My interview with former Spurs wing half Jim Iley:
Jim Iley played for Tottenham Hotspur between 1957 and 1959, operating as a wing half, the very much attack minded Iley made over 55 appearances for the lilywhites during his spell with the club. A tall all round midfielder, the Yorkshireman joined Spurs from Sheffield United in August of 1957 after being signed by Jimmy Anderson. Going onto become a regular in the Spurs side during his two seasons at the club, the youngster wanted out by the summer of 1959 and surely enough he left the club to join Nottingham Forest. From there Iley played for Newcastle United where he helped them to win the second division. Jim then entered the world of football management taking charge of a whole host of football league clubs of which included Peterborough, Blackburn Rovers and Barnsley. Jim was kind enough to agree to doing an interview with me about his time at Spurs, we met at his local supermarket up in Bolton and had a thorough and interesting chat. Iley reflected on his long and colourful career in the game and on his eventful two years at Spurs, adapting to life in the big smoke as a teenager and playing alongside the Spurs greats of the time, Danny Blanchflower, Maurice Norman and Cliff Jones to name but a few.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Jim: It’s a long story I didn’t know anything about it, funnily enough we were travelling to London (whilst I was was at Sheffield United) and we were playing Charlton Athletic and it was a Thursday night game. We arrived there on Thursday afternoon and I was called into this room with the manager Joe Mercer and he told me that Tottenham wanted to sign me. I said I don’t know anything about it! I didn’t want to go and live in London, well he said you’ve got to go. When we arrived at the ground I was taken out of the team which was a penalty I suppose. When we got back to the hotel after the game Mercer called me into his room again and in there was the chairman of Sheffield United. He told me that they wanted this money and ’ if you don’t sign you’ll never play again for Sheffield United ’, don’t be ridiculous I said, I shall have to ring my girlfriend, which I did. She said that she didn’t want to come to London, so anyway I said that I’d see her at the weekend, in between that Joe Mercer had rang the police in Royston, in Yorkshire to go to her house and tell her to go and get the first train to London. I didn’t know anything about this and then on the Friday morning Joe Mercer said by the way your girlfriends arriving at Kings Cross and she’ll be there in about half an hour. We went then to the Kings Cross hotel and Joe Mercer said to us come into the car and I’ll take you to the ground. We didn’t want to do it but we got in the car and went into White Hart Lane where we saw the manager who was then Jimmy Anderson. He explained everything to us and in the end I signed for Tottenham Hotspur. Then it was straight to Kings Cross again because the next day Tottenham were playing Newcastle. We went on the train up to Whitley bay and that was my first experience at Tottenham. But having said all that they were a first class team who had some great players, but it was the way it was all pushed at me and that put me off. Being from Yorkshire nobody told me what to do without me thinking about it.
What was your time at the lilywhites like on the whole?
Jim: Very good. I had no complaints with Tottenham whatsoever it’s just that I was traveling backwards and forwards after the games and in the end it took its toll. I wasn’t concentrating as much as I should have done but after Bill Nicholson took over he was going to sort it out one way or another. But overall I enjoyed every minute of it really.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Jim: Only one and that was Tom Finney of Preston North End, whenever Preston were playing in Yorkshire I’d try and get to the match. He was ever such a nice chap and he played for England and Preston and for me he was a great, great player, and I used to love to see him play.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Jim: Well Danny Blanchflower really, he was one of those people who you would watch play and he was for me everything that belonged to Spurs. The way he played and the way he conducted himself was first class it really was. Unfortunately he was always talking about football and if we were travelling away on the trains the players used to hang back to see which carriage Danny went into, because there was no way you were going to sit in a carriage from Kings Cross to Newcastle or wherever. Listening to him talking about football because all we wanted to do was play cards, have a rest and have a few jokes. So he’d be sat in a carriage on his own basically.
What was it like to play as a wing half at Spurs during the late 1950’s and could you describe what it was like to play on the opposite flank of one Danny Blanchflower?
Jim: Well this was the problem he was an attacking midfield player and so was I. When I went to Tottenham they’d sold Tony Marchi to an Italian club, that’s why they’d bought me as a left sided player. The problem was every time Danny used to go up for an attack I used to go up as well and consequently we scored a lot of goals but that also meant that we didn’t come back as often as we should have done. And we conceded a lot of goals, so in the end it was a choice of him or me. And in the end he chose Danny but to be fair to Bill Nicholson he told me exactly what he was doing and sort of said are you going to come and live in London? And I said no. So he said ’ right in the summer I’ll find you a new club ’.
You made your debut for Spurs on the 31st of August 1957 in a league game against Newcastle United, a club who you would later go on to form a great affiliation with. What are your memories of your Spurs debut and how did it come about?
Jim: I signed on the Friday and shot up to Newcastle on the train, I was introduced to the players in Whitley bay, I hadn’t had a training session or anything really. So I walked out into the ground at Newcastle not knowing anything, I was just playing for me, I wasn’t playing for Tottenham because nobody told me what to do or where to go. They just left me to my own devices.
What was your debut like itself?
Jim: Well it was great really because I was playing with good players who were far, far superior players to what was at Sheffield United. Your talking about internationals like Bobby Smith and Danny Blanchflower, it was a different ball game and I enjoyed it although we lost the game 3-1. That in a way didn’t help me because I’d got off on the wrong foot.
Being a young lad from Yorkshire, coming down to London in the 1950’s must have been a big change for you. What was it like adapting to life in the big smoke and what were your initial impressions of north London and life at Tottenham Hotspur?
Jim: It was very difficult, it was ok while we were training up until midday but after that you’d go home and I used to just be there sat in this cafe with nowhere to go. I used to just be hanging around which didn’t help me, because it was the same everyday, but had I have been married I would have gone home, we’d have gone shopping and I would have probably enjoyed it. But on your own it’s a big, big place and I was on my own from one o’clock to nine or ten o’clock at night, it was hard. They’d put me in digs with this old lady with a house full of cats and I hated it, I used to stay out until late at night. I suppose in a way I could blame the club a bit in as that they could have done a little more to make sure that I was ok. Nobody ever asked they just left you to your one devices and that was it. But eventually I managed to find somebody who knew somebody that was living in London and they lived at Cockfosters. Eventually I moved in with them, and I was like a part of their family. So that was a lot better from that point of view.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Jim: Obviously one game and that has to be Bill Nicholson’s first game, we were playing Everton and everything changed after Bill took over. He made things interesting and brought over a chap from Italy called Jesse Carver and he was a great coach who I used to get on with very well. Everything was looking up, I’d played for England under 23’s but at the end of that season Bill Nicholson said he’d find me another club if I wasn’t going to move down. I had a choice of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United or West Brom. I chose Nottingham Forest because they’d just won the FA cup, I went down to watch them and I signed for them.
You were involved in our thrilling 10-4 victory over Everton in Bill Nicholson’s first game in charge of the club back in 1958. What are your memories of what must have been a crazy game to have been involved in?
Jim: The thing I remember most was every time that they attacked they scored, and every time we attacked we scored. It was one of those games where every shot went in and it was great to play in and it must have been a fantastic game for the fans. It’s something you’ll never forget because it will never happen again, not in the premier league.
What was the atmosphere like at the Lane that day Jim?
Jim: It was fantastic and it was a full house too that day.
What was the pinnacle of your footballing career?
Jim: I don’t think there was really one outstanding thing, I think the thing I remember most about my career was being involved in these big clubs. Because not everybody gets transferred from Sheffield United to Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest and to Newcastle United in their career. I played quite a few games for all the teams, meeting the supporters and winning the second division title with Newcastle, things like that led to me wanting to be involved in football after I had finished. And that’s why I got my coaching badges whilst I was at Newcastle, because I wanted to stay in the game and fortunately I did. I got a job at Peterborough as player manager and it all went on from there, but I don’t think there was ever one particular thing in my career as a whole. When I look back now and think about the clubs I played for and some of the games I played in, nobody can take that away from me, it’s there and I like it.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Jim: Danny Blanchflower, it’s got to be!
Could you talk me through your footballing career post Spurs and what prompted you to leave the lilywhites?
Jim: We went on a tour of Russia after the war, no English team had ever been there before. We couldn’t fly to Russia from London instead we had to fly from Heathrow to Belgium and then change planes to get on a Russian plane which would take us to Russia. We had four or five games in Russia and I didn’t play the first two, so immediately I thought there was something wrong as I’d not come over here to carry the bags. Bill Nicholson played Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay on the left and right and that told me that my days were numbered, and that’s when I said that I’d leave the club. I signed for Nottingham Forest in 1959 a team who had just won the FA cup, I virtually played in every position for them. I would then go onto join Newcastle United.
Do you ever have any regrets about leaving Spurs shortly before thar famous double winning season?
Jim: It was during the trip to Russia that I first thought I was on my way out, in between that I got married and things did settle down a bit. However, that trip to Russia told me more than anything that I would be leaving, but I’ve got no regrets. I would have been a part of the team that won the double and everything else, but you can’t have it always.
After retiring from playing you went onto become a manager, taking charge of the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Barnsley. What was it like making that transition to management and how did you find those years in your career?
Jim: After I left Newcastle I became player manager at Peterborough and they had a good ground in those days. I was running both the team and the club which sort of helped me to develop as a coach and as a manager. It was a good start, the transition from being a player to becoming a manager. From Peterborough I went to Barnsley, I was there for five years and I enjoyed it. I developed some good players and when I look back now I think I helped them to develop into players. I took the club from being in the red to having money in the bank, and also developing the team that won promotion after I had left to take charge of Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn was a waste of time, it was unbelievable there, it was absolutely incredible the things that happened and I was only given 18 games. I suppose in a way I was glad to leave and they were probably glad to get rid of me but at that time it was embarrassing to be the manager. They wouldn’t sell their players and in the end there was only one way to go. I left and surely enough they went down that season and it had been staring them in the face for the last 12 months.
As somebody who played in a Tottenham side that was rich with talent and experienced what it was like to put on the famous Lilywhite shirt over 55 times. How do you look back on your time at Spurs and is it ever a club you would have liked to have managed?
Jim: Oh yes! To be fair Tottenham was the biggest club that I ever played for but the circumstances and everything involved in me going to Spurs just wasn’t right, but it could have been if I’d of had a bit more help from various people to help me to settle. People didn’t realise that I came from a village in Yorkshire and to move from that village to a big city like London was very difficult. It’s like you coming out of London and coming to live in a village, you’d think god where am I. I used to find myself doing silly things like getting on the tube and going to Piccadilly Circus to walk around the shops, I’d never buy anything I’d just be mooching around doing nothing and wasting time. It was very difficult and I needed help.
What was it like to represent the England under 23 side?
Jim: It was good I enjoyed it, there were some great players who played in that team and I greatly enjoyed it. I wanted more but that’s life.
Are you still in contact with any of your old Spurs teammates?
Jim: I went down for the Spurs versus Everton game in 2017 and I got to see Cliff Jones in the room where they had the ex players (at White Hart Lane). It was nice to see everybody but life carries on and you can dwell too much on what happened in your career and that’s part of the reason why a lot of the players get in trouble, because they can’t let it go. You should think of the memories and enjoy them, not think about what you could have been or what you could have done. Get on with your life, you’ve got a family and children! If fans say to me are you Jim Iley I’m pleased because even now I get people knocking on the door coming for autographs and pictures. When you think about it it’s been over 50 years and I’ll enjoy it whilst it lasts.
What was Bill Nicholson like as a manager?
Jim: He was a hard man who was very meticulous.
How about the other player who you played under Jimmy Anderson?
Jim: Rubbish! He was a secretary and I think they’d pushed him into the job, I never saw him and didn’t know anything about him or anything. Once Bill Nicholson took charge he changed the training and managed to make things more interesting.
Finally, I couldn’t end our interview without asking you what Tottenham Hotspur still means to you after all these years?
Jim: One of the first results that I look for is Tottenham, I look at the way that they play and I look at the team that they’ve got. It’s one of these things where sometimes I get a little bit annoyed because they could be a top team again but they need a push to spend that extra to finish the job off. They’ve got a great manager and a good team but it’s a team that is just short of winning things.