My interview with former Spurs player David Sunshine:
Born in Bethnal Green east London, former Spurs man David Sunshine joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1957 after being scouted by former Spurs player Arthur Hitchins. Sunshine would go onto play for the old A team and reserves side throughout one of the most successful periods in the clubs history. I traveled to Hertfordshire to meet up with with the former fullback, a player who is remembered by his teammates for his tenacity on the field. Sunshine also has an exceptional sense of humour!
What are your earliest footballing memories?
David: I was born in Bethnal Green, Hackney. But just after the war my mum and dad moved to Walthamstow. My first footballing memory was when I was at junior school, a ball was a ball back then. When I was seven or eight we had quite a good school team because in them days there were a lot of schools and you had a lot of games and that’s how it started off. We had a good side at school at that time and we played some good schools in the local area. In the last year of junior school I don’t know what happened all I know is that the headmaster called me in and he said that you’ve got a trial for Walthamstow boys. I was 10/11 years of age down at the George White ground, and there was loads of people. There was loads of kids there and they’d select who was playing in the final team for Walthamstow and I managed to get into that and have a few games, but it was nothing special. By the time that I’d left junior school and went into senior school I went straight into the Walthamstow district side along with a few other kids and that was great. We got together a good team because we had some good players there including Paddy Stack who would also go onto play for Spurs. As the time went by we were doing really well and in those days there used to be the English schoolboys trophy and we managed to get into the quarter finals where we played Dagenham boys, who had Martin Peters. When we got to the George White ground to play them there was a crowd of 1,000 there to watch a schoolboy game. Unfortunately they won 1-0 and I think that they might have gone onto win the competition. Anyway I saw my dad talking to two older men after the game and he went come here Dave. He said to me this is Arthur Hitchins and he’s a scout for Tottenham. There was another man there called Dickie Walker who was a mercenary scout. At the end of the day he said there scouts and they’re impressed with you, and they want you to go to Tottenham Hotspur. I said what do you mean Tottenham? Because I got all big headed. So the next week I went to Tottenham but I didn’t meet the manager because the manager at the time was Jimmy Anderson. Anyway we went to the ground and we met the club secretary and he took us around the ground.
What an impression as a 14, 15 year old boy and you’ve got Tottenham Hotspur, one of the top clubs in the country and there I was going into the directors room having tea and cakes and then going into the old press box. You can only imagine that. I was always a Spurs fan, the first time I went to Spurs was a floodlit game against Racing Club De Paris in 1952/53 and that’s where my love of Tottenham Hotspur started. Fast forward a few days and my dads there telling me that I can’t go out tonight. I said why? And he said that you’ve got someone coming round tonight and he said that it was Bill Nicholson. To be quite honest with you I’d never seen Bill Nicholson as I was only 15! Anyway he came around and spoke to my parents and he asked if they’d be willing to let me join the ground staff, because there was no apprentices in them days. He (Bill Nicholson) told my parents that I’d spend the morning training and then I’d end up working on the ground, and I was over the moon and my parents were well pleased. When word got round at school I was mister big head! My dad took me down to Spurs for the first day and we met up with a man called Johnny Wallis who was in charge of the youth and the A team. There was a couple of boys there like Frank Saul and Roy Moss and the first job that I had to do was get all the players kit and hang all there training gear up, such as shirts and sweat tops. And then when they’d start training you’d start to train with them and then go off with your own respective squads. Then when it was all finished and everyone had had a bath we all used to go over to the pub the White Hart or the Bell and Hare. However, before you had your break you had to clear all the training gear up and sort out the shirts before then sweeping dressing rooms out and all of the communal baths, before you could have your lunch. After that you’d be directed to the guy who was in charge of the ground staff and one of the things that you would do was sweep all of the stands in the stadium, so you’d always have a busy afternoon.
Anyway, getting back to my playing days, we had a junior side which I played in and we used to play in the Wood Green and district league and you’d play all local teams such as Wood Green youth club, and I used to think that this was no different to what I was doing before. However, I think that was a way of adjusting you into the football and seeing if you were good enough to be taken on. So that’s how it all kicked off really. I was on seven pounds a week which was good, I also used to get £2.50 a week for expenses. After a few games I got into the youth side and one of the first games was against Leyton Orient at Woodford, we lost about 6-3. The Tottenham assistant manager Harry Evans gave us a roasting! In them days there also used to be a metropolitan league and there used to be loads of clubs in the midweek league and that was used for giving some players who couldn’t get into the reserves, a chance to have a game. All of a sudden there was a game I was playing in and I went for a ball, turned and went down and I did my cartilage which meant that I had to go to hospital. I ended up being out for a couple of weeks but I came back and I had a really good season. Then after Christmas I looked up one day at the team sheet for the youth side and I noticed that I wasn’t playing today. So I said to the reserve team coach Jack Coxford, I’m not playing and he said of course you’re not in the youth side you bloody idiot, you’re in the A team! And I couldn’t believe it. We played Lowestoft Town on a terrible day at Cheshunt and it was raining and raining. So to cut a long story short I’d had a good game and to crown it off I scored a goal, with a little help from the wind! There was quite a good write up in the local papers. However, there was a lot of players who didn’t hack the eastern counties league, although I didn’t mind it. However, players such as Ronnie Piper didn’t handle it well. During pre-season I had a couple of run outs with the reserves but I didn’t think I was ever going to make the reserves, who I was in awe of really.
By 1960 I’d signed pro, during my first season as a pro the ball came across from the right and this big old guy who I didn’t know from Adam caught me right on the head. After missing a few games they sent me to a private opticians as I had a blood clot coming underneath my eye. I was out for about three weeks for that, but as I say it was a really, really good life. Going off topic in the first year I was there as a youth player we went to Holland for a tournament, a place called Groningen. We played Ajax there before later winning a tournament in Germany! It was really just a great time. I was earning more money than my dad was when I signed pro. The highlight of it all was Spurs doing the double and my mum and dad had to go up to London to buy me a new suit for the cup final before going to the Savoy hotel, which was something special. I think we had a five course meal and a few drinks too! And then of course it happened again the next season! My football was going good I’d had a good season and then the next season after that I was also doing well, but then we played March Town, and I got caught badly in that game and I ended up fracturing my fibula and tibia and the only thing that they could do was put a splint on it, and here I was in the prince of Wales hospital. And I think that mucked my career up, because as a 17/18 year old I knew in my eyes that I wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t right, I was hesitant and I’d lost a bit of pace. So by the end of that season I went into see Bill Nicholson as all players did and he said to me that you’ve not had a good season and we know that you’ve been troubled by injuries especially the fracture of the two legs. And without being nasty about it he said that we’re going to have to release, you and so they did. And what they did was they put my name on a list of released players which was sent around different clubs and to be honest after all this stuff I’ve told you I’d lost my enthusiasm a bit. One because I knew I wasn’t playing well and two because I’d lost it big time. Anyway I got a phone call from Millwall who I went to for a trial. I don’t know whether it was because I was good or because the guy who I was playing against was rubbish but I did alright and I played a couple of games for them. However, I just wasn’t enjoying it. My ex wife who was my girlfriend then had a customer (and this is true!) at a hairdressers and she said that Dave wasn’t doing so good and that he wasn’t playing much football and that he wasn’t doing nothing. So this customer said my husband Bill works at Smithfield’s, so send Dave round to see him.
I had a union card which happened to help me out massively and so I met Bill at a pub, and by the morning he wanted me to get to Smithfield by five o’clock! Anyway so I got to Smithfield meat market and it was bloody freezing, and my first impressions of the place were that it was a weird place. Anyway I met Bill and he took me up to the union office, they took my name down and the following week I started work for a meat firm called R.L Crisp. It was a good job but it was a hard job coming from football. Anyway I started there and the money was really good because the union was negotiating with Harold Wilson’s government for a maximum pay of 20 pounds a week, which I was laughing at really. Later on I worked in the cold store at Smithfield’s which made me earn even more money a week, because I was in the cold. I had a friend of mine called Arthur Banner who was looking for players and he was a security man, anyway I went up to see him and he said that he was taking over as manager of Faversham Town. The only thing I knew about Faversham Town was that they had a lovely brewery there! He wanted to build it out as we’ve got good money here, but the problem was that I was pro! Most the team worked on the market so we all met up at Mile End station in preparation for our first game which was against Snowdon Colliery and they were all Geordies. Before we knew it we were 2-0 down, but I was enjoying it. In the end we put it together and we ended up drawing 2-2 with them, and that was the first time that they had drawn a game in three years. So there I was with 15 pounds in the back of my pocket! Interestingly Arthur Banner got me to change my name to David Lancaster because I was a pro. Anyway we had three really good seasons which included getting into the final of the Kent cup. However, the club soon after that arranged a meeting and they expressed their desire to fill the team with local boys. Anyway it got taken over and a new chairman, and Arthur got sacked and so we all dispersed and went to different clubs. Arthur would eventually phone me and tell me that he had another team I could play for as David Lancaster, and that team was called Tooting and Mitcham United.
The ground was called Sandy Lane and I was doing alright there but most importantly of all I was enjoying it. Then one night we were playing Dulwich Hamlet up at Champion Hill as we were warming up this bloody cameraman came up and took a picture of me! And then as I came off at halftime I was talking with Arthur Banner and he’s here with another guy taking a photograph of me, so I thought what’s all this. Anyway after the game I’m in the bar and this tall guy went Mr.Sunshine, and I said no. Anyway he said for a young player you’ve had a very illustrious football career, and there he had a picture of me playing for Tottenham Hotspur. This guy worked for a now defunct paper called the daily chronicle and the next thing I know I didn’t go to work the next day, and the next thing I know my wife’s come into the room and said you’re in the national paper! And there there was a picture of me in the back page of the daily chronicle and that was really the end of my career. What I did as a pro player to be playing for an amateur club was totally taboo and devious at the time, because the amateurs were an old school time mob. Anyway I didn’t drop Arthur in it because he had helped me out and all the boys. Anyway I had to go to Lancaster Gate to see the FA. I told them that I’d done it because I’d had an accident and broken my leg as a pro and that I wanted to play football however, I couldn’t get back into it. I was the first one that ever got caught at it so them and the FA banned me and suspended me from playing football at all. Anyway I got married in 1966 when one day I was mucking about playing a bit of football when these guys who I’d played against at school asked me if I was playing, and I’d told them that I was banned. So they asked me if I’d like to play for them at a place called Wadham Lodge. So the manager of the football club told me totally unbeknownst to me that I could get my suspension revoked, and that I could play as a permit player. So me and him went up to the FA and got a permit to play for Fullers electric which was the name of the team and they played in the London commercial league. Anyway we didn’t get paid but they said that I could have as much I’d like to drink! I had about four or five seasons for them before all of their football and cricket teams were disbanded and everyone was made redundant, and that was sort of the end of my career apart from playing for some good Sunday sides and running various junior sides.
What was your time at Spurs like on the whole?
David: It was great. It was really, really wonderful other than the little bit that I’d told you at the end. However, that didn’t piss me off because I could tell in my own mind and body that I hadn’t had a good season. Just walking into that place (the Spurs ground) was wonderful and something I’d still like to do now!
Did you have any footballing heroes or inspirations and if so who were they?
David: well Tommy Harmer was one as was Johnny Brooks who were not long after leaving Spurs when I had joined them. Another player who I loved was Dave Mackay and then there was Danny Blanchflower but they talk about him as a motivator and as somebody who was skilful but he was a bit of a wimp! And it was the man behind him Peter Baker who covered up so much for Blanchflower because he wasn’t the fastest of players and he didn’t cover a large area. And he was lucky to have a real workman like fullback behind him, and Peter Baker never got the full appreciation for what he did for Danny. Also Bobby Smith was a good laugh. I just happened to be there at the right time as they were all such great people. The only one who was quite quiet and moderate was the goalkeeper Bill Brown who like Danny Blanchflower was a bit of a family man.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
David: I was a strong aggressive fullback with lots of pace and I was also strong and fiery.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
David: Dave Mackay was good, but they all influenced you because they all helped you and if they didn’t help you they’d make you laugh! All my life has been great and I’ve been a lucky man! I used to also like the trainer Cecil Poynton who had us all in hysterics. I do what I like and I like what I do sort of attitude. However, people don’t realise how much camaraderie and how much joy was in that football club.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
David: Once again that reverts back to Dave Mackay and Maurice Norman. I was like Dave Mackay because I was strong, tough and aggressive whereas Maurice Norman was just the most strong player you’d ever see. For a county bumpkin his footballing brain was brilliant.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
David: The greatest moments was going to the two cup finals which most Spurs supporters would give an arm and a leg for. Also how many 16 year olds then get to go for a luxury five course meal with dancers and everything else! If I said to you Lennon I’ve had so many ups and so few downs and just playing for Spurs and being scouted by Arthur Hitchins for Tottenham were all great moments in my career.
Could you describe to me what the legendary Danny Blanchflower was like?
David: He was a good player but a boring man! He wasn’t my player let’s put it like that, but going back to Peter Baker he wouldn’t have been so good were it not for Peter Baker.
What was the great Bill Nicholson like as a manager?
David: Typical hard Yorkshireman who did a job big time for Spurs and all of the players respected him, and I liked him. If you did something good he’d praise you and if you did something wrong he’d give you advice and tell you what you did wrong. I can remember at the beginning of one pre-season in training with all of the players sitting on the floor and Bill asked all of us to stand up. So we all stood up, and so he asked Dave Mackay what’s the most important part of your body. And he answered your brain, Bill said no. So he then asked Terry Medwin who said your feet and Bill once again said no. And so after asking various questions Bill told us that the most important part of your body was the following. He asked everyone to hold there arms out and to look forward but while your looking forward you can see the end of your fingertips. That’s vision, and that’s the most important part of your body. That’s always stood in my mind!
Who was the greatest player that you ever had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
David: Thats a hard question and I don’t really know. I can’t just say John White for example because I’d never shared a pitch him. However, there was a multitude of players who I shared a pitch with but as for saying one it’s difficult. Really they were all good players in there own right.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories in the Tottenham youth team and old A team?
David: It was when I’d first arrived at Tottenham and the first time I’d turned up and put a Tottenham kit on. Also finding out that I was going to play for the old A team as a 16 year old!
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
David: There was a guy who played for Chelsea Gordon Bolland who was tough and strong and he has to have been the toughest player that I ever came up against.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to during your time there?
David: I was good mates with Frank Saul until I left and I got on alright with him, but as I say there was a great camaraderie at the club. There was a couple of players who I didn’t get on with but I won’t name them!
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
David: First of all you’ve got to work hard and the other is you’ve got to keep working hard. However, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, to improve is the hardest thing to do! You should look at players as dedicated as Jamie Vardy who is such a dedicated player.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at Spurs and are they a still a club who you hold close to your heart?
David: One word – great!