I have been back into the past this last few days. Researching material for a feature on the Spurs double winning side of 1961, 50th anniversary thereof being celebrated this May, has caused me to look again at the origins of the Football League and the history of the FA Cup, the world's oldest organised football competition.
For those unaware of Spurs feat 50 years ago, they were the first side in 64 years to emulate Aston Villa's achievement back in 1897 of lifting the Cup and League trophies in the same season. In those far off days Villa played just 26 league fixtures, Spurs faced 42. Led by the incomparable Danny Blanchflower, the Irishman was legendary for his take on the game.
"The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind...Football is not really about winning, or goals, or saves or supporters — it’s about glory. It’s about doing things in style, doing them with a flourish; it’s about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom; it’s about dreaming of the glory that the Double brought."
You can tell from that how Danny's career saw him viewed with suspicion by club chairmen and managers. He so nearly never made it as far as the double season. In the late 50's he took it upon himself to change tactics in the heat of a Cup semi-final. Spurs lost, Blanchflower was stripped of the captaincy - he demanded a transfer, the board just ignored him.
In the context of this week's magnificent exhibition of football at the Emirates, I was reminded of another famous Blanchlower story. Danny would surely have approved of Wednesday's game in the Champions League.
Beginning his career in England at Barnsley in 1949 coincided with the Belfast boy winning his first caps. Returning from international duty to Oakwell Danny had noticed how continental players seemed more comfortable on the ball. At Barnsley training sessions concentrated more on physical fitness and endless lapping of the ground, so he sought out the manager, traditionalist long-serving Angus Seed. Danny wanted to come back in the afternoons to 'work more with the ball.' Seed didn't like it. "With my methods you'll be hungrier for it come Saturday," he growled. "With your methods by then I'll have forgotten what it looks like," came the reply.
You could never level that charge against the players of Barcelona. Their pass and move rate mid-week was simply phenomenal, other-worldly almost, fully 50% above the average for a Premiership game. But all credit to Arsenal for not buckling, and keeping to their own principles of trying to play in the same vein. In the end they got their rewards, but the away leg will still be daunting. Did you know the Nou Camp is deliberately marked out to the maximum dimensions allowed in football. While the groundsman has strict instructions the grass must always be a precise 3 millimetres?
From the past to the present, Wednesday's game was a true classic. So how uplifting it is to read that Hughes wants Fulham to play the Barcelona way. This from one who knows in Eidur Gudjohnsen, while Hughes of course himself wore the famous azulgrana stripes in a previous era. Not a bad template is it, even if Danny's a bit long in the tooth to become the new Iniesta. Let's hope for another win with flair this Sunday in the FA Cup. A repeat of the scoreline from Rd 4 may be asking too much, but Bolton have forgotten how to beat us (one win from the last 12) and with home advantage I see only a Whites win come Sunday.
© Getty Images
We've had two days longer than Bolton to rest up, our defence, magnificent on Monday, are simply not conceding at the Cottage, and surely with the side commited to attack we'll generate more openings than we saw against Chelsea. I won't be at all surprised to see Clint bounce back with a goal, he's having that kind of season. Big question though, might we see Bobby on the bench? How great would that be, even if he's not pushed on. With strong competition for places, expect to see both Eidur and Gael getting some game time.
To conclude, I turn my pen to matters non-Fulham related and refer to my opening. UEFA this week announced sky high ticket prices for this May's Champions League Final at Wembley. Disgraceful. Please don't let me read any more twaddle from their web site about 'it's the fans who count.' A £26 pound handling charge (!) per order demands people vote with their feet and boycott this blatant profiteering. Ticketmaster have a lot to answer for, having pioneered this scam across the industry. It is the bane of my concert going calendar and I do all in my power to avoid their operation.
Platini and his featherbedded cronies in tax-sheltered Nyon might like to follow reports into the current state of English football, where one witness after another has testified the power and intransigence of the Premier League hinders reform at every turn. And that the game is heading inexorably for financial meltdown - a theme on this blog long since.
And talking of money. I have no issues with Olympic mandarins giving West Ham the green light to relocate after the 2012 Games (even though the venue will be massively under-utilised for all those Championship fixtures against the like of Coventry and Hull). What I do find staggering is that Newham Council, smack in the heart of London's most deprived community, is going to put up £60 million pounds in loans to help the Hammers move in!
This in the teeth of the most crippling economic cuts announced by any government in the past 50 years is the cruellest of burdens to be landed on one of the most miserable boroughs in the UK. Right matron, time for a lie down before Sunday's cup tie.
It's only £20, so get on down there and cheer on the Whites. Recall the same week a year ago? We started with a 4-0 romp over Notts County in the Cup (Davies, BZ, Duff and Okaka) and then had that daunting 1st leg with Shakhtar when they threatened to pass us off the pitch. It was our own 'Barcelona test.' We held firm, sneaked past them...and look where that led. 2010 Hamburg...2011 Wembley? Just don't charge me an arm and a leg for the ticket!
Follow ESPNsoccernet's Football Correspondents on Twitter and Facebook