Blanchflower, Robert Dennis (‘Danny’) (1925–93), soccer player, international manager, and journalist, was born 10 February 1925 at Dunraven Park, Bloomfield, Belfast, eldest among three sons and two daughters of John Blanchflower, shipyard craftsman, and Selina Blanchflower (née Ellison), both of Belfast. He attended Ravenscroft public elementary school and subsequently won a scholarship to Belfast College of Technology (March 1940). By the end of that year, however, he left to work as an electrician at Gallaher's tobacco factory. He joined the Air Training Corps before giving a false age and enlisting as a trainee navigator in the RAF, qualifying in December 1943. He was sent on the air ministry training scheme to St Andrew's University, Scotland, revelling in the atmosphere of scholarship and learning, and discovered an enduring love of golf, later becoming a member of Wentworth. Graduating in September 1944, he was recommended for a commission in the general duties branch of the RAF. He was posted overseas to Canada in spring 1945 and was based at a navigation school in Rivers. The end of the war saw his unit return to Docking, near King's Lynn, Norfolk.
By now, his all-consuming passion for football, nurtured by his mother (who played for Roebucks, a powerful women's football team in the city), reasserted itself. As a boy he had participated in street football and on the waste ground at Castlereagh Road where George Best later played. His first organised football was with the 19th Belfast Wolf Cub XI and he was then chosen, in the late 1930s, to play for a Belfast selection against one from Dublin. When the outbreak of the second world war curtailed organised soccer in Belfast, he bought a set of jerseys for 10s., founded his own club, Bloomfield United, and helped organise the East Belfast summer league. Such was his prowess in the league that he was signed as an amateur by the Irish league club Glentoran, but he quickly returned to Bloomfield when his frail physique left him unable to compete with the greater maturity of his opponents. He represented St Andrew's University during his stay in Scotland, and by the end of the war had benefited sufficiently from physical training to return to Glentoran, where, after one reserve game, he was promoted to the first team. By April 1946 he had left the RAF and signed for Glentoran for £50, receiving a fee of £3 per game. In February 1947 he was chosen to play for the Irish League against the Football League in a 4–2 defeat at Goodison Park, Liverpool, and later in 1947 he featured in the Glentoran team beaten 1–0 by Belfast Celtic in the Irish cup final. He continued to work during this time as an electrician and as a timekeeper in a shipyard office, and had despaired of ever reaching top-grade soccer when he was signed by the English second-division team Barnsley for £6,000 (April 1949). Emerging as the best player at the club, he played sixty-eight league games over two seasons, before signing for Aston Villa for £15,000 (March 1951) and playing there for three seasons, scoring ten goals in 148 appearances. He had believed that Aston Villa would be a more appropriate stage for his innovative approach to the game, but found his new home rooted in former glories, a museum to an earlier era when it had dominated. Despite saving them from relegation shortly after his arrival and leading them to respectable league positions, he became frustrated by the club's failure to modernise, and was transferred to Tottenham Hotspur (December 1954).
He was now an established international with Northern Ireland, having made his debut in an 8–2 home defeat to Scotland (1 October 1949). He won a then record fifty-six caps, captaining the side for almost a decade and enjoying a period of unprecedented success. Under the management of his only idol, Peter Doherty (qv), Northern Ireland reached the final stages of the 1958 world cup for the first time by defeating Italy, and prospered beyond all expectation to reach the quarter-finals where, hampered by injury and fatigue, they lost to France. That adventure left him determined to replicate it at club level, but his career at Tottenham had not been without its problems. His initial performances did much to save the club from relegation, but the arrival of a new manager, Jimmy Anderson (who first made him captain and then dropped him, leading him to resign the captaincy), brought his future into question. Nonetheless, he continued to play to a high standard and was chosen (1958, 1960) as footballer of the year in England. The installation of Bill Nicholson as manager in 1958 marked a watershed in his career and eventually he was reinstated as captain and became the central figure in the mould-breaking team. Where many clubs were so hidebound with convention that they rarely trained with the ball, Tottenham's training ground became a place of experimentation as manager and team investigated new tactics. Allowed to explore Blanchflower's philosophy that football was about glory and that the game should be about beating the other team with style rather than boring them to death, Tottenham swept all before them with their attacking play. In 1961 they won the English league and cup double, the first team to do so since 1897, and the following year retained the cup. Having reached the semi-finals of the European cup in 1962, losing narrowly to Benfica, they won the European cup-winners cup (1963) with a 5–1 victory over Atletico Madrid. It was a glorious end to a career; having controlled games with his intellect for so long, using great wit and resourcefulness, Blanchflower found his physique no longer able to cope, and he retired in 1964.
Throughout his career he had upset club directors and league officials with his newspaper articles lampooning the follies of the game. His intelligent, provocative style saw him prosper in journalism after retirement, writing first for the Observer and then for the Sunday Express, for which he worked for twenty-five years until 1988. He unsuccessfully entered football management, firstly with Northern Ireland (1976–9), winning just six of twenty-four games, where he did not have the players to implement his ultra-attacking policy; and secondly with Chelsea (December 1978–September 1979), where he was unable to save the club from relegation to the second division or to transmit his philosophies to a younger generation of players.
A man of decency, humour, and principle, he was deeply respected by the players who played with and under him. His elevation of style over results left him out of tune with officialdom, and although some of his ideas were not always right, they were often original and always sincere. Valuing his privacy, he became the first person (1961) to refuse to appear on the BBC television programme ‘This is your life’. A turbulent, sometimes unhappy, personal life saw him marry three times and become the victim of a number of tabloid exposés. By the late 1980s, his movement was restricted by severe arthritis and having lived for a time in Stanwell, Middlesex, he died 9 December 1993 at a nursing home in Cobham, Surrey, having suffered from Alzheimer's disease for three years.
His brother John (‘Jackie’) Blanchflower (1933–98), soccer player, born 7 March 1933, was deeply influenced by his elder brother, who habitually woke him at 6 a.m. for training. His natural talent ensured that in 1949, aged 16, he preceded his brother to England and joined Manchester United. A player of some versatility, he made his senior debut at right-half in 1951, played at inside-forward in 1953–4, and even played in goal in the 1957 FA cup final when the regular custodian was injured. With Northern Ireland he played at centre-half, winning twelve caps, and soon filled this position at club level. His skill, industry, and intelligence covered his lack of pace, and he was an integral member of the ‘Busby babes’ before their development was shattered by a plane crash at Munich airport (6 February 1958) while returning from a game in Belgrade. He received the last rites on the runway, yet survived appalling injuries including a full set of broken arms and legs, a fractured pelvis, shattered ribs, and severe kidney damage. Although he remained on United's books until June 1959, he was forced to retire at the premature age of 26. The inevitable depression that this tumult brought was not helped by a stuttering career in business as a succession of concerns in which he was involved – a sweetshop, a bookmakers, and a public house – proved unsuccessful. He fared somewhat better as an accountant, but it was only in the 1980s when his wife Jean, with whom he had three children, returned to cabaret singing, that he began to find lasting happiness. His performances as her compère were of such quality that he quickly found himself in great demand as an after-dinner speaker whose performances were laced with self-deprecating wit and charm. Having suffered from cancer he died 2 September 1998, just weeks after attending a testimonial match for survivors of the Munich disaster at Old Trafford.