My interview with former Spurs man and 1970 FA youth cup winner Bobby Almond:
From winning the 1970 FA youth cup for Spurs, to playing for the renowned non league side Walthamstow Avenue in the early seventies. Spurs amateur Bobby Almond would then go on to play in the 1982 World Cup for New Zealand! After making the bold move to go down under as a young player in the mid 1970’s. Almond has enjoyed a fascinating career in both England and New Zealand, and I was lucky enough to have the honour to interview one of our own about his footballing career.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Bobby: My earliest memories were about how long it took to get to White Hart lane from my home in South London!! I recall that I received a player of the year award at the end of season function for the league that my team played in. It got reported in the paper and from that I received contact from Millwall about going for a trial. Millwall were my team and I was very excited about this opportunity. But for some reason and I don’t know why but someone, I cannot remember who, contacted me from Spurs and asked me if I would like to play for their youth team for the 69/70 season. Like any young kid the pull of playing for a team as famous as Spurs was too good to turn down so I signed amateur forms with them.
What was your time at Spurs like on the whole?
Bobby: Being a young lad from the other side of the thames I wondered how I would fit in but it was quite seamless. Our squad was made up of professionals, apprentices and guys like me on amateur forms but like anything, we all wore the same shirt and wanted to win. As well as the FA Youth cup we won two others and also won the youth league title.
Who was footballing inspiration/hero?
Bobby: I was a solid Man utd supporter but my hero was Bobby Moore of West Ham. Cool calm and collected. A great reader of the game as he never raised a sweat always in the right place at the right time. George Best was my all time favourite though.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Bobby: I was really too young to think about who influenced me. I just wanted to do the best that I could with my time there. I suppose our Youth Team coach Pat Welton, was a mentor to me in that I had never been in this position before and needed some guidance.
Being a central defender, were there any players at Spurs or outside the club who you would try to model your game around?
Bobby: I actually played at right back all the time that I was there. We had two very good central defenders in Matt Dillon and Billy Edwards so I didn’t mind where I played as long as I wasn’t on the bench!! No not really. For me it was about playing week in, week out and concentrating on being a good defender.
What was the toughest thing about being a youth fooballer at Spurs during the 1960’s?
Bobby: The fact that there was a very small window for amateur players to make the grade and sign professional simply because of the calibre of the young players already there.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories from your time as a youth player at Tottenham Hotspur?
Bobby: I made some good friends at Spurs, in particular Bobby Wiles and Johnny Oliver as the three of us were on amateur forms. Bobby and I also played together at Walthamstow Avenue the following seasons after our Spurs stint. I have vivid memories of the marathon that was the FA Youth cup final with Coventry. We had cleaned up all before us in all other competitions but this was the big one. Two specific memories come to mind though. One was Johnny Oliver scoring the equalising goal in the 2-2 draw at Highfield rd to get us back to our home ground for what was to be the final game. Two was Graeme Souness scoring the only goal at White Hart Lane to win the cup. magic.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your later career?
Bobby: It taught me to be prepared for setbacks. It taught me that no matter how good you think you are, until you sign on the dotted line then you haven’t achieved anything. I recall after arriving at Liverpool street Station after competing in an end of season Tournament in Holland, Pat Welton came up to me to tell me that I wasn’t going to be signed up by the club as a professional. it absolutely knocked me sideways as I thought that I had done enough to secure my apprenticeship. I was devastated but it taught me not to take anything for granted and that what I did in football in the future was about playing the best I could and with no expectations, at all.
You were a key member of the Tottenham side that made history in 1970 when you became the first Spurs side to win the FA youth cup. An extraordinary feat, would you be able to talk me through that triumphant campaign and the lead up to the final? A final which saw you take on a Coventry side which included future Spurs star Jimmy Holmes and a certain David Icke.
Bobby: Other than the final the rest was a bit of a blur. I recall us beating Bristol City in the semi final and also accounting for my childhood team Millwall in an earlier round. Coventry were a really good side and I remember in the replay at Highfield road I felt I was responsible for Coventry’s first goal. That was well and truly forgotten when Johnny Oliver equalised late in the second half to tie the game at 2-2.
After leaving Spurs you played for Walthamstow Avenue, a side which attracted two of your former team mates in Gary Crofts and Martin O’donnell. Gary has told me of some great tales from your time there including a memorable victory over Charlton, what do you think prompted so many of the Spurs lads to make the short move to Walthamstow?
Bobby: The Manager at the time was Peter Carey, ex West ham. He was a great people person and you wanted to play for him.
After playing for Walthamstow Avenue you took a journey few had taken before you, and moved to New Zealand to play your football. What prompted your move there and what was the standard of football like at your new club Christchurch United?
Bobby: I was still playing for Walthamstow when I received a call from an old team mate, Bruce MacDonald. He had taken over management of a team called New Brighton that had won promotion to the country’s premier league competition and asked if I wanted to come out and play for them. I was really at a loose end at the time, like a lot of young players who sought professional football, so I decided to go and try it out. The standard of football at the time was slightly higher than the standard at Walthamstow.
What was the pinnacle of your footballing career?
Bobby: I guess that most professional players would give their right arm to represent their country and play on sport’s greatest stage. I can honestly say, playing for my country and making the World Cup finals in 1982 was the absolute highlight.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Bobby: I think back to my playing days at Spurs and then recollect our game against Scotland in 1982, Graeme Souness is a stand out for me. Great football brain. Made playing football look easy.
Do you still follow Spurs’ progress?
Bobby: Yes I do, although my heart is with Man U. I didn’t shed a tear at last weekends FA Cup semi final result!
Finally, I couldn’t end the interview without talking about an extraordinary moment in your career, playing for New Zealand at the 1982 World Cup. Would you be able to talk me through what must have been a fascinating chapter in your career?
Bobby: It would take a couple of books to tell you the story but in short, we were a bunch of mainly amateurs, mainly kiwis, sprinkled with a few “poms”, who played more games (15) than any other team in qualifying for the World Cup Finals. We travelled more miles in qualifying, we were the last of the 32 teams to qualify. The NZ public provided funding to help us with costs for the second qualifying tournament.
It was the stuff of fairy tales. We had to beat Saudi Arabia away by 5 goals in our last game to set up a play off against china for the final spot. We were 5-0 up at half time but couldn’t score the extra goal in the 2nd half.
We beat China 2-1 in Singapore, to achieve sporting history for New Zealand.
I thought I would add a story that was told to me later on in life that gave me an insight into where I might have failed in my quest to be a pro at Spurs.
A good friend of mine went to watch Bromley Town play. Sitting next to him during the game was Sir Bill Nicholson. Anyway, they got chatting and my friend mentioned my name and my time at Spurs.
Sir Bill Nicholson replied, “oh yes, Bobby Almond, good on the park, not so good off it” True story.
So a good player but not disciplined enough to deserve a contract.
You live and you learn eh?