My interview with former Spurs player Len Worley:
Regarded by supporters of Wycombe Wanderers as a legend of the club, winger Len Worley’s nickname during his playing days was “ the Stanley Matthews of amateur football ” for a reason. A fine dribbler and crosser of the ball, Worley was primarily a winger, whose tricky feet made life difficult for opposing defenders. The Chalfont St Peter born player first played for his local village side, before beginning his career as an amateur as a sixteen year old with Wycombe Wanderers back in 1954. Worley spent most of his career (he made 512 competitive appearances in total for the ‘ Chairboys ’) at Wycombe Wanderers over a 15 year spell. Helping Wycombe to get to the FA Amateur Cup final at Wembley, the former right winger who represented England at youth and amateur level then joined first division side Charlton Athletic as an amateur back in 1956. Worley made one competitive appearance for Charlton before returning to Wycombe. Len then joined Tottenham Hotspur as an amateur later on in the 1950’s, he spent a year there making one competitive appearance for the first team. That came in a league game against Sheffield Wednesday in October 1959. Worley filled in for Terry Medwin who was away on international duty with Wales. That same month Worley was offered a professional contract by Spurs however, he declined this offer and returned to playing amateur football with Wycombe who he spent another ten years at. Upon leaving Wycombe in 1969, Worley continued to play amateur football. He played for the likes of Chesham United, Wealdstone, Slough Town and Hayes. After retiring from playing Len went into the property business and he also owned a sports shop. Recently I had the great pleasure of catching up with Len Worley to discuss his time at the Lilywhites.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Len: I suppose the most significant thing that happened was I was playing for Chalfont St Peter youth club (under 18’s) and at the end of the season Wycombe Wanderers came to play the Chalfont St Peter senior team in a friendly. And the Chalfont St Peter’s senior side found themselves short of one player, so they rang the youth club and said have you got anybody that can sort of step in and play against Wycombe Wanderers in a friendly? And so they got in touch with me and I went on and played and the manager of Wycombe said to me how would you like to play for Wycombe next season? And I thought yeah fantastic! I was only 16 at the time and so the following season when I’d just turned 17 I went to Wycombe and after three or four reserve team games I got into the first team, and then at the end of that particular season I was off with the England youth team to play in the European youth championships. So it was all pure luck, being in the right place at the right time but it made a huge difference to my career and it sort of got me going if you were.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Len: Well there were a number of professional clubs that wanted to sign me and I had had a season at Charlton Athletic and they were keen to sign me as a full time professional but I didn’t really want to move to the east end of London. So I went back to Wycombe and then Tottenham came in and were very keen, and so I thought oh yeah Tottenham are a big club, so I’ll go and see how things pan out. I played a season mainly in the reserve team as I was understudy to Terry Medwin, and at the end of the season Bill Nicholson the manager said “ look Len we can’t keep paying you ten pounds a week under the counter. I want you to sign full time pro. ” And so I said I’m not sure because the main reasons that I had doubts were one because I was playing for the Great Britain Olympic team and hoping to get to to the Olympics, and I was also playing for the England amateur side. I was also studying to be a surveyor and Wycombe were keen to have me back, and in those days maximum wage was 20 quid a week, so obviously going back to Wycombe I was being paid, and equally I was being paid to be a surveyor. And of course there were was also the chance of playing in the Olympics. So that was the reason why I decided to move away from Tottenham but obviously if I had the same decision to make today then they wouldn’t be offering me 20 pounds a week, they’d be offering me something like 20 thousand pounds a week which is totally different. So very briefly that was how it all planned out. However, there was another factor and that was that Wycombe were a so called top amateur side and we were playing in front of big crowds of up to 14,000 and we’d got to the amateur cup final and played in front of 95,000. And I was also playing for the England amateur side, so it was quite a wrench to give all of that up for the gamble and the chance of playing for Tottenham. So in those days that was my decision but today I would probably make a different decision however, today I’m 83 and not 23.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Len: On the whole it is difficult to describe really to be honest with you because was playing in a professional club as an amateur I didn’t really sort of get to know the players very well, because I wasn’t training with them. I was just basically playing with them on a Saturday and so the only guy that I got to know well was Cliff Jones, because we were in the same national service unit together in St John’s Wood, London. So Cliff and I were there together so I got to know him for about 18 months and he was actually a Tottenham player at the time as well as playing for our unit at the same time. So he was probably one of the best players that I actually played with or against actually.
Could you talk me through your competitive debut for Spurs against Sheffield Wednesday on the 17th October 1959 and how it came about?
Len: It was simply that Terry Medwin was on international duty and Bill Nicholson called me up to take his place. I travelled up by train with the team and played the match, and then traveled back again and that was it. 1959 is an awful long time ago so it was not a really significant memory for me because I played a lot of reserve team games with people like Johnny Brooks and Terry Dyson and people like that, so obviously that was more memorable than just the one first team game.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Len: Well the obvious one was Stanley Matthews as he was my idol and I based my game on him, and I was funnily enough recognised as the amateur Stanley Matthews. Because I used to like to take the ball up to the fullback and dribble past him and take people on and be a little bit of a showman really, and just to have my name associated with him was an honour in itself to be honest. Not only was he somebody that I looked up to but I did actually meet him on two or three occasions as well which was great. He was a great player and a star of the time in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
What was it like to represent your country at youth and amateur level?
Len: Clearly whenever you represent your country it’s special and I think to be suddenly playing for Wycombe Wanderers first team and also going to play for the England youth team in Italy in the European championships was really special. Particularly when they get in touch with you and tell you that you’ve been selected and you go up to London and get fitted out with your blazer and your trousers, and your instructions are given to you about where you meet, the plane you are going on and where you are staying in Italy, and who you are playing against is really quite special. We didn’t do very well mind you but it was just an honour to be participating really. A similar sort of thing happened with the England amateur side when we were going to play in the European championships which again happened to be in Italy, and again the same sort of thing happened. So it was just a proud moment and I’ve relished it ever since, I mean at the end of the day there are not too many people who are lucky enough to represent their country, particularly at football. I’m also still lucky enough to be able to run around a tennis court and to be able to walk up the golf course.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Len: Always I played as a number seven from the age of about ten until I finished playing at about 41, I never changed. I played number seven right the way through my career.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Len: No one particularly influenced me at Spurs but as I say Cliff Jones was someone who I got to know better than anybody simply because we were in the army together and I looked up to him as a player. However, because I didn’t train on a daily basis with them I really didn’t get to know anyone in particular. I did sort of speak to people like Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay but I didn’t get to know them well because they were just your teammate who you wouldn’t come across very frequently. So as I say I spent 15 years at Wycombe and played over 500 games for them and then various other clubs such as Slough and Wealdstone and Hayes and Chesham, and as I say I finished when I was 41 and so I had a good innings really. The only reason I stopped really was because when you get to that age you tend to lose your pace and your playing against players who just want to get you, and also as I was running a business I couldn’t afford to get inured, and so it was about right that I gave up and concentrated on my tennis than on football, and I was lucky enough to play for my County which is nice. So I’ve been lucky.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Len: No not at all as I didn’t get to know them well enough and so it was only Cliff Jones that I did know well.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Len: Well as I said earlier I was prompted to leave because I had the opportunity to play in the Olympics, I was playing for the England amateur side and I was studying at the time and I wanted to complete my studies, and I was about to get married. Also Wycombe were keen to have me back and so they were the main reasons and also I felt much more comfortable playing for a team like Wycombe than I did for a team like Tottenham for some reason, because I was a different type of individual and character. However, as I say today would be a different answer to that question, but in those days 20 quid a week was quite good but it wasn’t that good. I mean I was going back to Wycombe and getting paid ten pound a week to play for them plus furthering my career. After leaving Wycombe I went to Slough and then Hayes, Wealdstone and Chesham.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Len: I suppose it would be getting my first amateur England international cap and probably playing at Wembley which is something totally different to any other experience that you get. To suddenly be playing in front of 95,000 people on a pitch that’s absolutely perfect is brilliant but unfortunately we lost the match to Bishop Auckland who were a top amateur side. Also the amateur game when I played was quite high profile as I’ve just said and can you believe 95,000 people watching an amateur cup final. When I played for my first international cap we played at Peterborough and yet there were ten thousand people there watching an amateur international match. You know things were totally different then to what they are now, I mean everything now is focused on the Premier League which is the thing and nothing else gets too much of a look in. Whereas in my day the amateur game got headlines, and the professional game was professional which was fair enough but the amateur game as I say was highly thought of.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Len: Probably Cliff Jones funnily enough and I shared a pitch with him on a number of occasions both in the army and in the practice matches at Tottenham. So yeah he was definitely the best player who I shared a pitch with.
What was it like to don on the famous Lilywhite shirt of Tottenham Hotspur and how did it feel to play for them at one of the highest points in their history?
Len: I guess that it was an honour at the time but as I said earlier because I didn’t really feel to be part of the team as a whole and the club as a whole, it didn’t have quite the same significance. If I had been training regularly with the players and meeting them on a day to day basis then I think that it would have been totally different, but because I was the sort of guy that just came into play as and when it wasn’t quite the same and it didn’t have the same meaning.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham reserves?
Len: I can’t even pinpoint a special time or match, I just remember playing with people like Johnny Brooks who could have been a really top class player but he didn’t quite make it. I can also remember playing with Terry Dyson and Bill Brown and one and two other players, but there was nothing that was very significant. My memories at Wycombe were far more significant because they somehow mean much more to me for some reason It was local boy came good type thing.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Len: That’s a difficult one but there was a guy who played for Chelsea who was a left back whose name I can’t remember, but he would sort of take the legs of you if he had the chance.
Do you have any interesting stories from your time at Spurs that you’d like to share?
Len: There’s nothing that is really very interesting, the only interesting bit was the fact that Bill Nicholson felt that he couldn’t afford to pay me ten pounds a week under the counter. It’s amazing really a club like Tottenham saying something like that. They said to me you either turn professional or not, and I decided not to.
Were you particularly close with any of your old Spurs teammates during your year there?
Len: No not all but in a way I was sort of an outsider as you could probably imagine just turning up on Saturdays to play for whatever Spurs team I was due to play for. I came and went and that was it really, and I guess that Bill Nicholson always had hope in the back of his mind that I would probably turn full time professional for Spurs. But when it came to the crunch I declined for the reasons that I’ve outlined to you.
Do you ever have any regrets about turning down the professional contract that you were offered by Spurs just a short time before they did the double?
Len: Yes I suppose on reflection I in a way I regret it because I was never quite sure whether I’d achieve my potential and I guess if I’d turned full time pro then I would have then had full time training and full time coaching. And then perhaps it would have allowed me to achieve my full potential, which I never quite know whether I did or whether I didn’t. So I guess that’s the only question mark that I’ve got.
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?
Len: Obviously I always look to see how they get on and how their results are and I obviously watch them on television etc, etc. However, again I haven’t quite got that affinity with a club like Tottenham that I have with a club like Wycombe because there is a huge difference playing one game for Tottenham’s first team and 500 odd games for Wycombe Wanderers first team.