Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Danny Blanchflower's 1997 Parkinson interview an online hit as Northern Ireland hero questions 'serious' football

Danny Blanchflower
Danny Blanchflower

You can't help but wonder what Danny Blanchflower would say to football in 2019.

Much water has passed under the footballing bridge since the then Northern Ireland manager appeared on Parkinson back in 1977.

Now 42 years on, the compelling interview has been put back into focus by the BBC's social media department and gives a fascinating insight into the mind of one of football's great thinkers.

Central to its themes was his railing against the prevailing 'serious' attitude of modern footballl.

In the days of £100m transfer fees, six figure sums at the end of the week and managers ousted almost on a whim, the sentiments would suggest Northern Ireland's 1958 World Cup captain wouldn't be too enamoured about the sport in the 21st century.

Watch the interview here:

"It's become too serious but it's the people who have become too serious," he said before casting his mind to his own Northern Ireland side - then, as now, struggling to keep up with the likes of England. "We laugh. We're the only team that can lose and terrify the opposition.

"In my day of playing for Northern Ireland, I played for two extremes, which helps you get a better sense of balance. In three-quarters of the games I played as a professional, I wasn't sure why we had won or why we had lost because the competition was so close and that's as it should be. The ball had hit somebody in the back of the head and went into the net. We didn't do laps of honour because we'd wonder how the hell we'd won.

"Now when I played for a great team, which was Tottenham, I knew we were going to win and I almost knew by how many goals we were going to beat the opposition because we had a control. We were that degree better.

"When I went to play for the Northern Ireland team, because of limited resources, I knew it was hard. I didn't play the same kind of football there as I did at Tottenham because I was struggling all the time. I enjoyed that just as much because it's a miracle that Northern Ireland, with a small population, is playing on the same field as England. Anything less than five or six goals was a moral victory. You've got to get it in perspective and I think what's wrong today is that they don't get things in perspective."

For Danny, football was romantic and key to its excitement was the element of chance, of uncertainty. Even in 1977, he felt some of it was being lost.

"I see that as a beaurocratic crisis," he said of managers' increasingly-popular 'dossiers' on opposition teams. "I think football very much reflects the state of a country in which it's in. Not always, but mostly. The element of chance and fun has been taken out of life.

"That happens in the game too. That's why it's standardised. It's always 4-3-3 and 4-42. With people taking less chances, there's less uncertainty. When unexpected things happen, there's more fun. So there's an appearance of less fun in the game now.

"The game's not as much fun for the spectator because he sees it in a simplistic light. He likes his team to attack and to defend. When your team's attacking, you get some pleasure because you hope that they'll score. When the other team's attacking, there's fear.

"If they're both defending the whole game, you never get those emotions so there's less fun.

When you get down to details like this - things like 'when he dips his right shoulder' - I tell them to watch the ball. There's only one ball, he can dip his right shoulder if he likes. You're watching the ball instead of his shoulder."

Blanchflower explained why he'd been seen a trouble-maker during his own playing days. He helped Tottenham win the league, two FA Cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup but his keen mind often led to trouble with club hierarchy.

"When I went to Barnsley and did the pre-season training, that was all physical," he said of his move into English football after leaving Glentoran.

"I asked the managed, Angus Seed, I said I'd like to train with the ball. He said no, we don't want you to train with the ball. I asked why not and he said, 'we feel if you don't get it during the week, you'll want it all the more on Saturday'.

"I said well if I don't see it during the week, I won't be able to recognise it on the Saturday.

"He said he'd put my name down as a trrouble-maker to the Football Association and I said he could put it down twice because I was coming in again tomorrow.

"I carried on with the argument and eventually I said give me a transfer or give me the ball. He didn't want to transfer me so he gave me the ball. None of the other players were allowed to come out with me in the afternoon except the reserve goalkeeper."

Blanchflower died in December 1993 and was honoured with an Ulster History Circle plaque at 49 Grace Avenue in Belfast, his childhood home.

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