As the final whistle blew on a tumultuous FA Cup tie at Sunderland’s old Roker Park ground, a small group of away supporters prepared for an unusual journey home. It was 4 March 1961. A crowd of 61,236 had come to Roker to see Sunderland attempt to halt Tottenham Hotspur’s march to the league and FA Cup double in a sixth-round tie. They witnessed what the Evening Standard’s reporter Harold Palmer described as “fantastic scenes”. Spurs captain Danny Blanchflower wrote later that he had “never seen such excitement, anywhere, as I did that day."
Cliff Jones had put Spurs ahead in the ninth minute. But when Willie McPheat equalised in the second half, pandemonium broke out as thousands of ecstatic home supporters burst onto the pitch. As the police cleared the field of play, Blanchflower gathered his team together and said: “Now keep your heads down and let’s get going after a goal. We don’t want that business down in our goalmouth again.” Spurs held out for a replay, but amidst the vast crowd, a small band of 47 travelling fans had already made history. They had travelled from London by aeroplane, the first organised group to do so. Most probably had little inkling of what they had started. But one man had seen a glimpse of the future. His name was Aubrey Morris.
In 2004, I co-authored a book about the individuals who make up a football crowd. I wrote about Spurs fans and the Spurs crowd, because that was what I knew. The book was called We Are Tottenham, and I was lucky enough to interview Aubrey at his home in North London.
Aubrey Morris’s life had already been eventful enough by the time Bill Nicholson’s Double-winning team embarked on their journey into immortality. Born in 1919 in Bethnal Green into a family of Jewish bakers, he’d fought Mosley’s fascist blackshirts on Cable Street, organised support for Republican Spain and been evacuated from Dunkirk. And he took the simple practice of supporting a football team to new heights – literally.
‘I organised the first air travel for football supporters,’ he said. ‘I did it with a man called Sid Silver who was in the travel business with me, who was also a Spurs supporter, for the Spurs game against Sunderland when they drew 1-1 up there in the FA Cup, that would have been 1961. We came down here and won 5-0.’
These days the idea of travelling to watch your team abroad is seen almost as a rite of passage, with the passport as familiar a prop to fans of successful teams today as a rattle and muffler were years ago. But in 1961-62 the whole concept of following your team in Europe was new. This was a time before mass-market package travel had made the Costa Del Sol as familiar a holiday spot as Southend or Brighton had been before. Spurs were only the fourth English team, after Manchester United, Wolves and Burnley, to compete with all the champions of Europe for the European Cup. The cup itself had only ever been won by two teams, Real Madrid (five times) and Benfica (twice), so there was great excitement at the prospect of Nicholson’s Super Spurs making their mark.
English teams had little experience in Europe, and for supporters following the side abroad it really was a leap into the unknown, but Aubrey Morris was the right man in the right place at the right time, and it was his vision, organisation and determination that ushered in the modern era of football support.
It all started with that first trip to the North East of England. ‘I became a taxi driver and I got involved in the travel business organising charter holidays for taxi drivers in about 1956,’ Aubrey said. ‘I was going to Spurs more regularly, I was living in Stamford Hill at the time, and got to know people. All the away trips were in the UK and they used to have coach trips, but I didn’t really bother with them because I didn’t have the time – it used to take all day. Because I was setting up my holiday company at the time, I wondered if it would be possible that people might be interested in going by air.’
It was a bold idea, but would people go for it? And, more immediately, how would they hear about such an opportunity?
‘We issued leaflets,’ said Aubrey. ‘My family stood outside the ground after and before the game.’
As interest grew, Aubrey approached the club but, true to form, the club was wary of a new idea. ‘I was introduced to Hymie Lewis and John Edwards, the treasurer and secretary of the Spurs Supporters Club, by Sid Silver and they said ‘It’s a good idea but we can’t take on responsibility like that,’ he remembered. ‘So I took responsibility on myself. I did this deal and 47 of us, including my son and myself, went.
‘We flew into Newcastle via Gatwick, and then by coach to Sunderland and the ground. I had a plane, a Viscount from Maitland Drewery Aviation, that seated 84 and I had 47 on it. It was in the balance whether I actually went or whether I didn’t, so I did a deal with the company and they agreed “give us the cash, whatever you’ve got, and we’ll go”.
‘It was all right, except the tickets we had were in the Sunderland supporters section. It was a very ferocious game. We daren’t even speak, we daren’t even let them know we weren’t from that part of the world. When they equalised there was a pitch invasion and we genuinely feared for our lives.
‘But we came away from there and we’d all bonded together, we’d experienced something. When we got back to Gatwick, the plane was impounded, we’d just about managed to get it in.’
Those 47 supporters had started something, but still the club kept its distance officially. It didn’t put Aubrey off.
‘We got into going to all the other games, going abroad. Probably a nucleus of about 100 who came to every one of the games. If we went on a trip and we stayed overnight we stayed in the same hotel as the players, and we saw what they were like. The supporters mixed in.
‘When we got to the final in 1963 against Atlético Madrid it became a very big operation. I got 33 aircraft to fly from Southend and Gatwick to Rotterdam airport. The telephones were wringing and I got friends and relatives on the phones taking calls, it was like a little hothouse there in the office we had in Bishopsgate, almost opposite Liverpool Street station. We carried 2,500. I was getting aircraft from all over, all different sizes, all different sorts, Argonauts, Elizabethans, Dakotas, DC3s… In those days it was different to now. After the war you had an air force pilot and if he got himself a DC3 he became an airline, and they’d have to get what business they could. I got 33 aircraft and that was it, I’d used up all the capacity.’
You’d think that only the relatively well-off could afford the time and money to travel in those days, but Aubrey said that wasn’t so.
‘We had kids queuing up, youngsters, with the money, £8 ten shillings. It was a day trip to Rotterdam, so it wasn’t all that much time, and £8 was quite a bit of money, but it was reasonable, people could accept it. We had a real mix of people. The first flight was mainly people who had money, the Sunderland one, because they could have gone by coach but it was the sort of thing people with money would do. But I gave a couple of people a lift in my car to Gatwick on the morning of the Rotterdam game and they were just ordinary people, a retired tailor, that sort of thing, but old time Spurs supporters.'
That Rotterdam trip was the culmination of a project that had grown and grown over two seasons for Aubrey and his company, Riviera Holidays.
‘In Rotterdam we had 60 coaches lined up with the name of my company on them,’ said Aubrey. ‘My son Michael and I missed the last goal because we had to go out and see that everything was all right for people. It was very much a leap into the unknown. We did all the European games.’
The pressure must have been enormous, but there were benefits.
‘In the 1961 European Cup run, we drew Benfica, who were at their peak at the time, and that meant a trip to Lisbon,’ remembered Aubrey. ‘It was our greatest challenge, and we had to go over in advance to check everything. We took the opportunity to explore. It was gorgeous weather. You could sit down to eat at 10 or 11 in the evening, and I remember it was the first time I could choose live fish, including lobster, from a tank in the middle of the room.
‘Kick-off would have been about 10 at night, and that was glorious, nobody had ever experienced that. Warm weather at 10 o clock.’
Passengers had to be organised just as much as every other detail.
‘We had to really nurture people,’ says Aubrey. ‘The majority of them never had a passport. We’d book hotels and everything else. One guy, he left his wallet in a cab, and he didn’t speak any Portuguese, so I said don’t worry I’ll get you sorted out, and he never left me. I’d go to the toilet and he’d be there. Ha ha! But it was that kind of bonding, that closeness. Once they got overseas, we looked after them entirely.’
That service provided Aubrey with some testing times.
‘We were playing Dukla Prague who were the Czech champions,’ he said, ‘and when you went to Eastern Europe in those days you had to buy currency when you got in there and you weren’t allowed to take it away with you. They promised me they’d have somebody at the airport on the way back. They didn’t, and the pilot wouldn’t wait, he said it’d cost £100 an hour to wait. Well, we just couldn’t afford that, it would have been the end of us. So I got everyone’s money together and made a list, I had 200 people with me, we got back, and I went to the Czech embassy and harangued them and eventually we got the money back.’
‘On the flights to Rotterdam I put one person on each flight – friends, family – and I gave them a free trip. I said you come along but you’ve got to look after this group of people. We never had any problems with drink or loutism, because I think they were very pleased to be able to go and see another country. We had one bloke who was so excited he got on the wrong coach and he went up to Limburg. But that was very rare, everyone used to help each other. I suppose it’s probably the same now, except for the yobs. We never had any of that, never any at all.
‘There was an affinity, we were Spurs supporters. You’d sit there and talk about games from before the war.’
‘I had a feeling at the time that something special was happening, and that’s partly what drove me. In a business sense I thought it was an opportunity, it’s something that I know. By 1965 my company was big enough to be taken over by Thomsons. I was first managing director of Thomsons. I’d been a cab driver until 1960. It was a particular thing at a particular time in history – it was a good time.’
• Aubrey Morris died on 18 December 2008.
Martin Cloake, along with Adam Powley and designer Doug Cheeseman, is also the author of The Glory Glory Nights: The Official History of Tottenham Hotspur in Europe. The book is available from Vision Sports Publishing. Martin is an author and journalist who blogs at blog.martincloake.com