My interview with former Spurs man Ben Embery:
On Tuesday afternoon I took the trip down to Canvey island to interview our former player Ben Embery. Ben was a talented fullback who joined Spurs alongside his identical twin brother Bill back in 1959. Although Bill would only go onto play for the old Wood Green side as it was known, Ben spent seven years at the lilywhites as he learnt his trade from some of the greatest players on the planet, as the famous double winning side hit the headlines. A budding full back who was a key component in the Tottenham youth side of the early 1960’s. Embery would go onto achieve great things at youth level in a star studded Tottenham team, which included the likes of Phil Beal and Derek Possee. In many ways Ben was only denied game time in the first team due to the huge success which Nicholson’s side, were enjoying at that time in the clubs history. Embery had distinguished internationals to dislodge if he was ever going to break into the first team. He did however, play a couple of times for Nicholson’s side during pre season friendlies including on one such trip to Norway. Mr Embery endured many great memories from his time at Spurs of which he kindly shared with me in the following interview. From missing out on a chance to play for England schoolboys due to being beaten up by teddy boys, to helping Barnet reach Wembley. Ben has also enjoyed a fascinating career in the footballing dug out, taking charge of non league sides and arch rivals Canvey Island and Concord Rangers. It was an absolute privilege to get the opportunity to speak with Ben about his time at Spurs. He is one of the nicest footballers you’ll ever meet, a real gentleman who went onto achieve great things in the game.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Ben: My earliest memory would have been probably when I was about 13 and Dickie Walker who was the ex West Ham player was a scout at Spurs. I lived in Dagenham at the time and he came round (he’d obviously seen us play, me and my twin brother). So he came round and asked us if we’d like to go to Spurs, and that’s how it started really. I left school at 15 and went straight on the ground staff at Tottenham, and then at 17 I turned pro, that’s my earliest memory at Spurs. I played for Barking boys as a kid and then London and Essex boys. I was due to have an England trial but I got beaten up! I went out one night (in those days there were teddy boys) and there were about eight of them and I got beat up and couldn’t play. So that was it.
What was your time at the lilywhites like on the whole?
Ben: Disappointing really, in someways it was a fantastic grounding for a young footballer because they had the double side, it was just fantastic. Everything about it. But I never quite made the first team, I made the first team a couple of times abroad in friendlies but I never made the first team as such. It was such a great side so it was frustrating, but I enjoyed my time there. Bill Nicholson was a top class coach and taught you the game. It’s like having the best surgeon showing you how to operate, and that’s how it was with him, it was fantastic. Happy days.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspiration and if so who were they?
Ben: As a kid my team was West Bromwich Albion would you believe, purely because I went to school and a kid said to me what football team do you support? And I didn’t really know, but I knew West Brom had won the cup that year (1954) so I said West Bromwich Albion and I’ve always supported them ever since. I’ve played at most grounds and I’ve never played there, I’ve played at Wembley but I’d have rather have played at the Hawthorns. My hero when I was growing up was a guy called Ronnie Allen who was a centre forward (at West Brom).
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Ben: Obviously Bill Nicholson would be one and a big inspiration to me was Dave Mackay, I thought he was fantastic. He was fantastic to talk to, to be involved with him was just incredible. He was a leader of men and was a great player and a great coach and manager, but he was an inspirational person. The other one who was a great player at the time and died young was John White. He would have been another one, but Dave Mackay was inspirational definitely.
Being a young defender who had converted to being a centre half from fullback, were there any other players at the club or outside who you’d would model your game around or seek inspiration from?
Ben: I don’t think I modelled my game on anybody I was taught the game by Bill Nicholson and that was enough. My inspiration was Dave Mackay as a footballer.
What was Dave like to speak to?
Ben: He was fantastic I remember I was playing for the reserves (I was only a kid) and he’d just come back, he’d broke a leg so he was coming back and playing in the reserves. And it was just fantastic to play with him.
You would have got to train with players such as Mel Hopkins and Danny Blanchflower. What was it like to brush shoulders with such legendary figures in the game?
Ben: Being a young player you looked up to these players and it was a great apprenticeship because they taught you the game. Spurs played in a certain way, Bill Nicholson said ’ simple things done well ’ it was pass and support, pass and support. And it was great to play with those players because they made it easy for you, they really did. They taught you the game when we were young, we got good habits.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game?
Ben: It was the best education I could have had playing under Bill Nicholson and playing with the players of that calibre at Spurs was a great education for me. It was like going to a university really, because they taught you the game. When I went to Exeter I found it difficult to play in that level because it was so different, it was more kick and rush. Where at Spurs it was pass and support it was a different ball game, your playing with great players as well. Spurs had a way of playing and that was the way you were taught to play, and it was good. It was the right way.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Ben: I think one of the big things was playing for the youth team abroad because as a kid I’d never been aboard before. We done really well, we went to Holland and won championships out there and they took me with the first team somewhere as well, I think it was Norway. I played out there with the first team and a great memory was going abroad playing for Spurs. Especially being a little boy from Dagenham who’d never got out of Dagenham really.
After departing the lilywhites you went onto play for teams such as Exeter, Barnet and Grays Athletic. Could you talk me through what prompted you to leave the club and your career post Spurs?
Ben: Leaving Spurs was not my choice, leaving Spurs was Bill Nicholson’s choice. I’ll never forget I was getting married funnily enough in the June and I went into see Bill Nicholson, and said look I’m getting married in June, will I be retained for next season? I’ll never forget he said ’ Ben you’ve had a great season in the reserves and it’s alright, you’re being retained ’. So I got married and then about a week later he called me and told I was going to be released which was quite upsetting at the time. Actually he took me with the first team to Norway as well, the bloody cheek when I think about it! Listen by the way you’re going out to Norway with the first team and I went out to Norway and played in this friendly. On the way back on the plane this was, Eddie Baily came up to me and said Ben just to let you know Exeter city have been in for you. I didn’t even know where Exeter was, they could have said it was on the moon I didn’t have a clue. So when I got back I phoned this guy up, a guy called John Bashford who was the manager. He said bring your girlfriend down and stay the weekend and we’ll have a chat. So I thought that’s alright, I went down there and with no intention of signing at all. Anyway he offered me a thousand pounds to sign on, the average house was only £4000 pounds, so it was good money in them days. I was just getting married and I thought what should I do, anyway I ended up signing which was a bad decision really because it was fourth division.
The travelling was unbelievable because there was no motorways in them days we’re travelling from southwest all the way up to Hartlepool and places like that. We used to leave Friday morning at 9 o’clock to play Saturday afternoon (3 o’clock) because of the travelling, it was horrendous. I was there about three years and then I got a teaching job and came back to Barnet and that was fantastic. It was the best time of my football career I played about 350 games but I was there about seven years. It was just a phenomenal time for me, when I was at Spurs I never had the confidence to express myself for some reason, but at Barnet I did. I finally found that confidence. We got to Wembley and played in the trophy although we got beat but it’s nice to have played at Wembley. We didn’t play well on the day, we deserved to get beat. From Barnet I went to Gravesend and Northfleet I was captain for a couple of years, then I became a jobbing footballer. I played for Ilford and different places like Canvey island who I ended up managing, so that’s how I got into management. I had a good non league career I really enjoyed it. It was a good career but Barnet was the highlight.
After retiring from the game you took the step into management, taking charge of non league sides Canvey Island and Concord Rangers, here on Canvey island. How did you find that experience?
Ben: I found it challenging when I took over both sides they had no money for players or anything like that. So it was difficult to get players in and on the island as well, it’s funny it’s a close knit community and it’s difficult to get players on it. But I enjoyed managing the sides but I found it difficult at times obviously, which it is.
At Canvey Island you would have managed former Spurs youth player Paul Foley.
Ben: Yes. A lovely lad, good player and I liked him a lot Paul.
What was the pinnacle of your career?
Ben: The pinnacle of my career was playing at Wembley for Barnet it’s the one place you want to play at. Cricket would be Lords, rugby would be Twickenham and for a footballer it was Wembley and although we got beat it was fantastic. Two years before we got beat in the semifinals against Macclesfield at Stoke city’s ground and got beat in the last minute or so. You’re so near to Wembley and all of a sudden it’s taken away from you. Then two years later we got to a semifinal again, we beat Telford 1-0 away at Northampton towns ground. We got a penalty in the last few minutes and we had a guy called Dickie Plume (ex Millwall) I couldn’t watch the penalty because Wembley was on the end of it. He scored anyway so we got to Wembley.
Didn’t you play against the legendary Stan Bowles?
Ben: Yes I did for Barnet against QPR in the FA cup, he was unbelievable. We drew 0-0 at Loftus Road in the third round of the FA cup, he was fit for the second game and he ran us ragged. They won 3-0 and he was the difference between the two sides. I pulled his hair as well!
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Ben: Dave Mackay by a distance he had everything, people used to think he was someone who kicked people and that. He was aggressive he really was, but he was also a talented footballer and inspirational. He’d really get you going on the pitch he was the best player, there were some great players around at that time. Danny Blanchflower and Cliff Jones, but for me Dave Mackay was the tops, he really was. I think a lot of people would say that as well, he was the man.
In many ways you were unfortunate during your time at Spurs due to the success that the first team enjoyed during that period, with players such as Peter Baker and Cyril Knowles ahead of you in the first team. What would your advice be to the young fullbacks at Spurs today, as they look to work their way into the first team?
Ben: It’s a different world now because they’ve got agents and things like that but the advice I would give them is to persevere. It is an art form defending, you’ve got to have natural ability and one of those abilities is to head the ball. It’s difficult to say, but tackling is the most important part of it, but you never see slide tackling anymore.
You were part of a very successful Spurs youth team during the early 1960’s. A side which included the likes of Phil Beal, John Sainty and Derek Possee. Like the first team you were one of the most successful youth teams in the country at that period in time. What are your memories of that side?
Ben: Obviously very fond memories as there were a lot good players in them days, it was an education playing with some of those players really. Phil Beal and Derek Possee was another one there was some good players, Johnny Sainty was another one that played for Reading. But Philip Beal would have been the one really.
Are you still in contact with any of your old Spurs team mates?
Ben: No. No I’m not unfortunately, I was close to Roger Smith and Philip Beal but as time goes on you go your different ways.