My interview with former Spurs player Ernie Walley:
Ernie Walley signed for Spurs as a 17 year old back in 1951, shortly after the Lilywhites had won the first division title for the first time in their history. Walley was a teenager from Caernarfon in North Wales, where he combined his time playing for his local boys club with working on a brickyard in the town. After being scouted and recommended to Tottenham Hotspur by a scout, Ernie travelled down to London for a one months trial with Spurs and it didn’t take long before legendary former manager Arthur Rowe wanted the talented wing half to sign professional terms with Spurs. The Welshman spent seven years at Spurs in total where he progressed through the ranks at the Lilywhites, before going onto make five competitive appearances for the first team. The young man from North Wales got to watch, train and play with Arthur Rowe’s famous push and run side on a regular basis. And it was the likes of Ron Burgess, Bill Nicholson, Len Duquemin, Sonny Walters, Danny Blanchflower and of course Arthur Rowe who helped Ernie to develop both as a footballer and as a coach. He may have only played five competitive games for our first team but during Ernie’s seven years at Spurs, the Welshman saw the club go through massive changes both on and off the field. The wing half who later played for Middlesbrough and Stevenage, also went onto forge a successful career in coaching. Walley was a youth team coach at Arsenal before going onto become the manager of Crystal Palace. However, it was his time as an assistant manager to John Hollins at Chelsea during the tumult of the mid 1980’s which will probably be how Ernie is most remembered by fans of the modern game. However, I traveled to Bangor in North Wales to learn about Ernie the Spurs player, and while he was at times visibly frustrated that his memory of his time at the club had faded somewhat, he kindly shared with me his memories of playing in and being associated with one of the finest teams in the history of our great club. There are very few former Spurs players that are still alive today who can say that they played with the likes of Bill Nicholson, Ron Burgess and Sonny Walters, as well as being managed by Arthur Rowe the visionary.
The 85 year old was without a doubt one of the kindest and most welcoming former Spurs players that I have ever interviewed, and I felt greatly privileged to get the opportunity to interview Ernie about his time at Spurs in the 1950’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Ernie: As a boy my earliest footballing memory was when I used to play with the lads from my area (Top Field). On Sunday’s we used to play for the boys club and the chief scout sent me from there to Tottenham, and so that’s how I started with Tottenham where I came through the youth ranks before transferring to Middlesbrough. I’m not sure how many games I played for Middlesbrough but it wasn’t a lot.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Ernie: The scouts in Caernarfon asked me if I’d like to go to Tottenham for a trial, at the time I used to work in the brickyard in Caernarfon but a Mr. Clarke asked me if I’d like to go for a trial at Tottenham. At Spurs I used to play on Thursdays and I stayed there for a month, and after doing that I phoned the brickyard to ask them if I could stay at Tottenham, and after that I signed for them. However, soon after that I went into the army and I had to be there for 18 months. After coming out of the army I played a couple of games for Tottenham (the first team) but don’t ask me to remember them. I think it was two or three games and then after that I got transferred to Middlesbrough but after I suffered a bad injury in a game against Rotherham, I had to go for treatment back down in London. After recovering I went to one or two minor teams, I think Gravesend and Northfleet and Stevenage. After that I did my coaching badges at Baker Street, in London and after that I spent seven years at Arsenal as a youth team coach. After leaving Arsenal I went to Crystal Palace and I was there for a long time, I reckon about 13 years before I went onto Chelsea where I was assistant manager to John Hollins for a little while.
What was it like being a young man from Caernarfon coming to a big city like London to play for one of the biggest clubs in European football at the time?
Ernie: Frightening! I jumped on the train to London on a Thursday to go for a trial at Tottenham where Arthur Rowe was the manager with Jimmy Anderson as his assistant, but he was useless. After staying at Spurs for a month I signed professional and from there I went into the army to do 18 months national service where I became a PT instructor and did my sessions there. Once I came out of the army I ended up being transferred from Tottenham to Middlesbrough.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Ernie: Well I was young, I think I was 16 or 17 when I joined Spurs or something like that. And as a boy being on the ground staff it was all quite different, I used to clean the boots of all the first team players for a season at least, and I didn’t like that.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Ernie: Ron Burgess who played for Tottenham in the midfield and also for Wales. When I arrived at Spurs it was people like Ron who used to encourage me, and I used to look up to them as a boy. And he (Ron) was the captain of Wales at the time.
You made your first team debut for Spurs in a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in 1955. What are your memories of that day and how it came about?
Ernie: Well the boy that played in midfield, Duncan Edwards scored a cannonball shot right into the top corner of the goal that day and I can remember that the score was 2-1 to Manchester United.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in for Spurs during your time there?
Ernie: I used to play what they call now midfield right half and left half, and I used to kick the players and tackle them but I didn’t like to lose. I think I was sent off a couple of times because sometimes I used to tackle a bit naughty, because they used to do it to you. I always used to try and keep fit even when I was a coach I used to make sure that I looked ok, and I would never ask the players to do anything that I couldn’t do and I still am a fitness fanatic to a point. I used to be able to walk on my hands but the lads used to say to me that I couldn’t do it, but I would walk from one 18 yard box on my hands all the way to the other 18 yard box!
I once heard a story that you lifted a Chelsea player up in the changing room, is that true?
Ernie: Yes, but not to hit him! I used to do a lot of exercise and if anyone tried to bully me I would never walk away, but I used to enjoy my football and my coaching.
What was it like to play with legendary Spurs players such as Sonny Walters, Len Duquemin and Danny Blanchflower?
Ernie: That’s three very good players that you have named there. Danny Blanchflower was an Irish international who was good on the ball and he used to love being on the ball. Danny was well respected and you looked up to him because he always used to highlight different things in the game to you. Whereas Sonny Walters was an outside right and he used to be as quick as a whippet but he was nothing outstanding. While big Len Duquemin used to be a centre forward.
What was the great Arthur Rowe like as a manager?
Ernie: Arthur Rowe was the manager when I came there before Jimmy Anderson took over. I think that Arthur Rowe was a gentleman, different to nowadays when all they say is get on with it, but Arthur Rowe was a gentleman and he was gentle. With Arthur it used to be all about getting rid of the ball and getting it to the feet of Len Duquemin but you also had Sonny Walters who would cross the ball in from the wing. That push and run style is done by all the teams now, in fact they do it better now, or worse I should say! With Arthur it was always push and run, push and run.
What was Jimmy Anderson like as a manager in comparison to Arthur Rowe?
Ernie: He was a completely different class, he was hopeless. He didn’t know the game and he had a different voice to Arthur Rowe. I can once remember seeing Arthur crying after he had got a bit excited with a group of players shortly before he left the club.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Ernie: When you say influences I’d have to say the Wales captain Ron Burgess who I used to look up to. Ron Burgess and the other Tottenham fullback Arthur Willis used to like a drink!
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or to learn from?
Ernie: Once again I would have to say Ron Burgess and I used to watch his games. I was fanatical about the game even though I was only 17 or 18 years of age.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Ernie: It’s difficult to say but I can’t honestly say anything because I’d be telling lies as I can’t really remember it. Football was just like a job of work to me.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Ernie: When your team wins you are over the moon, but I really don’t know what the greatest moment of my footballing career was.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Ernie: I left Spurs because they transferred me to Middlesbrough who were looking to sign me, and I was eager to join them after speaking to their manager. But shortly after I signed for them I suffered that bad injury and that finished me, I had to wear a long splint for six months after that, and that’s a long time.
While you were assistant manager at Chelsea during the 1980’s you would have coached legendary Spurs player Micky Hazard. What was he like to coach and how do you look back on your time at Chelsea with John Hollins?
Ernie: At times he was a nuisance! Micky Hazard was a good player and he had good skill but he was like the lads of today who have lots of skill and fair play to him, but I thought he wasn’t hard enough. However, he had lots of skill and he could do a lot on the ball.
Did you get on well with the players that you coached at Chelsea?
Ernie: Yes I think I did get on well with most of them but I won’t say that I didn’t shout at them. Because a lot of players want to rule things themselves but I got on well with the likes of Micky Hazard even though I didn’t like him, just because he was not my type of player and because he didn’t like training. I used to swear a lot!
Who was the toughest winger that you ever came up against in your career?
Ernie: I really can’t answer that question because there were quite a few good wingers that I came up against in my career.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game?
Ernie: To be honest with you Tottenham didn’t do anything for me because I wasn’t there long enough even though I was there for eight years. I just got on with the game.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
Ernie: Well, I was there from 16/17 years of age and even now whenever Spurs come on the box when they are playing a game I’ll watch them play because they are a club who I enjoyed my time at. Even now I look up Tottenham to see how they are doing, and I am a bit nosey about them.
Would you call yourself a Spurs fan?
Ernie: I would like to think that I am because I was there in my early days and also because I used to look up to one or two of their first team players such as the Wales captain Ron Burgess.
What was Ron Burgess like as a player?
Ernie: He was what they would now call a midfielder and he was somebody who would run all day. He had some stamina on him, he was always up and down, and up and down the pitch. Whereas Danny Blanchflower was good and pretty on the ball but he didn’t have that oomph about him like Ron did however, I’d still have both of them in the side.
Another legendary player who you would have played with at Spurs was Eddie Baily. What was he like to play with?
Ernie: He was good on the ball for an inside forward but he could never run properly, and personally I thought that he was a little bit useless.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as the look to make it in the game?
Ernie: You need to be committed and you must make sure that you listen to your coaches and what they’ve got to say. But most of all you’ve got to work hard if you want to make it in the game and you have to do your share of the handwork and you must be tough. If you’re not going to do your share of the hard work then you should come out of football, because that’s no good.