My interview with former Spurs player Graham Thomson:
Graham Thomson of King’s Lynn, County Norfolk was a creative, skilful and pacy inside forward during his playing days at Spurs. Making his debut for his old club King’s Lynn at the very young age of 15 years 9 months and 5 days (this still stands as a record at King’s Lynn) Thomson transferred to Spurs in 1955, when legendary manager Arthur Rowe was still in charge. Although he never played a competitive game for Spurs’ first team during his time there, Thomson played regularly first for our juniors and then for our old A team, he also played for our talented reserve side which contained a number of internationals. Thomson was also a member of the Spurs A team that impressively won the 1960/61 Eastern Counties League. I had the great pleasure of catching up with Graham recently to discuss his spell at the Lilywhites which lasted from 1955 to 1962.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Graham: I was a young lad and like everybody else I used to kick a tennis ball in the streets. A chap from South Lynn called Jack Thorpe used to look after the A team at King’s Lynn and he invited me to go and train at the club as a young lad and so I used to go there, and the manager at that time was a chap called Paul Todd. While there I used to play for the A side with all the local lads and then I got into the reserve side, and then one night King’s Lynn were playing Bradford Park Avenue at The Walks, and I got picked to play on the right wing and I was just 15 years old. I can remember beating the fullback and going to the byline and pulling the ball back and the centre forward was called Steve Bloomer and he scored.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Graham: I started to get on at King’s Lynn and because I was 15 several clubs were interested in me. A chap called Percy Hooper who was a goalkeeper at King’s Lynn, came and saw my father and he wanted to take me for a trial with Spurs at Wellesley road Great Yarmouth. In them days that was in the Eastern Counties League with the likes of the Tottenham A team, and so my father and Percy Hooper took me to Wellesley road and Bill Nicholson came. He was the coach at Tottenham at the time and he came, and he played right half and I played on the right wing. So Spurs were interested in me and they wanted me to go on the ground staff, and in them days you went on the ground staff if you showed potential and you would sweep the terraces and do those sorts of jobs (there were three other lads on the ground staff with me). When I turned 17 that was the age that were you good enough to be a professional or were you going to be sent home. However, I got called into the office and Bill Nicholson signed me as a professional.
Was it difficult for you being a young lad from Kings Lynn and then moving down to the big smoke in London?
Graham: Yes it was. I was put in digs just outside White Hart Lane which was strange at first being a King’s Lynn lad however, it turned out to be alright and I was able to see all of the football matches and everything which was great.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Graham: It was both very good and very hard. Bill Nicholson was a very hard taskmaster but part of it was that I was a good sprinter so he wanted to make a winger of me but I wanted to be in the midfield. I can remember playing for the youth side in the FA Youth Cup in Brentford and I scored a hat-trick and when I came in the dressing room after the game I was so thrilled and all as I’d done ever so well. However, Bill Nicholson gave me the hairdryer treatment because I was running with the ball whereas the Tottenham style in them days was push and run, and because I was running with the ball they weren’t very happy. Playing with the likes of Blanchflower, Maurice Norman who was also a Norfolk lad was great and they were great memories. Also playing with Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Smith was also great. When we won the FA Cup in 1961 and me and my wife went to Wembley and then afterwards we went to the celebrations at the Savoy hotel in London, so they were all good memories that I have from my time at Spurs.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Graham: There were so many of them! I used to look up to Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay but there were so many of them because they were all great players. I was also very friendly with Cliff Jones.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Graham: Because I was quick they tried to make a winger of me but I didn’t like that because I used to like to play in midfield however, I had to do what I was told, and that’s why I got very disillusioned with the game. I used to keep coming in from the wing into the midfield and getting it wrong because I wasn’t staying out wide, and that was in the days of wingers.
How difficult was it for a young Spurs player like yourself to break into the first team back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s?
Graham: It was very difficult because in those days you had three teams. You had your first team, your reserves and the A team. The A team was for young lads who had just signed professional and our team used to be selected from 15 or 16 players every week. You did well to even get into that A team and Tottenham at that time had three full internationals in the reserves in them days, that was the talent at that club at the time so it was very difficult to get into the first team.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Graham: Cliff Jones would have been one as he used to talk to me a lot and advice me because he was also a winger. Maurice Norman was another influence because he was a Norfolk lad like I was.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Graham: There was a player at Spurs at the time called Johnny Brooks and he had a body swerve and I always used to look at him when he did his body swerve, because the whole crowd used to swerve with him! So Johnny Brooks was a player who I used to look at.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Graham: Well I got called up for national service so I had two years to serve but luckily enough they posted me to Didcot. So every Saturday I used to ring Bill Nicholson up at ten o’clock to see where I was playing on the Saturday, so for two years I would do my national service playing for the army. I was actually married very young and my wife spent a year in London with me before I got called up for my national service and so she went home to King’s Lynn while I did my two years national service. Then when my time was up in the national service I had a meeting with Bill Nicholson again and because in them days you only used to sign yearly contracts, and so I was retained but the trouble was that my wife didn’t fancy coming back to live in London again. So with great regret I left Spurs. I came back and played a little bit with King’s Lynn when Len Richley was the manager, but in them days I played part time. I played for Spalding in the Midland league, also March Town in the Eastern Counties League and enjoyed my time there as it was very nice. However, in them days clubs would come after you and offer you a little bit more money so you could get some good money.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Graham: When I was at Spalding we had a very good cup run in the FA Cup and we beat Grantham where Terry Blyth the ex Norwich City was player manager. And we beat Grantham so we made the pot for the first round of the FA Cup and we got drawn against Newport County away and we lost 5-3, but that was one of my greatest memories.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Graham: That has to be Jimmy Greaves. When I was at Tottenham as a young lad I got picked to play for the FA youth eleven and playing in that team was John Lyall the West Ham player and along with him was Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Moore and Ken Shellito who I can remember being in that team. However, Jimmy Greaves was just brilliant even though he didn’t do a lot of running but he did score the goals.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham A team team and reserves?
Graham: We had a very good A side and we won the Eastern Counties League one year as young lads. Then when I got into the reserves which I thought that I did very well to get into the reserves, because in them days you had Cliff Jones and Terry Medwin who were all international wingers so it was a job to break into that side.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Graham: Dave Mackay and in practice games you used to keep clear of him because he was very tough.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Graham: Mostly it would have been Cliff Jones during my time at Tottenham. It was recently our sixtieth wedding anniversary and Cliff was going to come down but he was ill so they put a video up, and he had recorded a message on it which was very good of him.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Graham: If I had my time again for a start I wouldn’t go to a big club instead I would go to a smaller club where I would have more chance to go on. And then if I was good enough then I would get on. So my advice would be to go to a smaller club.
Do you have any regrets about leaving Spurs when you did?
Graham: Oh yes I do. My father never did forgive me for leaving Spurs.
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?
Graham: I always look for Tottenham and I’m still very keen on them it’s just a shame that it was so difficult for me to breakthrough there with all of the great players that they had at the time.