Danny Blanchflower - A Spurs Shot (Interview with Martin Cloake)
Interview time. And a massive DML hug to the esteemed Martin Cloake (author, writer, editor) and his new venture of ebooks (Sports Shots) crafted with his equally esteemed tag-team partner Adam Powley who have worked together many times before to bring us so many glorious publications on the club we all adore.
Their (new) ebook series kicks off with a 'Spurs Shot' on Danny Blanchflower - an extended article on the life and influence of the Spurs legend. It’s part history and part appreciation with some debating points about why Blanchflower was such an influential figure, and why he continues to be. It ends with a contention that is sure to cause debate.
S) - Spooky
MC) - Martin Cloake
S) Hello Martin, and welcome to DML. Anyone who manages to get a response from the club via letter has the utmost respect from me. Club and chairman prefer to ignore my attempts on the grounds that reading correspondence crafted from newspaper cuttings warrants police action and restraining orders.
MC) I'll admit I do find it a bit odd having conversations with senior people at the club after having been seen as a bit of a critic for years. Although I prefer to call my stance 'independent' - which a lot of people in football seem to think means 'critical'.
S) So, first things first, it must be a pleasure for you to be able to write about Tottenham Hotspur, its players and our history. For anyone reading this that doesn’t know, you’ve worked on The Opus and 61 - The Spurs Double in an editorial capacity and you also wrote material for the latter. If that wasn’t enough you’ve done The Pocket Book of Spurs, The Spurs Miscellany, We are Tottenham and also the superb The Boys from White Hart Lane. You’re a bit of a show-off, aren’t you? You and long-time co-author Adam Powley are akin to a Greaves and Lineker combo. Prolific. We have such a rich tapestry of tradition and dramatic arcs...is your head imploding with ideas for future publications? Do you look that far ahead or simply react to inspiration and requests?
MC) That's the second Spurs combo we've been compared too - Paolo Hewitt called us the "Chivers and Gilzean of Spurs writing" - which made us both worried about possible hair loss. I actually avoided writing about sport or Spurs for years because I was a working journalist and Spurs was what I did in my spare time. But I wrote for the fanzines and you gradually get pulled in to writing about what you know.
I suppose there's always an element of ego involved in anything that means you put work in front of people for them to buy, but me and Adam have been lucky in that people are interested in what we like to write about. And we really work well together. Because both of us worked as journalists – and Adam for some time book publishing – we're naturally always on the look out for stories and ideas that might work. And we both find it very difficult to switch off – which makes us quite annoying to live with.
S) The Boys from White Hart Lane always leaves me a little sad and empty inside even though it’s a wonderful slice of history that captures a great time to have been a Spurs fan and more so how different football was back then. It’s those very reasons that beg the question...has football sold its soul? Do you feel, as a fan, marginalised at all by the modern game? We’re often perceived as revenue streams, consumers. Football has obviously lost that innocence, but do you believe that once you strip away all the things we hate about the modern game – that it’s still 11 v 11 on a green field of grass, and it’s in these moments that football still retains its beauty?
MC) That's exactly why we wanted to do that book, so it's great to hear you say that – although obviously we didn't deliberately set out to leave you feeling sad and empty. Is it OK if we don't use that to publicise the book?
I remember feeling marginalised in the 1970s when I started going to live football, and I still feel marginalised today. It's just the nature of the marginalisation that's changed. I think there's a widespread feeling that football is too bloated, self-important and rampantly free-market commercial and that something has been lost. But it's also true that the audience shows no sign of diminishing and that the money doesn't look like drying up any time soon - although now I've said that it will all come tumbling down within 12 months just to make me look stupid.
Why does this stuff always happen to me? ;-)
Cliche alert maybe, but when it's played properly – and I mean ball on the ground, pass, move and create properly – football is still the most beautiful game to watch. I also think the atmosphere of watching a game can be the best – although the tribalism, fuelled by commercialism, sometimes goes too far.
S) The thing about Spurs is, you can hardly turn away from the brooding drama that oozes out of White Hart Lane like lava from a volcano. The modern game might be drowning in money, but it’s never boring in N17, is it?
MC) The only time I can remember it being boring was during the long dark winter of George Graham as manager and The World's Greatest Living Businessman © as chairman. The football was dire, the atmosphere around the club was awful and soulless and there seemed no prospect of it ever changing. That was a real contrast to almost any other time I've known in 39 years of supporting the club, and certainly a contrast with the history that seeps into your veins as soon as you take an interest in Spurs.
What kept me going was the big group of friends I've made through supporting the club, and the bigger group of regulars I bump into all over Europe - it's corny but there is a bit of Spurs family feel. And compared to many fans I've seen some great times - Wembley 81 and Villa's goal; the 91 semi-final; the Liverpool QF in 1995; cup wins at Wembley, more than a few finals; that great series of games against Forest in the 90s; the Milan games last year…and that's just the bigger games.
S) Dare I ask your opinion on Luka Modric and the protracted mess we’ve been subjected to this summer?
MC) I said quite early on that Daniel Levy was right - that selection of words still looks odd – in taking the stance he has on Modric. The speculation was always going to come, especially after we missed out on the CL. But we need to send a message to our own players and to other clubs that we want to retain and build. And I think there's also a bit of a tipping point over what contracts mean. Modric signed a six-year deal and was happy to take the extra money for it. That needs to mean something, otherwise why bother having contracts? We've still got a week to go to see how this pans out, but if he's still at Spurs when the window shuts, we'll see how long it takes to 'get his head right'. I think there might be a speedy recovery in the head department.
S) Talking of lost innocence, the 60s are even more iconic than the 80s in terms of achievements. Ever thought about a The Boys from White Hart Lane – 1960s edition?
MC) We may have covered that ground with the 61 book, another project we really enjoyed. And there's the unavoidable fact that many of those great players' memories are fading and a few are no longer with us. But Cliff Jones was fantastic to work with and I think his story would be a great one to tell.
S) And remaining in the 60s, your latest venture is ‘A Spurs shot’ which focuses on Danny Blanchflower, an extended essay that looks back on his life and career seeking to understand why he remains such an iconic and inspirational figure. So how and why have you made the momentary move from printed books to the digital format of ebooks? £2.99 is pretty much amazing value for money. I’m guessing there is greater freedom to produce digital ‘shorts’ giving readers steady content over an extended period of time?
MC) The idea of the Sports Shots series is to offer titles which are longer than an article but shorter than a book for people to read on mobile devices. We think the price is a fair reflection of the effort put into to each one and the pricing that exists in that particular marketplace. You're right that there's greater freedom and flexibility to produce books in this format than via traditional methods, and also more room to test the waters.
Plus between us we've got a number of the production and marketing skills some authors don't have. But it certainly doesn't mean we're turning our backs on print, particularly as we have a great relationship with VSP, and also Haynes, who have published a number of our books. Interestingly, in the short time since the first Shot launched we've also noticed a resurgence of interest in some of the print titles.
S) You’ve stated that you’re not ruling out the possibility of casting your net wider in terms of future ‘Sports Shots’. Can you elaborate on this?
MC) We want to see what the demand is and whether people like what we've got to offer, but we will be putting out the second title in series shortly - that one's on a fella called Hoddle who some fans may remember. Although these are both Spurs Shots, by calling the series Sports Shots we've left the field open to cover some of the other subjects we're interested in. And we've also got a few ideas about other formats up our sleeves, but we're taking it one game at a time, Brian.
S) And Sports Shots are currently only available for Kindle and via Kindle readers on compatible devices (via Amazon). Can we expect an appearance on Apple's iTunes/iBooks in the future?
MC) If we've got something to build on, we'll build. We don't think readers are that interested in platforms of formats or devices – they just want to access the good stuff they want easily. So it makes sense to have any product available in as wide a range of marketplaces as possible. That said, there are a number of complications involved with making material available across multiple marketplaces that means ebook publishing is not quite as simple as some would have you believe, so we need to think about time and resources too.
S) A preference of Blanchflower to kick this series off, it’s probably a daft thing to point out, but that must have been quite an easy selection considering how he is perceived by so many as the quintessential Tottenham midfielder. Graceful and inspirational.
MC) I've always been fascinated by Danny Blanchflower, which is a bit odd because I never saw him play. But he is such a dominant figure is Spurs history and such an interesting character – plus of course he was a journalist which is another passion of mine. So the choice made itself when we were thinking of the first title. But we didn't want to roll out a bland profile, and each title will feature some original analysis and observation. In this title, I put forward a couple of theories about Danny's most famous quote and about the lasting influence he asserts which will hopefully provide some talking points.
S) You are spoilt for choice from that particular era. Should we expect more or will you jump ahead to the 70s, 80s and 90s for future ‘shots’?
MC) As you've said, there are so many rich characters in the club's history. We'd be daft to restrict ourselves and, if these first two titles do well, we've certainly got a good variety of other candidates we'd like to, er, tackle.
S) Spoilt for choice in any decade when you think about it. Is there any current Spurs player you could possibly imagine writing about in years to come? Or are we once more anchored to modern football and its lack of loyalty that none will warrant the same accolades than the likes of Blanchflower?
MC) There are issues about the modern game, as we've discussed already. But I really like this current squad of players. In the intro to The Boys from White Hart Lane we said we'd couldn't imagine sitting down for a cup of tea with any of today's players and chatting as we did with Tony Parks. Although I doubt Tony would be allowed to talk in the same way now he's back at the club - but we'd love to do that interview!
That observation probably still stands, but two players I'd love to interview are Gareth Bale and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Gareth is not only one of the most exciting players to watch - he sends that buzz around the place every time he's on the ball - he seems a genuinely well-adjusted bloke and I reckon he'd be fascinating to talk to. And Benny, as well as being a great full back who I can't believe is so underrated by so many Spurs fans, has a really interesting attitude to the game that cuts through all the bloated hype, and it would be real treat to sit down and shoot the breeze with him.
S) If we go onto bigger and better things and win silverware (steady now), BAE strikes me as a fascinating player, one that stands out in an almost maverick way. Any particular modern day favourite you have?
MC) There. I've answered the question already. I can't honestly think of a first team squad member I don't really like. Favourites are firmly Bale and Modric, the latter despite the whining and what seems to be a pretty disgraceful attitude of late.
S) Okay, so a couple of things to finish on. The first is Spurs Future and your involvement (anyone unfamiliar with this independent group birthed from the failure of the club bidding for the OS and the arguments that rage on about the NDP and its viable potential – click here and here to get up to speed). Any progress on the Community Share Proposal made to THFC and Haringey Borough Council? When should we expect an update on developments?
MC) I keep asking myself why I've got involved with efforts to help a company owned by an incredibly rich tax exile raise some money that will help it make more money, and I probably need my head examined. But I care about the club, the club needs a new stadium for a number of reasons, and I also care about Haringey as it's the place I grew up in. So I'm as focussed on the Community side as much as the Stadium side.
My involvement came from some conversation on email and Twitter which was about practical solutions rather than finger-pointing and opposition - important as it is to oppose that which is not going to benefit the club or the community. I'm a bit wary about getting involved in Spurs support politics having had some depressing encounters in the past, but I've never believed it's right to just talk and not do, so I'm trying to do something constructive.
If we can have some influence than that's great, but I'm under no illusions. We've got a meeting with the club quite soon and, as always, we'll update via the website. Sorry if that sounds a bit general and PR-driven but it's a genuine answer.
S) And finally, on the recent ‘The Fighting Cock’ podcast (ep 4) we read out the passage referencing the inaugural Club Handbook (issued in 1897) from your book The Spurs Miscellany and asked the question, ‘What is the Tottenham Whisper?’. We’ve had plenty of theories and feedback on this from Spurs fans around the world who have attempted to delve into the past to see if they can fathom some kind of understanding. I did say that if you and Adam didn’t know then the likelihood is that this is a mystery lost forever in another century. You still in the dark on this?
MC) We are still very much in the dark, but your question prompted me to ask legendary club history guru Andy Porter. So watch this space.
S) Martin, don’t be a stranger to DML. Thanks for talking to us. Looking forward immensely to this series of ebooks. I’m hoping for one on Gascoigne.
MC) The site's always a good read, not least for having a sense of humour and a sense of perspective. As for Gazza, we'll see what we can do.
S) Thank you kind sir.
Sports Shots are priced at a very accessible £2.99 and this title can be purchased by clicking this link. At the moment titles are available only for Kindle and via Kindle reader on compatible devices. If this takes off, we’ll be looking at rolling the titles out on other platforms.