My interview with former Spurs star Eddie Clayton:
Born in London’s east end in 1937 Eddie Clayton used to watch the bombs fall down on London during the Second World War from from his parents home in Shoreditch. A budding young footballer at non league side Eton Manor, Eddie and the late Spurs player Bill Dodge were spotted by the legendary Alf Ramsey and taken to Spurs for trials during the 1950’s. Eddie and Bill signed for the lilywhites in 1955 as amateurs, Eddie combining his time at the club with his day job as an apprentice printer. Despite missing out on over two years of his footballing career due to national service where he was stationed in West Germany. Clayton finally got to make his first team debut for Spurs in April of 1958 against Everton at Goodison Park. The part timer made an immediate impact for Bill Nicholson’s side scoring twice in a 4-3 win over the toffees, Eddie then scored the winner in Spurs’ next game against West Brom only a couple of days later. Making over 120 appearances for Spurs during an 11 year stint at the club, Eddie experienced first hand the most successful period in the clubs history including that famous 1960-61 double winning season. Eddie was a great inside forward who managed to adapt his game later on in his career so he could slot in, in front of the back four. The versatile Clayton looked back fondly on his time at Spurs during our long interview last Friday. We would often get sidetracked talking about many aspects of the beautiful game, from Eddie’s hope of giving Harry Kane some advice on being a nastier striker to his experiences of growing up in war time London. One particular story involved the young Eddie picking up an unexploded WW2 bomb, totally unbeknownst to him he brought it into his family’s house to show his parents. Luckily his brother threw it out of the window!
After departing Spurs in 1967 Eddie went on to play for the likes of Southend United and Margate before turning his hand to teaching in the 1970’s. It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to get the opportunity to interview Eddie Clayton about his memories of his time at Spurs. Like so many of the players from that era he is an absolute gentleman who has time for us Spurs fans. I hope you all enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it, Eddie is a legend who served our club so well during such a successful period. His older brother Ronnie also served the club as a scout for a long period of time.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Eddie: I was probably 17 and playing for the under 18 youth side (at Eton Manor) Alf Ramsey used to do the coaching for us and when we played games he gave us advice. I was at Eton Manor and Alf took five of us to go for trials at Spurs, and we all went along and we all signed amateur forms. I played in the midweek league and the A team at the time, unfortunately I then went into the army and it spoilt 2-3 years of my life really in that way. But I did play in the army, I played with Gordon Banks and Eddie Colman who was tragically killed in the Munich air crash. Anyway, afterwards Jimmy Anderson was the Spurs manager and he said come and see us after you come out, so when I came out I went to the club. I got the 649 bus from Shoreditch and walked straight in through the Bill Nicholson gates and went inside. The first team were out training on the pitch, the manager Jimmy Anderson was there and I went up to him and said it’s taken a while but he couldn’t remember me from Adam. He said if you wait out there I’ll come over and chat with you, I got a bit upset and started walking out, I thought I’m going home. So I got to the end of the terrace and this voice called out ’ Eddie ’ and I turned around and it was Bill Nicholson. He’d remembered me from after two years and we had a chat about things. He said I should come and have a few games, see how I get on and that’s how it all happened. I played a few games in the midweek league and reserve league, I was an apprentice at the time (a printer) it was Bill Nich that signed me he signed me on as a part timer on £9 a week, I couldn’t wait to get out there.
I played half a dozen games in the reserves and then we went up to Everton and Bill said you’re playing today and I was astonished really. It was grand national day and all the stars were at our hotel. Anyway, I played and fortunately I got a couple of goals and had one disallowed for a foul and that was on the Easter Saturday. And on the Easter Monday we played West Brom, I scored the winner there. So in someways I started off too well because everybody expected great things of me. I think my fitness sort of let me down in the end but I finally joined full time about three years later, and Bill Dodge signed with me about the same time. The other two got bad injuries, Bill played a few games when Danny Blanchflower had a fall out with Bill Nicholson. That’s one of the earliest memories anyway joining them I was in awe of these great players. People like Bill Brown, Johnny White, Dave Mackay, Greavsie, Gilzean and Cliffie Jones. We had some great players and they were all British as well which was nice.
What was your time at the lilywhites like on the whole?
Eddie: Great, I was fortunate in a way because they were the good times it’s strange because in my second season we were very close to relegation and I wasn’t enjoying it all that much. I was part time and travelling a lot and I didn’t like that, I wasn’t fully fit compared to the other guys who were full time, I couldn’t wait for my apprenticeship to finish. When I look back I wish I’d signed full time straight away but there’s a lot of things you’d like to change but can’t. I had 11 seasons plus the time I played as an amateur were great times and I met some great players and great guys. I always think I was quite fortunate because we won the double, I don’t think I played in the league but I played in the European cup which was nice. I think I’m the only undefeated Spurs player in the European cup, I played one game at Feyernoord and Frankie Saul scored two. I was undefeated in the European cup and then of course we won the double, the cup the following year and European cup winners cup. Which everybody wanted to win in those days, it seems unnecessary for the players or the managers of today which is sad really. What’s sad about it is it’s all about the money, I find it sad.
We won the cup again in 1967 I was going to play that day as Alan Mullery was injured but he pulled through. The saddest part was leaving I could have stayed, Bill Nicholson said coach the reserves but I’m not sure if I had the right mentality. You had to be hard nosed and I don’t think I could be like that, I moved on sadly. But I spent almost 11 seasons there which was great, we had a lot of success. When you think of the guys I played with and against, you know the best in the world. We had a good side coming through when people like Joey Kinnear came through and Cyril and then Alan Mullery came and Gilzean. We had some great players which was a wonderful experience, people say to me wouldn’t you like all the money now and my one thing is I’d love to play on this surface. The pitches are so lovely, if the moneys there then they get it as long as they appreciate it. This is the problem they might be too young and they don’t appreciate it as much and the football. You’ve got to saviour that, you’ve got to take it all in. All those moments and embrace it all.
What do you think of the young players of today with all the money they are paid compared to your day?
Eddie: I’m frightened to say anything about that, there very very lucky and they’ve got to appreciate it. I remember I took a friend home one day from the golf at Wanstead and we drove into Chigwell. He pointed out this house, see that house he said (it seemed to go on forever) Tom Huddlestone (19) lives in there, he had a Bentley car. I thought good god he’s 19 years old and sometimes I think do they get things too quickly, and as I said before do they take that all in enough? Do they say how lucky I am? I thought I was ever so lucky playing for Spurs, I must admit in my early years I supported Arsenal but once I signed and put that white shirt on it was a great feeling. Bill Nicholson’s attitude wasn’t all about money it was about playing for Spurs, because Bill was through and through and through a Spurs man. He looked at you and said well this is how you should be, and I was. I loved playing for them though the crowd might have jeered me a couple of times but overall I did alright. I had a good career and I was very lucky.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspiration and if so who were they?
Eddie: People you won’t even remember! I used to watch Jimmy Logan at Arsenal and he was such a wonderful footballer and Alf Ramsey. I used to watch him because I came to know him, there was lots around me, I thought what great players. Little Tommy Harmer was a wizard, an absolute little wizard. He had good players around him like Les Bennett and Eddie Baily they were the inside forwards as they called them in those days. I had so many, watching Johnny White keep the ball up in the changing room before games was incredible and Dave Mackay was a great inspiration. He trained as he played like all of us did he broke my nose once and just looked at me, he never said are you alright Eddie he just walked away. I was so lucky to have those players.
Who were your greatest influences at the club?
Eddie: Tottenham Hotspur really, playing at Tottenham Hotspur was a big influence when I’d go out I’d feel so good I could run one hundred yards in nine seconds and jump high. The players around me at that time Greavsie, Gilly, Mackay and Alan Mullery made you play which was great. I don’t think I could pick out one because there was so many of them but Dave Mackay was a big influence on the whole team. A great captain, a talker and a leader of men if I had to pick one out I’d pick Dave.
Being a young inside forward were there any other players at the club or outside who you would model your game around or seek inspiration from?
Eddie: I don’t think I ever modelled my game on anybody really I played as I wanted to play. I never played in the position I always wanted to play in I always played as an inside forward but I ended up playing centre forward or on either wing until 1965 when I played just in front of the back four, which I loved. I got about nine goals in about thirty games which is not bad for an enforcer as they call it these days.
On the 5th of April 1958 you made your Spurs debut in a league game against Everton at Goodison Park. Could you talk me through your memories of that special day and how it came about?
Eddie: I’d only been a part time professional for four months and I’d played a few reserve games. Anyway I was picked in the squad to go up to Liverpool to play Everton and we stayed in the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool. I was overwhelmed by it all really, I’d gone there and didn’t know the players so well because I was part time and never trained with them. I met all these stars (at the hotel) like Laurence Olivier and of course all the jockeys were there for the grand national, it was amazing there were so many people there. Anyway we had breakfast and Bill Nich said we’re going to have a meeting about the game and he came up to me and said your playing today, it shook me. It was all a dream when I look back I can remember going on the pitch and I just took it in my stride. As soon as I started playing that was it I’d never played in the first team before, I wasn’t as fit as the other guys. In the first half we went two up and I scored both the goals but they came back, we were 4-1 at one time and a corner came in and the fellow who was marking me I just gave him a little heave and nodded it in. I thought I’d got a hat-trick but he cancelled it because I fouled him, Everton was a great ground to play on they had a good side at that time as well I think we won 4-3 in the end.
So I get back and I can remember on the Sunday I went to see my aunt I don’t know why. I was on a bus and I was on one of those long seats facing each other and these two guys were sitting and they went “ how about this Eddie Clayton then. ” I thought there talking about me and my goals, he’s got to be some player they said, I didn’t say anything. My dad was really ill he was sort of on his last legs, I thought we were going to lose him but because he read the evening paper with me scoring two goals and that you know what he survived for another 15 years or so which was lovely. Then on the following Monday the Easter Monday, I scored against West Brom and people were talking about me. I think people expected too much too soon I’d got three goals in two games, then we played Man United the following Saturday that was after the Munich air crash and they had different players. I think it hit me and I found it difficult there was only five games until the end of the season so I played five games and never scored after the first two. That’s how it went but I wish I could have gone full time sooner because I think I could have trained hard and been much, much fitter.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game at the likes of Southend and Margate?
Eddie: Well I suppose it was disciplined training which was always very good, at times I was almost physically sick with the training but he stood no nonsense did Bill Nicholson, that was a good thing for the rest of my career. Unfortunately I had a bad time at Southend I wish I’d have stayed at Spurs and had a go with coaching the reserves. I could have gone to Luton who were top of the fourth division at the time, I wish I’d had an agent I’d rather have played somewhere in the first division but I don’t think Bill Nicholson wanted me to do that, he wanted players to get out of the way I think. But I went to Southend and it was strange really because they weren’t professional like at Spurs. It was so different and so poor that it was ridiculous, I don’t like having a go at them but the manager who took me there was weak. Unfortunately when I went there I caught tonsillitis and had quite a temperature I did still play a couple of games in April though I was quite ill. Then the following season I don’t know why but they made me captain and I had a really good season I played really well but about six games from the end I got a nasty tackle. Someone went over the ball and done my knee and I was out for about seven months because of that.
They treated me really badly they didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, I’d dislocated my knee but no one knew. I had treatment the following morning and the bloke that was doing it put it back because all the ligaments were torn. They kept pushing me and pushing me to play I think we ended up in the top five and I came runner up as player of the year. The guy that got it said to me you should of got this, I had a good season I’d scored a few goals from midfield, I thought I was a good captain but there you go. In the second season the manager didn’t want me I couldn’t play because my knee was still troubling me, he said to me I’m going to cancel your contract at the end of the season, fair enough I said. Onne of the players at Southend was going to Margate and I said give my name a mention and he did, that’s how I ended up at Margate. I went down to Margate and I had a great five years I really loved it there, I was captain and we had quite a good side. Never good enough to win anything but we got into the third round of the FA cup and who did we get drawn against… Spurs! So we played Spurs in the third round and it was an amazing experience, I tried to score but Pat Jennings saved a good one from me and we got hammered I won’t say how many but I think was about 6-0.
I spoke to Bill Nicholson before the game and had a chat with him, at the time I was training as a PE teacher and I was telling him about that because he was PE in the army and I said about the training I was doing. It was nice to talk him, I had a great five years at Margate I was 38 then and that was my lot because I’d finished my college exams. I got a teacher job in Abscross and Hornchurch school and I started there and I enjoyed my years, when I went to a school in Barking and Dagenham I used to take the under 16’s. My captain was Tony Adams, Tony was a terrific player and he loved the game he loved everything about it. When he was about 16 we played another school and Tony said I can’t play today I’ve hurt my toe, so I said never mind Tony. I’ll play in goal for you he said, well if you want to I said. So he played in goal and saved a penalty and we won 3-1. Then I went to a special needs school in my last ten years and I loved that. I retired nearly 22 years ago and I’ve played golf ever since, and got married again actually, I’ve had regrets but altogether I think I’ve had a good life especially in football. I was very lucky to be a professional footballer, getting paid for something I enjoyed and as I said before I hope the guys who are getting lots and lots of money now appreciate it all, and take it all in and understand how lucky they are.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories from your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Eddie: I suppose my debut would be one and signing for Spurs in Bill Nicholson’s room and also watching Tommy Harmer. We weren’t that professional like today and one game we were sitting in the changing rooms and Bill Nicholson is going through the game. How were going to do it, how were going to defend and attack and he said ’ Tommy ’ and Tommy wasn’t there. Where the hells Tommy? So I said he’s in the toilet having a fag Bill, he screamed! Tommy got rid of his fag and came out very sheepish. As for footballing memories, one of the goals we scored against Manchester United. Being involved in the move that involved Jimmy Greaves scoring this great goal. Me missing a sitter against them in the same game and then scoring later on Dave Mackay passed the free kick to me and I just hammered it from about 25 yards and it went in, so I was very lucky. Playing against Man United Charlton, Law and Best looking at you I thought gosh. They won the league that year but we beat them 5-1, the whole thing has great memories. For me I never thought I’d be a professional footballer, I never thought about being a professional until Alf Ramsey came up and said why don’t you come down to Spurs with me which was nice. He gave me a great compliment it wasn’t just to me, after he won the World Cup they sainted Bobby Moore and Alf at the Hilton and I was sitting there in the crowd with the Spurs boys and the Chelsea boys. Alf got up and started speaking and he said football is a strange game for instance it’s people like Eddie Clayton that allowed England to win the World Cup!
What he meant was when you think back now only the ones he picks are English there’s many more he can pick for. In them days he had loads of English players to pick from he was spoilt for choice in a way, but today you’re not you’re picking guys who don’t even play for their first team. He came out to me afterwards and said I didn’t embarrass you Eddie did I? I said well a little Alf and he explained the situation, so I got lots of bits of banter off of the Arsenal boys and the Chelsea team and my own players which was nice. Alf was a very personal person he didn’t mix, and he didn’t like the journalists. They could turn on you that was the problem they can be all over you one minute, but he didn’t like that just like the ones now, there all over them but you’ve only got to do something wrong and they change and Alf hated them, but he was a lovely guy.
Your development as a footballer at Spurs was greatly hindered when you had to go for national service in West Germany. What was that experience like for you and how did it affect your career in the game?
Eddie: I think it put me back a few years and I think I could have gone on a bit earlier in my career. By the time I got out I was 21 if I’d have signed at 17 then I think I would have adapted better, it’s difficult to adapt as a part timer. I played some football (in West Germany) we won the double in the team I played in and we won what they called the Rhine district league and cup, Gordon Banks was in the team he was an alert goalkeeper. I think it put me back a few years I think I could have been a lot fitter and a lot quicker, and got stronger. Although I played a couple of times a week in the army it wasn’t the same, I didn’t get in the army side. I went for trials and scored eight goals in three games but a fellow called Ray Poynton who played for Burnley and this guy said to me you won’t get in the team mate, Ray Poynton will be the centre forward he was a little bit older than me. I think the problem was that I didn’t get fit and I didn’t get to know the players and mix with them and train with them. Going full time was the best thing I did I got much fitter and it helped my career a lot more.
What was it like in West Germany at that time?
Eddie: It wasn’t a good time we were the occupied forces, going out to pubs and places like that they didn’t like us there was always one or two little fights which I didn’t get involved in, we were close to the Dutch border so we used to go into Holland quite a bit. I was what they called morse code I couldn’t lift a rifle never mind shoot one! It put me back a few years which I regret and I should have gone full time much earlier as I would have got better and stronger.
What was the pinnacle of your career?
Eddie: Playing in the first team I suppose it was 1965 when I played regularly I always felt I had a good season because I was fit and strong. I was getting on quite a bit for football, I was 29 and unfortunately they had bought someone called Terry Venables, I won’t say anything on that. I think I left in the Easter of 68 and that was the worst time of my career he (Sir Bill) wanted to keep me on but there you go, the pinnacle would probably be 1965. Signing first of all for Spurs was a great time and then the biggest was probably getting myself in the first team which was good.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Eddie: it’s so difficult when you look back Mike England was a great player, Dave Mackay was the best, Jimmy in full flow watching him go and Pat Jennings. I can remember watching the 67 cup final and this shot was going in the top corner and how Pat got to it I don’t know, he tipped it over the bar it was some save. It’s very very difficult, I’ve got to pin it down to Jimmy and Dave I suppose. The great goalscorer Jimmy and Dave Mackay the great inspiration, people in them days didn’t appreciate him for his skills not only was he a tough man, but he had great skills and was a great inspiration. So he probably edges it.
Sir Bill was the man who gave you your big break in the first team, I know he was a great influence on your career. Could you explain what it was like to play under him?
Eddie: Hard. Bill was a tough man who you didn’t dare argue with and that I think is why he fell out with Martin Chivers because Martin was his own man. If you worked hard and gave everything he’d be very happy, he used to say if you come of that pitch knackered then you’ve done your job. He felt you should have done something better and I got on the end of it on a couple of occasions, but as long as you gave 100% he was happy because most times we won. I can remember one game he left Greavsie and Alan Gilzean out and he put me and Frankie Saul in against Sheffield Wednesday. They went 1-0 up anyway the ball came out to me in the mud about 25 yards out and I got onto it and smashed it in. A bloody rocket! I couldn’t believe it, it was 1-1 and Bill was over the moon he patted me on the back I think he was relieved that we didn’t lose. He was a tough guy we’d train for hours on free kicks against and free kicks for and different corner kicks. When he was angry he’d get us altogether and have a go at us, I can remember one time (I don’t think we’d had a good game on the Saturday) on the Monday he sat us all down and he was slaughtering Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay and Gilly and he went ’ Eddie ’ that’s right and he pointed at me. You tell them Ed, I thought what do I say to Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay and Gilly. I went yes Bill and they were all looking at me, how can I tell Dave Mackay or Cliffie Jones so all I came out with was yes Bill but he was a tough man who demanded the best. He expected the best because he bought some great players they weren’t ordinary players.
People ask me about Cliffie Jones. Cliff and myself signed at the same time, Cliff was in the army still and he was stationed at St Johns Wood, he used to come training with me in the evenings before they let him out and he trained full time. He cost £35,000 and when I signed from Eton Manor they got a couple of dumbbells for the gym, I told Cliffie that story.
You were involved and scored in our remarkable 5-1 victory over George Best’s and Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United at the Lane. What are your memories of that game?
Eddie: As I said it was a big game and when I stood on the centre circle with Charlton, Law and Best looking at me I said my word I’ve got to try and deal with that lot. But we played so well, we played out of our skin we were 2-0 up in the first half and I was playing in front of the back four trying to track Best and Charlton back and forwards. They pushed up very quickly and I raced from the defence through them and shouted and little Neil Johnson clipped the ball over the top, the goalkeeper came out. I’ve knocked it past the keeper and I’m on the angle by the six yard line and I thought I’ll just knock it in with my left foot, and it went straight over the bar. I’m looking at it thinking how the hell did I miss that, it was an embarrassing time. Bill said to me at halftime perhaps you should have got it on your right foot I keep thinking about that. Anyway, in the second half I made up for it I got a screecher from about 25 yards and Jimmy got that great goal. It was an absolutely amazing game but when you played Man United it always was, but they got there own back five months later and I got rollicked in that game.
What was the atmosphere at the Lane like that day?
Eddie: Absolutely incredible coming out of that tunnel into the daylight and the noise, the noise you get used to as you take no notice. You look around at all the players Nobby Stiles, Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg in goal they had some side. They took Best off at halftime as I played him out the game!
Are you still in contact with any of your old Spurs team mates?
Eddie: I’ll be in touch with Martin Chivers quite a bit, Cliffie I see occasionally and I play once a year at a golf game against the Arsenal for the Bob Wilson willow foundation and we play against them for a cup. I went to Wembley last year in the European cup and I met up with Alan Mullery, Pat Jennings and Mark Falco. Mark, Micky Hazard and Ossis Ardilles go to our golf club so I meet them a bit, it would be nice to go to the games once a week and meet up. I used to go to the legends bar quite a bit.
After all these years could you tell me what Spurs still means to you?
Eddie: They are my club aren’t they I like watching their games, they were in a strange kind of way my life and I loved it there, it was sad going to other clubs. As a kid it meant the world to me as they were my club, I wasn’t as through and through as Bill but Spurs were my club and that’s it, there a grand old team to play for!