After we started the 1974-5 season with four straight defeats (during which we scored only once), Bill Nicholson resigned as Spurs manager, a role he had fulfilled for the previous fifteen years. His replacement was Hull City boss Terry Neill, a former Arsenal player whose appointment caused as much consternation with the Tottenham supporters as ex-Gunners player and manager George Graham taking over as our manager would do in October 1998.
Neill’s task was to keep Tottenham in the First Division. On October 19 1974 he signed Dundee player John Duncan for a fee of £125,000. The 5ft 11in striker made his debut for us wearing the number eleven shirt in the 1-1 draw at Luton Town on the last Saturday of the same month. It was obvious that a goal-scorer was needed as we had only managed sixteen goals in thirteen league games (out of which we’d lost eight) prior to Duncan’s arrival. Martin Chivers scored his seventh goal of the season at Luton but, at Stoke City the following week, Duncan opened his account with both our goals in a 2-2 draw.
Immediately established in our first team, the new signing started every league game for the rest of the season, apart from the final match. However, despite John’s arrival, Spurs continued to struggle. After winning 1-0 at Sheffield United, courtesy of a Duncan goal, at the end of November, we only achieved two league victories (both against Newcastle, 3-0 at home in the December followed by a bizarre 5-2 win in the return at St James’ Park in which we led 4-0 at half time) prior to the 3-0 beating of Wolves at the end of March 1975. This game followed a fourteen match sequence in which we had won once, drawn three times and lost on ten occasions. With Chivers out of the team for most of the latter stages of the season, Duncan took over the role of our main striker. Having scored in the Wolves game, he was then on target again the following day with the crucial Easter Saturday winner at Queens Park Rangers. A week later another strike helped us to a third successive win, 2-1 over Luton. Although Duncan missed the last game of the season, when a 4-2 victory over Leeds ensured our safety from relegation, his goals had been vital in the fight against the drop.
Newly installed into a struggling side, he had settled quickly and managed twelve league goals in twenty eight appearances to finish as our top scorer in Division One. 1975-6 was a much better season for Tottenham. Duncan continued to lead the forward line and out-performed Chivers, who was in his last campaign at the club. Whilst Big Chiv only managed seven Division One goals, averaging one every four games, John became the first Spurs player to score twenty league goals in a season since Chivers notched twenty five times in the 1971-2 campaign.
A consistent scorer throughout 75-6, John scored braces in successive 2-1 wins over Burnley and Sheffield United and never went more than three games without scoring. Added to his league goals were four in the League Cup (including a hat-trick – his only one for the club – in the 7-2 victory against Doncaster Rovers) as we reached the semi-final and one in the FA Cup. During a late season goal-fest at White Hart Lane, he scored in the 5-2, 5-0 and 4-1 victories against Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Coventry City respectively. Had it not been for a run of poor results right at the end of the campaign – one win and one draw in four games followed a run of five successive victories – we would have finished higher than ninth.
John Duncan’s third season at White Hart Lane was badly disrupted by a long-term back injury. Having missed the opening eleven league games, he only managed nine league appearances, but his return of four goals was impressive. After the summer departure of Terry Neill, Keith Burkinshaw took over as our manager at the beginning of the 1976-7 season.
The new man in charge’s comment after the opening day 3-1 defeat at Ipswich could be used to accurately describe the campaign as a whole – “We just weren’t good enough.” With Duncan, the leading scorer for the two previous seasons, mainly out injured and Martin Chivers having left the club at the end of the previous season, the forward line needed bolstering and Peter Taylor and Ian Moores were brought in, the former from Crystal Palace, the latter arriving from Stoke. No Spurs player managed double figures in terms of goals scored in 76-7, Chris Jones top scoring for us with nine, followed by Peter Taylor with eight and seven goals from our penalty-taking centre half Keith Osgood. We finished bottom of the league after losing exactly half of our forty two league games and were relegated along with Stoke City and Sunderland.
The 1977-8 season was more successful for John, who regained his place as our top scorer, with sixteen league goals, four ahead of Glenn Hoddle. Duncan played in twenty seven league games and made a major contribution to our success, scoring both goals in each of our 2-1 wins over Notts County, Sunderland and Cardiff respectively. He must have been disappointed to have missed the Bristol Rovers game at White Hart Lane as the visitors defence was in disarray that afternoon. Our 9-0 win saw striker Colin Lee (bought two days previously from Torquay) score four times on his debut, with fellow strikers Ian Moores (with a hat-trick) and Peter Taylor, with our third goal just before half time) also on target. Our other scorer was Glenn Hoddle, who looked offside when he struck the last goal of the afternoon.
On the final day of the season our 0-0 draw at Southampton was enough for us to finish in third position and gain an immediate return to Division One.
After missing the opening two games of 78-9, Duncan returned to the first team for the 2-2 home draw against Chelsea and the 7-0 defeat at Liverpool. In addition, he played in both early season League Cup games against Swansea with the home replay against The Swans, who defeated us 3-1, marking his last appearance for Tottenham.
Duncan was transferred to Derby County and played against us for his new club when we visited the Baseball Ground in October 1978. He scored the second Rams goal that afternoon, eleven minutes from time, to deny us victory and earn his new club a point from a 2-2 draw.
During his four years at White Hart Lane John Duncan made a significant contribution for Tottenham. He scored an impressive fifty three league goals in 103 appearances (101 starts plus two as substitute). In all competitions, he managed seventy five goals in 155 fixtures (which included six occasions when he came on as substitute). He was excellent in the air and a good, consistent, reliable goal-scorer. We certainly missed him during 1976-7 when he was out for the most part with injury. Had he been fit, his goals may well have helped us to maintain our First Division status that season.