My interview with former Spurs goalkeeper Roy Brown:
After joining Tottenham Hotspur in 1960, Sussex born goalkeeper Roy Brown spent eight years at the lilywhites, going onto make one sole appearance for the first team in a league game against Blackpool back in 1966. The talented young goalkeeper also played an important role in the Tottenham youth team of the early 60’s. A side which would go onto rack up plenty of domestic honours in a plethora of youth leagues and tournaments. Brown spent subsequent spells at the likes of Reading, Notts County and Mansfield. But his most successful period would come with the Nottingham based club who he helped to reach the old second division. After retiring from the game Roy went onto work for Reading Borough Council amongst other jobs. Roy kindly agreed to doing an interview with me about his time at the lilywhites, sharing many a fascinating memory with me in the process. Roy is pictured above on the far left of the bench.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Roy: I progressed through school football to Brighton Boys, onto Sussex Boys and finally England Schoolboys trials. During this period a number of coaches approached my parents with Dicky Walker being the most persistent. I was invited up to Cheshunt for a trial day and was eventually offered apprenticeship terms. I joined in 1960 just before my 16th birthday and decided to travel up daily from Brighton on trains and buses apart from pre-season when I stayed with a family in Edmonton.
What was your time at the lilywhites like on the whole?
Roy: From an early age I had only wanted to play football and to sign for the top team in the country which at the time was, if you don’t mind a cliche “a dream come true”. I really enjoyed being a footballer even if we spent more time cleaning than we did training. John Wallace was in charge of the apprentices and at the time he seemed overly demanding, in retrospect he had 12 youngsters to look after, give them self discipline and not think they had made it. As you progress through the teams from the juniors, to the youth team to the A team and reserves, you appreciated what a difficult job he had and how well he did it.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspiration and if so who were they?
Roy: My football heroes were obviously goalkeepers starting with Frank Swift and then Gordon Banks. As I continued playing Peter Shilton was the best I saw along with David James who I thought was the best technically but unfortunately prone to occasional bad mistakes.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Roy: John Wallace as previously mentioned and then Eddie Baily. Most of the first team were really good with the young players, especially Alan Mullery, Dave Mackay and John White. I lost all respect for Bill Nicholson when circumstances brought about my debut for the first team. Friday, Bill Nic came up to me said he had no choice so I would have to play in the first team the following day against Blackpool! No pep talk or support. On the Saturday he said nothing to me before or after the game.
Being a goalkeeper, were there any other players at the club or outside who you’d would model your game around or seek inspiration from?
Roy: Unfortunately back in the day there was no specific coaching for keepers and it was not unusual to go all week without any ball work as most of the training revolved around running and 5-a-side games. Whilst I was at Notts County Jimmy Sirell’s assistant was Jack Wheeler who had been a great goalkeeper for Huddersfield when they were a top team back in the 50’s. Although Jack did not coach me he did at least have an understanding of the problems keepers face particularly when they are uninvolved physically for long periods but stay mentally alert and ready to perform when needed.
You trained regularly with a young Pat Jennings as the pair of you competed to break into the first team. What was Pat like as a young goalkeeper?
Roy: When you train with the other players you do not think about their reputations and as a young player growing up with Bill Brown and then Pat Jennings I just worked hard at what ever I had to do. The players trained most of the time with their own team squad and only rarely did the keepers train together. Pat was just a very nice, quiet gentleman of a player who got on with his job without making a big fuss about it. I also recognised that he was a better keeper than me and my only chance of getting in the first team was due to injury to Pat which is not something I would want to happen.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game?
Roy: After 2 or 3 years behind Pat and enjoying some overseas European trips where a substitute goal keeper was allowed, I wanted the chance to be first choice keeper in a football club somewhere else as it was unlikely to happen at Spurs. I felt I had had 7 years good basic introduction to professional football and was ready to try my luck elsewhere. I knew it would be difficult to move home, get used to new playing colleagues and training ideas but I wanted the chance and asked for a transfer. I knew on the “grapevine” that a number of clubs had made enquiries, all of which Bill Nic turned down whilst telling me there had been no interest! Eventually he told me during training at Cheshunt that Reading had made an offer and he was surprised that I was prepared to drop down the leagues to get a move.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Roy: My favourite memories of my time at Spurs are the 6 pre-season trips to Holland for youth international tournaments when we played against Ajax, Feyenord and teams from Germany, Russia and Belgium. I also enjoyed the European Cup trips with all the excitement and pressure that went with it. I remember when I went up for a week’s trial and one great old Spurs player, Len Duquemin who was renowned for power when shooting, used to come along to Cheshunt and help out and join in the training with the juniors. We were having shooting practice and John Wallace said save this one and we will give you a contract. Up came Len who smashed it straight at me from 18 yards which I managed to keep out even though it knocked me over. I also loved the opportunity to watch and play with some great players including Alan Gilzean, Cliff Jones and of course the greatest goal scorer I ever saw, Jimmy Greaves.
On the 15th of October 1966 you made your one and only appearance for the Spurs first team in an away defeat to Blackpool. Could you talk me through your memories of what must have been an incredibly memorable day?
Roy: On the day before my debut I went home on the train to Brighton and sitting opposite me was someone reading the evening paper about me playing for the Spurs first team. I remember travelling up to Tottenham the next morning on the train from Brighton and travelling on the tube and bus along with the supporters who had no idea that I would be between the sticks that afternoon. My parents and my wife came up for the game which I have no recollection of how I played in apart from obviously losing the game. I remember the rest of the team being very supportive before and after the match and I remember as I came out of the main gates being mobbed by supporters wanting my autograph. I did get man of the match in the Sunday papers. Still no comment from Bill Nic!!
After departing the lilywhites you went onto play for teams such as Notts County and Reading. Could you talk me through what prompted you to leave the club and your career post Spurs?
Roy: I decided it was time for me to move on when I realised I would never replace Pat and if anything happened to him they would buy in a new keeper. I was not content to pick up my wages just being a reserve. I went to Reading with Roy Bentley as manager and straight into the first team saving a penalty on my debut! Unfortunately Roy got the sack at the end of the season and was replaced by Jack Mansell who immediately made it clear that none of the existing staff were good enough. I was one of the last to go when he sighed Stevie Death from West Ham and I went off on loan to Southern League Dartford and helped them win the league. Jack Mansell promised to get the team out of the 3rd division, he did but getting relegated to division 4! During the summer Jimmy Sirrell came in for me and off we went to Notts County. We won the league that year and again got promotion two years later to division 2. Those 5 years at Notts were my happiest in my 15 years as a professional footballer.
What was the pinnacle of your career?
Roy: The pinnacles of my career were signing for the best team in the country as a 15 year old, making my division 1 debut and getting promotion at Notts where incidentally I (we) kept 13 clean sheets in the last 17 games moving from the relegation position at Christmas to winning promotion and getting the supporters player of the year trophy. I also played in all 4 divisions of the football league, played at all bar 6 of the football grounds in the leagues, never got booked and never got taken off injured even though I had my share of broken bones, concussion and muscle problems. In those days, pre-substitutes, you played on whenever possible.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Roy: Easy question, Jimmy Greaves. Jimmy fancied his self in goal and loved having a go between the sticks.
In many ways you were unfortunate during your time at Spurs due to the presence of both Bill Brown and Pat Jennings. What would your advice be to the young goalkeepers at Spurs as they look to work their way into the first team?
Roy: My advice would be to go to a team with a record of giving young players a chance but bearing in mind that a young keeper has to be patient as they generally don’t mature until their twenties.
You were part of a very successful Spurs youth team during the early 1960’s. A side which included the likes of Phil Beal and Derek Possee. One particular success was winning the old Metropolitan league challenge cup. What can you remember of that campaign and the run up to the final?
Roy: During my years at Spurs from the juniors through to the reserves we won many league titles and cups all of which are a bit of a blur after all these years.