My interview with former Spurs player Danny Foster:
I caught up with former Spurs man Danny Foster on Thursday to discuss his ten year spell at Spurs from the age of ten to 20. As a schoolboy, youth team player and as a reserve team player. Foster who operated primarily as a central defender, would later go onto play for Dagenham & Redbridge, Brentford and Wycombe Wanderers before being forced to retire from the game at the age of 28 due to suffering a serious knee injury. Foster has since taken the step into coaching and he was most recently the assistant manager of Isthmian League Premier Division club Wingate & Finchley. A big thank you must go to Danny for taking the time to speak with me about his time at the Lilywhites and his footballing career in general.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Danny: My earliest footballing memories would have been probably playing out in the front in the road with friends and next door neighbours who lived nearby. We just used to get a ball and play in the street as there wasn’t so much traffic and cars back then, so you could play sometimes for an hour and not see a car drive past.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Danny: I joined the club when I was ten and I was picked up by a scout called Terry Adambar, and I caught his eye playing for my local club which was Brimsdown Rovers in Enfield. I then got invited down for a trial and back then we were training at White Hart Lane at the ground in the old ball court, and I went down for a trial and it sort of went from there. I remember that we would train in the ball court for about an hour in the under 10’s under a coach called Johnny Martin and after that hours training you would get your one pound expenses and a cup of tea and a custard cream on your way out.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Danny: It was amazing to be fair, it’s a great club and being a local boy who was born and bred in Enfield which is predominantly a Spurs area. They were just great days and being at Spurs for ten years in total from under 10’s right the way through, so I experienced all parts of the club from when it was centre of excellence as I’ve just described, to when the academies started coming in and the academy was first built. Also moving over to Chigwell and being part of all of that, it was just great and I have such fond memories. They’re a great club to have been affiliated with and learnt your trade with, and also made some good friends with some of the really great people who were at the club, so I’ve only got good things to say about the club.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Danny: When I was growing up you had Gazza who was a big name so he was somebody that you’d always look up to and aspire to be like during the early days being a young player. However, as I got a little bit older and you start moving up you start looking at who is playing in the first team then and people like Ledley King who were coming through. I can remember going down and watching the games at White Hart Lane and David Ginola was the man of the moment, he literally was unplayable on his day on the left wing. The tickets we used to get were right down at the front in the stand which I can’t remember the name of, but you literally had Ginola for 45 minutes standing right in front of you and he was just great to watch, but you had so many great players back then at Spurs.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in for Spurs during your time there?
Danny: I was always predominantly a central defender during my time at Spurs and I was quite a big lad in the early years although it did level off in later later years. However, naturally I was a centre half although I did play a bit at fullback as well, but I was predominantly a centre half and I was very comfortable on the ball obviously coming through the academy at Spurs where we did a lot of technical stuff. So I was probably a ball playing centre half, so that is probably the best way of describing me.
How difficult would it have been for a young Spurs player like yourself to break into the first team back in the 2000’s?
Danny: It was difficult and for any youngster coming through in the Premier League the statistics don’t lie. To make that transition from youth team to reserves and then to first team football is tough, it’s one of those things where you need to be going and getting experience out on loan as a young player. A loan move I believe is key for a young player to go and experience first team football where you are playing for points and where there’s a lot more for stake. Youth team football and reserve football is more of a development type game whereas first team football ultimately has a lot more at stake. Ultimately the lads at Spurs who progressed and done well were probably the ones who had loan experience and had successful loan moves. I was unfortunate enough that I didn’t get that opportunity which undoubtedly would have benefited me and my progression at Spurs. However, things just didn’t quite materialise for me so yes it was very tough to break through.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Danny: I’d probably say Teddy Sheringham who I met at Spurs as a young apprentice and professional, and he was always somebody who used to keep his eye on the youth team games. He was one of those model professionals who took the the time to speak to the young players and give them guidance and tips and what not. We sort of knew each other enough to say hi or what not when we saw each other away from football. So Teddy was a great influence and role model, and it just shows you how long his career went for and that shows the type of model professional that he was.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Danny: Ledley King for me was a player that was a rare breed, he was a proper Tottenham player. Technically he was just unbelievable right foot and left foot, he was also just a great guy on and off the pitch and he very rarely lost his cool, and he very rarely got booked. He was just a model professional and the way that he conducted himself on and off the pitch, and me being a centre back as well I’d just have to say Ledley King at that time.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Danny: When I left school I had a contract in place at Spurs and I was in the England youth sides which was good but I was unlucky a bit with injuries. I had signed a two year professional contract at Spurs and I played quite a lot of reserve team football but I could never quite force my way into the first team set up and I was eventually released after the end of my second year when I had sort of a bad spell with injuries and what not, so it was difficult again for me to get going again the following season. Anyway I ended up signing for Dagenham & Redbridge who at the time were in the Conference, so that at the time was a massive, massive culture shock to me to go from ten years at a Premier League club and being on the international stage to going straight into the Conference and non league football. However, I was very fortunate enough to have a good manager at Dagenham called John Still who took a chance on me and we had a great group of young players, and many of them including myself moved up and had careers in the Football League. At Dagenham I had five great years at the club where we won promotion with the club to the Football League which was a massive achievement. From Dagenham I moved on to Brentford which was a step up for me as I wanted to test myself so I moved up into League One. Brentford was another great club and I had a really good time there even though I was only there a year due to a sort of misunderstanding with the manager at the time.
I then moved on to Wycombe Wanderers where we had Gary Waddock who was another great manager and superb coach. I think that I really progressed my game when I was at Wycombe, that whole approach to the game and training was first class and it was a great club and set up who had some great players. We managed to achieve a promotion from League Two to League One however, a couple of years later I unfortunately suffered a serious knee injury which ultimately forced me to retire and hang my boots up, so that was a tough one at the time at 28 and in my prime years. However, it’s one of those things that happens and you’ve sort of just got to dust yourself down and move on and keep positive and keep trying to move on forward with your life. However, I had some great years in the game.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Danny: That is a very tough one! Obviously being capped by your country is something that I’m very, very proud to have done but promotion with Wycombe was fantastic when I think we went on a ten game unbeaten run at the end of the season to secure it. However, I’d have to say that my promotion with Dagenham was my biggest achievement because it really was against all odds, and at the start of the season we were second favourites for relegation and probably had the smallest budget in the league. We also had Oxford United in the league that season and they were running away with it during the first half of the season but the turnaround was just fantastic, the determination in that Dagenham team was just absolutely fantastic and during the second half of the season we just stormed home.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Danny: When Glenn Hoddle was manager of Spurs he used to join in the sessions when we used to train with the first team squad, and he was probably still the best player even though he couldn’t run as much! Again Ledley King stands out, Robbie Keane was fantastic too but there were so many great players. In a professional game Carl Cort at Brentford was a fantastic player who was phenomenal but again I’d probably have to say Ledley King as the greatest player that I shared a pitch with.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team/reserves?
Danny: There was a funny day at the training ground where it snowed quite heavily so we were all sort of pitched up in the dressing rooms, looking out hoping that the snow was going to clear. A couple of the lads (Ronnie Henry and David Galbraith) had actually been out and had been building a snowman in the car park at Chigwell training ground and they were all proud of themselves. So they’d came back up and we were all saying to each other that we were going to go down there and smash it up and break it up, but they said that anybody who touches that snowman is dead! So to cut a long story short there was a welfare officer at the time called Gwyn Walters who was a lovely man, and he’d just pulled into the car park in his car, and he was on the phone and it seemed to be an important call as he seemed quite stressed to be fair. David and Ronnie had gone back down and started making snowballs and throwing it at Gwyn’s car while he was on the phone, and he was signalling at them to get lost as it was an important call sort of thing. However, they kept on throwing snowballs at his car (we could all see what was unfolding) and they were getting bigger and bigger, and Gwyn was getting angrier and angrier and he ended up losing the plot and driving his car into the snowman to try and break it.
However, because it was such a big solid snowman, all that happened was, was that it hit the snowman’s belly and the head rolled off onto the bonnet and dented the bonnet of the car. So one of the lads I can’t remember which one, had got a massive big load of snow and thrown it at the window of the car, and if must have had a stone in it as it shattered the window so hard all over Gwyn, who was still on the phone. He ended up running out in a rage chasing after the two lads while he was still on the phone. It was just like something out of a comedy sketch, it was hilarious and just brilliant as they were slipping all over the place in the snow as he was chasing them. Another funny story was when we went to a tournament in Switzerland and we got delayed at Heathrow airport for 12 hours, and we were all sort of sitting around as there was nowhere to go and this was during a heatwave when it was about thirty degrees. Anyway we finally got on the plane and got out to Switzerland but when we arrived none of our bags turned up (I think about three turned up) so everyones kit, boots and personal belongings and training kit and match kits hadn’t arrived. So once we got on the coach to go to the hotel where we were staying at, we had to stop off at random sport shops in Switzerland to try and buy new boots and to try and buy what ever we could. We ended up wearing the same kit for the three or four days of the tournament!
There was another trip where we went to Germany on a winter tour with Pat Holland who was our manager at the time. As we were flying back in late on a Sunday night there was a snow blizzard so instead of landing at Stansted we had to divert to Portsmouth or somewhere like that. And in the end we had to drive back in the snow, so that was another one of those calamity journeys. Meanwhile on the pitch we had some good players in our side, including Mark Yeates who went on to make first team appearances as well as Jamie Slabber so we went on to have a good little side to be fair even though we didn’t win any trophies or anything like that, but it was a really good side.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Danny: In terms of big strikers the likes of Grant Holt who was an old school centre forward when he was at Shrewsbury Town, and he was always a nightmare. Another was Rickie Lambert and Adebayo Akinfenwa when he was at Northampton, also Jamie Vardy when he was at Fleetwood and unfortunately knocked us out of the FA Cup when I was at Wycombe, but he was a tough opponent. However, those big old centre forwards which you don’t seem to see a lot of anymore. However, all those players that I named went on to play at the highest level so it just shows you that there are players down there in League One and Two who are capable of playing at the highest level.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Danny: Mark Yeates was probably my closet friend at Spurs and we still keep in touch and have a chat on the phone. We used to live quite close to each other and when he moved over from Ireland we struck a bit of a friendship. However, another player was Stuart Lewis who was a couple of years younger than me and we’re still good friends now (we also played with each other at Wycombe).
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Danny: My advice to any of the young Spurs players would be to get out on loan and do what it takes to get out on loan and get first team experience under your belt in any of the leagues. Just get out there and rough it for a couple of months and develop and progress, and get all of the benefits of going out on loan and experience of first team football.
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?
Danny: It’s great to see the new stadium and what they are doing, and being a local boy from Enfield it’s just great to see. The new training ground is also unbelievable so it’s great for Spurs. I can actually remember well the first day I went to Spurs like it was just the other day. Spurs are a special club and a special place, and my memories of being at them for ten years are only good ones. Without going too deep you’ve only got to look what’s going on in the world at the moment to appreciate what you’ve done and achieved in the game, so I’m just grateful to have experienced it and been a part of that club, and also have people like yourself even after all these years still getting in touch.