My interview with former Spurs man Alan Dennis:
Born in Somerset during the Second World War, Alan Dennis grew up in Bermondsey south London. The place where he has his earliest memories of kicking a ball around. Dennis was a talented young fullback who was a key member of a star studded Tottenham youth team during the early 1960’s. Dennis captained England schoolboys and played alongside future Spurs manager David Pleat. However, the fullback was unlucky not make the grade at Spurs during the most successful period in the clubs history. After all Dennis would have had to have dislodged internationals Ron Henry and Mel Hopkins to get into Bill Nicholson’s side. After leaving Spurs in the mid 1960’s, Alan spent the rest of his footballing career in the non league where he would go onto make a name for himself at clubs such as Cambridge City, Dover and Margate. I met up with Alan in a hotel in Kent to talk about his time at Spurs. And can I just say what an absolute pleasure it was to talk with Mr.Dennis who is a thoroughly nice and hugely knowledgable gentleman and an ardent Spurs supporter like you and I.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Alan: Going back to when I was probably 11 and I played for my school, and in those days I was an inside right. However, I can’t really remember much about the games. I had a cousin whose name was Dennis Burnett and he went onto play for West Ham’s youth team and first team. And then after he left them he went onto play for Millwall and Brighton. When we were both very young, the two of us would often go over to the park and make two goals, and play football against one another.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Alan: My earliest memory was when I was 14 and playing for Kent schools and my headmaster a Mr.Ing was a Tottenham supporter. In them days I was lucky enough as a 14 year old to be picked for Kent under 15’s, and the scouts at that particular time came round and asked the players to join a certain club, and in my case it was Tottenham Hotspur. I used to go to training at Tottenham when I was 14 twice a week and that’s where I met Eddie Clayton for the first time. That’s my first recollection of Tottenham Hotspur.
What were your first impressions of the club?
Alan: Big! It was an enormous club but at 14 I just took everything in my stride.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Alan: It was fantastic, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world I loved every minute of it, everything about it. And now when I look back I can’t believe I can’t believe it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Alan: I suppose all of the first team players at Spurs but there were so many great players and they were all internationals in the first team at that particular time. It was such a fantastic team.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs when you were a young up and coming fullback?
Alan: When I first went to Tottenham after playing for Kent and London schoolboys I realised straight away that I wasn’t one of the best players there. So I looked up to all the other players and thought how good they all were, but I suppose I would have looked up to fullbacks, being a fullback myself. I thought crikey I’ve got to do something here to make the grade, Ron Henry and Mel Hopkins at that time, and Peter Baker was on the other side. They were all great players, so for me to get into the first team I would have had to have been really, really exceptional.
What was it like as a youth player to train alongside the double winning team of 1960-61 and to witness their successes first hand?
Alan: They were something to be admired and I looked up to every single one of them great players. They were also really, really nice people and even though I was only a youngster the majority of them would always have the time of day for you.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Alan: The one which really stands out is saving a certain goal from Jimmy Greaves and I’m going back to the opening game of the season, which used to be between the first team and the reserves. I was in the reserves and in the first half I was marking Cliff Jones and then in the second half I was marking Derek Possee. One instance that I can actually remember is when Jimmy Greaves was put through on goal with just our goalkeeper Johnny Hollowbread to beat to score a goal. I came round the back of Johnny Hollowbread and stood on the goal line. Jimmy Greaves went round Johnny Hollowbread and tried to slot it into my left hand side. However, fortunately I was able to stick out my left leg and stop the ball on the goal line and then kick it off for a throw in. That’s probably one of my greatest moments of playing against the first team.
How about for the youth team?
Alan: One of them was against Chelsea in an FA youth cup game and I was marking somebody by the name of Albert Murray. We were drawing 0-0 and then they got a goal because our goalkeeper had his clearance blocked back into his goal to make it 1-0. However, on that particular night I can remember having a really, really good game. So that would be one of my favourite moments from youth team football.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Alan: The greatest moment I supposed was being captain of England schoolboys on six occasions. I played at Wembley and didn’t lose one game, we drew one and won five I think, so that was my greatest time in football.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Alan: There were so many great players I suppose with the likes of Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay and John White. All of the first team players were such great players, they really were. They did the double so they must have been great players. We had Cliff Jones, Danny Blanchflower who was an absolute gentleman and all the other first team players, but what I liked about it as a youngster was that that they had all the time of day for you. None of them were too big that they didn’t talk to you. They were all really nice fellows.
Could you talk me through your career after you left Spurs and what prompted you to leave the Lilywhites in the first place?
I suppose I left Tottenham because I didn’t make the grade as I probably wasn’t quite good enough to make the first team. So after being at Tottenham for about four or five years I can remember Bill Nicholson calling me into the office and saying that they were going to release me. I was as sick as a parrot,I must admit that I was choked. After Spurs I linked up with Tony Marchi (the manager) at Cambridge City. When I first went there I wasn’t going to be a regular first choice fullback, but luckily enough I can remember the opening game of the season was against Coventry City in a friendly. I was marking a Welsh international called Ronnie Rees, and I had a really good game and from that moment on I was in the first team. After Cambridge I managed to go to Dover who were in the same league and were roughly of the same quality. Again, they were a very good team and I really enjoyed it there before I went to Margate. However, I had picked up a knee injury whilst at Cambridge and that knee gradually became worse and worse. And eventually I had to have a cartilage operation and that finished me. I still carried on playing but in the end I just packed it in although I did also go to Ramsgate in the southern league. I had a knee joint put in because of it.
Who was the toughest winger that you ever came up against?
Alan: Although at Spurs I had played against Terry Medwin, Jimmy Greaves, Cliff Jones and Terry Dyson in training. One of the hardest wingers that I faced was in the southern league with Cambridge City in a game against Romford. They had a winger called Saunders and he was a little chap who was very, very very fast, but he was also very tough. As much as I tackled him hard he used to tackle me back harder, so he was probably one of the hardest wingers that I had to play against.
What was Danny Blanchflower and Bill Nicholson like?
Alan: Bill Nicholson wasn’t one of them people that you wanted to be on the wrong side of. He was very straight forward but you didn’t want to upset him and as a youngster I was a little bit nervous of him. I was frightened to do things wrong, so that was my impression of Bill Nicholson. Whereas Danny Blanchflower was a gentleman a lovely, lovely person and a very gentle person too. He was also a fantastic footballer who read the game inside out and I couldn’t say enough about him!
How do you look back on your time as a footballer and was there anything that you wish you’d have done differently?
Alan: Looking back now I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, I loved every minute of it. The only thing I would have liked to have tried harder at was when I was at Tottenham because looking back now I wish that perhaps I should have tried harder, but then in hindsight you don’t know. However, I’d have loved to have made the grade at Spurs but I always look back there with fondness.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs fullbacks of today as they look to make their way in the game?
Alan: Just try you hardest. You can’t do no more that and if you know deep down that you’ve tried your hardest then that’s all you can do. It’s the same as everything in life and that’s the same thing I say to my grandchildren now as they come up to do their exams.
We had a brilliant youth side during the 1960’s what do you think that was down to?
Alan: I’m not so sure that we had a brilliant youth side at Spurs, the teams to beat were always Chelsea and Arsenal but I’m not sure that we were the best. We had a decent team but we weren’t the best.
Whilst at Cambridge City you played under former Spurs man Tony Marchi. What was he like to play under?
Alan: The first two seasons were very good and then we had a not so good run and things didn’t go too well. So the least said the better I think.
Could you describe to me what Tottenham Hotspur still means to you today after all these years?
Alan: I suppose their the first team I look for every Saturday, I’m always looking them up to see what the score was. There the team that I support and always will support.
Do you ever go back to watch them much?
Alan: I’ve been back a couple of times but since I’ve got older things like the crowds and parking the car are all too much.
Are you still in contact with any of your old Spurs teammates?
Alan: No, not at all.
How did it feel to captain the three lions at schoolboy level?
Alan: It was fantastic and the proudest moment was leading the team out at Wembley. I was very fortunate.