My interview with former Spurs player Derek Tharme:
I don’t use the word privileged lightly but I felt exactly that on Friday afternoon, when I got the opportunity to interview former Spurs player Derek Tharme. He may not have played for the first team during his time at the club, but Derek who turns 80 later this year was present throughout one of the most exciting periods in the clubs history. Joining Spurs way back in 1956 the fullback from Brighton had to adapt to life in the big smoke, he lived in digs up in Ponders end with the late great Mel Hopkins. Tharme managed to establish himself in the old Spurs A team (a time before we had even established a proper youth team) playing alongside some fine young pros, Derek would also brush shoulders with the first team on a daily basis. However, not long into his time at the lilywhites Tharme had to do military service, something which hampered the promising fullbacks development at the club. In total Derek spent five years at Spurs, during that time he saw the club transform into the household name it is today, he got to experience first hand the magic of Bill Nicholson. He got to know many Tottenham legends during his time at the club, ranging from Ted Ditchburn to Bobby Smith who he would later play alongside for Hastings United. After getting released by Spurs in 1961, Derek went onto sign for Southend United. Unfortunately a bad knee injury ended his time at the shrimpers shortly after working his way into the first team. Derek would subsequently return to his native Sussex, playing for a whole host of semi professional clubs, before entering the world of management. Derek still lives by the south coast and he still retains his love for both Tottenham Hotspur and local side Brighton who he also follows closely to this very day.
(Pictured above during a game involving the Spurs A team and Clacton in 1956. Derek is two places to the right of goalkeeper John Hollowbread.)
You came to Spurs in the mid 1950’s a period of great transition for the club. What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs, and how did you come about joining the club?
Derek: They had a scout I think his name was Ned Liddell and I was playing for Whitehawk. There was two players there, myself and a centre forward called Bob Meelia, he was a little bit older than me. We both came up but I think he played in different trials to me, I played in a game at Highbury against Arsenal 11. And then I played in a game at Oxford University and they took it from there I suppose. At the time I was playing for the Sussex County side and I think we had a game against Bedfordshire at Luton, and they obviously had somebody watching me then and they took it on from there, which was in October 1956. I went up there and I was in digs with Mel Hopkins in Ponders end and that was really the start of it.
What was your time at the lilywhites like on the whole?
Derek: It was a great experience obviously there were so many class players around at the time, it was such a good time for the club with the double around the 60’s. So there was an abundance of players there, I think there was probably about 35 pros there. So it was very difficult as a young player to get into the first team, and as you know a lot of them were internationals as well. I was in digs with Mel Hopkins who was a Welsh international and he had a job to get into the side once he was injured. He got injured playing for Wales against Scotland I think, and he fractured his nose and cheekbone and he was out for quite sometime. Of course then he lost his place to Ron Henry and it was difficult for him to get back in.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Derek: Being a Brighton boy I used to go and watch Brighton and I think at the time there was a player called Jimmy Langley. I don’t know if he came from Fulham or he went to Fulham, but he was such a great player. I liked the way he played, he was adventurous going down the wings, fullbacks didn’t do that much in those days. He’s probably one that comes to mind apart from all the others at Spurs.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Derek: Although Jimmy Anderson signed me on Bill Nicholson has got to be the one, I mean he was the coach and obviously trained you in pre season. As we all trained together, as a squad you learnt very quickly from that, it was good times to be around. The only thing I didn’t like was at the weekends on a Saturday I think, we used to do these six mile road runs which wasn’t my forte. I was quite good at short stuff, sprints and that sort of thing. Hard pre season training but it stood you in good stead for the remainder of the season.
Being a full back were there any other players at the club or outside who you’d would model your game around?
Derek: Being in digs with Mel obviously we spoke a lot and I sort of took something from him. I think he was about four years older than me so obviously he was more experienced at the time, and only being 18 you take these things in don’t you. But basically being a fullback he did help me a lot.
What was it like to brush shoulders with the likes of Danny Blanchflower, Bobby Smith and Sir Bill Nicholson on a regular basis?
Derek: Because you were there day in day out you just assumed that they were there all the time. There was a pub right outside the old ground, the White Hart and we all used to mingle in there after the morning training, and go for lunch or something like that. I always remember Bobby Smith and Alfie Stokes because they were right gamblers you know, and of course they used to like gambling. I always remember Dave Mackay, I think he used to eat steak but he didn’t eat the steak, he just chewed it and left the rest on the plate. You know all those things you sort of remember, great times. Danny was like a professor, a professor amongst the young boys, quite an intelligent person and he showed that on the pitch.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game?
Derek: I suppose really the way they taught me how to play you know, and I took that with me when I left Spurs and I went to Southend. Fortunately I got into the first team there and I suppose I was really unlucky, because at Spurs I think I went five or six years without an injury. I got into the first side and we were playing against Bournemouth, I think it was about the seventh game I was playing and that’s where I got this serious knee injury. Which sort of put paid to full time professional football, although I remained there until the season ended and that was that. That was a bad time.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Derek: I think obviously the ones that stand out mostly is the double year and also the two cup finals, year after year. As you know we won both of those and the celebrations afterwards, they really were the highlights. Also probably late 60’s when they were in the European cup, the midweek floodlit games I think I vaguely remember a few, they were fantastic nights! They really were the standouts of my time there.
How about for the A team?
Derek: When I first went there we used to play all our games away so we did quite a bit of traveling, and they looked after us very well. We used to always stop for lunch and usually in those days we used to have steak. Then we played the game and then on the way back, I don’t think we ever used to stop but they used to give us five shillings tea money, it was great! Before I went in the forces I was in digs in Ponders end but obviously when I came out of the forces I got married in 1960. Then I used to travel up each day from Brighton to Tottenham. I always remember one day they signed Jimmy Greaves on, and I met him outside the ground. He had his big jaguar left hand drive you know, we used to go to Cheshunt to train and I got a lift with him that day.
Initially we used to play all our games away and then I think the latter years we used to play our home games at Cheshunt. But when I was in the forces I played for a side called the western command and we played the Irish league in Belfast. We had Bobby Charlton, Peter Dobing and also at the camp where I was based in Donnington in Shropshire, was a pro with Notts County called John Sheridan and a Scottish boy Alex Hamilton who played for Accrington Stanley. We got walloped 6-0 by the Irish league it was in Windsor park, on paper we had a strong side but we still got beat. Funnily enough me and my wife went on a World Cup cruise in the year 2000 and all the World Cup team were on it, but the only one that was missing from Bobby Moore was Bobby Charlton. After leaving Southend I went to Hastings United in the southern league and I was there about four or five years, and then really I sort of gave it up a bit because I was still getting trouble with my knee. Then Roy Jennings who took over at Crawley phoned me up, and I went up there for five years. I finished my semi pro time at Crawley and then I played for Burgess Hill a Sussex County league side. Then I managed a couple of teams in the Sussex County league.
After departing the lilywhites you went onto play for teams such as Southend United and Crawley, could you talk me through what prompted you to leave the club and your career post Spurs?
Derek: They released me, I wasn’t going to get into any first sides up there, then I signed for Southend. That was in 61/62, I played seven games there and got the knee injury and that was it.
Who was the toughest winger that you came ever came up against?
Derek: There were plenty of them but I don’t remember there names, the one that sort of sticks in my mind was when I made my league debut for Southend which was at Watford, Vicarage Road. They had a left winger called Freddie Bunce he gave me a really torrid time that day, and of course it being your debut in the league it was really an eye opener.
What was the pinnacle of your career?
Derek: I suppose being with the A team, we were a very very good side. We won the league on a few occasions and also the east Anglian cup final. I’ll always remember that, that was played at White Hart Lane and we won that as well. I suppose the pinnacle really in a way like any professional is it make a league debut. That would have been at Southend when I played at Watford, I mean I played in Cup finals for other teams and that sort of thing, but like any young footballer you want to make your league debut. So probably I would say that would be.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Derek: If you want to go by names Bobby Smith. He came to Hastings as well, in fact I used to pick him up and take him to Hastings. I also remember John White when he came to Spurs ‘the ghost’, fantastic he was and a tragic end for him wasn’t it.
What was Bobby like when he was at Hastings?
Derek: Don’t quote me on this but we were playing a midweek game at Ashford in Kent I think it was his first game for Hastings, it was a floodlit game. It was about 7:15 and he hadn’t turned up, anyway he did eventually turn up in time for the kick off and they all wondered where he’d went. He’d been to Folkestone races!
What was the toughest moment of your career?
Derek: I think that would have been when I damaged my knee against Bournemouth at Southend. It was a really serious knee injury, in those days they didn’t have the equipment and facilities they’ve got in front of them today, and in those days we didn’t have any subs. They used to try and get you back on the pitch just to be a nuisance. I was out for a very long time I think it was about three months, and of course if you ask any footballer. Any injury likes knees, ankles and joints are far worse then probably a broken leg because a broken leg can mend but damage to the knees and ankles don’t get much better.
After all these years could you tell me what Spurs still means to you?
Derek: Oh god, there obviously the first result I look for every Saturday or in midweek games. And I suppose second to that would be Brighton, but I’ve never been back (to White Hart Lane).
Not long after you joined the club you had to do military service. What was that like and how did it affect your development as a footballer at Spurs?
Derek: It curtailed it obviously because we didn’t get the everyday training which we were having before I went into the forces. But I was very, very lucky the club used to phone up our camp on a Thursday and ask permission at the weekend to play football. And as I mentioned John Sheridan and Alex Hamilton were both playing as well for their clubs, and we used to get off every week. In those days when you were a professional in the forces they had to retain you on a pound a week. But when I used to get home to play I used to get appearance plus bonuses, which I think was £1.50 at the time, of course they were paying my travel expenses as well. It doesn’t sound a lot of money but in the 60’s or late 50’s it was quite good money. I went for basic training down in Hillsy in Portsmouth and then I went trade training to Blackdown near Aldershot. I think in those days you were earmarked if you were a pro footballer, you were earmarked for different places and I went to Donnington in Shropshire which is near Telford as it is now. I was there for two years and and the only weekend I spent at camp was when they had the Suez crisis on. Really I had quite an easy time in the army but I really enjoyed it, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Another player who you would have known from your time at the club was the legendary Len Duquemin. What was he like as both a player and a person?
Derek: He was a lovely fellow he was so easy to talk to and as you know he came from the Channel Islands and he was a centre forward, but he was made of iron, he really was. And such a lovely bloke. Ted Ditchburn was exactly the same (Derek scored a penalty against Ted in a game involving Burgess Hill and Romford) and Harry Clarke, lovely people to be around. They were the sort of people who had a bit more time for you. They’d seen it all before.