One of the most sublime talents who played for Spurs, John White was cruelly killed when in his prime, aged 27, in a freak accident; struck by lightning while out for a game of golf on a local course in Enfield.
All that was left for Tottenham fans to remember him by were the grainy images of his flitting runs and perceptive passes, which added to his nickname of "the Ghost" as he moved with all the stealth of a ephemeral figure across the pitch. But despite this moniker he was labelled with, there was more substance to the man than just a slight build and the ability to drift through a game without being picked up by opponents.
Born in Scotland, White was an excellent athlete at a young age and started his career at Alloa Athletic and moved onto Falkirk. White received a signing on fee of £20 from Falkirk, which he handed straight to his mother, but, when his club were relegated in 1959, he was one of a number of players who were touted to be available to move on. A thin young man, many clubs were deterred from acquiring his services, as they feared he would not withstand the rigors of English football, but ever the thorough manager, Bill Nicholson took Dave Mackay's and Danny Blanchflower's advice on the player and contacted his army sergeant. In National Service at the time, White was given a glowing reference, including testimony about his cross-country running, which was evidence of his stamina that his size belied.
Nicholson moved fast to snap up the forward, with other clubs closing in on his signing, bringing him to White Hart Lane from Falkirk for £20,000 in October 1959, but he still had to finish his time with the Army and was required to commute to Scotland to finish his duty.
Initially, he found it difficult to play his normal game from inside right, where Nicholson started him, also suffering home-sickness, until taken in by Assistant Manager Harry Evans, whose daughter was to become John's wife. While scoring for Tottenham on his debut, John continued to get among the goals, but not contributing as many as he used to get in Scotland. A change is position came with Les Allen's arrival from Chelsea, which saw White move out wide to a slot in the side where he linked with Tommy Harmer on that flank. They were of similar stature, but different in their approach to the game. White's simplicity contrasted with Harmer's flamboyant style, but they made a formidable pairing. But the manager was keen to make the team more incisive and the more cutting passing of White was preferred over the slower, dribbling method used by Harmer.
White's ability to see players in space or where they were about to run coupled with his accurate passing made him a forward's dream. He put the ball exactly where they wanted it and his manipulation of the ball to keep moves going forward ensured that opposing teams were on the back foot. Despite pitched being muddy, lumpy and bumpy, White had great control and could take the ball past players too, making him a player who was very hard to read, with his movement over the ground being almost floating in appearance, giving him the Ghost nickname. But there was a strength within him that withstood the toughest tackles and also packed a powerful shot when required.
His contribution in the Double season was immense, being an ever-present to provide a continuity in his position, with a large number of assists to his grateful forwards. White was instrumental in Tottenham's success in this period, with the FA Cup retained in 1962 and the European Cup Winners Cup victory in 1963. He became a regular for his country and also was selected to play for the Football League representative side.
Those who saw him play reckon he was one of the best players of his generation and would have gone on to be a greater star as he was reaching his peak as a player. For many, only the grainy black and white footage remains, but it is still possible to determine his ability and skill.
John White died when he was killed by a lightning bolt that hit a tree he was sheltering under while playing golf on Crews Hill Golf course, Enfield, Middlesex, England on 21st July 1964.
He was survived by his wife Sandra, a daughter Mandy and a son Rob.