Friday, March 11, 2011

John White: Memories of The Ghost Live On


I'm looking forward to reading the new biography of John White, The Ghost of White Hart Lane, written by his son Rob White and Julie Welch.

White, of course, formed part of a tartan trinity with Bill Brown and Dave Mackay that helped drive Spurs to the Double in 1961 and the Cup Winner's Cup two years later.

Plucked from Falkirk in 1959 (Brown joined Spurs from Dundee, Mackay from Hearts), White was to be the fulcrum of Bill Nicholson's revamped Spurs in the mid sixties when tragedy struck.

Killed by lightning while golfing at the age of 27, White's career was cut tragically short.

A 2008 Scotland on Sunday article reported:

[Dave] Mackay asked the other day why we were writing about White now but then quickly answered his own question. "Ah, son, you don't need a reason." How good was he, we asked Jimmy Greaves. "Had John lived," said Greaves, "he could have been one of the greatest footballers of all time." How did the fans take to him? "I've been going to the Lane since 1952," says Peter Barnes, a diehard Spur. "Before me, my dad went from 1926. We cover a lot of history between us and John White was at the top table of greats of this club."

He was discovered the old fashioned way as well. Musselburgh born, White's career took him from East Lothian youth football to Bonnyrigg Rose in the juniors to Alloa and Falkirk in the professional leagues.

Spurs persevered where other big English clubs had given up, put off by his slight stature. The wily Nicholson apparently used his army contacts to discover that White's time in the services included a stint as a cross country running champion. Assured of his stamina, Nicholson signed his man.

Holding his own with players like Greaves in the Spurs side and linking up with Denis Law and Jim Baxter in his 22 Scotland games, White was clearly a rare talent.

"Will o' the wisp" is a phrase you often hear in people's recollections of him, the "Ghost" nickname coming from his ability to arrive in the box as if from nowhere.

In a week when Spurs are enraptured by a multi-million pound squad assembled from around the world, it's strange to think that Mackay and White, from Edinburgh and Musselburgh, were the heartbeat of a side that won British football's first European trophy.

That the book is co-authored by White's son delivers an added poignancy. Rob White was barely six months old when his father was killed.

It should at least be another step to ensure that the memory of Spurs' Ghost lives on.