Alan Gilzean head and shoulders above the rest... even Cristiano Ronaldo

Spurs' Alan Gilzean soars above Leicester goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Picture: Evening Standard/Getty
Spurs' Alan Gilzean soars above Leicester goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Picture: Evening Standard/Getty
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Few players earn adoration at clubs on both sides of the Border. Alan Gilzean did, hence why a new book, The King of Dens Park, goes by the title of The King of White Hart Lane down south.

At this time of year especially, the refrain of a familiar Christmas carol can be heard in north London. Perhaps it will echo tomorrow afternoon when Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side entertain Chelsea at the all-new version of White Hart Lane.

“Gilzean, Gilzean, Gilzean, Gilzean, born is the king of White Hart Lane,” is what they used to sing and still do on occasion. Glenn Hoddle, who inherited the title from Gilzean, is always quick to defer to the original monarch of Tottenham.

What would Gillie have made of Mourinho? It is still incredibly upsetting to remember it is not possible to simply pick up the phone and ask him such questions, as I had become used to doing in recent years.

The former Dundee and Spurs great passed away last year at the age of 79 after re-asserting himself in football society following a long period when he detached himself from the game.

It is interesting to note the fuss made of Cristiano Ronaldo’s headed winner for Juventus against Sampdoria in midweek. It was described as a “gravity-defying leap”.

Again, how frustrating to not be able to get Gillie’s views on an art he perfected. It would, however, be slightly embarrassing to have to let him know Ronaldo was now being hailed as “the greatest aerial threat in the history of football”, which is how one fan without sufficient knowledge of the history of football – nor clearly access to author Mike Donovan’s well researched new book – put it on Twitter.

During his eulogy for Gilzean at Dundee crematorium, and with the intention of putting into context for younger members of the large congregation just what company Gilzean – or should that be Ronaldo? – deserves to be keeping, journalist Patrick Barclay stressed: “If we were discussing now, or anytime in the last ten years, who was the greatest ever header of a football, it would be a toss-up between Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Gilzean.”

Note the phrase toss-up. Even after Ronaldo’s latest heroics – it was calculated he jumped 2.56 metres and hung in the air for 1.5 seconds – Barclay is not likely to be convinced by those rushing to proclaim the Portuguese as the king of headers.

After all, when Gilzean scored a headed winning goal for Scotland v England in 1964, in front of 133,000 people at Hampden, he climbed so high to beat goalkeeper Gordon Banks to the ball it seemed as if he was already halfway to heaven.

Miljan Miljanic, the manager of Red Star Belgrade, once said of Gilzean: “If ever a football university is founded Alan Gilzean should be appointed as the first professor to lecture on how to use one’s head and to play with one’s head.” What more is there to say after that?

It was not only his head with which he excelled – as is underlined by a terrific photo included in the new book of a supporter bending to kiss Gillie’s feet before his testimonial against Red Star Belgrade in 1974.

Perhaps the last word ought to go to Jimmy Greaves, whom some regard as British football’s all-time greatest goalscorer. “I don’t think I was ever happier than when I was playing with Gillie,” he said.

l The King of Dens Park – the Authorised Biography of Alan Gilzean by Mike Donovan is published by Pitch Publishing and is out now, £19.99