On this day, April 17, 1961: Tottenham 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
It was 59 years ago today that Les Allen’s stunning strike proved decisive in clinching victory for Spurs – and with it the Division One title.
Having fallen behind inside half an hour, Bill Nicholson’s men got back on terms through Bobby Smith with three minutes to go until the interval.
And Allen’s effort moments later allowed the Lilywhites to complete the first half of a famous Double, clinched three weeks later with a 2-0 win over Leicester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
The win over Wednesday was selected by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Football Matches, with their Association Football Correspondent Geoffrey Green’s following match report published in a book edited by Richard Whitehead.
Tottenhan Hotspur are champions and last night at White Hart Lane was in its way a night of nights for the men of north London, even though their victory over their nearest and fiercest rivals, Sheffield Wednesday, was not quite the match it ought to have been.
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Not that one expected very much else. There was too much at stake.
It was a nervy, and often far too passionate, battle played out in a hot, seething atmosphere of a 61,000 crowd whch had about it something of the clamour of a Plaza de Toros.
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Still, Spurs have done it and the first to congratulate them at the end as the crowds tried to swarm on to the field past barriers of police were Sheffield Wednesday themselves, a hard, economical side with a great defence that had fought Spurs all the way
At the finish when all the figures had disappeared from the battleground the great crowds were crying: “We want Danny, we want Danny”, but this was not a night on which the Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower was at the scintillating best we know of him.
Nor need one be surprised, for it was not the sort of struggle in which his refined artistry could live for too long, with the pace and the fierceness of the tackling such as they were.
So the first leg of the football spring double has been captured by a side who all through the season have shown a touch of the thoroughbred. It is only when they have fallen from their own high pinnacle that one has tended to be critical, but taken over eight months of a hard testing season in all kinds of conditions and tension theirs has been a masterly effort.
Now they stand within 90 minutes of the League and Cup double, which throughout the twentieth century has so far proved to be a mirage.
Whether Spurs can pull it off now remains to be seen. Leicester City still have much to say about that and we must wait now until May 6. Yet it is a season on which Tottenham can look back proudly; the season when they won their second championship just 10 years after 1951 when their present manager was a playing member of that earlier triumphant team.
Tottenham have broken all kinds of records so far. Looking back one can remember their 16 unbeaten matches from the opening day of the season, which in itself was a new mark in history; they have 30 wins to their name already, which is more than any side has ever had in the First Division; they have set up a club record of 111 goals; and they have been watched by over two million people, a greater figure than has ever before watched a club in a League season.
Now remains the double to be snatched and only three more points from their three remaining matches to beat Arsenal’s total of 66 points set up in 1931.
A quarter of an hour after the end last night, when the players came out of the directors’ box to take their bows from a cheering, vastly excited populace, one could look back rather more disinterestedly on a tense and passionate game in which there were several stirring duels.
Smith again Swan, colleagues of the England side, down the middle; Mackay against Craig, two Scotsmen; and the withering speed of Jones, who, cleverly fed by White, was the real mainspring of Tottenham’s great fight back.
And, my goodness, how they had to fight. At the half-hour, with Wednesday on top, breaking up the Spurs’ delicate rhythm with their sharp tackling, the men of Yorkshire took the lead when Megson flashed home a rebound from the edge of the penalty area following a free kick by Kay.
Tottenham at that point looked in real trouble with Blanchflower only occasionally able to exert his steadying influence. Then came the dramatic turn.
It was all contained within the last three minutes of the dying half. First Ellis, who nine times out of 10 had the measure of Norman in the air – but only in the air – headed Wilkinson’s cross beyond everyone, but it hit the Tottenham post and was scrambled away.
A minute later Baker’s long upfield clearance was flicked backwards by little Dyson as he beat the massive Swan in the air and there was Smith hooking the ball over Megson with his right foot and smashing it into the roof of Springett’s net with his left.
One-all, and White Hart Lane was a sea of waving figures, yet nothing compared with the scene just on the stroke of half-time.
It was then that Blanchflower, taking a free kick, signalled Norman up into the Wednesday penalty area. Blanchflower placed the ball perfectly, Norman headed sideways and there was Allen with a superb volley, taken shoulder high, crashing the ball again past Springett. One could hardly hear oneself speak during the interval.
At last Tottenham were ahead and once they had got the scent they were always just that much smoother at the change of ends to hold on to their prize.
But not before Smith had once crashed into another colleague of his in the England side, Sprignett, who was off the field for five minutes being rapidly repaired while Johnson took over the green sweater under the Wednesday crossbar.
If there were any heroes at this last turn of the card they were Jones, for Tottenham, and Swan, for Sheffield Wednesday, who played as fine a game as I have ever seen from him at centre-half. Now for May 6.
Tottenham: W Brown, P Baker, R Henry, D Blanchflower, M Norman, D Mackay, C Jones, J White, R Smith, L Allen, T Dyson.
Sheff Wed: P Springett, P Johnson, D Megson, B Hill, P Swan, A Kay, A Finney, R Craig, K Ellis, J Fantham, D Wilkinson.
Referee: TW Dawes (Norfolk).