As my first contribution to the “Guest Writer” spot on Terry’s website I thought I would take visitors to the site on a photographic journey through my life in football and in the future I will hopefully submit more of my experiences of the “Beautiful” game for people to read.
I was born in Ealing on December 21st 1951, the youngest of three sons. I grew up in Northolt, Middlesex and attended Gifford Junior School and then Eliots Green Grammar School as did my two older brothers, Ted and Bill.
My first game of organised football took place on Ealing Common when I was about 9 or 10. My older brother by four years took me along and the game was watched by a variety of people, people walking their dogs, people enjoying the fresh air, or simply taking advantage of a wonderful piece of public land. My brother was at Eliots Green Grammar School at the time, I would also attend the school, and spotted his geography teacher on the touchline with a camera, quite a rare thing in those days, so he politely asked him if he would take a photograph of his little kid brother.
Looking at this old photograph I wonder who was the goalkeeper who faced me on that day and the other youngster in the background, part of the defence, with the distinctive jersey, black and grey quarters or something similar. Where are they now and I hope that all their dreams came true?
Who would have guessed that this was the beginning of a wonderful journey shown now in memories and photographs?
I was first of all a midfielder and later a defender and I was fortunate enough to play in a club record 866 first team games for Tottenham Hotspur between 1969 and 1986 and became the club’s longest serving player, a record of which I am extremely proud. Having played so many games for Spurs I know more than anyone that there are ups and downs in football. But I also know that Tottenham is a club where everyone is important, from the very bottom of the ladder to the very top. After all if a ladder has rotten or broken rungs at its base it will soon fall bringing down all those above. It’s an old cliché you hear about tea ladies but it’s true: in the good time’s everyone is with you but in football as in life when you go through rough episodes you need all those extra people, willing you on. When the coach used to pull out of White Hart Lane on the way up North to a grim, tough away match you need to know that everyone is right behind you. That is why I love Tottenham.
There is an unwritten trust at Tottenham that everyone is trying their best to achieve: to do their own job to the best of their ability. From the coach driver to the centre half to the physiotherapist and the kit man, when the shit hits the fan everyone mucks in.
When I first got into the team I inherited the number 11 shirt which had been worn by the man rated the best in the world, Cliff Jones. Of course he could play on either flank and also donned the number 7 jersey. When my place in the team became regular I took the number 8 shirt from Jimmy Greaves, the best goalscorer our country has ever seen. Later in my career I donned the number 6 shirt that had been immortalised by the lion-hearted Dave Mackay.
I couldn’t have chosen three more iconic numbers if I had tried.
I know I will always be associated with Tottenham Hotspur in people’s minds, hardly surprising after playing a record number of games for the club, but the funny thing is that Spurs didn’t mean that much to me before I signed for them. In fact, I’d never seen them play before they asked me to sign. I was a west London boy and I used to go to Brentford and Queens Park Rangers with my brothers. But my love affair with Spurs started when I walked through the doors of the club. There was a feeling of warmth and belonging there. I felt it was a place where you would get an even break, where you would be rewarded if you worked hard and with honesty. I still firmly believe that the key to the game is about how players fit with a club and I felt that I fitted with the ethics of Tottenham Hotspur. Much of that was to do with Bill Nicholson, the best man I ever had the pleasure of working with.
When I worked in Japan, football there made me realise how important what I call “shop-floor football” is to a club. We learned our lessons at Spurs over the course of more than 100 years and obviously in Japan they are making and creating their own history. When I was cleaning boots as an apprentice, there were three trainers, one of whom was Andy Thompson who played for Spurs in the 1920s and their conversation would be: “Who was better, Burgess or Mackay?” or “Who was our best ever captain?” All the time this was washing over you, the history seeping into your skin.
Since 2003 I have been Director of Football at Exeter City and one of the reasons I was drawn to the West Country was because after our experiences in Japan we wanted to live by the sea, a seismic change from the early days in London.
I trust you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane and who knows in the future I hope to return to these pages.