My interview with former Tottenham Hotspur player Micky Dulin:
Born in London’s east end in the October of 1935, Michael Charles Dulin spent the majority of his childhood in Hertfordshire following the outbreak of the Second World War. Micky was an outside right who had signed for Spurs under their legendary former manager Arthur Rowe in the autumn of 1952. In total Dulin spent over six years at Spurs and whilst the majority of that time was spent playing for the reserves and the old A team, Dulin was a bright up and coming talent who went onto make eleven appearances for the first team, scoring on two occasions. The talented winger played under two Spurs managers and he was at the club during one of its most successful and revolutionary periods. The youngster from Stepney could well have gone onto become one of the legendary double winners but for an injury that he sustained in a league game against Birmingham in 1957. Dulin suffered a catastrophic injury to his leg in the dying moments of the game at St Andrew’s, and the Spurs man would never recover from it. After almost losing his leg, Dulin battled back to return to training at Spurs during the late 1950’s after spending two years in a splint. However, he was a shadow of the player he previously was and he ended up finding himself being released by the Lilywhites at the end of that year. Dulin spent the rest of his working years involved with sport, for many years he was a well liked PE teacher and he would later go onto work for Waltham Forest council where he again found himself involved in sport and leisure. However, outside of Spurs Dulin is well regarded by supporters of non league clubs Wingate and Finchley and Barking.
He managed both clubs following his retirement from playing and Dulin made such a positive impact at Wingate and Finchley, that he now serves as the clubs life vice honorary president. Micky kindly invited me into his home for our interview about his time at Spurs. And I couldn’t have been more grateful for the time that he so kindly gave me. Dulin is a gentleman who got to play with so many of our legendary former players. And Dulin himself is one of the few surviving Spurs players from that era and we as fans should be so very proud of him for his service to the club.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Micky: My earliest football memory was going back to grammar school, I was at Hitchin grammar school where we had a superb squad of players where we used to win games like 21-0 and things like that. I remember that vividly and also when I was first picked up by Tottenham, I’d been picked to play for the south of England grammar schools against the north of England grammar schools. And in those days it was only the England schoolboys and secondary school players. Anyway, we were invited to Oxford University for a weeks coaching and playing but unfortunately I got taken ill with the flu just before I was about to go. When I finally got better I went on the following Thursday and they let me play in a game against Pegasus which was a combined university side. I played that particular game and there just happened to be a Tottenham scout there, and I must have done well because they invited me along for trials and training the following season.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Micky: I joined the club because of this scout who had picked me up and invited me down to the ground where I trained with Spurs, in the pre-season of which would have been 1952. I played a few games for them and after a few weeks they invited me to join the ground staff, but my father wouldn’t agree to it because I’d been to a grammar school and had a good education. He said to me that if he wanted me to sweep roads then I could have been in the council rather than the ground. Anyway I turned it down but the manager Arthur Rowe called me into his office, and he asked me to play in a match the following Thursday against QPR and then make a decision. In that game I played and I scored two goals and so they signed me the following day, I think it was on my 17th birthday that they signed me. That’s one of the recollections I have, the other one was when I first went down and lived in Baldock in Hertfordshire I signed for something like seven pounds a week in the winter and six in the summer. I remember them having a B team, an A team and a reserves and a first team, and I started in the B team. I came up from Baldock to London to travel to the eastern counties which was the league we were in. They used to take 15 or 16 players and there was no substitutes in those days, You didn’t know whether you were or weren’t playing until you stopped halfway round on the way to a game, at a transport cafe normally. If the manager said you can have chips then you knew that you weren’t playing. So you remember things like that.
Being a young lad from Hertfordshire what was it like adapting to life at Spurs and what were you earliest impressions of the club?
Micky: It was weird in the sense that if you were very young you were in awe of the likes of Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson. After training all the players used to go into a little room where they played cards and snooker, and they’d all smoke and drink and you couldn’t see through the clouds of smoke as everybody smoked. They’d hand you a cigarette and although I never smoked I used to take one and I’d occasionally feel dizzy. The point I’m making is that the difference between the athleticism and the way that they handle players now is chalk and cheese.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Micky: It was interesting, I suppose it was informative in a way but I don’t think we had the coaches in those days that you’ve got now to bring players on. And in a sense it was quite basic for a division one team as it was then. We used to train and play five a side in the car park, it was all a very basic venue. In the first team they were playing to crowds of 70 or 80,000 but it wasn’t as professional as it is now and obviously the money is phenomenally different. I went from getting seven pound a week in the winter to six in the summer, then the following season to eight and seven. But when I got into the first team I only got ten which was only two pounds more than in my contract, and that was the most that you could earn. However, the difference between eight and ten must have been quite substantial in those days. It was a different era, people didn’t have fancy cars, they got on the bus to go to training and things likes that.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Micky: I think Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews and people like that, while at Tottenham Tommy Harmer was somebody who I respected greatly for his ability, and Ronnie Burgess, people like that. Burgess was like a Dave Mackay type player. I also admired Bill Nicholson to a degree, he was a dour player but he was a good manager. And Arthur Rowe was somebody who I had a lot of respect for but unfortunately he was taken ill whilst he was with us, and we ended up with Jimmy Anderson who had no real coaching knowledge. He was just somebody who had experience of being in the game for a long time, that was all. All of the directors and everything were brewers, the whole sort of scenario was different to what it is now with multi billionaires holding the purse strings. But I think those were the types of players that I aspired to be like.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Micky: Probably in the early days it was Eddie Baily, he wasn’t the nicest of characters and when I played with him he didn’t have that drive that he had previously. Sometimes he’d get you to track back and pick up somebody who he should have picked up. But his skill with his first time passing was exceptional, he used to play one touch football in the car park and we were only allowed one touch and he was superb at anything like that. However, he was particularly influential for me because when I got in the first team I played on the right wing and he was the inside right as it was in those days. So he was an influence and he knew the game inside out.
What was it like to play with club legends such as Danny Blanchflower and Tommy Harmer?
Micky: Well they did sort of try and teach you things. Danny Blanchflower was a brilliant player but he was not anything you would call an athlete, he was really a skinny sort of lean guy. But he had the vision of seeing things quickly and he would always try and be helpful and tell you to make runs in certain positions and at certain times. And you did respond, when he told you you did it, whereas with other people you might think well I know as much as they do, but Danny was probably a big influence on the whole team. He came down to Spurs for £30,000 which was the biggest transfer ever in those days. As for Tommy Harmer he wasn’t somebody who would offer advice in a sense because he was not a very intelligent person. I’m not saying that he was a dummy but he wasn’t somebody who took it upon himself to help people, but he’d help you with his play because he was another one who could see things and do things that other players couldn’t. Although he lacked the sort of stature and pace, his vision was superb and when he had the ball and you made a run you knew you were going to get the ball. He would guarantee you 19 times out of 20 that he would put the ball in a position where you could run onto it, and then you knew that the onus was going to be on what you did. So he was influential in the way that he played rather than what he said.
You made your first team debut for Spurs in a league game against Burnley on the 17th of December 1955. Could you talk me through your memories of that special day and how it came about?
Micky: It was a weird experience it really was because we’d left by coach and played Huddersfield on the Wednesday before that day, and I was part of the group. The job of the players who weren’t playing in the first team was to take the kit in a big wicker basket and hang it all up. We had no inkling of playing at all because there were no substitutes in those days, and we had been beaten quite badly that day by Huddersfield. After the Huddersfield game we went up to Manchester and stayed at the Queens hotel, and I had no indication that I was going to play and so I really didn’t prepare myself for the game in that sense. When we got to the ground I had helped hang the kit out and then when he (Jimmy Anderson) announced my name I started to get a bit shaky because although I’d played odd games before that, I’d never played in the league. But I did quite well that day I think because there was no major buildup to it and because I had only known in the dressing room 40-45 minutes before kick off, so I didn’t have enough time to get nervous. Burnley were a great side who had Jimmy McIlroy and Adamson and people like that and I think that that we lost the game that day, but I did quite well and I was pleased with myself. That’s when I had a little run in the side and I got into it on merit whereas previously I’d got in because someone was on international duty or something.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Micky: Some of the things that were weird that standout to me were some of the training things that we did. When we trained at the ground we used to run around the pitch a couple of times and they had a ball which was suspended from the rafters under the east stand. The ball in those days had thick laces and they were very heavy. And one of the routines that we had to go through involved them putting six or seven players at one end and six or seven at the other. And we used to head this ball and as it swung you had to run and time it, and head it again and if you headed it again it would literally knock you out. It was so difficult to do that everybody used to avoid heading it and miss it deliberately. I remember that vividly because to me it was a complete waste of time and if you headed the lace it would split your head open. We didn’t really do anything tactically, we just played and went out there and the manager would try and inspire you in a way, but he (Jimmy Anderson) wasn’t the greatest inspiration. So really you had to be backed up by the Blanchflower’s and people like that. The other thing I’ll always remember was when I got picked to play for Tottenham against the Arsenal, and the derby was the thing. Since childhood I had a perforated eardrum and so I didn’t hear all that well and I can remember playing against Arsenal and someone hit this long ball to me from the left hand side, right over to the right where I was. And someone in the crowd must have blown a whistle so I caught the ball and threw it back as I thought I was offside. That made me feel very low but there the type of things that I remember.
I can also remember scoring a goal against the Racing Club de Paris and I didn’t like heading those balls. I think a lot of the people who were centre backs ended up with Alzheimer’s and I did not ike heading the ball, I headed it when I had to. And this ball came to me from a corner on the left and I sort of ran around and the ball was coming straight at me and I had to head it. It knocked me down and I ended up on the floor with the ball flying into the back of the goal. So everybody all thought it was a wonderful header but I was trying to avoid it if I could have done. So there the sorts of things that I remember.
Jimmy Anderson was the manager who you spent the majority of your time at Spurs playing under. What he was like as a manager?
Micky: Jimmy Anderson wasn’t a coach at all he just happened to be the manager, but he had no skill in developing players or even probably selecting players. We had a guy who came down once, I think his name was Eddie or something and he was supposed to be our trainer. And he introduced different things like ballet training and things like that which didn’t really help. Once Bill Nicholson came in he began to involve himself in the development side, but I’m not so sure even in today’s terms that he was a coach like you would say Guardiola is. I’m not sure Wenger was such a great coach but he was a good man manager and the thing with Nicholson was he did it as it was, he didn’t sort of pussyfoot with you if he dropped you. He dropped you and if he picked you he picked you, and he told you what he thought about you, and you respected that because he played and was a knowledgeable person whereas Anderson only got the job because Arthur Rowe was taken ill. He broke down in front of us. He came into the dressing room one day to give the team talk and he broke down and cried, and I remember Alfie Stokes was with me at the time. And he said that’s what he thinks of you because he burst out crying, but I think that Nicholson was probably the start of the development of the better Tottenham days.
What for you was the greatest moment of your all too short footballing career?
Micky: Funnily enough it was probably a reserve game, I’m not sure who it was against but it was just before I got injured in the first team squad. And I had a day where whatever I did was perfection and I scored four goals and we won six something against Portsmouth I believe. On that particular day I had such vision of the game, it was all so easy to me that when I think back had I have not got injured and had I have developed or evolved the same way. Then I often wonder where my career would have taken me, and how I would have been able to go.
Who was the greatest played that you ever had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Micky: Probably Jimmy McIlroy at Burnley, I didn’t play many first team games but he was as good as anyone I can remember being. He was like a silky, smooth player and he never did anything wrong in the game against us. Every time he got the ball we used to think what’s going to happen here, so I think he was as good as anybody I could remember.
Your life changed forever on the 11th of September 1957 after you picked up a career ending injury in a league game against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s. Would you be alright talking me through the events of that day?
Micky: It poured and poured, and poured with rain and it was a 0-0 draw and we got right to the end of the match more or less, and it was a quite a good point at St Andrew’s. I can remember the ball coming to me wide on the left hand side which I happened to be on. Tommy Harmer was playing and he called for the ball so I instinctively kind of passed it into him but unfortunately there was a fella called Dick Neal who played for Birmingham, and he must have heard the call. He came forward and cut the pass out and made his way to the edge of the box and I sort of tracked him back because it was my mistake. As I put my foot out to tackle him he struck the ball against my foot towards goal, and this took the whole bottom half of my leg away from the top half. I didn’t know all this, but I went down and they carried me off and then the referee blew the whistle for time, and once I got to the dressing room they took me to the Birmingham accident hospital. I was there over night before they then transferred me to the royal orthopaedic in London, in Great Portland Street. The ligaments had been damaged and my cruciate ligaments had gone and in those days there was no operation where they could restore it. They put me in a sort of splint and I had an iron thing and so I was like that for nearly two years before it healed up. I think I started training again at Tottenham but they knew and I knew that I couldn’t play. I had no sort of power, I couldn’t run as fast and I couldn’t do anything but they kept me there for the rest of that season. Then the following year they released me and gave me £500 pounds in compensation which although it’s a pittance in today’s terms was a years money in those days, and that was the end of that. So a split second difference and I could have been in the team that did the double in 1960-61 if I had developed for the next two or three years, but that’s the way the world is. Something happened in that split second and your whole world is sort of turned upside down in a way.
How did you cope with the aftermath of learning that you would never kick a ball again?
Micky: Not very well unfortunately I don’t think, definitely financially because I had no work experience that I could fall back on, the only thing that I knew was ball. Once I was able to get around again I started to take coaching courses and things like that, and eventually I started teaching in the London education authority schools. I’d go around schools teaching and coaching them but it wasn’t very satisfying because they knew we were ex players, and that we were qualified in football so they’d give us groups of 40-50 kids to take away, with just two of us teachers there. So you might have 40 on your own and the other teacher might have had only ten kids and they would go somewhere else with the PE teacher. So there wasn’t a lot you could do but I always kept jobs in sports throughout my career. I also served as an officer for the London borough of Waltham Forest when I was in charge of various sport facilities for them.
You also entered the world of football management where you took charge of non league sides Wingate and Finchley as well as Barking. What was that experience like for you?
Micky: It was interesting because in those days I had access to a lot of the football division one sides. I knew them or had played against their reserves and so I knew players that I thought were quite useful and a lot of them had never made the grade in the first division. So I picked up players from Tottenham and Arsenal, I had quite a few good young players at Wingate and we had a good side. That football scene was very difficult because although they weren’t professional they were all getting money on the side, somebody was giving them whatever they were giving them, and if you gave a player ten pounds a week then another club would want him and they’d offer him 30. So you had to offer him 35 and so on. The person who was putting the money up couldn’t sustain it, you never played in front of big crowds and so you never got any gate income. So it was really going down a dead end street, you could never really acquire anything unless you’ve got a millionaire behind you and in those days I didn’t have any sort of thing. But it was interesting because you gave a bit of insight to some young players who were with pro clubs who didn’t make it for whatever reason. I managed to pick up some good players and over a long period I had Bill Dodge play for me, David Gillingwater and Cliff Jones after they had finished. And because I knew people and knew what they could do I was able to pick them up in those days, we even had an ex Spurs side where we had Alfie Stokes and Johnny Brooks and people like that, and we would play against various teams for charity and everybody would get a fiver for playing. A fiver in those days was a fair amount of money, I think if I’d have made a name for myself in football and not been injured then I think I’d have ended up in management afterwards.
Despite your all too short career in the game how do you look back on your time at the club that signed you as a teenager?
Micky: Well it was certainly an experience. The thing that disappoints me is all the years that I’ve been away from the club and don’t forget I finished before 1960. Anything that they have done to commemorate the ground or anything like that they’ve never, ever invited me there. They only gave me, I say only £500 pounds when I got injured and that in today’s terms is a pittance. What can you get with £500 pounds? So I haven’t got great feelings for Tottenham, I can understand that hundreds of players have passed through the system since I was there, but my life changed because of what happened playing for them. But they showed no desire to assist me in anyway, they gave me the 500 and that was the end of it. When they had their centenary they invited players going way back but they never invited me, and when they decided to close the ground they invited people like Ossis Ardilles and yes people wouldn’t have remembered me. I understand that, but the club could have invited me back, never had I ever been there as a guest of the club. The strange thing is that I got more assistance from the Arsenal then at Tottenham, because when I worked for the council, Arsenal wanted a training ground after they had moved to the Emirates. And I was in charge of leisure facilities at Waltham Forest particularly in football terms, and I managed to find them a ground, and they were very appreciative. Anytime that I wanted a ticket to the Arsenal I could phone up Liam Brady or David Court or anybody like that, but I couldn’t do that at Tottenham and I find that very strange. It’s strange that I felt more benefit from contact with Tottenham’s greatest rivals rather than the club I played for. In fact if my grandson turned out to be a player I’d send him to Arsenal, but that’s sour grapes.
After all these years what does Spurs still mean to you?
Micky: Unfortunately very little, I have no feeling of connection with them at all, in fact I couldn’t care less whether they win, lose or draw to be honest. The teams that I like to see play are Manchester City or years ago it would have been the Arsenal. But I have no feeling of connection with Spurs because connections are a two way street. I could have been a top player if I hadn’t have been injured and they didn’t help me in anyway after my injury. They didn’t contact me to see if there was anything they could help me with in terms of bettering my career. Goodbye your injured, you’ve got a life threatening injury and I nearly lost my leg and so they said goodbye. So I don’t feel any loyalty to them let’s put it that way.