My interview with former Spurs player Mark Yeates:
Dubliner and former Spurs man Mark Yeates came through the academy ranks at the Lilywhites to progress into the first team where he made four appearances in total. Yeates’ Spurs debut came on the final day of the 2003/04 Premier League season against Wolverhampton Wanderers, when the then youngster helped Spurs to a 2-0 victory by assisting fellow Irishman Robbie Keane who scored the opening goal of the game. Yeates would go onto make a further three competitive appearances for Spurs’ first team as well as appearing for them in pre-season, before then leaving the club to join then League One side Colchester United, after spending the last couple of years of his time at Spurs out on loan. The skilful winger/attacking midfielder who had won three under 21 caps for the Republic of Ireland during his youth, would enjoy a successful career in the Football League playing for the likes of Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Watford and Bradford City. However, since 2017 the Tallaght born player has been plying his trade in the National League. First for Eastleigh where he once registered a phenomenal 26 goals in a season, and now at AFC Fylde where he is still going strong at the age of 35. I caught up with Yeates to discuss his time spent at Spurs and can I just it was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to do so.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Mark: Obviously just being out in your road on your estate and playing with your friends. Just around the corner from my house there was the local football pitch, and all of the lads just used to go up there and you’d have teenagers right down to kids who were seven years old, and you’d be playing a game of Wembley or two v two, so they’d probably be my earliest memories. Also the club that I started with is a club that my grandfather and my father were involved in and my grandfather still is, which is a club called Greenhills Boys which is where I started my football at.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Mark: My earliest memories would have been when I was at Cherry Orchard which is probably the best schoolboy set up back in Ireland (I’m probably being biased) especially at that time, a lot of the lads in our side ended up moving away. A really close friend of mine called Willo Flood who had a decent career and me were in the same side at Cherry Orchard, but anyway a Tottenham scout called Terry Arber came over and he basically did a two day coaching session with our youth set ups. And a week later a phone call was put in (I’d been on trial a with a few clubs already being in the Ireland youth set up) and me, Willo and Stephen Quinn were invited over to come and have a trial at Spurs so that would be my earliest memory. However, it’s quite funny because after coming over for our trial we stayed in a lady’s house in Enfield somewhere, anyway Willo went to the toilet in the house on the first night and whatever he’d done he’d flushed the chain, and he ended up flooding the whole house before we’d even kicked a ball, and we’d ended up ruining someone’s bathroom, upstairs and landing. So the next day when we came to Spurs we met John Moncur and people like that and they were saying that we were the three Irish lads who’d just ruined one of our digs, and we were like oh my god this isn’t going to go well. Anyway we went into a youth team game soon afterwards, we were 15 at the time so it might have been in the under 19’s or under 17’s mixed together. So we got thrown in and got told that were going to do 15 minutes each sort of thing, and we were three small and slight lads but coming from quite tough estates we had a little bit about us and I think that a few of the lads didn’t expect it, but we were flying into challenges and giving a bit of lip. So I suppose I sort of made a good impression on the youth team coaches that were there.
Two days after we had flown back to Ireland I had a phone call from the club saying that they’d love to sign me. I’d been on trial at a few clubs but I think that the way that Tottenham made me feel straight away and the faith that they put in me made me jump at the opportunity to sign for them.
It must have been tough making that transition from life in Dublin to the big smoke in London. How did you find it and was it difficult to adjust?
Mark: Dublin I suppose is the big city back in Ireland and it’s probably as close to being used to growing up in a London situation I suppose, but nothing can sort of ready you for moving to London when you’re just an Irish lad coming across. Plus for myself in my first couple of years at Spurs I had some tough moments away from football, I lost my father when I was around 18 when I’d only been in the youth set up for a year and he had passed away after having an accident, so that was really tough for me however, the club were really good from top to bottom. David Pleat, Glen Hoddle, John Gorman who was Glen’s assistant at the time and John Moncur who had a little soft spot for me when he used to come down and watch the youth team. Going back to life in London, it was tough, I’d moved into digs with an Italian family in South Woodford who were a lovely family. Actually their son was a little bit mad because he was a big drum and base DJ, so he had his studio in the front room of the house and there was two of or three of us Spurs youth team players in the house, and it used to be as noisy as anything, so it probably wouldn’t be the sort of digs that they’d stick lads into now however, they were a lovely family. I then ended up moving to a different family in Chigwell who I’m still quite close to. Mark Hughes who was in the youth team is married to one of the daughters Carly and that family were brilliant, it was also closer to the Tottenham training ground and I was in the house with other Spurs lads who I was close to. You recently did an interview with Fozzy (Danny Foster) and he was probably my closest mate coming through the youth set up, especially coming from our side.
I don’t think that I ever knew what garage music was before I moved to London but Fozzy used to do a bit of DJing on the side, and I think that I was the only Irish fella to give a go at MCing and stuff like that, so it was brilliant. I settled in really well to life in London and I love the city because it’s an unbelievable place and I’ve still got loads of mates who live there. So realistically from my time at Colchester and Watford, and from when I’d bought my first place when I was at Tottenham when I was in Buckhurst Hill, I did probably most of my growing up and living down in that part of the world, so I have loads of fond memories of London.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Mark: Like I said it was an unbelievable chance to move over and sign for such a good club, and when I was in the youth team I suppose that they knew that I had ability but I was always quite slight and small so there was obviously things to work on. And with my father passing away that was a tough little spell for me but the club were brilliant and while I had thoughts of just jacking it in, in the end I said to myself I’m playing for Tottenham Hotspur here and what a chance this is, I don’t want to be back on an estate in Dublin where I could end up going down any path. So actually after all that happened it was mad because I was in the youth set up where I was a decent player but I wasn’t the one that they were saying that he was going to go all the way. However, after that happened to my dad, at the end of that season I sort of started being involved and training with the first team, and I ended up getting on the bench for the last game of the season away to Middlesbrough when we had a horrendous result and got battered. Then the season after I went out on loan to Brighton which was unbelievable for me because I sort of learnt my trade there. Then at the end of that season like you mentioned to me the other day that I made my full debut 16 years ago to the day against Wolves. So my time at Tottenham was unbelievable, getting experience and learning my trade was as I say was unbelievable. When I first went to Spurs you had Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham and Tim Sherwood who were proper men who you were a bit in awe of. However, after you get used to being at Spurs and you’re in and around the place and have got your bearings it’s all great. So then luckily enough I started to train with the first team at a decent age and really being involved quite a bit as well as being a regular with the reserves group with Colin Calderwood and Chris Hughton at the time. I’ve just got so many unbelievable things to say when I look back now and I can only say so many good things about Spurs because it sort of built me and gave me so much. What a club!
Could you talk me through your competitive debut for Spurs against Wolverhampton Wanderers on the 15th of May 2004, and how it came about?
Mark: Like I said I’d been on loan at Brighton for the first half of that season and it had gone pretty well. I predominantly always liked playing as a second striker but a lot of managers used to play me off the left so I would come in on my right foot and stuff like that. So I went down to Brighton and after one game Mark McGhee called me in and he put me in central midfield for the whole spell that I was there, so that was brilliant. Then Tottenham called me back and for the second half of the season I pretty much I trained as part of the first team group and I was on the bench quite a few times, and I was probably unlucky not to get my go a bit earlier to be honest, but the season was a bit of an up and down one I think. Anyway I was training and I think that it would have been on the Friday and I was down there training whatever, and then the bibs started being handed out and if I remember rightly it was Stephen Carr and Robbie Keane who was from the same estate as me in Dublin who said I think that they’re going to give you a start tomorrow. So I was obviously a bit shocked and a bit nervous as you would be as a young lad, so obviously I rang the family and rang my grandad who I still now am always on the blower to on a Friday before my game when we’ll have a chat about stuff. However, yeah obviously it was a really proud and emotional moment for me after a mad couple of years on and off the pitch, but for the club to see potential in me and want to give me my Premiership debut is probably what academies are all about where you want to see the lads that you’re nurturing given a chance. So obviously Stephen Kelly and Johnnie Jackson had been given quite a few opportunities so we sort of knew that there was a pathway at Spurs. The game and the day itself went really well and it was a great day even though I can only remember parts of it. To play with the likes of Jamie Redknapp and others was just a proud moment for me as well as getting an assist on my debut for Spurs.
Could you describe to me what it was like to play for Spurs at the highest level?
Mark: I suppose looking back I had a decent reputation at the club and I always did well for the reserves and stuff like that. I probably chose to go out loan more than sticking around most of the time because I just wanted to go out and play mens football after getting a taste of it so young. So playing on a Monday night in the reverses knowing that you’re probably not going to get a sniff of playing for the first team on Saturday, that sort of didn’t do enough for me. And that’s why ended up going out on loan quite so often, quite a few times especially when Martin Jol was in charge and he was very fond of me and liked me with him being Dutch and the technical side of stuff, he took a shine to me and he did give me some run outs but I think that at that spell he probably could have given me a lot more. Because I thought that I was doing well enough in the reserves and the games that I was playing in, so he could probably have given me a few more games. So that’s the only thing that when I look back on I think that it’s a pity that I didn’t get more run outs because at the time I was in and around stuff but every six months the transfer window would come along and the club would want to progress that much more, that they’d want to bring in two of three players to go into the first team set up and two or three to go into the reserves. We had such a big squad of reserve players that it was crazy let alone the first team. So I went down and chose a different pathway a few times, I went to Colchester which was unbelievable and we got promoted from League One and had a brilliant FA Cup run, and I was only 20 and I played 50 odd games that year which you just don’t get in a reserve league. I came back again at Spurs and Martin Jol was really, really happy with how I’d down and he was all for wanting to keep me and give me a new deal, and I ended up going on a season long loan to Hull City. Which in hindsight having just come back from a shoulder injury I probably should have stuck around at Spurs and seen what happened that season at Tottenham because Martin Jol wasn’t very keen on me going.
I ended up coming back early from that loan at Hull and I was back around Spurs in the January time and Martin Jol had said don’t go anywhere because I want you to stay. However, in the last few months of the January transfer window Leicester City came in for me and offered me a half season loan for the second half of that season, and after weighing it all up I decided to go there. So maybe if I’d have stuck around and not gone out on several loans I might have made more appearances for Spurs, but all in all Spurs was an unbelievable football club where I did so much growing up. However, it does kill me a little bit that I didn’t play for them a little bit more, but the names and characters that your trying to get in ahead of makes it very hard for you and at the end of the day managers have to hit certain goals, whether that be trying to get into Europe or into the top six etc. So I’ve got no regrets about anything but I suppose going back could I have done things a little bit different myself such as getting myself in the gym which I wasn’t the best at and stuff like that. So I’ve got to look at myself on certain things like that as well as liking a bit of fun with the lads such as a night out, so I’ve got to look at myself in that sense too but about the football club in general and all of the people that were there from Jimmy Neighbour to Pat Holland and John Moncur, Glen Hoddle and Chris Hughton they were just great.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Mark: I probably wasn’t old enough to see enough of him but growing up Maradona was great to watch. Also my father was a good footballer himself and he played League Of Ireland and he was a tricky player. My father was actually a Chelsea fan so for me to play at Watford under Gianfranco Zola was unbelievable. So players like that and Dennis Bergkamp and at Tottenham Robbie Keane and Teddy Sheringham and also at Colchester with Teddy, they were all proper technical footballers. So number ten sort of players were the players that I sort of looked to. Funnily enough people used to give me a little bit of banter because I used to have a little bit of weight on me and on my face so at Spurs they used to call me baby Gazza, and I remember Martin Jol said it after a game that I reminded him of Gazza, which to be fair was probably more how I looked, and then Clive Allen said to me you can’t be getting compared to him because he is a hero here, so he put me in my place on that one. So I didn’t have one sort of player who I would call my footballing hero or inspiration but the sort of number ten ilk of a player was what I looked at. However, growing up my father was massive in my football and I used to watch him growing up and without sounding a bit funny he was actually a super footballer who had a lot about him, so as a young kid you’re sort of a bit biased towards that.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were at Spurs and what positions you played in during your time there?
Mark: I was always sort of seen myself as a withdrawn striker/a number ten and that’s where I’ve always believed is my best position, and that’s where I started off at Tottenham. I only started getting pushed out to the left wing because I was quite good with both feet and I could drop my shoulder, and although I was never rapidly quick or anything like that I had decent feet. Then when I went into men’s football it was all 4-4-2 back then and to be honest we actually used to play 3-5-2 in the FA Youth Cup at Spurs because that’s what Glen Hoddle was playing at the time at Tottenham, and I used to play as a number ten in the three in midfield, behind the two strikers. I also played in that position at Watford and at Eastleigh where I was last season so that brought back good memories for me. However, going through my career and people saying that you were that winger I sort of say to myself that I wouldn’t have pigeonholed myself as that. As I didn’t think of myself as a head down get to the byline and cut a ball back sort of player. Obviously when I was at Tottenham there were players like Aaron Lennon and Wayne Routledge who to me they were wingers who were really quick and could zoom past people. Whereas I was the sort of player who would drop my shoulder and jink inside, and I liked doing that from a central place as I liked slipping passes. So for me I would always say that I was a number ten or central player but as I went through my career I spent about 70% of my time playing as a wide player for other gaffers teams, and then when I was out there I used to get hammered because I was terrible at tracking back.
How difficult was it for a young Spurs player like yourself to break into the first team back then?
Mark: I think for any youth team player now it’s tough and despite the money spent on academies you don’t see bucket loads of these lads coming through. It was probably the same back then to be honest and back when I was at Tottenham it was a team full of men if I could put it that way as it had a lot of experienced professionals such as Gus Poyet and people like that, who were central to the teams and the managers liked trusting them. All of those players by the way were unbelievable top players anyway but that was sort of the way the team was built back then, so as a young lad you had to obviously impress. If you didn’t train well it wasn’t the manager who told you not to come back, you’d have five or six first team players who would be able to say that he wasn’t ready to be up here. Luckily enough I had a decent relationship with them and they probably just thought that I had one of them cheeky ways about me that the first team lads all took to me. However, as I say it was tough and as I look back I made four or five appearances for Tottenham and I think really over a whole spell at the club that I should have got to double figures, as my performances in the reserves in spells where I was scoring in the reserves and where I was scoring every week or doing really well and then be pulled in and told that I might get some first team minutes on the pitch at the weekend, but then it wouldn’t happen. However, Johnnie Jackson got into the side and became a bit of a regular for some time, me and Johnnie are really close and still speak all of the time. Then you also had Dean Marney who got his bit of a chance as well as Phil Ifil who got a few games, so there was lads who were given opportunities but I don’t think that any of them really became full on established players in the first team apart from maybe Johnnie Jackson who got quite a good run and also Rohan Ricketts who signed as a bit of an older lad.
So it was very tough and as a young lad coming over from Ireland you dream regularly of playing in the Premiership but sometimes that just doesn’t happen for whatever reason. I was at Spurs through four or five managers including Jacques Santini who was there for a short spell, but who had no interest in anything to do with the youth set up, so you’d go through different spells with different managers. However, there was such a strong group of strong senior professionals at the club who were very established and it was hard to move them. Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe were unbelievable up front and then you had the likes of Ledley King so there was just unbelievable people and players at that club that it was very hard for young players and people at that club to get in and get a decent go at it. Since I’ve left Spurs there’s been a few more who have broken through, I think there was a spell when Harry Kane, Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend came through, so that was a decent group at one stage. However, you can’t really think of loads coming through that set up, especially not when I was there.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Mark: When I first came over on that trial period the Spurs side included David Ginola and what a player he was. However, when I actually joined and was in the youth set up everyday there was the likes of Tim Sherwood, Teddy Sheringham, Stephen Carr and Gus Poyet and people like that. Then when I started going up and training with them there was Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Keane, Ledley King and Christian Ziege who were full internationals and top, top professionals and they all had different influences on everyone. Obviously Robbie Keane being an Irish lad and being from the estate as me and knowing each other’s families. I was actually Robbie’s boot boy for a good while at Spurs, so he was a good lad with me. Then we signed Andy Reid, me and him are still very close and still speak, and our families are friends, so there was loads of different influences for different reasons. Like I said with what happened to my dad Pat Holland was just super with me and he’d gone through some similar things when he was a lad. Also John Moncur was somebody who took to me and looked out for me as I sort of rubbed off on him. However, listen you take bits of advice off of all these people but ultimately it’s down to yourself.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Mark: I think when I was there I would have fell into the category of a Robbie Keane type player even though I stuck out a bit wider than what he would of. However, looking at players day to day you’d have to look at players who you might be similar to with there movements or what they do. During finishing sessions you’d watch how Jermain Defoe who was probably the best finisher at the club strike a ball with both feet. You’d try and take bits from every player for example Gus Poyet’s professionalism and how he played at the top for so long. I also look back at my second season at Watford when Gianfranco Zola came in and I had my first sort of trial. I started getting my head down and realising how you should train everyday and how you should do it. As I said I was a bit of a cheeky lad and I was always one of them who sort of just relied on my ability and didn’t track back. I thought that I was in the team to bend the ball over the wall sort of thing and we’d win 1-0 so what else matters, so when you’re young you have that sort of attitude but when you get older you sort of say yeah you can see why these lads were top professionals for so long. So those were the things that you wish that you’d have taken and instilled in yourself a little earlier in your career.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Mark: I think my time had definitely come to an end, I had a year left at the club but I had, had two loan spells at one season that I had spoken about when I wasn’t fit with my shoulder and I’d went to Hull, and then the manager was sacked like two and a half months in. Then I went to Leicester and scored on my debut with my first touch and we ended up going on a good run in my first few games and got ourselves out of the relegation zone so it was a good loan spell, but then again they were a club who were in transition and while I was only on loan there for five months I had three different managers. So I came back to Tottenham and Martin Jol was in charge, and we used to have chats and he’d give me a bit of stick because he thought that I was a lively lad so he used to say to me to stay out of those bars and clubs. Me and Martin had a good relationship but I was at an age where at 20/21 every season he sort of brought in different forwards and different attacking midfielders, and I was saying I’ve got a year on my deal here and if I come back for pre-season I’m going to be well down the pecking order. I might play in a few pre-season games but ultimately I’m not going to get a go in the first team set up once the Premiership gets up and running. So I didn’t sort of feel that that was going to be the case for me, so I weighed everything up. I’d been at Colchester and I’d been up to Hull on loan and it was the first time that I’d been up north but being honest I hadn’t settled up there as I’d done all my growing in London. So in the end I decided to go to to Colchester who were in the Championship at the time and so I signed as I knew the club and the people. Teddy Sheringham signed a couple of weeks later and so I’d signed a three year deal there. On a personal level it was a brilliant move for me in the sense that I think that I got eight or nine goals in the first half of the season, and we weren’t one of the better sides in the league, we were one of the smaller clubs. However, personally I was doing well and getting my reputation back after the year before that had gone a little bit up and down for me.
However, I dislocated my shoulder again and so I ended up missing the second half of that season and unfortunately we just didn’t have enough to stay up. Crystal Palace came in for me right after the season ended and I agreed to move there and so I went there and done the medical etc and it was a week or so later that they called me and told me that my shoulder wasn’t right. So they wanted me to go on a programme for the rest of the summer to come back for pre-season before finalising the deal, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen so I stayed at Colchester for another season. In that season I probably had my best output for goals and had a great season in League One, but I felt that I was definitely not a League One player you know and at a minimum I felt that I was a Championship player. Luckily enough then Gareth Southgate came in and bought me at Middlesbrough, and I mean what a club with unbelievable facilities. For me to come from Colchester to go to a club that had been a Premiership side for a long time made it a massive move for me. I think that I got in the side and played pretty regularly all the way up until the club ended up parting ways with Gareth which for me was just terrible to be fair. If I go through my whole career it’s been the case that I’ve been unlucky that the managers who have brought me to clubs for whatever reason hadn’t lasted as long as they should have. Gordon Strachan came in and he wanted to do his own thing, and he brought in a load of boys from Scotland and a few of the lads that Gareth had brought in had moved on pretty quickly. I signed a three year deal at Middlesbrough and bought a house up there so I ended up turning around and speaking to the manager who’d didn’t want me to go. However, by the time the summer had come round he’d probably have signed another seven or eight boys up in Scotland which would have been pointless. So I ended up moving onto Sheffield United who are a huge club and we just missed out on the play offs in the Championship, finishing seventh that season. Kevin Blackwell left and Gary Speed took over, and it was under Speedo that I had my best ever spell.
He was just an unbelievable man and going back to when I was at Tottenham as a young lad he was the prime example of the player you should aspire to be like. He had faith in me and I had a really good spell under him but he ended up going and taking the Wales job and Micky Adams came in and he was a bit of an old school manager who wanted physical players to head and kick it. In the end I didn’t play enough and so they went down which I believe was unfortunate as to this day I believe if he’d have used the likes of myself and Leon Britton we would have stayed up. I then ended up leaving the club and joining Watford which for me was a no brainer as I still owned a house down in Buckhurst Hill and I still had really close ties to the London/Essex area. So I signed for Sean Dyche and all in all when I look back him and Zola used me in two completely different ways. Dyche played 4-4-2 and I played on the right for him which was something I didn’t always like being a technical player. Anyway he ended up moving on because the club had new owners the Pozzo family and they put Zola in charge, and for that year it was just unbelievable on and off the pitch. He was actually the one who after a few games in pre-season pulled me aside and said that you’re not a wide player I don’t know why people have been playing you there. And I said that I’ve always believed that myself but you play where your picked. So I think that I made 33 appearances for Watford that season, playing in a three in midfield. The football that that Watford side played was unbelievable and to be honest I don’t think that there has been many Championship sides who have played that sort of football, and we should have won the league. In the end we just didn’t end up turning up for the play off final which was unfortunate being beaten in extra time that day. That year was just superb though and I loved everything about it but inevitably I knew that with these owners who owned Udinese and Granada were just filtering players in. So I probably did well enough to play as much as I did and I had to prove that I was good enough to play over these players who they’d brought in from Udinese.
My next move was to link up with an old manager Phil Parkinson who I’d been at at Colchester and he took me to Hull who’d just won League Two and had plans to go straight up to the Championship. I ended up having a great start there and scoring on my debut and the fans took to me however, I ended up picking a shoulder injury again and I ended up having to strap myself up for training every day and in the end I wasn’t showing my full potential I suppose. However, in my second season there I got myself fully fit and right and I ended playing number ten in the team regularly and chipping in with goals and going on a great cup run where I scored against Chelsea, so everything was going great. However, this shoulder which has been a bit of a killer for me throughout my career went again against Doncaster and that was sort of the end of my time there. Since leaving Hull it’s been a bit up and down, I was on a short term deal at Oldham which went alright before then deciding to go to Blackpool because of a longer contract which was put in front of me which I don’t regret, as I’ve been living around the St Annes area now for five years and my children have grown up here and are at school and it’s a great area to raise a family in. However, the football side in the last four years has really been a rollercoaster of up and downs. After helping to keep Notts County up I decided to drop out of the Football League and join Eastleigh who came in for me as well as a couple of other non league clubs. I was contemplating it and also maybe going back to Ireland to sign for Shamrock Rovers, but I spoke to an ex teammate of mine called Paul Reid at Eastleigh who said that they were going to sign six or seven lads out of the Football League and have a real real go at winning the National League, so I decided to go down there. The first season was a bit up and down and then in the second season we got beaten on penalties in the semi final of the play offs. I really enjoyed my time there and I don’t think that there’s really any difference between playing in the National League and League Two because the level is very similar.
Then last summer I ended up signing for AFC Fylde which is right on my doorstep and is a lovely little football club with all of the right facilities and things needed to go forward. However, we’ve ended up having a funny season down near the bottom of the league which I don’t think that anybody expected, but I’m still loving every minute of it, and I still feel fit and more than capable. Having not done many of these reflective things it’s been a crazy old career and I wouldn’t change anything.
What has been the greatest moment of your footballing career thus far?
Mark: I suppose that there’s certain stand outs at different clubs, obviously being a youth team player at Tottenham and making my Premiership debut there is one. Also the goal against Chelsea for Bradford in the FA Cup, and for moments and goals that is probably the one. That goal sort of showed what type of player I was and am because that was a proper footballing goal, which brings a smile to my face when people mention it. Also being at Colchester which is a football club that I love and had great times at, also being promoted from League One to the Championship with them was an unbelievable achievement. This sort of sums me up but during our second last game of the season against Rotherham we needed to win and I ended up scoring the winner and doing a celebration, and I landed and dislocated my shoulder for the first time there, so that was a bittersweet moment. Another great moment was playing for the Ireland B squad and I suppose that the one thing that I was missing was being capped for my country at senior level, especially when I was playing well in the Championship for that five year period however, that just didn’t happen. However, they would be the moments really, there’s no one stand out.
Who has been the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Mark: I suppose when I look at that Spurs team which I made my debut in where you had Ledley King, Robbie Keane and Jamie Redknapp who was a great player. However, the greatest one of all is a tough question but I think that when I came on for Martin Jol against Chelsea when I think they beat us 2-0 at White Hart Lane I thought that Arjen Robben was unbelievable at his time at that club. I think that when I came on that day I actually ran straight on the pitch and put one on him and got booked, so he would be the greatest. However, it’s a tough question because I suppose I was so young at Tottenham whereas there were lads who I spent seasons with who although not in those brackets were great players. Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra at Watford were probably the best front two that I ever played with. Also Iwelumo and Cureton were brilliant when I was at Colchester but it’s difficult to just pigeonhole one player, but I suppose when I was at Tottenham as a young lad and I’m going to put myself in my 18/19 year old shoes and say Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Keane and say that they were the two players that I looked up to the most. Robbie being a local lad in Ireland and Teddy being the legend that he is and the top man that he is (I was actually close to signing for him when he was Stevenage manager). Probably now looking back it would have been the right thing to do, but having family I decided to stick it up north. The players I’ve mentioned are all players who you can be proud of to have played with and it’s just so hard to pick one to be honest.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team/reserves?
Mark: There’s so many and some of them would probably get you in trouble if you printed them on a piece of paper. Every day was just unbelievable, you just imagine going into a dressing room for work and kicking a ball and just having banter and craic, it was just nonstop every day but there are quite a few things in my mind which stand out. If I can remember rightly there used to be some of the lads in digs who were London or Essex lads and there was a lad called Nicky Wettner who was a proper tough lad. I think that he loved a tear up more than football to be honest, I think that he said that he was going to arrange a boxing tournament for all the digs lads on Buckhurst Hill near the high street. So when all the people who lived in the digs had gone out for the day, he had set up his own boxing ring and got mitts and boxing gloves for each lad and a weights class for each bloke to fight each other. So we’d had this full on boxing tournament as youth players and I mean we were proper punching the heads of each other when all of sudden we see this car come down the road. And we see this guy whose beeping and horning and screaming, and we’re just thinking that it was somebody going past thinking what’s going on in that garden. However, it ended up being the youth team manager and there’s like two of us in a thorn bush on top of each other. So we all ended up getting pulled in the next day and it was like what are you playing at kind of thing. There were so many silly things and pranks etc, and when I’d first gone over there as a young Irish boy getting used to the London lingo and banter, and the older lads from the youth team used to pull the younger lads into the changing room and they’d have a whole lot of DP and they’d knock the light off and just attack you with it. So it was just silly stuff like that just what makes football clubs with the banter and camaraderie. Fans just see 90 minutes of us on a pitch, but for a week it’s obviously hard work and dedication and ups and downs and stuff like that however, there’s also the fun elements too.
Obviously Fozzy and Johnnie Jackson are still really close pals of mine so you make friends for life. So Tottenham was where I had my upbringing and it made me stronger, but analysing my time there from the the time that I left, I went through quite a lot. From leaving home and moving in with a family that you don’t know to losing your father and then coming back and trying to get your head down it’s tough. Then a year down the line making your Premiership debut, there was a lot in there as well as making my senior debut for Brighton against men. So that five or six years that I spent with Spurs was life changing in every single way so I’ll always have loads of fond memories and loads to talk about because it’s such an unbelievable football club where so many good things happened to me there. In our youth team which was really good at that time we won our regional league a couple of times and we were unlucky in the FA Youth Cup where we probably should have gone further. I can remember Middlesbrough beating us late in one cup game and that really killed the lads and I can remember the bus journey back. I can also remember the likes of Teddy Sheringham and Ledley King in the crowd and wanting to impress them, but footballs completely changed now and is different as the academies are so big whereas in my day the set up was a lot tighter and smaller and Chigwell wasn’t the biggest of training grounds. We also had coaches who were proper old school such as Jimmy Neighbour, Pat Holland and Colin Calderwood who was our reserves manager, and they were all proper characters. I have such great memories of that place but as I said before it’s just a pity that I didn’t make more appearances for the first team. However, coming through and so on I must ask myself did I do everything right and what’s expected but I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve played at some unbelievable football clubs and I’m still playing and I feel fit, but that all started from coming over to Tottenham and doing my schooling there.
Who is the toughest player that you have ever come up against?
Mark: My captain at Sheffield United was Chris Morgan and he was tough and somebody who if you went near him in training you’d get booted up in the air, he was just a proper old school centre half who took no prisoners. For my toughest fullbacks I suppose there’s not one that stands out having played in the Championship that I didn’t get a sniff out of. However, to train with and as a proper tough man Chris Morgan stands out as a typical northern centre half.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Mark: Like I said in the youth team coming through me and Danny Foster just clicked. We were from similar sort of backgrounds and had grown up on an estate and in a working class area. I got really close with Fozzy’s dad Steve and still am close with him, but yeah me and Danny just sort of had the same banter and he kind of took me under his wing a little bit. Danny was the boy at the start in our youth team, he was our centre half and captain and was in the England youth team and were still close to this day. He also introduced me to garage music and he’s got a few tapes of me MCing which I don’t think should ever get shown. Another player who I was close to was Nicky Wettner in that age group and he was very protective of me. Once I’d moved up to the first team/reserves I got really close with Johnnie Jackson and were still tight to this day and obviously being at Colchester together, and he’s also a legend at Charlton. Dean Marney was another player who I was close with and who I was at Hull with, so I’m lucky enough to still be in touch with a few lads from that set up as well as Mark Hughes. So you’ll always have that bond in football even if you don’t speak in years and years and years you can just pick up a phone and put a text out on the WhatsApp and it feels like it was yesterday that we were together. Obviously then going into the first team set up the Irish lads Robbie Keane and Stephen Carr and Stephen Kelly always kept an eye out for and were fond of me. I also got on well with Sean Davis as well as Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone who I still see when I can and have been on holiday with together. Also Andy Reid was another one who I was close with and when I was at Notts County I used to stay at his house. So there’s still people from my days at Spurs that I’m still in loads of contact with and hopefully will be for a long, long time.
What was former Spurs great Robbie Keane like to play and train with?
Mark: I’ve mentioned Keano loads in this interview but being an Irish lad he is a superstar and I don’t think that he gets the credit enough. For somebody to do the stuff that he did when he was so young and the fact that he is one of Tottenham’s greatest forwards and did plenty of off the cuff stuff which comes from playing on your estate against the older lads gets stuck in you, so watching Keano and then training and playing with him was just unbelievable. Watching back my assist for his goal against Wolves it’s just a pity that I didn’t get a chance to play with him a bit more and maybe do that a bit more. Look he had a soft spot for me when I was at Spurs and we’re not too far in age, and we also have family who are friends so we sort of knew of each other when he was first on our books. Then I was on his boots and he was the Ireland number ten star forward when I was in the Ireland under 19/21 set up. There’ll always be comparisons between us, Jamie Redknapp used to call me little Keano which I don’t think that Robbie liked to be fair. Robbie was just a top, top player and being a youth team player you used to have to to watch, and there were so many games that standout such as when he hit a shot with the outside if his boot that flew into the top right hand corner of the goal against Everton, and we used to see that in training every day. The man played for Inter Milan and he’s our country’s highest scorer, and he did it all really through his career, so I think that people need to give him the full, full respect. He was a player who had that fight in him and being from an estate that has drugs, joy riding and all that going on it’s been bred into you to have that fight about you. So I can only say top things about Keano and we’re always going to be linked in a way because we were at Spurs at the same time and we are from the same area.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Mark: I’ve been asked this when I’ve done some interviews before, you know advice I suppose is one of those things, I could say do this and do that but I don’t think that’s right. I think that people have got to learn things for themselves and as I’ve got older I believe that every day that you train, that you should train to your maximum and enjoy it and embrace it. What a job that your doing and I think that you need to have a winning mentality I think, the youth set ups now are about learning and development and you have to develop as that’s normal, but I think that you have to push yourself to be the best, and if the best isn’t good enough then you’re at a level where you’re up there with them. I think that it’s so hard now for young boys to break into Premiership set ups and teams, you’ve got to be outstanding really in every way. In your fitness, in your ability and in your mental side of things. However, if your at a Premiership club and you’re doing everything right and you do drop down then you’ve got all these good traits inside of you. If I could go back and with all of the natural ability that I had and the way that the club perceived me, and I’d have just worked a bit harder in the gym and on my diet (I still eat horrendously and drink bottles of coke and eat bags of crisps which I definitely wouldn’t advice!) so to get the best out of you, you’ve got to do what these guys are telling you and maybe say to people you know with the gym stuff don’t look at it as a chore. And when you’re on the football pitch show what your about and stick your chest out and believe in your own ability, and take on board what the people are trying to help you are saying. When I was at Tottenham one of the people who I used to think was always on me was Martin Jol even though I knew that he liked me. I remember Michael Carrick one day telling me that the day he stops screaming and shouting at you is the day that you start worrying, because he’s come to the end of his tether with you.
I used to let his attitude and him needing everything to be perfect something that would get to me and that’s probably why I didn’t get the run outs with the first team that I probably deserved. I’ve got loads of funny stories with Martin where he’s not been happy with me but ultimately he had a soft spot for me and had a lot of time for me. One funny story which I’ll tell you is when I was on loan at Colchester and I ended up popping out for a couple of drinks one night, I was at the bar or whatever and the media lad whose still there at Tottenham now, he came over to me and said Yeatesy there’s someone I want you to come over to and say hello. So I said yeah alright and an hour later when I’d had a couple of drinks on me and he said I want you to meet this guy who was a big tall guy. So he said in a Dutch accent how are you Mark and I was thinking where is he from and then the media guy said it was Martin’s brother, and I was thinking oh my god I don’t need to be in this situation. Then the next day when I was on my way to training down to Colchester and it was Keano who was on the phone, and he said what were you up to last night? I was out for a couple of drinks for a friends birthday and Keano replied well Martin’s not happy, so I’m thinking oh no! So he used to be on my case for things like that but like I say I’ve got so many good memories of Tottenham and funny stories, which I can take with me for the rest of my life so I’m very blessed that I got to spend my time at that football club.
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?
Mark: Like I said I’ve got so many good memories from that football club, good and bad and things that put me in good stead going forward in my life, but the memories I have are ones that I’ll cherish for ever. Ultimately every young lad has a dream of wanting to play in the Premiership or getting to the FA Cup final or whatever it may be. When I first joined Tottenham my goal was to get into the first team and play a game in the Premiership. Luckily enough I played a few games for the club and I also had things that went on outside of football that had to make me stronger and that put me in a good space and to stay strong for my family. So there’s just so many things about that football club that have linked into my life, especially my early life. For a young lad at 15/16 to move away from home it’s basically the start of your learning, and I did all my teenage years and early 20’s at Spurs as a young lad who was on my own with no family. So I’ve only got super memories of my time there, and when I meet up with former teammates such as Gus Poyet or Teddy Sheringham they all say complimentary things about me. So there’s just so many lads from that club that I’ve got friendships with. It’s a super place and I was privileged to play there.