john duncan ... goal machine

This article first appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2 Issue 26 (April 2002)

While Spurs have been missing so many chances this season, I have reflected on the period in the mid-seventies when we had a centre forward who averaged a goal in every two games and who achieved this in a period when we were relegated and were generally not as successful as we had been earlier in the decade.  John Duncan signed for Spurs in October 1974 from Dundee.  Having been born in Dundee and played for the local Clepington Road School and later Morgan Academy, he would play for the school on Saturday mornings and for Butterburn Youth Club in the afternoons.  Dundee F.C. were quick to spot this potential and he was signed on a provisional form and farmed out to Broughty Athletic to play as a junior.  John was sensible enough to safeguard his future by taking a course in physical education at Jordanhill College of Education where he gained that qualification.  He went on to play well for Dundee, the team he had supported as a schoolboy and where he had been an admirer of Alan Gilzean, who had been a star for both Dundee and Spurs. John had impressed enough to play for the Scottish League and also made the Scottish World Cup squad of 40 for 1974.

John joined Spurs when we were struggling in the bottom three of the old First Division and he scored both goals in his second game which was away at Stoke City.  Wearing the number 11 shirt, he quickly made his mark for the club in a side including Pat Jennings, Martin Chivers and Martin Peters.  Spurs just managed to stay up that season under Terry Neill which ended in a climax with a must win home game against Leeds and Spurs achieved this with a 4-2 win in a tremendous atmosphere at the Lane, with Cyril Knowles scoring two goals and Alfie Conn sitting on the ball.  The new striker had played a strong part in keeping Spurs up with his fine ability to find the net and to score important goals, finishing the season with 12 goals from 28 games, which made him top scorer for the club ahead of Martin Chivers, who scored 10 goals from the same number of games.

The next season was a better one for Spurs and we finished 9th, John scoring 20 goals from 37 games, which again made him top scorer at the club with double the amount of goals of John Pratt, who was Tottenham's second best marksman that season.  The cracks in the side were continuing to appear.  Martin Peters had been sold to Norwich City and Chivers was no longer a prolific goalscorer with just seven goals from 35 starts.  Mike England had retired and the defence was relying too much on Pat Jennings.  John had formed a good partnership with Chris Jones, the Channel Islander, who worked hard up front battling for balls in the air and laying them off to John, who was adept at putting away the half-chance.  Duncan was brave in the air himself and could twist and turn on the ground neatly.  Turning away from goal with his arms aloft in front of the East Stand at the Lane became a very familiar sight as our Scottish International frequently tucked away the chances that came his way.  He was persistent too and he did not give up when things were not going well, but battled on and he could be relied upon for 100 per cent effort in a game.  His mop of black hair and slim frame made him very recognisable and he was the perfect foil for the lively Chris Jones, who was more of a creator than a goalscorer himself.

With all the effort that John put into his game and with his battling qualities in the air, it came as no surprise that he suffered his fair share of injuries including back injuries.  He was out for most of the 1976-77 season and managed just nine games scoring four goals.None of the other strikers at the club could contribute sufficient goals in John's absence and this was compounded by an injury to Pat Jennings, who missed nearly a half of the season through injury himself.  Spurs had a poor season finishing bottom of the pile and were relegated.  

1977-78 was an enjoyable season when Spurs scored 83 goals to finish third in the Second Division and were promoted along with Bolton and Southampton.  With the emergence of a young Glenn Hoddle and Neil McNab in midfield, Spurs tore many defences apart that season including that of Bristol Rovers at the Lane by 9-0.  Four Spurs' players managed to score double figures that season when so many chances were coming from good work by the midfield and from the flanks.  Peter Taylor and Colin Lee both scored 11 goals while Glenn Hoddle finished with 12 goals, but it was Duncan who again topped the scoring charts at the club with 16 goals from 27 games.

John's injuries were beginning to take their toll and the manager, Keith Burkinshaw, thought that he would always have this problem particularly with his back and after he had played just two games and scored one goal in season 1978-79, he was transferred to Derby County.  He went on to play and coach Ipswich Town and managed in the lower divisions, as well as teaching Physical Education at a school in Ipswich and appearing as an analyst on Eurosport.  John has a good knowledge of the game and his qualification in Physical Education has stood him in good stead away from the game.  He was already a fully-qualified coach under the Scottish Football Association when he joined Spurs.

John's goalscoring record at Spurs showed he found the net 62 times from 118
games; just under a goal in every two games.  This is a marvellous testimony to his predatory skills and the effort he invariably put into games.  Apart from Jimmy Greaves and Gary Lineker, John ranks as one of the best finishers I have seen at Spurs and his ratio of goals to appearances emphasises this.  What has also to be taken into account is that the Scotsman played in teams that were generally struggling apart from the 1977-78 promotion season.  Chances were generally hard fought and not so freely made as in the successful Sixties era and in the more glamorous Spurs' sides.

John played with a true determination and real grit.  When he joined Spurs, he told the club that his personal ambition was "to score his next goal".  His contribution to the club matched his aspirations and his endeavour.  Duncan could be relied upon to put chances away.

RICHARD PORTER

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