les allen ... double pride

This article first appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2 Issue 25 (January 2002)

When Bill Nicholson was frustrated with the form of Johnny Brooks in 1959, he turned to Les Allen of Chelsea, who was one of their promising youngsters and a number nine with good ball-playing skills. Bill decided to swap Johnny for Les which raised a lot of eyebrows, because Johnny had played for England, while Les was seen as a typical Chelsea youngster who promised a lot, but failed to live up to expectations by not developing as expected.  Furthermore, Johnny had scored 51 League and Cup goals for Spurs in 179 appearances over six years, so he had a track record which Les lacked.

Les Allen was born in Dagenham and went to work for the town's main employer, Ford's and almost pursued an engineering career rather than a footballing one. However, at the age of sixteen, he helped his club, Brigg Sports reach the semi-final of the Amateur Cup and was showing exceptional talent.  Chelsea signed him as a professional after joining them at the start of the 1954-55 season, despite having played for Spurs as an amateur before Chelsea landed him.

When Les started in the Spurs team in early 1960, he seemed lacking in confidence and appeared nervous, looking lost in the fast thinking Tottenham team.  He suffered criticism from the crowd for not taking the chances given to him by his team-mates, many of whom were international players including Cliff Jones, John White and Danny Blanchflower.  Les was in the team with Bobby Smith simply to score goals. Gradually, he found his feet in the side and two goals against Arsenal in a 3-0 home win in January 1960 and an incredible five goals against Crewe in a 13-2 FA Cup replay win in February helped him settle down and win the crowd over.  Les finished the 1959-60 season with seven goals from 15 league matches.

He was not to know it, but Les was to start the Double season rolling with the first goal in the first game against Everton.  He had formed a good strike partnership with centre-forward, Bobby Smith, who relied on his physical presence to unsettle defenders, while Les used his fast pace to find space especially around the goalmouth.  Les was 5 feet 9 and a half inches tall and bulky, but he moved quickly and aimed to beat his marker and find space, often by cutting in from the flanks and making diagonal runs towards goal.  He set up goals for Bobby by breaking to the near post and cutting the ball back low across the goalmouth.  He worked hard and he used the ball intelligently, but he was shy and seemed tense.

Les's play improved so much during 1960-1 that he was selected for the "trial" internationals and for the England under-23 side.  He possessed a fierce shot and had fine ball control, aspects of his game that enabled him to work well up front for Spurs and link with Bobby to finish off attacking moves.  Les did not miss any games in the Double season scoring 22 goals from 42 League matches and another 4 goals from seven FA Cup games.

During 1961-62, the season which immediately followed the Double, many people thought that Spurs would go on to repeat the success of the previous season.  However, Spurs two main strikers, Bobby and Les, were not finding goals as easy to come by.  Bill Nicholson realised that he needed to do something to strengthen his attack and what a move he made by signing the prolific Jimmy Greaves from AC Milan just seven months after the Double had been completed.  Les was to lose his place in the side to make way for Jimmy and this was to prove a brilliant coup by Bill as Jimmy scored goals for fun, finishing with 21 goals from just 22 League starts.  Cliff Jones scored 16 goals in the League, while Bobby only managed six goals from 26 starts and Les just nine goals from 23 starts.  A better return from them might have led to Spurs retaining the title and not finishing third.

Things did not improve for Les during the next two seasons.  He was not in the side which lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1963 and he had not played in the FA Cup success over Burnley in 1962.  Allen only came into the side when Bobby was injured or off form or to replace other injured forwards.  He made 25 starts in season 1962-63 in the League scoring only five goals and just eight League starts in season 1963-64 with just one goal to his credit.  Bill was desperate to sign another forward to support Greaves and when Alan Gilzean arrived from Dundee in December 1964, Les lost his place for good and he was transferred to QPR in the summer of 1965 for 21,000, which was a lot of money in those days and a record buy for QPR.  

Les Allen became a real favourite at QPR and he showed great skill and confidence in an illustrious side that included Rodney Marsh.  After finishing playing in 1969, Les managed QPR for one season and then took up the boss' job at Swindon.

Allen has a reason to be doubly proud.  Firstly, he won the Double with Spurs and played a full part in the success and, secondly, his son, Clive, went on to play for Spurs and scored an incredible 49 goals in one season.  Les's other son, Bradley, went onto play for QPR and Charlton Athletic.

After winning the Double at the age of twenty-four, Les Allen seemed to have the world at his feet, but he was unable to go on to repeat that success.  He made a total of 137 first team appearances for Spurs including three European Cup games and his record of 61 goals stands up well. 

After all, it took the greatest ever Spurs' goalscorer to replace him!

RICHARD PORTER

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