King Arthur & his Knights of ’51

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Image: SpursWeb

September 1st marks the date of what would be Arthur Rowe’s Birthday.

When you ask a lot of Spurs fans who they think are the greatest managers in the history of our club you’ll invariably hear the names Bill Nicholson or Keith Burkinshaw & as some might probably suggest the current incumbent Mauricio Pochettino, however  I would imagine not many would mention Arthur Rowe.

Perhaps fans of a certain generation might or those fully clued up on their Tottenham history, but not many. It’s nobody’s fault really, the teams of the Bill Nicholson era, & those trophy winning teams of the early-mid eighties take the plaudits, it’s what’s talked about, its where comparison goes. It’s natural.

But what about Arthur Sydney Rowe. His story is that of unbridled triumph against the odds which is tinged with tragedy. He managed our club from 1949-1955 & his “push & run” method, unique at the time, changed the way football was played worldwide forever.

The man was an absolute football genius, quiet & unassuming, never to take credit for that genius, it was sadly this great football intellect & strained efforts to keep Spurs at the top that ultimately lead to a nervous break down.

The ever modest Arthur credited Peter McWilliam, whom had 2 different spells as Tottenham boss, as the real instigator of that famous push & run philosophy.

Arthur, born a stones throw from White Hart Lane, joined McWilliams’ eventual 1921 FA Cup winning squad as a schoolboy. He went on to develop his skills at Gravesend & Northfleet in a move equivalent to the loan system used today. A clever centre half he played throughout the 1930’s before a knee injury curtailed his career & he retired from playing in 1939.

After retirement Arthur, who had caught the coaching bug, travelled Europe learning his craft, settling in Budapest where he was employed by the Hungarian government to instruct their football coaches. Arthur liked Hungary, was prepared to stay,only for a certain führer to throw a spanner in the works, & he returned home, enlisted as a physical training instructor for the British Army.

It isn’t by coincidence that Hungarian football hit its peak not long after Arthur left. His methods were already starting to bear fruit.

It was in 1945 when he took charge of Southern League side Chelmsford. It was here where he formed a reputation as a talented young coach & in May 1949 he took over at his boyhood club after Joe Hulme’s departure.

Arthur’s first major signing was Alf Ramsay from Southampton, the same Alf Ramsay that would go on to lead England to 1966 World Cup triumph.

In his first season in charge King Arthur & his knights walked away with the then Division 2 title wining it by a 9 point margin. They would follow up promotion by winning the Division 1 title at the first attempt. It was extraordinary.

The line was lead by Guernsey’s finest Len “The Duke” Duquemin but the core of that team was the defence which included Alf & the goal-keeping powehouse that was Ted Ditchburn.

Captain Ron Burgess & Bill Nicholson were the on field leaders & it was Eddie Baily’s inch perfect passing that was ripping teams apart up & down the country.
Other teams full backs had very little answer to the flying wingmen Sonny Walters & Les Medley.

Norman Giller, proud fan, journalist,author, & a fountain of knowledge on all things Tottenham, asked Bill Nicholson, Alf Ramsay & Arthur who was the most influential player of that championship winning team of 1950/51 & all three said, unequivocally, Ron Burgess. Norman then a few years later put that same question to Ron who replied “There was no one individual more important than the rest, we had that vital all-for-one spirit” A spirit that you might say current boss Mauricio Pochettino is trying to implement too.

Speaking of Mauricio, “philosophy” is a word we often hear him say and Arthur too had his own philosophy that he would impress upon the players.

He told Norman: “My philosophy was that the easier you made the game the easier it was to play it. So I used to tell the players to push the Ball to a team mate, run into space & take the instant return pass. It was making the most of the “wall pass” or the “one-two” When not in possession get into position. It was easier said than done,of course, but I got together a squad of players with football intelligence to make it work”

Sadly he was never able to replicate that success of the 1950/51 team & with the job taking its toll health-wise, he stood down in 1955.

Spells in charge of Crystal Palace, Millwall, West Brom & Leyton Orient followed but the great success he had in his early Spurs days sadly eluded him.

Arthur Rowe is a man football worldwide owes a lot of gratitude too, his modern methods were the catalyst to the style of football most of our football teams play the world over.
He doesn’t have a pub named after him, a club lounge that his name adorns, not even a bust or statue in his honour but without a doubt, & in my humble opinion, without Arthur Rowe we’d might never have had Bill Nicholson, Danny Blanchflower or that famous push & run football synonymous at White Hart Lane & other football stadia the world over.
He might not get the accolades Bill Nicholson got, & deserved,but for me Arthur Rowe was & always will be the man who changed football, a coaching genius & the original
Mr Tottenham.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article! Also don't forget that after the championship in '50-'51, Spurs were runner-up to Manchester United in '51-'52.
    Not too shabby!

  2. I have been a Spurs fan for 60 years, from the age of 10, when my Dad first took me to WHL. My Dad was a lifelong Spurs fan and talked a lot about the players and managers of the era prior to my entrance into this world.
    My Dad often talked of Arthur Rowe, because he met with him during his Army service during WW2. Yes, without a doubt, a Spurs legend.
    Ian, now from Chelmsford

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