In Search of Alan Gilzean

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In Search of Alan Gilzean


True greatness does not feel the need to proclaim itself from the rooftops. It is happy to state its case quietly, yet with utter conviction. Alan Gilzean was a truly great footballer. Every observer of his talent confirms this as an indisputable fact: from the legendary Jimmy Greaves, who regards him as the best striker he ever played with, to Don Revie, the former Leeds United and England manager, who described the former Tottenham striker as the best touch player in Europe, and Spurs fans whose spine-tingling refrain, Gilzean, Gilzean, Born is the King of White Hart Lane, continues to echo down the generations.

It is now 36 years since Gilzean retired from professional football and his life and times have become shrouded in mystery and rumour. All that exists are the memories of his greatness … but how long before even those are forgotten forever? After fans on Tottenham Hotspur online forums claim that Gilzean is living as a down-and-out, James Morgan, a lifelong Spurs fan and sports journalist with The Herald, Scotland’s leading quality newspaper, is filled with a fierce desire to separate fact from fiction and sets out on a journey In Search of Alan Gilzean.

The facts of his illustrious career are down in black and white: 169 goals for Dundee, including 52 in one season, a record that stood until Henrik Larsson broke it in 2001; a league championship medal with the great Dundee team of the early 1960s; then, a move to Spurs in December 1964, where, over the course of the next decade, he forms unforgettable partnerships with Greaves and Martin Chivers. Gilzean’s greatness shines like a beacon, but where is the rest of his story?

Morgan soon discovers that a sprinkling of newspaper cuttings, a Wikipedia page and idle internet chatter, are all that exist of a life less ordinary. The Scottish Football Association Hall of Fame website included a Swede, Larsson, and a Dane, Brian Laudrup, but no Gillie. Dundee FC has named lounges after former players who are not fit to lace Gilzean’s boots. Spurs haven’t heard from him in years. Former team-mates are none the wiser. One of the best British strikers of his generation is a forgotten man. Morgan’s desire to change this, and find out the full story, takes him on an exhilarating personal journey all over Britain. From Gillie’s birthplace, in the small Perthshire village of Coupar Angus, to Dundee, London and beyond, he leaves no stone unturned.

Initially, Gillie hovers in the shadow before emerging as a fascinating and complex character whose natural reticence has obscured his legacy. Morgan’s portrait of the original King of White Hart Lane restores him to his rightful place in football folklore and stands as the only faithful testimony to the life of a bona fide British football legend.

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