My interview with former Spurs academy player and Northern Ireland u21 international Chris Herron:
In the latest of my series of interviews with former Spurs academy players, I had the great pleasure of interviewing fullback Chris Herron. A familiar name amongst youth watches of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Herron was of the same age group as players such as Dean Marney, Stephen Kelly and Robert Burch. Herron was at Spurs from the age 8 right through until he was 18. Now retired and after spells at the likes of QPR, Chesham and Slough. Chris spoke to me about his memories of his time at Spurs and his subsequent career in the game, one which was sadly hampered by a gruesome leg injury.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Chris: Earliest memory was being scouted by Dick Moss aged 8/9 playing for Enfield eagles and attending a trial game on Northumberland Park Astro, behind White Hart Lane stadium in midweek and being really nervous being a Spurs fan.
What was your time at Spurs like on the whole?
Chris: Mixed emotions really as I had so many ups and downs- playing against an England select 11 at Spurs lodge when I was 15 or so and really standing out, which got me promoted to the u17’s for a game or two whilst I was still at school. I came on against Millwall and remember just being really scared as it felt like I was playing against men! I had so many great memories and on the whole they were positive but I did feel at times under certain coaches my natural game game was being stifled somewhat. I came to the club as an attacking left winger and converted to a left back by the time I signed YTS forms.
Who was your footballing inspiration/hero?
Chris: I never really had an out and out hero growing up but as a winger I loved watching players like Steve McManaman, John Barnes, Chris Waddle & Gazza.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Chris: My Greatest influence at the club was probably Robbie Stepney during my time there. He was so passionate about football, believed in me and was always offering advice etc, his training sessions were always high intensity and fun, he was just such a great man I admired him a lot.
Were there any other players at the club or outside who you’d model your game around?
Chris: As a winger obviously I loved David Ginola but when I converted to a left back around 14/15 I guess I admired Ashley Cole…just a shame he was a gooner at the time!
What was the toughest thing about being an academy footballer?
Chris: Pre season!!! They ran us for fun. But for me I guess the toughest thing for me was mental toughness, you are constantly worrying about performances, getting another contract, riding the wave when I was flavour of the month, I played most of the first year in the academy for the Under 19’s after having a strong pre season and playing well at the milk cup (before breaking my nose out there) But i I found it hard making that step up at times and playing in the older age group. Pat Holland was coach at the time and he did improve me defensively but that was never my strong point, as I said earlier my game was stifled as I wanted to be an attacking full back/wing back but I couldn’t go past the halfway in his system of play! He was a great coach don’t get me wrong but I couldn’t play what I felt was my natural game – attacking, running with the ball etc.
How did your time as a youth player at Spurs prepare you for your later career?
Chris: Mainly It taught me a lot about discipline and dedication and what was needed for the game. Ultimately It got me a move to QPR after Spurs where I spent a season and a half there. Gary Waddock was my coach and really believed in me. I honestly felt if I started my career there I would have been playing at a higher level than where I ended up playing. They were struggling financially at the time though. It was a case of right club wrong time.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories from your time as a youth player at Tottenham Hotspur?
Chris: I had a lot of favourite moments. Weirdly most of those memories were from the changing room. We had a lot of laughs, there were some great characters in the changing room, I never laughed so much. That’s the only thing I miss now I’ve stopped playing footie, is the dressing room banter. On the pitch I don’t remember much before I went full time as I was there from such a young age but the highlights were playing in the Milk Cup, playing at White Hart lane in the FA youth cup and a few other big stadiums around the country, getting called up to the Northern Ireland U17’s was a proud moment for me and my family and lastly playing a few games in the reserves under Chris Hughton before signing for QPR.
Could you talk me through your career after you left Spurs?
Chris: After Spurs I signed for QPR after impressing on trial. Gary Waddock was such a great coach and really believed in me. His style of play suited mine and I scored quite a few goals from left back as he wanted me to get up and down the pitch. Halfway through my contract Ian Holloway asked to see me in his office, all of the coaching staff were in there and he presented me with a letter. It was from the Irish FA to say I’d been called up to the Under 21 squad. He gave a great speech, told me to keep improving, keep going, take my chances in the reserves etc. Everybody shook my hand and I walked out of the room on such a high. I played several times for NI U17s and 19s but this felt like a major step up playing in the Euro qualifiers. I think I got three or four caps in total playing against some household names still playing the game today. Towards the last few months of that season I was still no nearer to the first team at QPR so wasn’t surprised when my contract wasn’t renewed. By this time having a second rejection really did knock my confidence but I was always realistic and had my head screwed on so I started to think about life outside of the full time game. I did my coaching badges and started working for myself coaching in schools around Enfield and Barnet. This progressed to becoming football development officer for Barnet Council which was a job I really enjoyed.
By then I’d signed for Chesham United who were in the southern Premier league at the time I believe- I was around 19/20 and flying there playing down the left hand side with some other really talented players who never quite made it at other premier league clubs. We had a great side under Steve Bateman and I was enjoying football again. AFC Wimbledon came in for me which would have been a great step up again but i turned them down as the travelling would have just been too much 3/4 times a week on top of a full time job (looking back it’s a decision I regret but it just wasn’t right at the time). Not long after we were playing an FA cup game at Chesham against Dunstable I think it was- I went in for a 50/50 challenge – I got there first and tried to dink it over the other guys foot- he came in high- it was a really bad challenge, by the time I’d hit the ground after somersaulting in the air I knew I’d broken my leg, the pain wasn’t that bad at the time but by the time I got to Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury, I was in agony. The length of time waiting and lack of treatment I received in the first 12 hours caused me to get compartment syndrome- without going into too much detail (its gory- google it!) after coming out of surgery they told me I was an hour away from the leg being amputated, I knew it wasn’t good at this point I did think I would never play football again.
I had several more surgeries, metal rods inserted, pinned for the break etc (which still causes disruption going through metal detectors at airports! Two skin graft operations from the compartment syndrome. In total I spent just over three weeks in hospital- I couldn’t walk for three months as I had severe nerve damage in my foot from he injury/operations, I couldn’t work for four/five months. It was tough. Thankfully a year to the day after I broke my leg I was back playing for Chesham again but never really felt like the same player again after that. I certainly wasn’t as consistent. When Steve left Chesham I followed him to Hemel Hempstead along with several others and stayed there for two/three seasons again showing glimpses of my old self.
Steve then left for Slough Town and took me with him….again with several others! I was 28/29 at this point and work commitments were making it more and more hard to commit to football, travelling up and down the country three times a week getting home late etc and I had really started to fall out of love with it all. I’d started picking up more and more injuries too and by the end of my time at Slough I knew it was time to call it a day I just didn’t have the heart for it anymore. Looking back I am quite happy with the career I had although I should have played at a higher level for longer than I did- I played for Spurs and QPR, got caps at u17,19 & 21 level with Northern Ireland, travelled all around Europe, had a good semi pro career at some big non league clubs and stayed in and around football through coaching in youth/sport development manager roles until a couple of years ago. I now work for worldskills UK as an education and competition skills manager. Occasionally I do some 1-2-1 football coaching with friends children but that’s about it now.
What was the pinnacle of your footballing career?
Chris: The Pinnacle – I would probably say getting my first U21 cap for Northern Ireland and playing in the European championships against Spain.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Chris: There were so many, at Spurs/QPR at youth/reserve level I’d played against the likes of Jermaine Defoe, David Bentley, Darren Bent, Jermaine Pennant, joe Cole, Wayne Routledge (who broke my nose a second time!). With Northern Ireland I played with Steven Davis (Southampton captain) and behind Paddy McCourt who could honestly have been a bigger star than he was (he did feature for Celtic a few times)- I shared the pitch with Fernando Torres, Mikel Arteta and a few others I forget but if I had to name the greatest: it’s gotta be Dennis Bergkamp!
What would your advice be to the current Spurs academy players, as they look to make their way up the footballing pyramid?
Chris: My advice would be simple. Focus entirely on football if that truly is your dream. It’s a short career so work hard, have self belief and confidence and a single determination and drive to succeed. You’ve basically got to Live sleep and breath football if you have any chance of making it in the game. Also focus in class on your college day- you never know how important that my be if you don’t quite make it.
Lastly…..take up golf!