My interview with former Spurs player Ally Dick:
Ally Dick is a name in which Spurs supporters will remember fondly, the Scottish former professional footballer who was and still is the youngster ever Spurs player to play in a league game, featured on 17 occasions for Spurs scoring two goals. Dick would go onto have a fascinating career, linking up with Johan Cruyff’s Ajax before playing football in Australia for Heidelberg United. Alistair’s story is a fascinating one and I was privileged enough to get to interview the former Tottenham man talk about his time at the ‘ Lilywhites ‘ in the early 1980’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Ally: My earliest footballing memory I had would of been when I was on holiday with my mum and dad in Mallorca when I was about 11. And I was playing keepy uppies with a wee plastic ball on my own and this guy was watching me. As I went back to my mum and dad, he came up to them and he said I’ve been watching your wee son and he’s going to be a football player. He’s got one of the best touches ever. And although I can’t remember who he was, he was a professional footballer player who I think played for Stoke but I can’t remember his name. That was the first time that it was ever brought to my attention that I was decent at football.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?
Ally: Ever since I was 14 I used to come down in the school holidays and play with the Tottenham youth team and normally be under an assumed name as you weren’t allowed to play if you were Scottish and under age. I would maybe play half a game with the youth team so I got to know the boys pretty well. So maybe once or twice a year during the school holidays I’d go down to Tottenham to train with them for a couple of days. One of the strongest memories I have was just before the 1981 FA cup final when they (Spurs) flew me my father and my brother down to the game against Manchester City which was 1-1. And in the evening we had tickets for the big fancy celebration banquet which was held at the Hilton hotel in Park Lane but obviously the game went onto a replay so the celebration turned into a muted celebration but I can remember that very well and I was only 15 at the time. I can also remember being sat down next to a guy called Danny Blanchflower so I was only 15 not really knowing who Danny Blanchflower was at the time but I was sat down next to him, and he spoke to me for 20 minutes and I remember that pretty well. So that Spurs and Man City game was one of my first Spurs games so that was a great way to start.
How did you come about joining the club?
Ally: Up here in Scotland I was pretty much the most sought after player, I was doing well with my local club and my school team and the Scotland youth team, so there was plenty of people after me. However, the thing I done which really set me apart was that I never signed an S form because my youth team manager told me that it didn’t mean anything and he was 100% right. I used to train with Celtic on a Tuesday, Hibs on a Thursday and on the weekend I’d fly down to Tottenham to play with their youth team. And then the following week I’d fly down to Aston Villa to play with their youth team and train with the squad, the following week I’d then go to Man City and train with their squad and they’d take me out and wine and dine me, so I had the best of both worlds. However, when I turned 15 which was the clincher I played in a Scotland schoolboys international at Wembley where Scotland beat England 5-4 and we had Paul McStay and John Robertson and Paul Ryder who scored a hat trick, and that was one of the most famous schoolboy internationals ever and it was live on tv with a 70,000 crowd and as I say was only just turned 15. I played really well and scored a goal but when they were talking about all the English players on that field, they’d signed with West Ham and Swindon and this club and that club while all the Scotland guys were signed with Celtic while Ally Dick was unattached and that was through choice. After that game the phone rang off the hook, honestly I was getting four of five calls a day from clubs asking me to train with them.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Ally: I enjoyed it but I was only a kid, I was only 16 and if you look into players who are breaking into any first team now I’d been their since I was 14 and I was only just turned 21 when I left, I was still a young guy. I was lucky to play the games that I had played when I was such a young guy and to this day I’m still the youngest person ever to start a game in a league game for Spurs. John Bostock came on as a sub in a European game and beat my record by about five days but it was easier then to get games for the first team. It was a very homely club, very close knit and it was all good.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Ally: I was always a Celtic supporter so when I was growing up I used to watch Celtic play as a youngster, and Kenny Dalglish was the main man which was kind of funny because my second game that I played with Tottenham (I was only 17) was against Liverpool. And Dalglish was playing along with Souness and Hansen who were all from my area, and to think only a couple of years before that I was going to watch them play and two years later as a 17 year old I was playing against them.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in for Spurs during your time there?
Ally: When I first arrived at Tottenham I was very much an out and out left sided midfield player. In my first season at Spurs I went from scoring 40 goals a season to ten goals a season because I was playing with much better guys.
You made your Spurs debut on the 20th of February 1982 in a 2-0 win over Manchester City. Could you talk me through your memories of that day and how it came about?
Ally: I was still living in digs in Edmonton at the time and on a Friday morning I thought it would be a usual weekend, maybe playing with the youth team or maybe play with the reserve team. That morning my landlady came up to me as I sat down for breakfast and she said look at this and it was a newspaper saying youngster makes his debut for Tottenham, and I thought that can’t be true! And then I went into training that day and on a Friday we always had an eleven v eleven and it was the first team practicing their free kicks and their corners for the next day and right enough I was in the first team that day and I was fine about it. However, I remember on the day of the game I went out for a warmup and Stevie Perryman took me aside and took me out for a wee warm up and so we kicked a ball at each other, but my feet felt like two big marshmallows, the ball felt like a ping pong ball and I could hardly hit it. However, as soon as the game started I was fine and I felt right at home and the game seemed to whiz by very quickly and it was actually easier than playing with the reserves because you were playing with better players. So I enjoyed it and I wasn’t too nervous either, but my biggest memory was with me and Stevie Perryman before the game.
Who were you biggest influences at Spurs?
Ally: When I first went there the youth team manager was Robbie Stepney and he was one of the main guys who had brought me down from Scotland. He looked after me and kept in touch with my family and I always liked to do well for Robbie because he was probably the closest to me when it came to the coaches. I also got on well with Keith Burkinshaw who would always give me opportunities with the first team even when I wasn’t playing that great, but when it came to the players Stevie Perryman would always have time for you and he’d give you little bits of information to take into the next game which would stick with you.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Ally: At the time probably it would be Tony Galvin who was playing in the position that I hoped to break into and things Tony was good at, I wasn’t too great at. Tony used to work very hard and he used to track back very well and he was a good tackler which were all things that I wasn’t. I was still slight of build and I wasn’t as fit as these guys so I had to do what Tony did.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Ally: Obviously my debut was very memorable but at the time I don’t think I realised that I was the youngest ever person to play for Spurs, because there was no internet or facts or figures flying about in those days and I can’t actually remember when I found out. I also remember in the youth team we had a lot of international tournaments where we’d go out to places like Switzerland and play a tournament and spend a week away with the guys. And I’ll always remember those weeks because they were such a laugh!
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Ally: If I think about it now it has to be making my debut as a 16 year old kid for a club like Tottenham Hotspur because that doesn’t happen every day. Also the game at Wembley as a schoolboy in front of 70,000 people was a really strong memory, and I played really well. To this day I still bump into people and they remember that game which for a schoolboy game is very unusual. Also playing in the UEFA cup final at White Hart Lane was also a great thing.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Ally: There’s a couple! If I had to pick a midfield player I’d say Glen Hoddle every day of the week and to play and train with him every day was a pleasure. He was such nice a guy. The first game I played with Ajax I played with Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman but of that lot Marco Van Basten was the standout player and he was also a nice guy. So Glen Hoddle and Marco Van Basten are the two stand outs.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team?
Ally: The things I remember most about that was the trips that we used to have, I can remember going to Switzerland one time and another place which I can’t remember where but you always got to play against teams from Holland, Germany and Italy. I used to enjoy playing against foreign opposition more than domestic teams. We were given a lot of freedom when we went abroad and we all used to have a laugh. I never actually played that many games with the youth team at Spurs because I was put in the reserves straight away, so what I would do I’d play half a game for the youth team in the morning and then I’d change and go and play for the reserves who were kicking off at 3pm, so I’d double up. I can remember Ron Henry who was the manager of the youth team the first year that I was there and he was a very funny man. I think when I first went there I wasn’t quite sure who he was and I didn’t realise that he was a famous old Tottenham player, but he liked me and I’ll always remember his funny team talks. So they are probably my biggest memories.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Ally: I remember that I had not that long signed a new contract (I was only about 19) and Keith Burkinshaw had just left the club so I knew that it was going to be a little bit more difficult for me without Keith there because as I’ve said Keith was very good to me. He’d give me a lot of chances even when I probably didn’t deserve them, so I knew that it would be a bit more difficult without him. However, I can remember waking up one Sunday morning in Enfield and the back pages of the newspaper read that Spurs were going to sign Chris Waddle for a couple of million of pounds. As a kid at Tottenham you knew that regardless whether you played well players like Waddle were going to be playing in front of you, so I knew that my chances were getting tougher and tougher. Rather than being one of two guys who might have got a chance, I was going backwards and I was now the third or fourth choice. However, I was still only 19 and there weren’t many 19 year olds at that time who were playing in first teams but it was kind of the start of the end for me at Spurs because I knew that I wasn’t going to play much with Chris Waddle there. So about a year and a half later things hadn’t quite planned out how I’d hoped they would and so I left the club. I can remember then getting a phone call from Graeme Souness who was still playing at the time for Sampdoria and he said to me that a mate of his had just become the manager of Glasgow Rangers and he asked if I would be interested in signing with Rangers. I’m a catholic and up until that point Rangers had never ever signed a catholic and I told him that. I said to him do you know what school I went to? Anyway he explained to me that he was going to come to Rangers and change all the policy and he said he didn’t care about all of that. So I said that I didn’t care about all that either and that I’d sign with any club that was right with me. However, the newspapers managed to get hold of the story and it was a big thing up in Scotland and it all got a little bit too hot to handle and they phoned me back to say we’re going to leave it right now because it’s got a bit too political. And then about two days after that I got a phone call from Johan Cruyff which you don’t get everyday. At first I thought it was my mate winding me up. It was only later that I found at that Ajax had tried to sign Davey Cooper from Rangers but they didn’t want to sell.
Ajax then wanted to sign somebody who was very similar and played in the same position and it was Rangers who actually recommended me. I was invited to Amsterdam by Johan and I played in a couple of amateur friendly matches in Holland and my first game there was with Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman and Marco Van Basten, so it was a very good team. I played really well and after a couple of days I was asked by Johan to sign for Ajax so it kind of happened very quickly and right away I was in the first team squad. I went from training once a day with Tottenham to three times a day with Ajax so I got very very fit. Soon into it however, in a game against Olympiakos I did my cruciate ligaments! I was never the same after that.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Ally: I used to hate playing against Graham Roberts in training because he was very tough. He was also great at tackling as well! So he’s the toughest player that I can remember.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
When I was young the players I was close to were Allan Cockram, Mark Bowen and Micky McCabe.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Ally: Soak up every piece of information. If I had my time again I’d go up and ask people things and I would try and retain it because things just whiz past you. So my advice would be to try and learn as much as you can off of everybody. Also you should never give up.
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?
Ally: They will always be my favourite club because they were my first club and I was going there for seven years even though I was only signed there for five. Tottenham is and always will be my team.