The White Hart Lane Ghost

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As Autumn leaves flutter from the trees, causing all manner of hazards to Joe public, and, ‘All Hallows Eve’ approaches, where all sorts of little, pint-sized peoples, in various forms of ghoulish and ghostly garbs, forage forth, tricking and treating, and frightening the wits out of the senior citizens in our communities, spare a thought for our own ghost; The Ghost Of White Hart Lane; John Anderson White, 1937-1964.

‘The Ghost’, thus dubbed by the Spurs faithful, had a few tricks and treats of his own, when gracing the hallowed turf of White Hart Lane, for some five seasons, between 1959 and 1964.

Bill Nicholson bought him for £22,000 in 1959, from Falkirk FC. It was a transfer that almost didn’t happen.

He had gone to Falkirk from Alloa Athletic. The John White Lounge is still a feature at their ground in Clackmannan.

White’s frail appearance had put off many English First Division clubs from taking a chance on him. Nicholson himself had hesitated, but Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay (who’d played alongside him in internationals) testified when asked, of his great abilities.

When the Army said he was a ‘celebrated cross-country runner, the deal was done. Nicholson had bought another winner.

John White, born 28 April 1937, in Mussleburgh near Edinburgh, played a significant role, in the Spurs double winning season of 1960-61.

In assessing his role for the team, we need only look at the stats, for the time he spent in London N17.

‘Lies, damned-lies and statistics’, I hear you say. Not where he was concerned.

He was ever-present in the double winning season and between 1959 and the end of the 1960-61 season, he contributed eighteen goals. He also scored a goal in the final, when the successful European campaign of 1963, resulted in the team winning the Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam, beating Atletico Madrid, by five goals to one.

In the five seasons he contributed to, Spurs never finished below fourth, in the First Division. In the 15 matches he missed, Spurs won only once.

In his final season, the team would finish in sixth place – his loss was immediate – read on.

His moniker had come about as a result of his seemingly arriving quite unexpectedly, in the oppositions penalty area, ‘ghosting’ over the field and making pivotal runs and finding space to make a pass and take a pass.

Cliff Jones said of him, ‘other players have to be brought into a game, but White brought himself into games’. White’s methodology seemed to be, if you’re not in possession, get in position.

On the field, he managed to be as ubiquitous as the humble chip. His stamina and endurance seemed limitless.

Further honours might have followed for him, but tragedy was to strike, when in 1964, at the height of his powers, he was struck by lightning, when sheltering under a tree from a thunderstorm, on Crews Hill Golf Course, Enfield.

He was only 27 years of age. The date was July 21st. Spookily, The Beatles were on top of the hit parade, with ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

This news of his death was a devastating blow for his wife Sandra, who had two small children to care for; Mandy, who was two years of age and son Rob, only six months.

Sandra was the daughter of then Spurs assistant-manager, Harry Evans, whom Nicholson had brought in, in 1959 also.

White also had a son from a previous marriage to a Helen MacLean, which was over after just a few weeks.

Stephen had no idea of who his father was, until he was a young man. His famous father never saw his first born.

The great Terry Medwin bitterly regretted, not golfing with White on that fateful day, as he felt he might have prevented his tragic death.

White’s testimonial was held in December of 1964, at The Lane. His younger brother Tom, also a footballer, played for Spurs in that game and scored a goal, from a pass laid on by Jimmy Greaves.

John White’s portrait has been erected in the entrance to the Scottish Football Hall Of Fame.

He was also inducted into the Tottenham Hall Of Fame.

1964: Bill Brown is dropped; Bobby Smith ended his illustrious Spurs career, scoring 208 goals in 317 appearances; Mel Hopkins brings to an end, his own great career at Tottenham, after 12 years and John White was taken very prematurely, to the great football firmament in the sky.

However, life goes on apace. Time waits for no man and tempus fugits on fleet foot…….

In comes Jimmy Robertson, Alan Mullery, Alan Gilzean, Cyril Knowles (‘nice one’) and the brilliant Pat Jennnings. Five of the best.

Ah, nostalgia! Pity we hadn’t secreted away samples of their DNA. Pity it was yet to be discovered.

Cloning: now there’s an idea! I’m a bit sheepish over that notion, though.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I remember him well. I was a kid when the news came through, and I cried. With his death a special spirit passed out of that unique team. No matter who we brought in, we never replaced him. The history of creative players at Tottenham matches exactly the graph of their successes and shortfalls.

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