While he shuns the limelight at Tottenham these days, the way Alan Gilzean played football while he was at the club lit up the White Hart Lane ground. A deft touch with foot or head, Gilly set up and scored goals for all the partners he had during his Tottenham career.
While he is well known for his glistening pate gliding the ball on from long-throws or set-pieces, there was much more to Alan Gilzean's game than that. Just to manage that he was a possessor of an awareness of where he team-mates were, so that he could put the ball in the right place for them, but he also had a fine range of passing and he developed a fine understanding with Cyril Knowles, who played at left back, but loved to over-lap down the line to put in crosses.
His early career began in junior football in Scotland with local team Coupar Angus Juveniles before progressing to the senior side and Dundee Violet, before he was spotted and signed up by Dundee in 1956 when Alan was just 17. He had been chased by Hibernian and Cowdenbeath as well as Dundee at the time. His status was soon upgraded to professional when he returned from National Service and he went on to become a cult idol at the Dens Park club, as he would to be at White Hart Lane too. There were over 100 goals in 134 games as the team won the Scottish League championship in 1961-62 and were beaten Scottish Cup finalists in 1964.
It was following this season and a game where Gizean played for a Scotland XI v an England XI that he had come to the attention of Spurs and while he had the chance to sign for Arsenal, he opted for N17 instead of N5 and a Spurs Legend was born. He had also turned down better terms at Sunderland and was also being courted by Torino, but he was advised against joining the Serie A side by fellow Scot Denis Law, who had a bad time in Italy.
Costing just £72,500, Alan was an immediate hit. Brought in as a replacement for England striker Bobby Smith, Gilzean's game was different, but no less effective. Playing alongside Jimmy Greaves they quickly became known as "the G Men" (with the name being taken from the 1935 James Cagney film), as they terrorised defences making goals for each other as they went. Gilzean had changed his game from out and out goal-scorer, to a more all-round forward's role.
With the side being re-built by manager Bill Nicholson following the break-up of the Double team, the FA Cup win in 1967 against Chelsea was little reward for the team's play and they were quickly knocked out of the European Cup-Winners Cup the following season. When Greaves left in 1970, Gilzean's partner was Martin Chivers, who had been at the club two years, but had not been able to establish himself in the first team. Slipping in alongside Gilly, Big Chiv was paired with the ideal partner. The two found a new understanding, with it just as effective as the previous pairing. While Chivers was mostly power and strength, Gilzean was all about skill and touch.
The sight of Gilzean's raised arm in celebration became a welcome and regular occurrence.
it was a new era of success and the League Cup twice came back to White Hart Lane, along with the UEFA Cup in 1972 although Spurs were beaten to the trophy in the 1974 final. In the league, the team were never consistent enough to mount a serious title challenge and that will always be the one disappointment of that side's time together.
The UEFA Cup defeat to Feyenoord, involving the crowd trouble in the second leg, dismayed Gilzean and with him probably feeling the pace of the game catching up with him, decided to call it a day, announcing he was going to retire on the club's post-season tour of Mauritius. Gilly had scored Tottenham's last league goal of the season in the team's last league game of the season at Newcastle, played in the UEFA Cup final second leg in Rotterdam against Feyenoord (although unfortunately, Spurs lost) and fittingly, scored three goals in the last tour game in Mauritius in June.
He went to play in South Africa for Highland Park for three months, returning to White Hart Lane for one more game, which was his testimonial after 10 years service - a game against Red Star Belgrade, who he memorably scored a goal against in the UEFA Cup - sliding in on the wet turf to hitting the ball high into the roof of the net. But then there so many memorable goals the big Scot scored and many more he created.
After leaving football, he managed a haulage firm in Enfield and then took charge of the now defunct Stevenage Athletic in 1975 for a short while, but retired to Weston-Super-Mare, where he lives out of the media spotlight.
On 3rd April 2009, Gilzean was inducted into the Dundee Hall of Fame and on 15th November 2009, into the Scottish FA Hall of Fame.
It is highly unlikely that we will ever see the like of an Alan Gilzean back at Spurs (although Dimitar Berbatov came close) and when Alan Gilzean did return to the Lane on 25.11.2012, he got a great reception and seemed genuinely pleased to be back where he had great success.