Remembering former Spurs player Jim Iley:
“ 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. ” (Jim Iley 1935-2018)
I like so many fans of English football was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Spurs man Jim Iley, who passed away at the age of 82 on Saturday. Jim Iley had a long and distinguished career in the game, a career of which most players could only dream of having. Born in South Kirkby, Yorkshire Iley’s footballing journey started with Sheffield United for whom he signed for professionally in the summer of 1953, after finishing his part time job at the local Frickley Colliery. Under the tutelage of Sheffield United’s legendary former manager Joe Mercer, Iley went onto make 112 appearances for the ‘ Blades ’ from 1953-57. It was in extraordinary circumstances that Jim left Sheffield United in 1957 to join our beloved Tottenham Hotspur. Essentially forced to join Spurs by Sheffield United (as told to me by Jim) the young and homesick left half was forced to adapt to life in the big smoke. It took Jim some time before he made the permanent move down to London where he initially stayed with an old lady in Ponders end, who much to his disliking had a house full of cats. Coming from a small and tight knit village in Yorkshire, Iley barely had enough time to take everything in before he was included in the then manager Jimmy Anderson’s squad that travelled up to Newcastle for a league game in the August of 1957. That was to be the first of 57 appearances that the Yorkshireman made for Spurs during his two year stint at the club. Playing first under Jimmy Anderson and then under the great Bill Nicholson, Iley played in many great games for Spurs. From playing in Bill Nicholson’s first game in charge of the club, a 10-4 win over Everton at the Lane, to playing in our historic tour of the old USSR in the late 1950’s. Iley played with some of the all time great Spurs players, Danny Blanchflower, Tommy Harmer, Cliff Jones, Bobby Smith and Maurice Norman to name but a few. After never really settling down in London Jim left the Lilywhites in 1959 for Nottingham Forest despite having the chance to join Leeds United. By now an extremely well regarded and cultured wing half, Iley had developed into one of the finest left half’s in England at the time. He later went onto play for Newcastle United where he spent his happiest years in the game.
Iley went onto become a fan favourite at St James Park’ where he played a big part in helping Newcastle to win the second division title in 1964/65. The wing half then went onto play for Peterborough United who he joined as player manager in 1968. That was to be his first experience of football management, an experience which would last for many more years to come. Iley’s distinguished career as a manager would see him take charge of Barnsley, Blackburn Rovers (where former Spurs man Noel Brotherson played under him), fourth division Bury (where he helped to develop a young Neville Southall) and finally Exeter City. One of Iley’s most memorable experiences as a manager came during his tenure at Bury when his side beat his former club Newcastle United over two legs in the league cup. However, it is at Spurs where all of those connected with the club will remember him so fondly. Only a couple of months ago I made the trip up to Bolton to interview Jim about his time at Spurs during the late 1950’s. It’s easy to forget just how important players like Jim Iley, Tommy Harmer and Alfie Stokes were in helping Bill Nicholson to lay the foundations for the famous double winning side of 1960/61. Iley was an extremely talented fullback and anyone at Spurs during that period will tell you the exact same thing. To make one appearance for Spurs is an incredible achievement, but to don on the famous Lilywhite shirt of Tottenham Hotspur on 57 separate occasions is something else. A young Yorkshireman who came down to London reluctantly to sign for Tottenham Hotspur. Despite finding things very difficult during his early days in the capital, where he used to pass the time by sitting in a cafe on his own after training, to avoid going back to his lodgings in Ponders end. Iley still managed to serve Spurs with such distinction, he was a regular in the side during his two seasons at the club. Playing on the opposite flank of one Danny Blanchflower, who would often leave him exposed due to his willingness to attack. Iley who was also an attack minded wing half also liked to get forward down the flank, as a result of this Jim said that this was one of the reasons why Spurs used to concede so many goals during Nicholson’s early days in charge of the club.
Although Jim said that Spurs was the biggest club that he ever played for, he told me that the circumstances involved in him joining Spurs just wasn’t right. It was that transition from life in Yorkshire to the hustle and bustle of the big smoke which clearly affected the young up and coming footballer. On adapting to life in London Jim said “ It was very difficult, it was ok while we 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. I was on my own from one o’clock to nine or ten o’clock at night, it was hard. ” Had Iley have not joined Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1959 and had settled down in London, then he would have undoubtedly gone onto be a part of the famous double winning side of 1960-61, but on that particular topic Jim said “ you can’t have it always. ” Iley was a classy and cultured wing half who could pick a pass with precision whilst also showing remarkable awareness of his surroundings. Capped once at under 23 level for England in a game which saw him play alongside Brian Clough, Iley was one of the finest English left half’s in the country during the mid 1960’s. And whilst it was at Newcastle United where he enjoyed his most successful years as a player, it was at Tottenham Hotspur where Iley developed and matured as a player. Turning out for Spurs on 57 occasions and scoring once during his two year stint in north London, Iley was a consistent performer as told to me by his former Tottenham teammates, and an extremely gifted player too. During our interview in a cafe in Bolton in September, Jim had me captivated by how vividly he told his stories and memories from his long career in the game. He could recall everybody and everything at Spurs with such clarity as if it was only yesterday that he had left the club. As we left the cafe and walked back to Jim’s car we started to chat about the legendary Danny Blanchflower, a player who had a great influence on Jim during his time at the club.
Just as Jim was about to open the car door he stopped and said I can picture Danny right now, walking through the gates at White Hart Lane with his head down, stopping to chat with people and staff at the ground before he made his way through the car park and into the ground for the mornings training. That may not interest a lot of people however, it was the way in which he described the former Spurs captain with such clarity and aplomb. That really made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and it made me appreciate just how lucky I was to be speaking with a man who was one of the few remaining players to have played in that famous Spurs team during the 1950’s. Jim Iley’s footballing hero was Preston and England legend Tom Finney. Jim described Finney as being ever such a nice chap. That exact same phrase will be how fans, former players and all of those who had the pleasure of knowing Jim Iley will remember him. I only spent an afternoon with Jim but the memories that he shared with me and his sheer knowledge of the game was something which I will never forget. He was also an absolute gentleman who cared for and took time for us fans of the beautiful game. Jim proudly told me that he would still get people knocking on his front door looking for autographs and photographs with him, he had a broad smile on his face as he told me that. Like so many players who represented Spurs during the 1950’s, Jim Iley is somebody who we as fans should be extremely grateful to for helping the club to enjoy its most successful period under Bill Nicholson, following the years of tumult under Jimmy Anderson. I felt extremely privileged and grateful to interview Jim about his time at Spurs. He served our club so very well during his two years in north London, and it is gentlemen like Jim Iley who make me so very proud to be a fan of Tottenham Hotspur. He also went onto achieve great things in the game with a whole host of other clubs, and I am sure that all of his former clubs will be remembering Jim with great fondness at this weekends matches. I extend my sincere condolences to Jim Iley’s family and friends at this extremely difficult time.
Former Spurs player Eddie Clayton on Jim Iley: “ Jim was a really fine wing half, he was quick and he had a good turn of speed. He was a good attacking player and he was good on the ball. He was a good guy to have around, he was quite jovial and happy in a group and there was a lot of good banter. He was a really great guy. “
My interview with Jim back in September of this year: https://superhotspur.com/2018/09/16/my-interview-with-former-spurs-wing-half-jim-iley/