It was heard said, not in a manner intended to be unkind, that those Tottenham players who made the pilgrimage north to Dundee yesterday for a celebration of Alan Gilzean’s life would give the current Dundee side a game.
It was a comment designed to underline the supreme football talent among the Spurs mourners rather than disparage the Dens Park side of the present day.
Pat Jennings in goal. Steve Perryman, still a spritely-looking 66 years old, at right-back. Mike England at centre-half. Phil Beal at left-back. Not a bad defence for starters. Alan Mullery in midfield, alongside John Pratt. Cliff Jones on the left. Martin Chivers up front alongside the spirit of Gillie.
With all due respect to the likes of Cammy Kerr, who represented the current Dundee side at Dundee crematorium yesterday, they would, even now, represent a challenge.
This is the company in which Gilzean, who died earlier this month at the age of 79, once mixed. Not only mixed, but stood out among. “The best strike partner I ever had,” was Jimmy Greaves’ tribute shortly before Gilzean re-emerged six years ago after a period away from the public eye.
Sadly, the salutes heard yesterday took the form of obituaries. Gillie’s gone for good and the measure of the legend was not only the number who travelled from London and elsewhere. The esteem in which he is held could also be gauged from those standing in the rain and applauding as the cortege passed by Dens Park at shortly before midday.
It was while here that Gilzean first began to build his reputation, scoring a European Cup hat-trick for Dundee against Cologne and a winner against AC Milan. Many of his Dundee team-mates from those days were every bit as talented as those he later played with at Spurs.
Dundee’s great Scottish league winning side of 1961-62 was represented yesterday by three of the four survivors: Bobby Wishart, Ian Ure and Bob Seith.
Former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who was a member of the squad, was also present, as was Jocky Scott, who broke into the Dundee side just as Gillie was leaving and served to soften the blow of his departure.
Football’s crazily paved path was illustrated by the sight of Scott greeting Mike England on the steps of Dundee crematorium. They had not seen each other since a spell playing together for Seattle Sounders in the late 1970s.
The mourners gathered back at Dens Park following the service. “One of the few grounds I haven’t played at,” noted Jennings, who clocked up nearly 1100 games, including 119 Northern Ireland caps, in a 23-year career. The legendary goalkeeper recalled Gillie influencing where he aimed his kicks.
“He was my target man,” he said. “The day I scored a goal against Manchester United in the Charity Shield it was Gillie I was trying to hit up front.” Even Gillie, such a good header of the ball he was dubbed the Professor of Heading, could not reach Jennings’ humongous kick and it soared over Alex Stepney’s head into the net in the 1967 encounter at Old Trafford.
Chivers, with whom Gilzean formed a fearsome partnership following Greaves’ departure to West Ham United, eyed the pristine Dens turf through the window.
“It’s tempting to get out there now and kick a ball,” he said.
Chivers, now 73, looks as if he still could. But it was Gillie who graced the turf there, scoring 169 times in 190 appearances for the Dark Blues before earning perhaps even greater adulation at Spurs during a ten-year period between 1964 and 1974.
“I always used to get a bit annoyed,” said Chivers with a smile. “I was scoring a lot of goals and yet he was always called The King of White Hart Lane. Forget about your Dave Mackays and your Jimmy Greaves. Over and above everyone, he was always the King of White Hart Lane. He still is in my mind.
“We just seemed to gel,” he added. “I just had to read what angle he was coming in at and look for that shiny bonce of his.
“We suited each other. He took a lot of stick on the pitch but he made tough defenders look stupid at times with his deft touches and feints. He was always so confident whereas I was shaking like a leaf over the big centre-halves.
“He just said: ‘Chiv don’t worry, we will sort them out’.”
Journalist and lifelong Dundee fan Patrick Barclay, who watched Gilzean make his debut for the Dens Park club in 1959, had earlier paid Gilzean a handsome compliment during a perfectly pitched eulogy: “If he’d been born half-a-century later and we were talking about the leading headers of a ball in the world, we’d be discussing Cristiano Ronaldo…and Alan Gilzean.”