Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Search of Alan Gilzean - The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend by James Morgan (BackPage Press 2011)

“What happened to you as a footballer?” he asks.

A few training sessions with Bangor and Crusaders. A scout from Reading watched me four or five times.“I was too interested in having a drink and women, but I wasn’t good enough, if I’m honest. My brother was much more dedicated.”

“There was a kid at Spurs, Paul Shoemark. He was an England youth internationalist. Big, big things were expected of him, but he couldn’t make the step up. You get that with some players,” he says to me.

Paul Shoemark made one reserve team appearance for Tottenham. It was significantly closer than I ever got to making it as a footballer.

The talk turns to newspapers. “I haven’t spoken to the press for years,” he says. “A journalist wrote an article one time in which he quoted me as saying that Tottenham were right to get rid of George Graham because he had done nothing at Spurs. The journalist never even spoke to me. So, now, when journalists look for me I tell them I’m not interested. I didn’t really speak to the press as a player. I tell Ian just to say I’m not interested. What did he say to you?”

He’s looking at me directly, now. He doesn’t look much older than he did when he was at Spurs. An advantage, I suppose, of looking older when you’re younger.

“He said that to me, but I think I might have had a bit of leeway because he knew my brother.”


I show Gillie an excerpt from a play about Jock Stein and Bill Shankly which had aired on Radio Scotland a few weeks previously. He is genuinely surprised when I tell him he was mentioned favourably in it. “Was ah?” he asks, his voice once again rising in that peculiarly east coast of Scotland manner.

Stein: Bob’s a good man.
Shankly: He is, yes.
Stein: That team he put together at Dundee, beautiful stuff, the way to play.
Shankly: Gifted players ...
Stein: Great wing-men
Shankly: Playing for the jersey
Stein: And Gilzean ...
Shankly: Aye, what a player ...
I show Gillie print-outs from the SFA Hall of Fame. He expresses surprise that Gordon Smith, his team-mate at Dundee, is not there. I risk a question not related to the nuts and bolts of the book. Ian Ure told me to ask Gillie who his favourite player was. Ian felt sure Gillie would say Dave Mackay.

“Naw, it was Jimmy Greaves. He was a class player. There’s a picture of us playing England and Ian Ure and Jimmy are running for the ball. Every muscle is standing out on Ian’s neck and Jimmy is just starting to move away from him. He was like lightning. He had this lovely style of pushing the ball away from him, just a yard. You know the way Messi just keeps it ahead of him but no-one can get near him? He was the best player I ever played with. Some of the goals he scored were unbelievable. It was a sad day for everyone at Spurs when Jimmy Greaves left.”

We talk for almost two hours, the conversation bouncing about. I ask him about Bill Nicholson and he tells me that he was “just a great man” and that there were three other managers who had impressed him most.

“The first was Tommy Walker, the Hearts manager. He spoke to me once before a game at Dens, before I had broken into the first team. I was gathering up balls during the warm-up and as I came off the pitch he started asking me how I was.

“The second was a Celtic manager, Jimmy McGrory. I remember him standing on the sideline and puffing on this great, big pipe. He was holding court with everyone around him in this real Irish brogue. I’ll always remember what he said: ‘It’s great to see all these people here. We’re really looking forward to the game, I think both teams are going to put on a real show of good football for them.’ And then, as I walked past, he said, ‘Hello there,’ as if I was an old friend. I wasn’t even in the first team at this stage. He didn’t need to do that, but it was a measure of the man.

“And the last manager was Matt Busby. I’d just signed for Spurs and I was walking towards the entrance of White Hart Lane, when all of a sudden, he appeared beside me with his arm outstretched and said, ‘I just wanted to congratulate you on your move and to wish you all the best.’ Those three, as well as Bill Nicholson, will always stand out in my mind because each of them took the time to speak to me at a time when I wasn’t as well known as they were. I didn’t want to go into management. I saw what it did to Bill Nicholson and thought, ‘It’s not for me’. I tried it at Stevenage when I came back from South Africa but I didn’t enjoy it.”

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