My interview with former Spurs player John Clancy:
(John is pictured on the left of the above photograph).
Hardworking inside forward John Patrick Clancy was a part of the youth set up at Spurs during the 1960’s, after signing for the club early on in that decade. Clancy would spend a number of years at Spurs where he would predominantly play for the various youth teams that Spurs had at that time. After leaving Spurs the Perivale born forward who had great stamina during his playing days, joined Bristol City before then playing for Bradford Park Avenue, Yeovil Town where he became a legend and spent over ten years at playing 516 games, and finally Sherborne Town. I had the great pleasure of catching up with John recently to discuss his time at the Lilywhites. Spurs still means an awful lot to John to this very day.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
John: My earliest memories were when I was in my last year at my primary school called Woodend in Northolt. I was about ten then and I managed to get in the school team. I was a little bit of a late starter in football because I lived in Ealing and I didn’t get out too much really, it was only when I moved to Northolt when I was about six or seven that I started to play in the playground with a little tennis ball. Then when I went up to secondary school when I was 12 I managed to get in a really good school team and we won the local area league, which included Ruislip Manor and a few other teams and I was in a team called Vincent secondary school. I stayed at this school for three years and after two years of playing I got in the third year team but halfway through the season we moved to Stevenage so I had to change school to a school called Barnwell where I managed to get in the fifth year team, when I was still in the third year. I managed to become captain of that team and they were not a bad side.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
John: When I was living in Stevenage I moved to a youth team in Chells and we used to play local matches all around Stevenage. One day we were playing a team from Welwyn Garden City and we won 6-3 and I got a hat-trick, and then the week after that the manager of this Chells team got a letter from Spurs. This letter was asking me if I would go down to Spurs after school to train on a Tuesday and a Thursday. My mum and dad weren’t interested in football that much so the manager of the Chells youth team used to drive me down to Tottenham which would have been in 1963. However, I’d already been going down to Spurs to watch them play on a Saturday as they were my team so it was brilliant and I couldn’t believe it to be honest, but that’s where it all started really. I can remember going down to Tottenham and walking through the big main gates and thinking how brilliant and exciting it was. I used to train at the big gymnasium that they had at the ground there because it was winter time and we wouldn’t go out too much at night. Laurie Brown used to take the training with Ben Embery and Jimmy Lye who were both in the reserves at the time. Then eventually, I think it was around November time I got selected for the South East Counties League junior section and that was brilliant. We used to go to Cheshunt on a Saturday morning and play the likes of Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal, and eventually we ended up winning that league and won the cup as well. In the cup final one of the legs (the second leg) was played at White Hart Lane after we’d lost the first leg away at Crystal Palace 2-1.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
John: I really enjoyed it as it was brilliant, seeing as I was a supporter pulling on the old shirt with the cockerel on and wearing those navy shorts used to make me feel a million dollars. Also the club didn’t put me under a lot of pressure which was good as although I did play about three games in the Metropolitan League I did find it hard and it made me realise that I wasn’t going to be a regular in that team, once I realised that I just enjoyed it more playing in the junior section. I was really enjoying my time playing at Spurs up until the March of the 1967 season just before Spurs won the FA Cup, Bill Nicholson called me into his office and told me that I hadn’t developed as quickly as he hoped that I would which was fair enough and I couldn’t have any arguments about it. I knew that I should have been in the Metropolitan team at 17 and a half, or even the reserves but there were just so many players better than me there. So after that I was on my way. However, while I was at Spurs it was the best part of my life. After training at Cheshunt on a Saturday morning you could always come back to White Hart Lane and then watch the first team play. We used to sit on on a bench near the side of the old running track which went around the whole pitch, all us apprentices used to sit there and watch the match where we used to be so close to the action. I can remember watching George Best play for Manchester United once however, Jimmy Greaves was my real hero and I loved him. Some of the goals that he used to score were just unbelievable. Anyway, I was really proud to play for Spurs as not many people have got that on their CV so I was very lucky, and also that I had such a good game for Chells when the Spurs scout was down there. However, I must have improved a little bit when I was down at Spurs to be signed on. Throughout my career I’ve always been lucky, as when one door shut another door always opened for me.
Do you have any interesting stories from your time spent at Spurs that you would like to share?
John: One day after I’d cleaned Jimmy Greaves’ boots which I used to like doing, I had to stay on and sweep the big gym that we used to train in with a big brush, so two of us used to go up to clean it. I was up there with one bloke one day and after we had finished sweeping I had spotted a ball up there which was stuck in between the roof. So I said shall we try and get it down and then have a little kick about, so I saw in the corner that there was an old punchbag which was a bit flat and was on a chain. So I picked it up and I thought that I might be able to hit the ball down if I swung it onto the roof. So I swung the chain up to the roof and gave it a big swing and it did get to the roof but ended up missing the ball and catching the chain of one of the neon lights. And one of them came smashing down onto the floor, so I thought oh my god! And so I had to tell Johnny Wallis who could be frightening, what I’d done. He said to me that if anyone gets cut tomorrow in training you’ll be for the high jump! And that frightened the life out of me, but I swept it all up and luckily nobody got cut. They (Spurs) said that they were going to take it out of my wages but luckily they never did. So that was a little story which might not have helped my time at Spurs. Another story was when I was cleaning the boots of the players and I was going through a bit of a bad spell of not having scored for a couple of weeks in the senior section. I’d always noticed this pair of boots in Jimmy Greaves’ locker that had dust on them as he never seemed to use them even though they were lovely boots. So one week I took them out and played with them on the Saturday and scored a goal, so then I did it on the next week and I scored as well but after that I thought that I better not use them again.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
John: That would have to be Jimmy Greaves and Cliff Jones who were the main ones really. I used to like to pretend that I could do what Greavsie did and pass the ball into the net however, I never did make it look so easy. I also couldn’t emulate Alan Gilzean as I was never that great in the air, as I was more of a keep the ball on the deck sort of bloke. However, I did end up becoming a winger after coming down to Yeovil because they had a space out on the left wing and I enjoyed my time there, but obviously it was better at Spurs.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were at Spurs and what positions you played in during your time there?
John: Well I was always an inside forward, mainly an attacking inside right apart from when I played in some friendlies against other youth teams when they used to play me at right back which I suppose was to give me a bit of experience as well as being quick. I was a wholehearted player who would always give 100%. Ray Evans used to say to me before games Harpo (Clancy’s nickname) have a run up today which basically meant keep running all of the time, so I used to run a lot off of the ball however, I didn’t shout that much when I would make a run so no one would know that I had made a run. Although I did used to get involved and find the centre forward and the wingers. Jimmy Neighbour used to put through balls for me to run on to and cross the ball in. So basically I was just a ball playing inside forward.
How difficult was it for a young Spurs player like yourself to break into the first team back in the 1960’s?
John: For me it was nearly impossible because there were so many players ahead of me who were more or less my sort of age. Such as John Pratt and Billy Mail, John Collins, John Cutbush and Brian Parkinson who used to be able to do anything with a ball. And all of those players were still in the reserves, but in front of them you had Keith Weller and Derek Possee and Eddie Clayton, and Frank Saul who hardly got any games. Spurs in those days used to pay a lot of money to sign the best players who were around even though they had a good youth set up. When I started at Spurs there were 12 apprentices with me, and out of that 12 only four got signed, so to breakthrough to the first team you had to be exceptional.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
John: Johnny Wallis who was the trainer who used to look after us was one of them and there was another bloke called Bill Watson who was a physical trainer who used to do sessions with us, which included weights and sit ups where you had a plank going up at a 45 degree angle, and you had to do about 50 of these sit ups which were hard. Eddie Baily was another influence, and whenever we went to Cheshunt he would coach us, and he was good and enthusiastic and I learned a lot from him. I can remember him reprimanding me once after we got knocked out of the FA Youth Cup against Fulham at Craven Cottage and that was a night game that we lost 2-1. However, I missed the chance to score an equaliser after Paul Shoemark came down the left hand side of the box and he crossed it, and as his cross came past the keeper and ended up bouncing right over my foot as I tried to tap it in, because it was going too fast. Eddie was annoyed and he said to me that if something comes across like that you throw everything at it, you don’t just put your foot out! Perhaps if I’d have converted that chance and got the equaliser then maybe Eddie would have been happy and I might have stayed on for another year at Spurs, but these things happen don’t they. I can remember on the way home on the train going over it in my mind so many times as it was just so unlucky that it never went in at the far post.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
John: I used to like watching Jimmy Pearce and Billy Mail for the reserves as I thought that he (Billy Mail) was a really good player. They both used to play as inside forwards but I wasn’t as good as them and that’s what I was competing with, as I had to be as good as them. However, if I had have got as good as both of those players I might have made it at Spurs.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
John: After getting that call into Bill Nicholson’s office and being told that my time was up at Spurs (I enjoyed every minute of my time there!) he softened the blow by telling me that Bristol City wanted to sign me. After Spurs had played Bristol City in about the fifth round of the FA Cup what happened was that Bill Nicholson had had a word with their manager who said that he’d take me on to finish my apprentice contract when I was 18. So that was it then, I got on the old train and went to Bristol and I played in the youth team there where we won the Wessex youth league. I also did have a couple of games in the reserves but by the end of the season the manager said that he didn’t think that I was much better than the players that he had there, and so I got a free from there. I was thinking of packing the game in but then I had a letter from a scout called Jack Housley, the manager was Jack Rowley (ex Manchester United player) who had seen me at Bristol City. Anyway he had just taken over at Bradford Park Avenue and he was trying to emulate the Busby babes, so he’d brought quite a lot of youngsters to Bradford Park Avenue however, we needed a bit of experience as we were all a bit too young really. I spent two seasons there and I did enjoy it and although we were losing I was getting a lot of experience which was helping me really, so I did end up getting a lot stronger. After Bradford Park Avenue I came down to Yeovil Town where I found it a lot easier. They say that some of the fullbacks in the Southern League were hard but they weren’t anything like the ones that used to be at Doncaster Rovers and Rotherham and teams like that, they just didn’t compare, so anyway I found it a lot easier in the Southern League. After leaving Yeovil I did play for a little team called Sherborne Town for two seasons in the Dorset league. I did get a bad injury when I was about 30 which is why I stopped playing for Yeovil however, one of my mates who had just taken over at Sherborne Town wanted me to join them and although I couldn’t train while I was there I still managed to play for two seasons and I won the league and cup with them.
However, after two seasons there I’d had enough of it because I’d ran out of steam, so after that I did a bit of marathon running and I ended up doing ten marathons which was enjoyable. However, I’d fell out of love with football as I’d done too much of it which made me too tired along with the fact that I used to work at a local helicopter factory, and the job I had involved a lot of walking so I’d end up being shattered. In the end I ended up working at that factory for 40 years.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
John: Probably when Yeovil in 1971 got drawn away at Bournemouth when they were a third division side, and we beat them 1-0 in the FA Cup. And then we went to the third round and drew Arsenal which was the side that done the double and that was probably the highlight playing in front of 14,000 at Huish Park on a Wednesday night, and Arsenal ended up winning 3-0. However, the next year we did have another little run when we beat Brentford 2-1 at home and then went and lost to Plymouth.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
John: I did play against Greavsie when he had all of his troubles and when he was trying to get better he played for Barnet. We ended up playing Barnet and he was playing in midfield so I’ve got to say that he was the greatest bloke who I played with. Funnily enough there was a funny story from that night, after I’d fouled him in the midfield and so I felt bad and lifted him up and as he stood up he said cor blimey I’ve seen it all now! And there was this white rabbit running about in the penalty box and everyone was chasing it. It actually belonged to our centre forward who lived in a house right by the ground, and it had ended up getting out and running onto the pitch.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team and A team?
John: I can remember my debut being against Chelsea down at Cheshunt and you can imagine walking out how proud I felt, and we won 4-2 and although I didn’t score that day I had a pretty decent game. Then the next game I remember was against West Ham which we won 2-1 before then losing 3-1 to them away, but I got my first goal in that game, I ended up scoring five goals in that season from nine appearances and that was when we won the league and the cup. Obviously the highlight of that season was winning the actual cup at White Hart Lane which was the first time that I’d ever played there and I scored a goal too. After the game Bill Nicholson came into the changing room to congratulate us all, so that was the real highlight along with when I scored four goals at the Lane against the Metropolitan Police in the FA Youth Cup.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
John: A fullback at Doncaster called John Hazelden was one when I was playing in the fourth division. Another one was when I was playing for Yeovil, and that was Ron Atkinson whose thighs were as big as my waist. During a game between Yeovil and Kettering I was able to get past their fullback quite easily and I heard Ron say show him inside. So I thought he won’t be there as he wasn’t that quick as he was coming to the end of his career. I went down the wing when all of a sudden crunch, he hit me with his thigh on top of my thigh and my knee got badly hurt and I was out for six weeks then with knee trouble.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
John: Martin O’Donnell, John Gilroy, Ray Evans, John Pratt, Ray Bunkell, John Cutbush and Joe Kinnear were the ones that I used to knock about with the most.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
John: Listen to all what the coaches say I should think however, you’ve also got to have ability and confidence in your own ability as well. So you’ve got to be confident which was something that I lacked, you’ve also got to listen and work as hard as you can. Someone like Geoff Hurst was never the most naturally gifted football however, he kept on working and working and in the end he made it. So the harder you work the more lucky you’ll get.
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?
John: I definitely hold them close to my heart as they are my team and it was brilliant when they got to the final of the European Cup however, it was just so disappointing. Spurs have been my team since I was about ten or younger even though I did have a little soft spot for Wolves before that but since they did the double they’ve been my team and I’ve just loved them. To be there and to play in the youth team at Spurs was just unbelievable as I never dreamt that I’d ever get there. I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything and they’re definitely in my heart.