Alan Gilzean – farewell to an all-time great of the game

Alan Gilzean made 22 appearances for Scotland and won the league title with Dundee. Picture: SNS
Alan Gilzean made 22 appearances for Scotland and won the league title with Dundee. Picture: SNS
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Alan Gilzean, the much-loved former Dundee and Tottenham Hotspur striker who scored 12 goals in 22 games for Scotland, has died shortly after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was 79.

Known to one and all as ‘Gillie’, he was rare in achieving legendary status on both sides of the Border. He was described as one of the club’s “all-time greats” on the Spurs official website yesterday.

At Dundee, where he is regarded as the club’s greatest-ever player, he scored 169 times in 190 appearances. He spearheaded Dundee’s charge to their only Scottish league title in 1961-2.

His total of 27 goals that season included a haul of four at Ibrox in a 5-1 win over Rangers. Gilzean scored 41 in total the following season as Dundee reached the semi-final of the European Cup, including heading the winner over AC Milan at Dens Park in the last four. He scored a club record 52 goals in 1963-64, his last full season.

Gilzean left Dens in December 1964 to join Spurs, where he satisfied a long-held desire to play football in England. As a child growing up in the Perthshire town of Coupar Angus he used to watch the FA Cup final in the local picture house. He said he was always desperate to play at Wembley stadium.

He helped Spurs win the FA Cup there in 1967 and also lifted two League Cups at the ground. He was in the side when Spurs won the Uefa Cup for the first time in 1972 with a two-legged win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He is ninth in the club’s all-time list of goalscorers with 133 goals in 439 appearances. He is seventh in their all-time appearances list.

After leaving Spurs in 1974 he played in South Africa for a spell before returning to England for a short stint managing Stevenage Athletic in the Southern League. He then spent a long spell away from football and was only persuaded to return to White Hart Lane a few years ago after former team-mate Pat Jennings sent a message for him to contact him.

Gilzean had drifted away from the game, retiring to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. He was, however, still immensely knowledgeable about what was going on. He continued to attend matches at Dens Park when he could. One of his two sons, Ian, continued to live in the Dundee area after following in his father’s footsteps by playing for the Dens Park club (having started at Spurs). However, he could not hope to emulate his father’s success.

His reputation is why Gilzean was so warmly welcomed back into the fold by Spurs when he re-appeared in 2012. He became a regular visitor and was employed as a matchday hospitality host, with fans of a certain age thrilled to meet the man christened the King of White Hart Lane in his playing days.

When Gilzean played his last game there, in his own testimonial v Red Star Belgrade, a fan ran on and kissed his feet.

“The King of White Hart Lane – oh heck,” said Gilzean in an interview with The Scotsman last year. “Harry Kane will get a new name when the new stadium is finished. I was the king, then (Glenn) Hoddle was the king, and then Harry. Oh I was the original I suppose, but then I am the oldest!

“When I go to functions I still get it (sung to me),” he added. “You have to be 60 odd to remember me.”

This isn’t strictly true. Those fortunate enough to see him play will now be in their early 50s at least but his name has become synonymous with aerial prowess – he was once described as “the Professor of Heading”.

Jimmy Greaves, recently voted Spurs’ greatest player, described Gilzean at the best striker partner he ever had. Graeme Souness also thanked Gilzean for looking out for him at Sours early in his career and described his fellow Scot as having better technique than any of his teammates.

Even accepting there were fewer international games in those days, Gilzean’s haul of 22 caps seems meagre.

He thrilled a huge audience when he headed the winner for Scotland over England in 1964 in front of 133,000 at Hampden Park.

“We are fortunate that the history of our game is littered with entertainers who captivated supporters,” read a Tweet from the Scottish Football Association yesterday. “Alan was certainly among them.”