“The fears, the tensions, the dramas, the personality clashes, the tedium of training, the problems of motivation, injuries, loss of form, the highs and lows, new people coming through, old stars beginning to fade, that sort of stuff goes on, and will go on forever.”
More than anything else, this quote by Hunter Davies in the introduction to The Glory Game explains why it is still being read and why it is rightfully considered a classic of the sport. On the one hand, so much has changed around the sport over the last 40 years since the book was written. On the other hand, so many of the fundamental things have not. Last Saturday, watching Tottenham face Everton, the Spurs scored in the 65th minute from a set piece that had me flipping through to the last pages of this book. One of the appendices diagrams the scoring set pieces that the team used during the 1971-1972 season. It wasn’t there, but I looked.
Hunter Davies, author of the only authorized biography of The Beatles, wrote in his introduction to the 2011 edition of The Glory Game about a concern he had when the book first appeared in 1973. He hoped that it would appeal to an audience larger than Tottenham Hotspur fans. Through the unprecedented access Mr. Davies was granted by Tottenham, he was able to examine the club from all sides, to give a complete look at the inner workings of a top division team, and write a story that transcends the lines of fandom, and the hands of time.
The book moves across one season through chapters on the players, manager, staff, directors, and even fans. Almost anyone connected with the team who would talk to him, and even a few who were reluctant to, are profiled. In the chapter ‘Bill Goes to Bristol ‘, Davies takes a trip with manager Bill Nicholson to watch a reserves match. For all of the difficulties in getting the manager to open up, the conversation that they share in this chapter reveals Nicholson as a man whose life is as measured and considered as the answers he gives. “I get no pleasure out of being a manager,” he tells Davies. “It’s a job.”
First day: We passed a school and all the kids in the playground stopped to cheer and wave. One or two shouted ‘Arsenal, Arsenal’.
Reserves and Nerves: All the Spurs’ players who work their way up internally, starting with the club as youngsters, say that they have this worry that Spurs, because of their resources and reputation, will buy somebody better, or perhaps just more famous, and they’ll be out of the team.
Nantes: “All they have to do is play it simple. That’s the answer, but they won’t do it. When you get into difficulties, when the opposing team are doing well and not letting you do anything, all you do is play it very simple and things go your way.”
Pat Jennings: His arrival in football was sudden and meteoric. In just eighteen months, from never having played in any sort of football team before, he was in the English First Division.
Something unexpectedly nice about the book is that there are no photographs. At the time it was written, most readers, especially Spurs fans, would have known what the players looked like. Now you realize them on a different and deeper level, as humans rather than an image. Through Hunter Davies’ descriptions, for example of Martin Chivers popping the plate with his front teeth out before games, you draw the characters in your own mind.
The chapters are short, typically a dozen pages each, stories that build on each other in layers rather than by momentum. It is not a diary of a year and the domestic season isn’t examined in great depth. Instead, the matches on which trophies hinge are described in the greatest detail, games that through their intensity spotlight the best and worst of the team’s development: Super Leeds (FA Cup), Nantes (UEFA), The Battle of Bucharest (UEFA), and Milan ( Anglo-Italian League Winners’ Cup) .
This book’s many layers, like those of a sweet onion, will add flavor to your appreciation of the game. The Glory Game is the seminal work on the inner life of a club, as relevant today as it was when it was published over 40 years ago.
The Glory Game is available at all fine booksellers, including Amazon.