IT was a goal to remember – and 47 years later Tommy White is still able to do exactly that.
“Jimmy Greaves knocked the ball forward and just before it ran out of play managed a cut-back which I met with my right foot. It wasn’t always the case that I had the feeling that a ball I struck was bound for the net but I knew that one was.”
A few hours later Tommy was transferred back to Hearts who he had left to join – for one night only, as they say in showbiz circles – Tottenham Hotspur. But the journey and occasion was far removed from showbiz.
The testimonial match in which Tommy White guested for Spurs against a Scotland XI on November 10, 1964, was in memory of his late, great, brother, John.
More than 40 years have elapsed since Tommy left Hearts via Aberdeen for English football, finally settling in Blackpool.
Little wonder that when the draw for the final qualifying leg of the Europa League paired Hearts with Tottenham, the match-up was greeted with some sentimentality in the White family, originally from Musselburgh, where another brother, Edwin, still stays.
With his East Lothian accent shining through Tommy further recalls his family’s Hearts–Tottenham connections.
“Without being able to go into great detail, John would tell me after he’d moved to White Hart Lane that Spurs were watching me. Around that time Spurs signed Alan Gilzean and if you’d asked me then who was the better player I’d have said, in all honesty, me; maybe subsequent events proved otherwise?
“Anyway, the circumstances in which I found myself wearing a Spurs jersey on a temporary transfer from Hearts saw me standing on the pitch beforehand extremely nervous because I didn’t want to let the memory of John down and I wanted to make my family proud.
“My early goal was fuelled by pure adrenaline but in the second half Bill Brown [Spurs goalkeeper] put up a high clearance that came down with snow on it.
“Now I never reckoned I had the best first touch but somehow I was able to control that ball and as I took it round Scotland centre half Ron Yeats, I tried to put a little bit more force into the shot. The result was the ball hit the outside of the post and went wide whereas I’m convinced that if I’d been a fraction more relaxed the shot would have beaten Jim Cruickshank in off the post.”
He adds: “I’m under no illusions that it was a throwaway remark but, nevertheless, Bill Nicholson, the Spurs manager, later came up and told me ‘Tommy, if you’d scored with that second half shot you’d have been playing for us on Saturday as well!”
In fact, Tommy returned to Tynecastle and continued to build a remarkable tally of 30 from 37 appearances. At the start of one season he netted in eight consecutive games. They called him “goal a game White” and Tommy never wanted to leave.
“Tipping point came when Hibs beat Hearts to paying the first team squad £20 a week. Hearts players were upset and an agreement was made for us to request transfers en masse. Guess what? I was the only one to put the letter in and from that moment I was probably on my way out.
“There was another factor, too, which was that word had reached manager Tommy Walker – erroneously, I stress – that I was going out on the town on Friday nights.
“I swear that wasn’t true but the false rumour probably contributed to moving me on from a club where I was so fortunate to have outstanding service from great players including Willie Hamilton, Billy Higgins, Alan Anderson and Danny Ferguson.”
Tommy will miss Thursday’s match but does intend to renew acquaintance with his old club for the second leg at White Hart Lane.
“My son, John, who is named after my late brother, has organised the trip and I’ve been privileged to be asked to contribute a few notes for the programme.
“I’d like to have come up to Tynecastle, too, but circumstances dictate otherwise, unfortunately.”