This article was originally featured in MEHSTG No.6 December 1990
479 games (4 as a substitute), 1 goal. Not the greatest goals per game ratio, but then did it need to be ? Two League Cup winners medals, a UEFA Cup winners medal and a UEFA Cup runners-up medal. If honours are the criteria of a successful career, then perhaps his wasn’t one of the greatest.
Philip Beal. A player who graced the white shirt of Tottenham Hotspur with honour and distinction. Never a foot or word out of place. A man who had a job to do and did it. No fuss, no controversy, no banner headlines slagging off managers or opponents, no demanding a place in the England team. Simply, a player who knew his place and that was in the back four of a successful Spurs line-up in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
As in the theatre, the footballing understudy can hang around for years before finally getting a chance to shine an the main stage. In Phil’s case, he was, perhaps, the undeclared understudy to two of the best players of their time. Signing professional forms for Tottenham in 1962, he had to wait in the wing(half)s while Danny Blanchflower led Spurs on from the Double and into Europe. But, he served his time and stepped into the place vacated by the captain to play his first match at Aston Villa, where we recorded a 4-2 victory. In and out of the side for that and the next season, he thereafter became a regular in the team. In those early years he gained England Youth caps, but the full honour eluded Phil. His position in the senior side was filled by Bobby Moore (who we all know a bout), who rarely missed a game and played almost the same time that Beal was at his peak. The closest he came was in 19~7, when he was tipped to take a full back berth in the national team, but he broke his arm shortly before the squad was announced and missed 3 months of the season when complications set in, causing him to also miss the Cup Final . The opportunity of an England cap never presented itself again and it is a tragedy that Phil was not allowed to test his skilled and cultured defending against international opposition. Certainly, during Spurs’ successful campaign and unsuccessful defence of the UEFA Cup in 1972, 1973 and 1974, Phil was never embarrassed by the strikers he came up against.
He was a player who could always be relied on too. If you saw the opposition’s forward streaking through the Spurs half, you somehow expected Phil to nick the ball off his toe or bring him crashing down with a perfectly fair, supremely timed sliding tackle. It wasn’t only the defensive side of his game which made him such a crowd favourite. His passing was accurate and of a quality which made the next move simpler for the receiving player. His pace was complementary to his ability to read the game, which allowed him to make important interceptions and then take the ball forward, thus turning defence into attack with great speed. The sight of his long (admittedly 1970’s) blonde hair flowing behind him was one to behold. Indeed, a sight recreated with almost stunning precision by Paul Walsh these days!
In those days, most defenders defended, but Beal’s ability to advance with the ball was one of the early exceptions. A solitary goal was his scant reward throughout his many games representing Tottenham Hotspur. That goal came in a home League match v QPR in January 1969, when his foraging run from his own half took him towards the Rangers penalty area. He released the ball to Jimmy Greaves and got a perfect return, which allowed him to delicately chip the ball over the advancing goalkeeper in off the crossbar. It was typical of the versatility of the man.
He was the first Tottenham player to be awarded a testimonial whilst still playing and such an honour was not given lightly in those times. Just think of all the players who missed such generosity. On a Monday night in December 1973, Spurs faced the crack German side Bayern Munich in a match to pay tribute to a Player who had selflessly given sterling service to his club. It is quite disgusting that a paltry crowd of 19150 bothered to turn up to show their appreciation of Philip Beal. It is rumoured that a large loss was made on the night, because of the high demands that the Germans had asked for to ensure their appearance. The 2-2 draw was actually quite an entertaining game for a testimonial. However, it turned out to be the first of many ill-attended testimonials and benefit matches staged by Tottenham over the years.
After leaving Spurs, Phil moved to Brighton where he played only a handful of games, before travelling to the USA to star for the Memphis Rogues. He returned to England to finish his distinguished career at Crewe Alexandra.
The least that you could say about Phil Beal was that he gave everything in every game that he played for Tottenham Hotspur. Yet his quiet efficiency meant that his regularly consistent performances often passed without the adequate recognition that his dependable contribution deserved.