My interview with former Spurs man Robbie Brace:
Centre forward Robbie Brace (pictured in the front row, third from right) joined Spurs as a youth player in the late 1970’s and he would go onto sign apprentice forms with the Lilywhites. Edmonton born Brace who made one competitive appearance for the first team kindly agreed to doing an interview with me, so I caught up with the former Spurs player who now lives in Germany the country where he has lived ever since for FC Saarbrucken in 1986.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Robbie: Playing in the kids team when I was about six or seven in Waltham Abbey and starting my football career. Also playing in international tournaments when I was a kid when we used to play teams from Wales who used to come over and that’s something I’ll never forget as a youngster as that was the start of my football career. My dad was a big influence on me when I was a kid, taking me over the park and teaching me how to kick with my left foot because I always used to kick with my right foot and in the end I was better with my left foot than I was with my right foot. My dad used to make time for me after he’d come home from a hard days work to go over to the park and play football with me. Years ago we never used to have computers, Gameboy or PlayStation or things like that, we just used to be out on the streets playing football all of the time and that was the way it was years and years ago.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Robbie: There was a scout called Brian Casey who used to take four of us from Waltham Abbey up to Tottenham and we was like 13 or 14 years of age. He used to have a taxi cab and he would take Glen Alzapiedi, Gary Rudkin and Robert Secker in his cab up to Tottenham, and then we used to train in the ball courts. There used to be two ball courts at Tottenham in the old West stand with a small one downstairs and a big one upstairs. The small court was for players who were about 14 and they would train with Robbie Stepney, and then upstairs there used to be the year older players like Allan Cockram, Mark Bowen, Ian Crook and Tony Parks who would be getting trained by Ron Henry. Then a year later we were allowed to go up and train in the big ball court with Ron Henry and that was good to go up there but it was like training on concrete! I signed schoolboy forms (all four of us from Waltham Abbey did) so that meant that you weren’t allowed to go to another professional club and you belonged as a signed schoolboy to Tottenham Hotspur, so I signed that at 14 and then you have two years to see if you can make it as an apprentice professional footballer, and that was what I became when I was 16. I can remember when I was 16 going up to Waltham Cross on the bus and then there was Ian Culverhouse who used to get on the train from Harlow and I’d get on the same train as him. And then at Enfield Lock we’d meet up with Richard Cooke and we’d all go to Northumberland Park train station and walk up to Tottenham and start work. We always used to go into the cafe first at the front of the high street and have a breakfast and then at nine o’clock we would start work. And at work there used to be a top man and the first time I was there it was Simon Webster and he was in charge of the apprentices so he would tell us what to do such as getting kits ready for training for the professional players, and cleaning boots. I had Steve Archibald and Osvaldo Ardiles and some of them had sponsored boots like Glen Hoddle who had Le Coq Sportif and Steve Archibald who had Nike so they were like personal sponsored boots which the club were sponsored by.
It was just a fantastic time of my life being an apprentice professional and it was a nine to five job. I’ll never forget that sometimes Keith Burkinshaw or Peter Shreeves used to ask us to mark a player and I never will forget this in my life, I was called over to the first team to mark Osvaldo Ardiles and my job was to mark Osvaldo and he was running rings around me and I couldn’t believe how good he was.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Robert: I started at 14 as a schoolboy and I left when I was nearly 20 so just after the game where I made my debut against Southampton which at the time Spurs were playing in the UEFA cup final in 1984. I made my debut as a substitute against Southampton and that was it. In the end I got a free transfer from an agent who took me to Belgium where I played in the first division. My mum and dad did their nut after I said I’m going to Belgium tomorrow and they said what! However, I said that there was a football agent who wants to pick up young professional footballers and try and earn himself some money out of us and we’d earn ourselves a contract with a foreign team, and that’s what I did. And so I played in Genk in the Belgian first division and as a 19 year old that was a great experience. I can also remember signing my professional contract for Spurs and going into Keith Burkinshaw’s office just after my 18th birthday but there’s one memory I’ll never forget and that was the first ever game that I played for Tottenham Hotspur. As a 13/14 year old I scored seven goals and although I can’t tell you where or who it was against that was my first ever game I played in for Spurs.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Robbie: It was Glen Hoddle. Everyone loved Glenn Hoddle, he had eyes in the back of his head and he was unbelievable. I used to love to watch Glenn Hoddle play football because he was just brilliant.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in for Spurs during your time there?
Robbie: I was a centre forward but sometimes I used to play at right back however, I was a centre forward all of the time and I did score a lot of goals in the juniors when I was at Spurs. But as I said I used to go on the right back position and I can remember when John Pratt took over as our trainer he used to put me at the right back position because I could run all day as I was really, really fit, but as I say I was a striker and I just loved scoring goals.
What was it like to brush shoulders with some of the legendary players that were around at Spurs at the time?
Robbie: You looked up to them, all of the professional players. When I was there at Spurs we’d just signed two Argentinian international players Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa and you just looked up to them. However, they were so nice even though they couldn’t speak a lot of English at that time, they always shook your hand and that’s what it was like. Whereas Steve Perryman was always giving us tips and saying hello and you just used to look up to these players all of the time. I’ll tell you another story! When we were an apprentice we used to have to go to college one day a week and we went to a college in Kings Cross and we had to learn how to eat properly and we had a woman who was really high up in politics as our teacher and her name was Kate Hoey and she used to take us in this college with West Ham, Wimbledon and Arsenal and we used to have to learn how to cook and how to hold knives and forks and making sure it was the spoon to the mouth not the mouth to the spoon! I can also remember going on a survival course with West Ham, Wimbledon and Arsenal in Wales and that’s something I’ll never forget in my life. It was fantastic.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Robbie: Steve Perryman although he didn’t play in the national team for England he was the Spurs captain and he was a great influence who was always talking to the young players and he’d give you stick if you were doing anything wrong and he’d always give 100% in every training session and you just looked up to players like that. He was an out and out professional footballer along with Glen Hoddle who was just a fantastic person and you just loved watching them play.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Robbie: As a striker you used to watch the other strikers who used to play at Spurs and the way in which players like Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald used to finish but not only that, but also the finishing from Mark Falco who score loads of goals even though he didn’t play a lot in the first team at that time. You used to copy the way that those players finished and scored there goals and that’s what I did. At Spurs you had a lot of different strikers, you had Terry Gibson who was a speedy Gonzalez, you had Garry Brooke who used to have the best shot I’ve ever seen and then you had Ian Crook who used to have brilliant technique. You used to watch all of them in training and learn off of them because all of them had there own qualities and they weren’t big headed.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Robbie: I think the greatest moment was when I came on as a sub against Southampton to play my debut in the premier league because it was an honour. The whole thing from going in the coach to going in the hotel and having some dinner and doing the pre-match routine was just incredible. And as an 18/19 year old it was just a fantastic experience to go with the first team and come on as a sub in the second half was a highlight of my career, playing for the team that I supported and the team that I loved as a kid.
Could you describe to me what it was like to make your senior competitive debut for the Lilywhites?
Robbie: Well I don’t think that I would actually have made my debut to be honest with you if it wasn’t for the fact that Tottenham played a lot of reserve players from the football combination in the game against Southampton. I was lucky to have my debut at Tottenham because Tottenham played in the UEFA cup final and so they rested there players for the game against Southampton on the Saturday because on the Wednesday they were playing in the final. I was number 12 and I came on as a sub and I’ll never ever forget that in my life as it was the biggest thing that ever happened in my career.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Robbie: It was Glen Hoddle because he was my idol and he was just brilliant. The Spurs fans used to sing born is the king of White Hart Lane and he was the king. He had eyes at the back of his head and I used to idolise him.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team?
Robbie: We won the Southern junior floodlit cup in the junior team against Cambridge United and I’ll always remember that. I also remember playing Arsenal which I used to love because I used to hate them!
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Robbie: I got a free transfer which I was really disappointed with but I could understand it because I never really had that chance because there were so many brilliant strikers at Tottenham with Garth Crooks, Steve Archibald, Mark Falco and Terry Gibson and I just didn’t have much chance against those brilliant players. When Tottenham told me that I could leave they introduced me to an agent who could help me. And this agent took me first of all to Germany where I trained with a few non league clubs to keep myself fit and he couldn’t believe how good I was so he arranged for me to have a sort of trial in this tournament for a team called K.Waterschei S.V. Thor Genk who played in the first division in Belgium. Anyway this man took me to Belgium and I signed for this team on a two year contract but I only stayed there a year because there was a team that wanted me badly in Holland so I went to a team called De Graafschap and I scored lots of goals there and it was a nice time. From there I went to a team in Germany called FC Saarbrucken where I had to learn the language and I’ve been in Germany now since 1986 and I’m married and I’ve got kids. I also have a fantastic job working at Mercedes-Benz and I’m also fifteen years a football manager.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Robbie: Simon Webster. I’ll never forget his tackles. Also Graham Roberts was unbelievable but Simon Webster used to really go in hard and they were really hard players.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Robbie: Ian Culverhouse was one of my best friends years ago however, I’ve lost a lot contact with him. We used to hang out a lot together because we used to play in the West Essex County football team when we were younger and we were also apprentices together at Spurs. Then you had the other players like Richard Cooke who I used to hang out with along with Ally Dick. However, the best friend I had was Ian Culverhouse.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Robbie: Concentrate on your football career and be disciplined. Young players do meet up with girls and players do go out and want to go to discos and have a bit of a life but to be a professional you’ve got to be disciplined and you’ve got to say right ok the time for girls can be later and I’m going to make this step up. Don’t go out with your mates to pubs and don’t drink too much alcohol or smoke too many cigarettes. Your aim is to be in the first team and if you want to make it you’ve got to go for it 100% otherwise you’re not to going to have a chance.
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?
Robbie: It was the best time of my life to be honest with you as I was a player at the team that I loved as a kid. My family were Tottenham Hotspur mad and I was born in Edmonton and to play for the team you supported and loved was the best time of my life as a footballer.