My interview with former Spurs man Allan Cockram:
I met up with former Spurs midfielder Allan Cockram last Tuesday morning to look back on his time at the North London club. Kensington born Cockram joined Spurs as a schoolboy and he would go onto work his way up the ladder at Tottenham before making two first team appearances for them during the 1983/84. The talented midfielder was released by the club the following season however, he would go onto forge a good career in the game by playing for the likes of Brentford, before turning his hand to management and firefighting! A thoroughly interesting and intelligent man, I had the great pleasure of spending last Tuesday morning with Allan as we looked back on his time at the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?
Allan: Turning up on a Tuesday and Thursday for schoolboy training. Also going under the old west stand where there used to be a ball hanging off the roof which Micky Hazard used to head, so they are my earliest memories of walking in as a terrified 12 year old.
How did you come about joining the club?
Allan: I played for Camden district and an old fellow who was literally in a sheepskin and flat cap came up to me and introduced himself as Fred Ricketts, and he had actually scouted Jimmy Bolton and Terry Gibson. And he said to me would you like to come to Tottenham on a Tuesday and Thursday for training, and it was as simple as that.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Allan: I went from a boy to a man to a 12 year old to a 21 year old, so I grew up as a boy into a man but in another away so did your coaches such as Robbie Stepney, Peter Shreeves, Ron Henry and Keith Blunt. But I still felt that we were treated like children, I thought they saw me as young Allan a skinny 12 year old growing up.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Allan: My first footballing hero was Charlie George and my girlfriend actually arranged for me to meet him for my birthday at the Emirates. My first ever meeting of a hero was running onto the pitch to pick up Charlie George’s tie up of the floor after he threw it on the pitch at Highbury, in a game against Newcastle. I picked it up and the police threw me out! And then at the meeting I got him to sign the tie. Another footballing hero was George Best and another player who very few people know about and his name was Tony Knowles, and he played for Wolves and he was an amazing footballer who played with his socks down. However, he quit football at the age of 26 to become a Jehovah’s Witness. All of those players who had a bit of flair and who were different from the norm were inspirations for me, so to answer your question it was more about the player than the team for me that I got a thrill out of.
You made your first team debut for Spurs in a 3-2 defeat to Watford on the 2nd of January 1984. What are your memories of that day and how it came about?
Allan: Really good question, it went by really quick and I didn’t take a lot on board because it was only a couple of hours before kick off that I was told, and I can remember sitting down and Steve Archibald saying that I’m going to look after you, and I said alright then. So he said I’m going to take you out and warm you up, and all I can remember is him taking me out and hearing the roar as we went out onto the pitch and warming up with Hoddle, Perryman and Ardiles and stuff like that. And it’s only later on in my career that I started to take more things on board but when you were that age it was the norm for you as somebody who had grown up in that environment. The game itself was played on a terrible day weather wise and the Watford team was just lumping the football, but they’re my memories of that day.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in for Spurs during your time there?
Allan: I was a standard central midfield player probably in the mould of most midfield players who get the football and move the football, but that was how we were brought up. I also played on the right of midfield but mainly I played in central midfield. A description of how I was well I was the same as the other midfield players that Spurs produced at that time, just ball to feet and making things tick.
What was it like to brush shoulders with some of the legendary players that were around at Spurs at the time?
Allan: At the time it was normal but when you look back at Hoddle, Ardiles and players like Micky Hazard you get to appreciate what they were teaching you at the time. I can remember Hoddle doing this long range passing exercise with the youngsters with back spin on the ball and he’d drive it 30-40 yards and then he’d say look at the back spin on it, do you know why I do that? The reason I do it is because the minute the player touches it to control it, it sticks like glue to him for about half a second. That was the level of detail that Hoddle was into. I also remember Ardiles whenever he received a throw in he’d always do something called check check double check which was another very intelligent drill with so much detail in it.
Who were you greatest influence at Spurs?
Allan: Glen Hoddle for just watching, Ardiles for intelligence and Archibald for helping the youngsters if that makes sense. Some of the players wouldn’t even talk to you but Hoddle was a giver who would show you stuff while Ardiles would explain stuff to you and Archibald would literally take the youngsters to come and train with him. A lot of Archibald is misrepresented most of the time and for a couple of years he was above Hoddle, so those three including my dad were my greatest influences.
Would you by any chance remember a UEFA Cup game against Coleraine which took place in 1982 in Coleraine (that was my fathers first game)?
Allan: I think I was actually there because as part of our learning they would take the young players to away games. I’m sure we played in Coleraine under armed guard from the RUC! That’s the only time in British football that I’ve ever seen a football team under armed guard!
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Allan: The same players who I mentioned previously along with Micky Hazard who was a really nice person. As schoolboys we were asked to take notes on Hoddle and ask him questions. So same again really Hazard, Ardiles and Hoddle.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Allan: It’s not until later on in life that you realise that it doesn’t matter whether you played for the youth team, the reserves or even one game in the first team you still played at a high level for one of the top clubs in the world. And it’s not until you get older and look back and realise how hard that was and how much effort you had to put into it. Another memory was because I used to get in trouble quite a lot as I was always messing around. We used to always clean the changing rooms with what was called soft soap, and when you wiped the floors with it, it used to dissolve so it was quite slippery. And we used to do slides in and out of the changing rooms on our ass and me and me mate Simon Webster were in the tunnel running all the way into the showers and I thought it was a good idea to ride the other way out into the tunnel. So I’m naked and I’ve slid past the lads in the changing room and all I remember is taking someone out so the persons coming round the corner and this persons lying on me. I’ve looked up and it’s Peter Shreeves the Spurs manager! He looked at me and he said can you see me in my office, but he didn’t sack me he fined me and for me I think that was the beginning of the end. Taking out a manager was not a good look and people still talk about that. Another memory was as a schoolboy under 15 we were playing and I lent over the ball and I went on my back with the ball going on my knee, and it snapped so the bottom half of my leg was the wrong way round. After that I was bed ridden for about ten months and at 14 my career was touch and go. I spent six months in recovery before going into a rehab centre in Camden so it was a rough time for about two years and I was one of the youngest persons ever to sign professional forms. It was literally the day after my birthday that I was able to sign professional forms.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Allan: I think looking back it’s playing in an era that was tough because midfield players were becoming redundant because the long ball game was prominent. So I think to stay in the game for as long as I did as a flair player with the injuries that I had was one thing. However, the greatest memory was playing for Brentford against Liverpool in the quarter finals of the FA Cup when we were in the old third division. En route to there we beat every top team on route so I’d say that along with my Tottenham debut they were my greatest moments of my career.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Allan: Probably Mario Kempes at Enfield when we played a pre season game in 1980 and then he was the Maradona of Argentina. Ardiles had walked in and said that there was someone he wanted us all to meet. Just seeing what Kempes done with a football was unbelievable.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team?
Allan: Yeah the year was 1980/81 and we got to the final of the FA youth cup. We went to their place (West Ham) and lost 1-0 and it was 1–1 at home I think. I can remember 15,000 people turning up at the old White Hart Lane to watch the second leg of a youth cup final. Also the pre season tours as a kid we travelled all over the world and stayed in the best hotels. We stayed in the intercontinental in Zurich with the Italian national team, so they are really good memories as a London lad to get life experiences and having the privilege of playing with a team of full internationals. It was an honour!
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Allan: Just getting to an age and realising that some of your mates have already played 50-60 league games and then realising that Spurs at the time were a buying club. The realisation that you’ve got to get away and leaving it was like a death, because it was my life for ten years. I went to Bristol Rovers and Bobby Gould took me there, we didn’t get on too well and I left soon afterwards. I then went onto play in America for a team called the San Francisco Flyers in an indoor league which was amazing. After doing my achilles over there I came back to England to recover and Steve Perryman had just taken over at Brentford, and after getting over my injury I signed for them and I guess the rest is history I suppose. I went to Reading after that and then wanted to get into coaching and management. I ended up getting the opportunity to become player manager at St Albans and then Chertsey.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Allan: In a game against Reading for Brentford Micky Tate said to me before hands “ Cockram you won’t see 90 minutes “ and I was laughing at him. However, at the start of the second half his elbow came across me, and I can’t remember the rest!
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Allan: Mark Bowen and Ally Dick as well as Simon Webster who was my best mate at Spurs. Also Jimmy Bolton was a good mate.
As somebody who worked your way up the youth ranks at Spurs before breaking into the first team, what would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Allan: I’m telling you now you don’t need an agent. Enjoy your football and come off social media. You’ve got to go the opposite of what’s happening!
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?
Allan: It was a chunk of my life that was a privilege, an honour and I will always look back on the good times because you lose the bad memories. And also I think it gave me amazing grounding to go onto do other things such as becoming a fire fighter which was a totally different career choice, but it was very similar to being a footballer because it was team orientated and you were in life or death situations and lots of banter. So in answer to your question it built mental toughness to achieve other things in my life. I’ve done so many other things but Tottenham was my grounding to achieve lots of other things. If you ask kids what you want to be they’ll probably say a footballer or a firefighter and I’ve been both! I put being a firefighter down to Spurs.