My interview with former Spurs star Ian Walker:
I needn’t introduce one of our most successful academy graduates of the 20th century. Goalkeeper Ian Walker rose up the ranks at youth level before making the grade at first team level. Making 312 appearances for the lilywhites over an 11 year period. Walker was one of the finest English goalkeepers of his generation and was capped four times by the three lions. Spells at Leicester and Bolton followed for the Watford born goalkeeper before he retired from te game in 2008. Ian kindly agreed to doing an interview with me about his time at the club, and I must say it was an absolute privilege to do so.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Ian: Earliest memory was going to watch an evening game with my dad when I was at Lilleshall. I remember walking through the gates and feeling the atmosphere, I knew straight away I wanted to join the club, there was something magical about it. Luckily being at Lilleshall I had quite a few clubs interested in me and as soon as I knew Spurs wanted me that was it.
What was your time at Spurs like on the whole?
Ian: I loved my time at Spurs, of course there were some ups and downs. From the beginning things went very well, we had a very successful youth team and I managed to move through pretty quickly into first team contention. Once I got into the first team I felt like I had some very good times and some which were up and down, my level dropped at some points and I felt I could and should have done better, overall I didn’t reach my expectations for my career but then I was always hyper critical of myself which probably didn’t help.
Who was your footballing inspiration/hero?
Ian: I grew up watching Ray Clemence a lot and I’d say he was my main inspiration, he was top class and I was fortunate to have him as my goalkeeping coach and coach during my time at Spurs and with England. I’m very grateful to him for his guidance and patience even if sometimes I’m sure I drove him crazy.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Ian: So many good people, Clem, Terry Venables, Keith Blunt, Keith Waldron, Pat Holland, Pat Jennings, Hans Segers, Tony Parks, Erik Thordsvedt, I can’t name everyone as there were so many who helped/influenced me or tried to help me, apologies to those not mentioned above!
Being a goalkeeper were there any other players at the club or outside, who you’d model your game around?
Ian: I didn’t model myself on anyone totally but I would say that I may have been influenced by Clem more than anyone else, big Pat also, they were the ones I watched or was around a lot.
What was the toughest thing about being a professional footballer?
Ian: Missing New Years celebrations with friends and family, not having a proper Xmas other than that it’s a dream “job”. The toughest thing really was living with myself when I cost the team a goal or a game, I had a hard time letting those moments go and I’m sure it had a damaging effect on my career. Self hatred and self sabotage are not conductive to growth and fulfilling your potential!
Could you talk me through that triumphant FA youth cup campaign of 1990?
Ian: It was a special moment for all of us, we won everything that season, the FA youth cup was the best. We were confident we were one of the best teams but we had to prove it. To be the first Spurs side since 1974 to win it was amazing and something I still look back on and smile, they were great times.
What was your greatest memory from your time at the lilywhites?
Ian: Apart from making my first team debut it has to be the league cup win in 1999. Having been at the club for a long time it meant so much to everyone at the club, the players, staff and especially the fans to win a trophy. It was such a great day and an amazing feeling as a player to celebrate with the fans at the end.
Could you talk me through your career after you left Spurs?
Ian: Before the beginning of the 2001 season I sat down with Glenn Hoddle and we both agreed I needed to play 1st team football, the conversation was very calm. I always thought I’d stay at Spurs all my career, I’d just signed a 5 year deal the season before but the club brought in Neil Sullivan who had a fantastic season so I knew I wouldn’t start the new one. I had to make a decision to go elsewhere, it was tough to leave after so long. I ended up at Leicester City which I enjoyed, it was a good move to a solid club, unfortunately things didn’t go well for the team and we went down, then up and down again, I still managed to stay in England contention before a knee injury ruled me out for 20 games. I then moved to Bolton Wanderers as back up to Jussi Jaaskalainen, I wanted to stay in the premier league. I enjoyed it there playing in the Uefa cup and cup matches. At the end of 2008 I had a move lined up to Sporting Kansas City in the MLS starting at the end of January 2009 but unfortunately I hurt my disc putting my son in his crib and that was that.
What was the pinnacle of your footballing career?
Ian: Playing for England and playing for Spurs. I had several really good consistent spells where I was up there with the best of them (and some bad spells where I was with the worst)! I’d say the 98/99 cup runs were very special, winning the league cup and getting to the semi final of the FA cup, maybe it would have been the final had the ref spotted Dabizas hand ball but that was a great spell with a lot of clean sheets.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Ian: To name one is tough, I was fortunate enough to share the pitch with Lineker, Klinsmann, Sheringham, Le Tissier, Okocha and more, they all had that something special but Gazza was the number 1.
You managed to work your way up the ranks at Spurs before securing the number one goalkeeping berth at the club. What do you accredit that incredibly tough achievement to?
Ian: Early belief in myself and my ability and good coaches. From a young age I visualised playing at the top level, for Spurs and for England, I had no doubt whatsoever that it would happen. I had tunnel vision and just kept going at the target, even when it came to Erik and me I still believed I would get there. Of course hard work and some luck with injuries also helped and some great coaches, Mike Kelly, Ray Clemence, Pat Jennings, Hans Segers to name a few. The only problem was once I reached the goals I didn’t upgrade them and at times during my career I struggled with self esteem and confidence/belief in myself.
What would your advice be to the current Spurs academy goalkeepers, as they look to make their way up the footballing pyramid?
Ian: Work hard, harder than anyone else, be the best you can be. Set goals and go after it. Believe in yourself no matter what, surround yourself with positive people who want the best for you. Don’t read social media or newspapers. Never stop learning, never give up and enjoy the ride as it goes fast.