Evening Standard

Forever Tottenham: Cliff Jones has plenty of memorabilia from his successful playing days at his home. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

It is just as he’s seeing me to the door that Cliff Jones says: “I don’t want Harry to take the England job. With him setting the benchmark for the club for the future, I can see us becoming one of the strongest clubs in Europe, alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona. Harry’s got to lead us into the promised land.”

Tottenham supporters have been dreaming of that promised land since 1961. Then Bill Nicholson’s team, of which Jones was one of the stars, scoring 19 goals in 29 games, became the first in the 20th century to do the Double.

You would expect Jones to say this: the 76-year-old still works for the club on match days and is, as he reminds me, Welsh. But with Spurs going into Sunday’s north London derby third in the Premier League and 10 points ahead of Arsenal, Jones’s plea to Redknapp comes from a belief that: “This is the best Tottenham side since the Double.”

Looking at the Wales star of the present squad reminds him of his own days at the Lane.

“I do see a bit of myself when I watch Gareth [Bale]. What Gareth has, and what I had, was when we pick the ball up, there was an expectancy from the crowd because we were very quick to go past players, and very good to watch. When Gareth picks the ball up, people start to get up a little bit, as they did when I was a player.”

We are sitting in Jones’s elegant living room and, as he speaks, he levers himself up as if to imitate the reactions of supporters at White Hart Lane. “I was the original Welsh wizard but now Gareth Bale is the new one, the pretender to my throne. Gareth can go all the way. He’s already one of the top players in Europe. He can rank up there alongside John Charles and Ivor Allchurch, which is saying a great deal.”

So does this mean Bale has overtaken Jones, once rated as the best winger in the world? “Not quite because he doesn’t head the ball as well I did. Also, he sometimes might go down a bit too easily. I would never let a defender know that I was hurt. My father said to me, ‘Son, if somebody hurts you, don’t show it because it’ll encourage it.'”

Nor is Jones convinced Redknapp is right to give Bale the freedom of the park. “He’s left footed and he’s just more effective on that left rather than wandering around the place and not always getting the ball.”

Bale is not the only one who reminds Jones of the Double team. Scott Parker was the bargain of last summer’s transfer window, with Redknapp paying West Ham £5million for the England midfielder.

Dave Mackay, an iconic figure of the ’61 team, was the crucial signing by Nicholson. “Scottie has brought that commitment, that will to win,” Jones says. “What Dave, a very skilful player, had in abundance was that will to win which might have been slightly lacking within the side. The moment Mackay joined we started taking off.”

That take off was also helped by watching Rudolf Nureyev when Nicholson took his team to Russia for an end-of-season tour in 1959. “One night Bill said, ‘We’re going to the Bolshoi Ballet.’ We said, ‘Oh leave us out, we’re footballers, we don’t want to go see the ballet.'”

Nicholson, impressed by the fitness of the dancers, discovered the Bolshoi did weight training and on his return to London hired, Bill Watson, an Olympic weightlifter, to work with the squad.

“That changed our fitness levels: the tour of Russia was the start of our journey to the Double,” Jones says.

In the hope his squad can last the distance, Redknapp has introduced yoga and pilates into training this season and that has paid off with Spurs on course to return to the Champions League.

Their last Premier League match was a 5-0 rout of Newcastle, taking their goals in the division to 49 from 25 games. But Jones believes Redknapp could get even more goals out of the team by using the little-and-large double act which served his side so well.

“I like a big man, small man combination up front,” he says. “I’d play Defoe with Adebayor; Defoe is tremendous. We had it with Bobby Smith and Les Allen and then Jimmy Greaves and Alan Gilzean. The tall guy, who was good with his head, could set Jimmy up and Jimmy was the greatest goal scorer ever.”

Jones accepts Redknapp cannot replicate Nicholson’s relationship with his captain Danny Blanchflower, so crucial to the Double success.

“Bill would allow Danny the freedom to change things. If things weren’t going too well for me on the left hand side, Danny would say, ‘We’ll have a swap,’ and I’d change wings with Terry Medwin. Sometimes Bill might not agree with the move Danny had made and there’d be words but there was always a great respect between the two.

“Ledley King wouldn’t dare do what Danny did. All captains do now is put the armband on, they don’t make decisions. It’s all done on the touchline.”

Nor does Jones expect ­Redknapp to turn the clock back in the relationship between players and fans. “Football has gone away from the people,” he says regretfully.

“When I was playing, there was more of an attachment between the player and the supporter. After a game we’d walk along Tottenham High Road and there’d be a couple of pubs we’d go into and have a few pints. Bill Nicholson would say, ‘The most important people in this club are the supporters.’ He made us very aware of our responsibility to the community. Modern footballers have lost that.”

Jones is also saddened by the attitude of fans, which he sees as part of a wider problem in the game. To explain his point he tells of how, when his playing days ended, he became a games teacher at Highbury Grove School – less than a mile from Arsenal’s former home.

“It was enemy territory big time,” he says with a laugh. “But they treated me okay. In those days football fans supported football. Now it is very tribal. Football has changed for the worse. When I was playing, players respected each other a bit more, respected referees a lot more.”

Another sign of how football has changed is that when Jones began his career with Swansea in the Fifties, encouraged by his dad to learn a trade, he did a five-year apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker. “I know what it’s like to clock on at half past seven and clock off at five. The majority of footballers don’t know what work really is.

Football ain’t work. It’s a pastime and a very highly paid one now.”

Not that Jones resents what the stars earn, although ironically he now earns more for his match day work at Tottenham then he did as a player. He says: “I have no regrets about my life. I have been married for 56 years and have six great-grandchildren.”

Mihir and Cliff Jones. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Lustig.


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