Glentoran. He
did not suffer fools and soon found out that the rules were being flouted
and that some of the other players were being paid more than the legal
By 1949, he was tired of the parochial outlook of playing for Glentoran
and asked for a transfer. Barnsley paid Â£6,000 for his services after the
transfer deadline had elapsed so he could not play for Barnsley until the
start of the 1949-50 season. Blanchflower spent two years with Barnsley
before making the further transfer to Aston Villa, a sleeping giant of the
Midlands that had rested on its achievements largely won before WW1 for
many years. Villa paid Â£15,000 for his services. He made his debut for
Aston Villa on 17 March 1951. Blanchflower was quickly disillusioned by
Aston Villa as their ideas of football training did not co-incide with
his. One aspect that he disliked was the fact the players were never
allowed to practice with the ball during training but largely spent their
time lapping the pitch.
Blanchflower had already made his debut for Northern Ireland, against
Scotland, at Windsor Park, on 1 October 1949. He was destined to play for
Northern Ireland for 14 years until he retired. The Irish were beaten 8-2
that day. The highlight of his international career was playing for
Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup when Northern Ireland and Wales
both reached the Quarter-Final stage of the World Cup, unlike England and
Scotland, who both fell at the first hurdle. But Northern Ireland were
tired and collapsed to France 4-0. They were not to qualify for another
World Cup until long after Blanchflower had retired.
By then, of course, Blanchflower was playing for Tottenham. He had tired
of the inability of Aston Villa to escape from the memories of the past
and an inability to look at the change in tactics wrought by the
continental game. Like anybody else, Blanchflower was ambitious. He had
yet to win honours at club level and he wasn’t getting any younger.
As soon as it was announced that Blanchflower was available for transfer,
Arsenal and Spurs both put in formal bids for him. A Dutch auction saw
Spurs and Arsenal top each other’s bids until Arsenal refused to go above
Â£28,500. Spurs secured Blanchflower’s services for Â£30,000, a massive fee
for someone of 28. Blanchflower made his Tottenham debut the week after
Nicholson had retired as a player at Manchester City. But Spurs were
sliding towards relegation and needed drastic surgery. Arthur Rowe took
ill with the worry of it all and stepped down.
It came something as a surprise that Spurs appointed Jimmy Anderson as
manager in succession to Rowe. But it is thought the appointment was a
stop gap as Nicholson was already club coach and making various decisions
even then. Anderson, however, picked the team and soon fell out with
Blanchflower who wanted the authority on the field to change the team
about if the situation dictated it. The row came to a head when Spurs lost
the 1956 FA Cup Semi-Final to Manchester City. Losing 1-0, Blanchflower
sent Norman up to help the attack but the equaliser refused to come. In
the dressing room afterwards, manager and captain argued about the
decision. Anderson sacked Blanchflower as captain and dropped him for a
vital relegation match at Cardiff. Blanchflower refused to play along with
the official line that he was injured and made it clear he had been
Spurs survived the relegation scare and had two good seasons under
Anderson without ever looking likely to win the League. But at the start
of 1958-59, Spurs made an awful start to the season and Anderson took ill
with the worry of it all. On October 11th 1958, Anderson resigned as
manager and Nicholson took over.
An early decision that Nicholson made as manager was to drop Blanchflower.
He pointed to the fact that both Blanchflower and Iley liked to play an
attacking role and that left great big chunks in defence for Norman to
cover. Blanchflower promptly asked for a transfer saying that he had no
wish to play in the reserves. But Tottenham continued to slide inexorably
to the bottom of the table and Nicholson recalled Blanchflower, albeit as
a replacement for Harmer. Blanchflower began to pull the strings and
breathed confidence into Tottenham’s shattered team. Nicholson restored
Blanchflower to his proper position and re-instated him as captain of the
team. That decision plus the arrival of David Mackay eventually saw
Tottenham climb above the hurly burly of the relegation battle. Virtually
the same side plus the arrival of Bill Brown in goal during the summer,
John White in October and Les Allen in December almost snatched the
championship the following season.
Most Spurs supporters should not need to know about the events of 1960-61.
Suffice to say that Spurs won the first eleven games of the season, drew
the twelfth, won the next four and did not suffer their first defeat until
the seventeenth match of the season at Hillsborough. By the turn of the
year, they were 11 points out in front and free to concentrate on the FA
Cup. Eventually, they won the title by 8 points and beat Leicester City in
the Cup Final.
The following season, Spurs almost achieved the Double again. Had they won
one of the two games they lost to Ipswich Town, they would have done so.
But they marched to the Semi-Finals of the European Cup when only sloppy
match officials in the first leg in Lisbon prevented Spurs from snatching
a crucial first-leg lead. Woodwork prevented Spurs from snatching a
deserved equaliser and forcing extra time in the return game, when they
would surely have gone on to beat Benfica and face Real Madrid in the
Final. Their only reward from a brilliant season was to retain the FA Cup
beating Burnley, 3-1.
In 1962-63, there were signs that Blanchflower was approaching the end of
his career. He missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, returning
just in time to play a decisive role in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup
Final against Atletico Madrid, which Spurs won 5-1. But Spurs had lost
their grip on the FA Cup during Blanchflower’s absence, losing a
bad-tempered game on an icy White Hart Lane pitch in January 1963 when
they lost 3-0 to Burnley. Several of the Spurs team that day were very
lucky they were not sent off.
But during the autumn of 1963, it was clear that Blanchflower’s days were
numbered. He could not cope with the pressure of playing twice a week and
a portent of the future was shown when Phil Beal made his debut at Villa
Park in September. Blanchflower’s final first team appearance was at Old
Trafford in November 1963 when Manchester United thrashed Tottenham 4-1.
Denis Law had humiliated Blanchflower who knew the game was up. He did not
immediately announce his decision as, officially, he was injured but he
knew the time had come to announce his retirement and did so in his
newspaper column in April 1964.
Blanchflower severed his connections with football for many years until
briefly being Northern Ireland manager in the 1970s and also Chelsea’s
manager in the very late 1970s. Neither appointment was a success and
Blanchflower was relieved to resume his newspaper columnist activities.
Sadly, he was suffering a number of personal problems and fell on hard
times. Spurs arranged a testimonial for him on 1 May 1990 but it was clear
to all who knew and remembered him that all was not well with him. He
passed away in a nursing home on 9 December 1993, suffering from
Alzheimer’s Disease. It was a relief for all who knew him that his
suffering was at an end.
All of us who saw Danny play will remember him. He was a master tactician
and a master of the incomparable epigram. All who saw him play will never
By Brian Judson.