All Tottenham Hotspur supporters know the last time Spurs won the First Division title in English football — the historic double-winning 1960-61 season. How can we forget it? That 62-year gap since the last time Spurs went to the mountaintop has been used as a stick with which to pummel Spurs fans by supporters of rival clubs for longer than many fans have been alive. The achievements of that time under legendary manager Bill Nicholson etched Tottenham into the history books and enshrined members of those teams into Spurs canon. Players such as John White, Les Allen, Danny Blanchflower, and Terry Dyson paved the way for newcomers like the great Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay, Cliff Jones, Martin Chivers, and Alan Gilzean.
Almost as heralded are the glory years of the early 1980s. Spurs delivered back to back FA Cup titles in 1981 & 1982, as well as European glory in the form of a UEFA Cup, behind the charismatic and exotic skills of two Argentine imports — Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. The other names from that era are equally memorable: Garth Crooks, Paul Miller, Mark Falco, Chris Hughton, Micky Hazard.
But very little attention is paid to the period in between these eras. The 1970s were not a pleasant time for Tottenham — it was an era of declining dominance on the football pitch that echoed the sociopolitical upheaval taking place within the United Kingdom at that time. During this era, Tottenham saw their beloved manager Bill Nicholson resign from the club, and its dominant grip on English football degrade under former Arsenal player Terry Neill to the point that the club was, unthinkably, relegated to the second division in 1977.
This forgotten era is the subject of Samuel Rooke’s new book Glory, Glory, Gone: The Story of Tottenham Hotspur’s Regression, Relegation and Rebirth in the 1970s. Rooke bravely dives straight into one of Tottenham’s most painful periods in its long history — painful not just because of the poor football and on-pitch results but because it shone an even brighter light on the era that had just passed, one which had established Spurs as one of the greatest clubs in England.
Glory, Glory, Gone is a book about failure, but also about redemption. It’s a book about hard times, but also about the long and sometimes fraught period of rebuilding that happens before any team can return to glory. For Spurs fans, it’s worth reading, not just because of the light that Rooke shines on a time of Spurs history that many fans would just as soon forget, but because of what it might inform us about this current era of rebuilding in which Spurs finds itself now.
It’s easier to write a history about the 1960s, and many have. Who doesn’t love to write about success? It’s significantly harder to chronicle a period of decline, and not have it read as a depressing slog of failure and mistakes. Rooke wisely brackets the 1970s, first by examining the peak Nicholson years — the double-winning season, Spurs’ triumphs in Europe — in order to set the stage for what was to come and provide context on how things gradually, and then precipitously, went off the rails.
Likewise, Rooke ends the book in the 1980s and their resurgence as a cup-winning team under Keith Burkinshaw, ironically the manager who led Spurs to relegation in his first season as manager in 1977. By this point, Tottenham are a club unafraid to innovate, exemplified by the signings of Ardiles and Ricky Villa, and emblematic of the inspired play of Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald. Burkinshaw, of course, goes on to become one of the iconic managers in Spurs’ history, but it’s hard not to imagine him not surviving the season had this happened in the modern football era. Glory, Glory, Gone ends with another iconic Spurs moment, the 1981 FA Cup final win over Manchester City, a feat they would repeat the following season.
But the meat of the book is in the 1970s, a time of upheaval both sporting and political. This is a time when Nicholson, outclassed in the transfer window and no longer able to bring the same success as in the 1960s, walks away from his “handshake deal” as Spurs manager. The Tottenham board, unnamed but portrayed by Rooke as mostly incompetent and without a full understanding of how the club operates, opted to replace Nicholson not with Danny Blanchflower, a natural successor and protogé of Nicholson who was basically waiting by the phone for the call, but with Neill, a manager with a history with Spurs’ arch-rivals and a style inimical to the progressive tactics of the previous era.
The nadir, of course, comes in 1976-77 when Spurs, under first-year manager Keith Burkinshaw, endures a nightmare season and are relegated to the second division. But what would be a catastrophic scenario for a modern Premier League club turns out to be mostly an embarrassing inconvenience for Tottenham. Under Burkinshaw (who retained his position), the club roars through the second division the following season, and following a late hiccup in form, narrowly achieves promotion back to the top flight. That season had something of a galvanizing effect on Burkinshaw and his team, reflected in Spurs’ gradual ascent back up the table in future years.
Rooke writes in a way that doesn’t shy away from the struggles during this time, but never in a fashion that feels dry or academic. Events and scenarios are presented through the focus on individuals, be they players, managers, or others close to the club. By zooming into the action via these various lenses, Rooke is able to humanize his subjects and leave the reader with a better understanding of not only the facts, but the context of life at a declining Tottenham Hotspur. There are plenty of mistakes made, as well as moments of misfortune or lost opportunity. Rooke doesn’t shy away from these moments, but uses them as a way of gaining further insight into how Spurs would eventually pull out of their skid and back to glory in the years to come.
Rooke smartly draws parallels between the decline of Tottenham’s play and the economic struggles in the United Kingdom during that same period, noting important world events that were occurring at the same time that Spurs were playing or preparing for matches. Rooke notes the rising scourge of football hooliganism (exemplified by Spurs fans’ rioting in Rotterdam during the UEFA Cup final vs. Feyenoord in 1974), the 1972 coal miner’s strike, and the increasing economic difficulties under Margaret Thatcher as a counterweight to Tottenham’s increasing struggles on the football pitch. There isn’t any causality here, but as an outsider it’s fascinating to see both the country and the club struggle, albeit in different ways.
There are notable bits of trivia in here that were new to me. The “sliding doors” moment of Spurs opting to hire Neill instead of Blanchflower after the resignation of Nicholson is one that gobsmacked me, as did the realization that Graeme Souness started as a Spurs apprentice and was viewed as the natural successor to Dave Mackay (Spurs sold the homesick Souness to Middlesbrough in 1973 for £30k), and that Spurs were close at one point to signing a 31-year old Johann Cruyff in 1976. These anecdotes offered flashes of additional color and insight to the narrative.
Books about football, especially ones that examine a particular era in time, can often fall into a trap where they end up just a continual litany of matches and results, rarely relevant except as a nostalgia aid to those who were alive at the time they happened. I was born in the 1970s and did not discover Spurs until 2007, but Glory, Glory, Gone did an excellent job of immersing me into the world of English football in the ‘70s, certainly not a subject I paid attention to in my American youth. Certainly there’s a strong element of Remembering Some Guys™ that permeates the book throughout, but to be fair there are a LOT of guys worth remembering during that era, though sometimes not for the reasons you might think.
Glory, Glory, Gone is not really a book about glory, but the absence of it, and how various individuals worked to bring it back. There are certainly comparisons to be made between 1970s Tottenham and the current era in the club — it’s not at all difficult to read this book and draw parallels between the transition from Nicholson to Neill and that of Mauricio Pochettino to Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo, and Antonio Conte. It is fascinating to read an account of one of the lesser-acknowledged eras in Tottenham history, and it’s a credit to Rooke that he takes that era, considered one of the more disastrous ones in Tottenham history, and makes it a fascinating read. The real comfort in Glory, Glory, Gone is that despite a decade of frustration, happy times and glory did come again to Spurs, eventually. Something for all of us living in the future to remember.
Disclaimer: I was provided a complementary electronic version of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Glory, Glory, Gone: The Story of Tottenham Hotspur’s Regression, Relegation and Rebirth in the 1970s
By: Samuel Rooke
Currently available, UK; available May 1, 2023, USA