My interview with former Spurs scout Ronnie Clayton:
(Ronnie is pictured second from left in the front row).
Ronnie Clayton served Spurs as a scout for a long period throughout the 1960’s. The brother of former Spurs player Eddie Clayton, Ronnie was instrumental in getting us to sign a number of players who would go onto play for the Tottenham first team. Players of which include Ray Evans, Steve Perryman, Jimmy Neighbour and countless others. Ronnie also had a hand in bringing a young Northern Irish goalkeeper by the name of Pat Jennings to the Lilywhites. Clayton’s time at Spurs was fascinating and the naturally talented scout who had an eye for talent stretching back to his playing days for various amateur clubs, recommended many a fine player to the great Bill Nicholson, who he worked for. As Ronnie’s son Steve so poignantly put it, Ronnie is the last of the Bill Nicholson, Eddie Baily, Charlie Faulkner and Dick Walker (both chief scouts) era. A gentleman whose wealth of knowledge of Spurs from a bygone era is so very precious. I had the great privilege of going down to the south coast to interview Ronnie about his time as a scout at Spurs. The club that he loves so well.
Could you briefly talk me through your playing career?
Ronnie: I didn’t start playing until I was about 13 when I played at play centres and things like that. I then belonged to a boys club in Bethnal Green where I played as a ball playing inside forward. When I was 16 we won the double in the AJY league and I then got picked to play for the league there. After that I had a brief period playing for a team on a Saturday called Sarsons (the vinegar people). Then after that I spent two years in the RAF for national service and when I played there I used to run the equipment team. I also used to play for the station. The biggest game that I played in (I was stationed just outside Kingston in Surrey) was against Kingstonian. When I came out of the RAF I was advised by somebody that I was good enough to play professionally and so I went to Wimbledon who were then in the southern league, for a trial. And after playing a game everyone was saying that they’ll sign you but they didn’t and by that stage I was 20. The only way they were going to sign me was if I was better than the guy who was playing in that position in the Wimbledon team, and that guy happened to be Alan Court who was the captain, and I wasn’t as good as him. So after that I went back to my job at the port of London authority and played some good football for them for a while before playing in the Surrey business housing league. I was there about a year and I wasn’t going to go training because I was too busy earning money and was married at the time. So I played for years for this team in a league that had 19 divisions, so I was always not a bad player. Going back to when I was 20 I played a couple of games for Ilford who were in the Isthmian league. One particular thing was quite funny. When I went for a game once they had to pick a team from 15 and they’d had a request from Maldon Town which was in Surrey, and so they needed a couple of guest players. So me and the centre forward who played in the A team volunteered to play and we actually helped them win the game. That was the first time that I played in a game where the crowd had used rattles. Anyway we got through to the next round and the manager did ask me to join them but I still had aspirations of playing for Ilford so I politely said no.
My job at the PLA was more important for me but I ended up playing football at local level when I was 29. Anyway I used to watch my brother Eddie play for Spurs and so I knew all the Tottenham players. So then one day Dickie Walker who was the chief scout at Spurs asked me if I’d like to become a scout for the club and so I agreed to do it at the weekends. It corresponded with me spending a lot of time down at Tottenham because unfortunately the shipping industry was changing and containerisation was coming in, so the goods going in and out of the country was all changing so hence I had a lot of spare time on my hands. So I spent lots of time down at Tottenham at the office and it was a very small office. Harry Hopkins was the accountant who did the wages and everything, and he was quite a Dickensian character who was tall and wore glasses. In the office with Harry was Barbara Wallis who was Bill Nicholson’s secretary. There was also a girl in there called Judie who did general duties. And then on a Saturday they had a man who manned the phones because it was quite busy then, and that was it. I also knew the secretary called Reg Jarvis and the assistant secretary who was a man called Alan Leather. One thing with me which you’ve got to to remember not a lot of people could do at that time was that I could read and write, something that I always could do as I had went to a central school. Anyway not only did I know the players intimately with Eddie when he started playing in the 1950’s (Eddie got involved with Spurs through the great Alf Ramsey) but I also got to spend time with them outside of football. My first game as a scout was at Romford who were in the southern division who were managed by a guy who played for Tottenham called Harry Clarke who was signed for a thousand pounds. I used to watch the games at Spurs up in an old stand at Tottenham when they had bars that you lent on. I was right up in the corner opposite the players entrance watching the games every week from the time that I was 13 or 14 years of age. Funnily enough a guy who used to watch the games with us called David Lodge would go onto become quite well known in the carry on films.
What is your earliest Spurs memory?
Ronnie: I’ll always remember when my headmaster told me that he was officiating down at White Hart Lane on a Saturday and that was in 1944. I went down and met him outside the players entrance and he gave me a ticket for a game which was between Spurs and Arsenal because, Arsenal and Spurs shared the ground at that time.
What is your earliest memory as a Spurs scout?
Ronnie: Well my earliest memory was going down to watch a guy called Bill Brown for Romford who I went with Dickie Walker to watch, as Spurs were interested in signing him as an amateur. Anyway I went down there and saw him and wrote my report (I noted that he was a decent player) and anyway they signed him on amateur forms for a while although nothing much came off it. Really Spurs wanted me for getting young players so I spent most of my time watching district football. Bill Nicholson was alway interested in doing what we called getting players young because he had a forward way of looking at things just like Alf Ramsey did. So I spent most of my time going around watching district football, and many of those that I saw then with me and Dickie were at Cheshunt, which is just off the Cambridge road. We’d see games where we would look to tell if someone would go onto become a good player and that’s the first time that I saw Glenn Hoddle when he was nine and a half or ten. My job on the Sunday would then be to put the whites against the blues and he’d tell me the names and I’d call them out to tell them where they were playing. And we used to do that throughout the years on a Sunday with boys who were recommended to us. With boys who were recommended from Wales (and they’d stay with Terry Medwin and that) you had Arthur Willis who had contacts, then there was a guy in Scotland who’d recommend people and also someone from Ireland. The only time that I used to watch senior pros if you like to call them famous people, Bill Nicholson would go and send me to see a player. He’d ask me to see if that player was carrying an injury because a lot of people hide injuries. I remember one particular game when he sent me down to Highbury and I went down there to watch two people one was Ian Ure and the other was George Armstrong. They were very famous players but funnily enough when I went down there I was sitting in the directors box and thinking how amazing it was when all of a sudden a guy came up to me and his name was Ron Reynolds (former Spurs goalkeeper) and he asked me how I was. Before asking me what I was doing here. Lo and behold there was a famous wing half who was very famous at the time called Jimmy Dickinson and he was also there and Ron Reynolds introduced me. Footballers were like gods to me at that time!
Anyway my main thing was to watch Ian Ure and George Armstrong, but there was a young right back who impressed me that day called Pat Rice who was 17 at the time. Also a centre forward a guy called Radford who was 16 also caught my eye.
Having told me some of your early memories of being a Spurs scout could you talk me through the rest of your career?
Ronnie: Well I used to mostly go to down to Spurs on a Tuesday and Thursday to watch the players sometimes, because that was the time that Syd Tickeridge (former Spurs player) who was a guy who did all of the soccer training. During my career I met many boys when they were 14 and 15 who went onto become famous. Boys such as Trevor Brooking who came from a nice family, his dad was a policeman. And Trevor was a clever boy. Sometimes however, sad stories happen. We had a boy (at Spurs) who was outstanding and he was the captain of Kent boys (an inside forward) but unfortunately he kept getting injuries to his legs and he was told that he’d never make it in professional football because he lacks calcium in his bones. He was a wonderful player who had to retire at 15. There was another boy who I knew well that we had called Jimmy Pearce, who managed to make it into the Tottenham first team and the same thing happened to him. He was told that he would never be able to play two games a week because his bones weren’t up to it and I think that he retired when he was only 24. So many people from the reserves that I knew became famous such as Ray Evans. The first time I saw Ray play he played outside left for Edmonton boys and he ended up playing centre half and right back. What upset me during my time as a scout was the combination of work at the PLA and not being able to get away to watch floodlight football which came in when I was scouting. And then what happened was that another guy came into Spurs called Charlie Faulkner who had previously been at Queens Park Rangers came to Spurs as a scout. And that was good at the time because we had this boy from Scotland called Graeme Souness who I used to watch in the ball court as a boy. Lo and behold what happened was that Graeme used to always run back to Scotland and Charlie who was an amazing guy who had a cigarette holder, and he took over. He wasn’t like Dickie who was an amazing guy. To go down to West Ham with Dickie was the most amazing thing as everyone knew him. He’d walk down from the Boleyn underground station to the West Ham ground and it was was wonderful as everybody knew him. Going off topic I’d have scouted for Spurs for nothing and that’s also how Bill Nicholson felt. He thought that it was an honour if you had a Tottenham shirt.
I remember taking a 15 year old Steve Perryman to a Spurs game and telling him that he would be out there at White Hart Lane one day, and he’d ask me do you think so and I said that he would. He was the hardest of workers. Anyway the end of me was the combinations. I thought that by 1968 I knew enough to be a coach and so I became one. So I thought I had to take advantage of being one so I worked in several boys clubs at the times, but at Spurs Charlie Faulkner was sort of taking over. I had a word with Bill Nicholson and said that it was very difficult for me because when I came here I took every from Dickie Walker but now Charlie’s taken over and Dickie’s lost heart and I’m in the middle of it. But Bill said that neither of them were chief scout, but I said no I don’t like it anyway at work I’d been promoted so I couldn’t get to Tottenham as much as I used to. So by 1971 I’d really had enough and so I never signed on for the next season. In 1971 we played Aston Villa in the league cup final and I could tell at that time that things weren’t going well because after that game which we won, I wasn’t on the big table with everyone but I noticed that rather than being in the main hall I was in a little alcove with Arthur Willlis and the referee of the game and I thought no, this is the end. I’m not saying that I still didn’t watch games but other things came into being. And I’ll never forget the day that Bill Nicholson resigned as I couldn’t believe it. And I couldn’t believe that Eddie Baily wasn’t given the job and instead they gave it to an Arsenal guy called Terry Neill which I thought was wrong. Then about a year after I’d left Spurs Terry Medwin was made the chief scout at Fulham and he phoned me and said that he was looking for at least one more scout and are you interested in coming. He already had George Cohen and Ted Drake as scouts but I said no as I had gone past that and I now had a family, and watching games in the pouring rain just wasn’t my thing anymore. Going back off topic again I remember Bill Nicholson telling me a funny story one time when he was back in Scarborough as a 14 year old and he had an accumulator for a radio, and he was swinging it to get it recharged but in the end he swung it against the lamppost and it got broke. When he got home his old man gave him the old belt, and as he was telling me this story he couldn’t stop laughing and he had a red face. Anyway I did meet quite a lot of young boys who did become quite famous players.
I remember one day Vic Buckingham (former left half at Spurs) was telling me this story about using psychology on players. So he was telling me about this 17 year old kid who knew everything which a lot of 17 year olds are like. Buckingham said that this particular kid drove him wild even though he was a good player. Anyway he let this 17 year old know that next year he was going to make him captain and if there was any trouble with the players it was him that I was coming for, not them. He asked him if he was ok to captain this great side and he said yes. So this kid would inform Buckingham if there was any trouble in the camp and he said from that day on he never had any trouble from this boy who, became his confidant. That kid was Johan Cruyff and the team was AJAX. So that was Vic’s story of how you use psychology on people by dangling a carrot in from of them. And a similar thing happened to Ray Wilkins at 17, a boy who I knew very well, I can remember Ray when he had lovely jet black hair.
Would you be able to tell me some interesting players who would go onto make it in the game that you recommended to Spurs?
Ronnie: I’ll tell you who I recommended through a friend of mine was Jimmy Neighbour and what happened was, that a friend of mine who I played with in the PLA ran a boys club. And he called me to tell me that I had a boy who you might be interested in who was a 14 year old winger. So I brought him down to Spurs and he signed on. I was also instrumental in Ray Evans joining Spurs and also Steve Perryman who would be the most famous one. Also another one was a guy who had moderate success called Roy Woollcott and he came down to Spurs. Others I saw and recommended to the club that went on to other clubs and became quite successful. Really there were loads who came down who I recommended but didn’t make it. Other boys who I recommended were Ray Clarke, Micky Dillon and Roger Hoy. I also said to Bill Nicholson at the time that a friend of mine who used to play in Watford had told me that we’ve got a goalkeeper who is really good. And it was me who told Nicholson and he got in touch with Watford and the next thing he’d signed him. I was a bit surprised at the time as we had Bill Brown who was a very good goalkeeper, and we also had Johnny Hollowbread but not one of them could touch Ted Ditchburn who was a goalkeeper who had great style. Anyway I’ll run through a couple of names of other players who I scouted that made it in the game who didn’t join Spurs but went on to make it elsewhere. Mick Channon was a player who I’d watched play in a game between Leyton Orient reserves and Southampton at Brisbane road which is a really quaint little ground. I can vividly remember Leslie Grade being at the game (he was one of the directors at the Orient) and there was a young boy who was maybe seven or eight who was playing soldiers on the floor. Anyway to be fair to Mick Channon the game was all Leyton Orient and the guy who stood out to me in that game was a guy called David Webb who would go onto become quite famous with Chelsea, and he was only 17. When I made my report I said that Channon to be fair had hardly had a kick but the guy who did impress me was the left back of the Orient called David Webb who was playing against a guy called Chadwick. However, the funny thing was that the boy who had been playing on the floor, his dad was trying to pump me to see if there was any chance of him becoming a director at Tottenham!
However, that little boy who was playing on the floor turned out to be Michael Grade, who you read about nowadays. Going off topic I can always remember Terry Venables asking me if Tottenham were interested in him when me and Dickie Walker had scouted him, when he was about 21. Venables asked me whether or not Bill Nicholson fancied him and to be truthful he didn’t really however, sometimes you’ve got to buy a player to bring competition to the team. He bought Venables to keep everyone happy. Once again going off topic we came very close to signing Bobby Moore to Spurs and what happened there was that in 1966 we had a scout who was also the manager for Bobby Moore. So he told me that they (Tottenham) had arranged to buy Moore in 1966 but they knew that he was having some stomach complaint because he was spending a lot of time in hospital. And this guy who was his manager said to Bobby that he’d be taking a chance because what he had at the time was cancerous (this was just before the World Cup). And so whatever happened Tottenham dropped out. However, it’s amazing to think what would have happened if we’d had signed him. Bobby was also a really nice guy. An interesting player who I took down to Spurs was Ray Wilkins but everyone was after Ray. Ray was the one who used to say that I’d got him thrown out of Spurs and he used to tell that to my daughter when she used to work for Chelsea. I used to say to him don’t do that because you were the one who wanted to sign for Chelsea because it was round the corner, and you were to lazy to come down to Tottenham. Ray was a great talker and a good footballer who played on 45 occasions for England. Another player who I scouted for Spurs was John Toshack. Me and Eddie had gone up to Cardiff to meet his mum and dad, and Toshack came down to Spurs for a trial along with a goalkeeper and a right back and a player called John Collins. However, John Toshack was due to go for a trial with Cardiff who he ended up signing for before he ended up going to Liverpool, and he had a great career. John was a nice person and although he had no pace he was a big guy. I can remember at the trial came at Cheshunt the game finished 2-2 and he scored both goals for his team, he had that knack of being in the right place at the right time, and you get people like that who have that quality.
Another player who I scouted and looked to bring to Spurs was one Sam Allardyce. What had happened there was that I had been to watch a game and I was walking over Hackney Marshes when I saw this game going on and the team were wearing white shirts and black shorts, and they weren’t Londoners. I saw this guy who was a big, tall and skinny guy with skinny legs who was telling everyone where to go and what to do. I watched him for a little while before going over and speaking to the guy on the line and he told me that the team were from West Bromwich and I said was it alright to speak to that tall skinny when he comes off, and he said that it was fine. So when he came off I said to him my name is Ronnie Clayton what’s yours? And he said Sam and I said no what’s your surname? And he said Allardyce and I said that you looked quite good so I said how would you like to come down for a trial with with Tottenham, and he couldn’t believe it. Tottenham he said, and his eyes lit up and he said that would be great. So I took down his details when this master had said to me that he might have already signed forms. So anyway about ten days before spotting Sam I was down at Leyton Orient’s ground to watch a final between East London and Harrow Boys and after the game me and the chief scout at West Ham were accused of trying to get players out of the Orient and it was in the papers the next day. And Eddie Baily said that they (us) were trying to get these boys who had already signed forms with the Orient. However, Eddie Baily said that the papers had made it up and in the end I had to explain myself to the papers, and he said that you can never believe these bloody papers. And he believed me. I can remember once that we played Queens Park Rangers with a group of 15 year old boys. And Dickie Walker who was in his 50’s decided that he was going to show the goalkeeper his positioning, now the goalkeeper who played for Dagenham wasn’t a tall guy. In the end I told Dickie off and rightly so because within ten minutes we were 3-0 down. Bill Nicholson was annoyed that we were losing to QPR but I made a bet with them that if there’s any score we’ll get as many as them, and he took me very seriously. Anyway at the end of the game he came up to me and apologised as the scores were 1-1.
However, what happened with Sam Allardyce in the end was that I had wrote a glowing report of him and written down his address and I had said in the report that he had signed for West Brom. At that time the FA were very disorganised and they didn’t send out reports so I left it at that. I was always thought however, that if Sam had come down to Spurs he would have become a more polished player because we at Spurs had style, but in the end Sam never came down to Spurs for trial and I felt guilty about that because as a 14 year old he would always have remembered about the time that he could have joined Spurs.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Ronnie: Well I was proud to belong to them and it was nice to have met the people that I’d met as they were nice to me. I never had a row with anyone at Spurs and I got on with all of the players, and not once did I ever take anything off the club unlike other scouts at other clubs.
Did you have any footballing heroes or inspirations and if so who were they?
Ronnie: Well my great player was Peter Doherty who came from Northern Ireland, and he was a wonderful player. I saw him playing for Derby County down at Spurs once, but the greatest time I saw him was down on a mud heap pitch at West Ham when they were down to nine men in a cup tie. What happened was that West Ham had a corner, somebody headed it out and Pete Doherty got on the ball and he ran on this mud heap all the way from the edge of his 18 yard box to the other goal, and he smashed the ball into the back of the net, now how many people can do that? I’d never seen anybody like him so he was my hero. My only other hero was a man who played for Real Madrid called Alfredo Di Stefano, and what a player he was.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Ronnie: Well it was Bill Nicholson I suppose because I’d never seen anyone so dedicated to football, and Tottenham Hotspur was his life. Bill lived near the ground and I knew his family personally. Even at his heights Bill Nicholson never took advantage of anyone or anything. Bill was a great Englishman and Tottenham was his first and final love.
What do you feel was your greatest contribution to Spurs as a scout?
Ronnie: Well I think having an inquiring mind and always noting everything down and always following up on players who were recommended to me. You never knew where calls were going to come from, so I’d never turn anything down.
Could you describe to me what the legendary Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily were like to work for?
Ronnie: Again with Bill Nicholson he had high standards and he wanted loyalty, which he got. You could never lie to Bill Nicholson because he always found out in the end, I remember seeing things that embarrassed him. Me and Dickie Walker went to watch a boy once who had been recommended to the club and had come up from Plymouth (a centre forward). He was picked to play in an under 15 game for England possibles against probables in Ilford. This particular game also saw Charlie George play. This game was a very ordinary one and the poor guy who had been recommended to the club was up at the game there with his dad. Anyway Dickie Walker thought that he was hopeless but I thought that to be fair he didn’t have one kick but anyhow Dickie had left us. However, I took the boy and his dad out for a meal in Stratford, east London. The father was a business man and he knew exactly what had happened and he said that Dickie had buggered off. I kind of covered for him though and said that he had to go because he had an appointment. The boy however, was disappointed because he hadn’t had a kick and off they went. Then the next day Bill Nicholson wanted to see me at Tottenham. And he said that he’s got a letter here he said. Anyway Bill had a dictaphone which allowed everyone to hear a phone call and he read this letter out to me and it read, I know that it was disgusting that Dickie Walker had just gone off like that. I know my son didn’t have much of a game but that’s no way for a club like Tottenham Hotspur to act in a case like this. Also in the letter it said that I exonerate Ron Clayton who at all times showed what the honour of Tottenham Hotspur was about. Anyway what happened was that Dickie Walker phoned in and we could hear him and he was blustering although he was a big man who was often referred to as the colonel! And Bill Nicholson wasn’t happy with him that he’d brought the club into disrepute. During the war Dickie was a parachutist and he used to jump out of planes at least three times a day during the weekends because he was a sergeant. Eddie Baily on the other hand was a great guy to work for and he was also a very jovial character.
What was Dick Walker like?
Ronnie: He was a loveable rogue who knew his football through and through, but he was a funny man who was never lost for words. Dickie never knew the name of the street but he knew the name of the pub that was on it. However, I’d never known anybody who didn’t like him. The Bobby Moore’s and Geoff Hurst’s all loved him and that says a lot.
Were any players or staff members at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Ronnie: Only Dickie Walker really and he was somebody who made my life for me. He’d take me out to all the drinking clubs of the west end and he treated me very well. I always remember one club that we were in, me, Dickie and a 21 year old Terry Venables. A little lady in the bar said that she used to sing for a guy called snake hips Johnson and he (Terry) couldn’t stop laughing and she got Terry up to sing with her. I got on well with Terry although I couldn’t show that I was too friendly with him because he took my brothers place in the Spurs team.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to make it in the game?
Ronnie: Well they’d have to be dedicated and they’d have to be very talented because the standards are so much higher today then they were in my time.
What was the great Danny Blanchflower like to know?
Ronnie: I found him to be a very serious minded bloke really, he gave me the impression that he was more of a director than a footballer because he just didn’t look like one, he always had a book under his arm. He may have had funny legs but up in his head he was also two thoughts ahead of everyone and he was a good talker. Interestingly Danny, Bill Nicholson and Bernard Joy used to meet round Danny’s house and they used to talk purely football. Joy used to play centre half for Arsenal and him and Bill Nicholson were very close. One of the funniest things that I saw once is as follows. There was a guy who used to write for the evening news called Vic Rowden and he was telling me that Spurs were playing at Everton. He asked Bill Nicholson if there was any chance of him getting a lift on the coach from the ground to Liverpool Lime Street station, so I could get on the train with you. However, Bill said that no ones allowed on the coach and that’s what he thought of reporters. As the coach pulled out Bernard Joy was in the front coach waving at Rowden!
After all these years how do you look back on your time with the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who still hold close to your heart?
Ronnie: It does. I was proud to be associated with a great club and I look upon it as a time in my life where I met so many interesting people. I can’t think of one time where I had a person that I didn’t get on with.
2 thoughts on “My interview with former Spurs scout Ronnie Clayton:”
Brilliant article. Keep up the excellent work