My interview with former Spurs player Barrie Aitchison:
Barrie Aitchison joined Spurs as a promising inside forward back in 1954, signed and scouted by a certain Arthur Rowe at a schoolboys game at Upton Park. The Essex native would go onto spend ten years at the lilywhites, a time which was spent mostly in the reserves and the old A team. However, Aitchison would go onto play under three Spurs managers, experiencing first hand the remarkable transformation of the club, from the end of Arthur Rowe’s reign to the beginning of Bill Nicholson’s legendary managerial tenure, Barrie also met his wife in nearby Edmonton. Aitchison in his own words feels that he was incredibly unlucky not to have been given an opportunity in the first team during his spell at the club. He would eventually leave Spurs in 1964 to return to Colchester where he would sign for the towns premier club Colchester United. Barrie would go onto appear over 50 times for Colchester before dropping into the non league with Cambridge City in 1966. Barrie was managed by a familiar face, his old Tottenham teammate Tony Marchi. Mr Aitchison still lives in the Colchester area and he kindly agreed to doing an interview with me about his fascinating time at the lilywhites.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Barrie: I signed for Arthur Rowe, Arthur Rowe was the manager then this was in 1954. What had happened is that he saw me playing for London and Home county schools. When I was 15 we drew north midland county at Upton Park and he wrote to my father and asked me if I could go up and trial. I went up a couple of times on trial and there was a lot of people from a lot of the youth turning up, but he got in touch with me afterwards and said that he’d like to take me on the ground staff, I was only 16 then. But he could only take me on for 10 weeks because he had a lot of others there and he had his full quota. I went for 10 weeks and then he said in that time if I think you’ll make it I’ll sign you as a professional when you’re 17. Which was about a month after that time, in January he wrote to me and father and said that he wanted to sign me on, so that’s how I came to go there.
What was Arthur like?
Barrie: Smashing fellow! When I first went there I was very small, I was quite small for my age. They used to have lunches under the stand, they had a restaurant where you used to go to lunch. He took me in there and he said to the catering staff I want this lad to have a steak everyday, to build me up like. I signed in December 1955, I signed professional on I think £7.50 a week.
You spent ten years at Spurs what was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Barrie: Pretty good really, it was good everybody was quite friendly there so it was pretty good on the whole.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Barrie: When I was at school I used to always look to see if Billy Steel scored, he was an inside forward for Derby County. A Scots international and he used to sort of be my hero, I used to always look to see if he’d scored goals.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Barrie: It’s hard to say really, I played with Jimmy Greaves for one game because when Jimmy signed from Juventus they couldn’t get him registered in time. So he played in a reserve game at Plymouth Argyle which was away, he scored two goals and I got one goal. I was playing on the wing then, what I do remember when I first went to Tottenham I was really an inside forward. But Arthur Rowe said to me we were going to play you on the wing Barrie because you’ve put on a bit more weight. I never did get back playing inside forward I used to play on both wings left or right, so I was always sort of recognised as a winger.
Being a winger were there any other players at the club or outside who you’d would model your game around?
Barrie: I used to look at Cliff Jones a lot because he was brilliant in the air you know. He was only a little fellow really, 5’6 like me and he was brilliant in the air, Cliff and Terry Medwin. I tried to model myself on him.
What was it like to brush shoulders with the likes of Danny Blanchflower, John White and Sir Bill Nicholson on a regular basis?
Barrie: It was quite alright, John White when he first came to Tottenham I think he came from Berwick. I used to pick him up in the mornings at Tottenham town hall and take him into training. I used to pick him up before he got a car himself like.
What was John White like?
Barrie: He was a smashing fellow they were all pretty good you know, they mixed very well. We used to do a lot of training at Cheshunt in them days which was their training ground then. I got a call from me national service when I was 18 I had to do two years in the army and in that time Arthur Rowe was unwell and he had to retire. Jimmy Anderson took over from Arthur Rowe, I played under three managers whilst I was there Arthur Rowe, Jimmy Anderson and Bill Nicholson.
Who was your favourite out of those three managers?
Barrie: It was definitely Arthur Rowe he used to encourage me all the time really.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game?
Barrie: I was there a long time because I never made a first team appearance not in the league or anything. I should have done really, there was games when Bill Nicholson had signed players on like John Smith from West Ham. If someone got injured on the right wing or something, instead of putting me in he would play John Smith who was a right half at outside right. Or Eddie Clayton who was another inside forward.
Why do you think that was?
Barrie: I don’t know really it’s hard to say.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory from your time in the reserves?
Barrie: When we played Luton reserves at White Hart Lane and I think it was 7-1 we won and I got four goals. Three of them were headers, crosses from Tony Marchi. Tony was in the reserves because Dave Mackay was in the first team then. I used to get quite a few goals I think it was in 62, I didn’t miss one game in the reserves. I played all 34 games and scored 17 goals.
After departing the lilywhites you went onto play for teams such as Colchester United and Cambridge City could you talk me through what prompted you to leave the club and your career post Spurs?
Barrie: What happened really it was 62-63 and Nicholson called me in and said Scunthorpe had been on the phone and they wanted to sign me on. So I met with their manager who was Dickie Duckworth, at Kings Cross and I wasn’t keen on going to Scunthorpe you know. It was right up in Lincolnshire and my mother wasn’t all that well at that time in Colchester. I wasn’t all that happy about going there because to be quite honest Tottenham Hotspur were going to get £10,000 and I think I was going to get about £500 out of it. All them years I’d been there, nine years almost I thought they were going to get all that money back, so I played for them for nothing and I weren’t very happy about that! Bill Nicholson said to me what are you going to do if you’re on the list at the end of the season, well I said to be quite honest that’s a chance I’ll take. So with that I thought I was bound to be put on the transfer list, we only had contracts for one year then, we used to sign every June. I knew Alf Ramsey when I used to clean his boots whilst I was on the ground staff. So I phoned Alf and he said alright Barrie leave it with me he said, Alf Ramsey was at Ipswich then, of course that was near to Colchester so it would have suited me lovely. But then what happened he didn’t get back to me, Ipswich signed a young winger Aled Owen (from Spurs) and he went to Ipswich and at the end of the season Bill Nicholson signed me back on.
Who was the toughest fullback that you came ever came up against?
Barrie: I can tell you who that was. England played a practice game over at Cheshunt, we played an England eleven against a Tottenham eleven. Just a practice game, it was behind closed doors obviously. I played left wing and I thought this would have been a good time for me to shine, who was playing right back for England Jimmy Armfield, and I didn’t get a kick! I kept on trying to get away from him, but he was there all the time, he was a fantastic fullback he really was. Jimmy Armfield was the best I ever played against. Johnny Hayes was playing that day as well for England.
What was the pinnacle of your career?
Barrie: It’s hard to say really, when I went to Colchester first season was a bit of a struggle because the manager was Mel Franklin, he was the old England centre half. He played for England with Stanley Matthews and all them, he struggled the first season but the second season what happened was I got to play inside forward which I hadn’t done and I was playing really well, scoring goals. Then against Rochdale at Colchester I damaged my knee and had to have a cartilage operation which never went right. I was off for about three or four months, I got back in the team but left at the end of that season (I had two seasons there). The pinnacle was probably Ted Phillips who signed for Colchester from Luton and at his first home game he scored a hat trick and we beat Barnsley 4-1. I scored the other goal which was a 25 yarder right in the top corner, so that was probably my highlight because there was a good crowd there watching Ted make his debut. After that season Frank offered me part time terms and I wasn’t happy to do that at the time. So my mate Tony Marchi was the manager of Cambridge City then, so I signed for Cambridge and played for them in the southern league. That was pretty good, Tony was a pretty fair bloke.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Barrie: Well the greatest striker was obviously Jimmy Greaves Jimmy was a fantastic player. He was so quick and agile, but one other great player who I played against when I was playing for Spurs A actually. We played Cambridge, we was in the eastern counties league, who was playing for Cambridge United, Wilf Mannion! Wilf was a great inside forward who played for England. We won the match and he shook hands with me after the game because I’d only be about 18 then, and he said well done son you done well today. And shaking hands with him, Wilf Mannion who played all those games for England, he was an absolutely brilliant player. But I would say probably Jimmy Greaves being a striker you know, Jimmy was a fantastic player and a nice fellow as well. He said to me one day you know what I do when I’ve only got the goalkeeper to beat, I watch that goalkeeper he said. And as soon as he moves towards me I play the play ball past him, with his little left foot he used to just play it round because he caught him unaware. Fantastic timing to do that absolutely brilliant the way he used to do it. He’d have probably been knighted I should think if he’d have played when England won the World Cup, of course he was injured as Geoff Hurst played instead of him.
What was the toughest moment of your career?
Barrie: Toughest moment was coming back after injury the toughest part was missing the games. I had a couple of bad injuries at Tottenham when I done a bad ankle, and then I had a blood clot cut out of me ankle. At the time I was off about nine or ten weeks, then I dislocated an elbow playing in a London midweek game against Charlton and I was out for about three months then. Then also when I had the cartilage at Colchester I was out a long time then, so the worst part was not being able to get out there and play, watching all the chaps play when you couldn’t play yourself.
After all these years could you tell me what Spurs still means to you?
Barrie: I still support them, me brother does as well actually, once you play for Tottenham that long you always follow them and support them like. I do anyhow.
Have you ever been back to the lane since you left?
Barrie: No I haven’t no, I haven’t been back since I left. I do tell a fib there because after I left Cambridge I was still having a bit of knee trouble, and they went bankrupt. So I signed for Bury St Edmunds in the old Essex counties league and I played at White Hart Lane one day. So going back and playing at White Hart Lane just after I’d left there. And then after I left there my knee was still bad and he said if you carry on playing your going to end up a cripple. So I packed up when I was about 31 I think it was then.
Where did you go for you military service?
Barrie: I went to Aldershot and done me training and then to Yeovil in Somerset to do private training and the rest of the army training. They called me into say that because I was a Tottenham player I’d be going back to Aldershot one battalion, I said to the lads I’m going back to the training battalion in Aldershot. When the postings went up being an Aitchison I was right at the top and it said Private Aitchison to 31 camp Perth, Scotland. Everybody else all went to West Germany and I went to Perth in Scotland. Where I was thinking of getting a game playing for St.Johnstone anyhow, I got called in (I was up there for three months) and they gave me a travel warrant and said you’re going back to Aldershot one training battalion and he said they’ve been looking for you everywhere. I went back there and fortunately enough who was there, Bill Foulkes of Manchester United and Brian Harris of Everton, there was loads of players. I finished the rest of me time there at Aldershot at one training battalion, RAF.
Barrie on Danny Blanchflower: Danny was a very quiet chap except when he was talking about football, when he was talking about football you couldn’t stop him. But he never really mixed that well, but he was a great player he never used to waste a pass hardly.
Barrie on Ted Ditchburn: My favourite keeper was Ted Ditchburn, I remember playing games in the reserves with Ted and I remember one particular game. He was playing at Bristol City, I was a young lad and I got picked on. He came down the halfway line and he said if you kick that lad again, you come up in my area and I’ll sort you out, that was Ted! Ted would say before the game if any crosses come in (high crosses) on or inside that six yard box there mine. So get out the way he said or I’ll take you with it and all, anything that was in that six yard box he used come out and just gobble them up. Fantastic player.