Joining Spurs as a schoolboy in the 1980’s at the age of 11, Swindon born boyhood Spurs fan Greg Howell spent ten years at the Lilywhites, leaving the club as a professional at the age of 21. A part of the last Spurs side to win the FA Youth Cup in 1990, Howell unfortunately suffered a really bad knee injury as a second year professional, which effectively put an end to his time at the club. A spell playing in New Zealand with Wellington United followed, before Howell returned to England to forge a career in the non-League. Playing for the likes of Enfield (player-manager), St. Albans (during two spells) and Aylesbury United, the talented midfielder who had a tremendous passing range, is the son of Ron Howell who played for Spurs as a schoolboy in the 1960’s. I recently had the great pleasure of catching up with Greg to look back on the ten highly interesting and eventful years that he spent with Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories and what are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs. Plus how did you come about joining the club?
Greg: Obviously my dad (Ron Howell). So Barry Fry used to be brilliant and he used to let me go in the dugout when my dad was player-coach at Barnet, and one of my earliest memories was when they played Arsenal in a pre-season friendly, and I think that Terry Neill brought the whole first team down. My dad’s got photos of me in the dugout and I think there was Brian Talbot, Viv Anderson and them type of players playing. So obviously with my dad’s background all I wanted to do was play football ever since I could walk, as my mum would say. I really had some fond memories, such as when my dad got to the FA Cup fourth round with Enfield and I think they played Barnsley, and they were going to hold it at Southbury Road, but they couldn’t because the attendance was going to be too high. So they swapped it to White Hart Lane, and this was the time when the new west stand was just being built, so there were only three sides up, and I remember my dad telling my uncles to just turn up at ten past seven and you’d be able to just pay on the door. They turned up and there was a queue and they couldn’t get in, and I think that they said afterwards that there was 4,000 fans that couldn’t get in, and that it was a capacity crowd of about 33,000. That was for a local non-League side although they were very very good at the time, but yeah I remember being there on my mum’s knee watching the game, and although they got beat three – nil in the replay, although they should have won it at Oakwell, my dad got man of the match that day, he was outstanding.
I think that Mick McCarthy and Steve McGavin were playing, so they had a good side at the time but that was sort of at the end of my dad’s career as he went into the non-League. From then I played for my school team, and what was really big back then which is something that I talk to my son about, because now it’s all academies, academies, academies and they take them at six years of age. However, back then it was your district and your county, and I represented Enfield and I say this to my son all the time, and I loved playing for my district. I then got picked for my county Middlesex before then getting picked for the whole of London, but I think it was when I was playing for Middlesex I’ll always remember who scouted me, and he was one of the best up until ten-15 years ago, and he was a guy called Dickie Moss. So Dickie scouted me, and all it was at that time was a Monday night at the ball court where we used to go up to and train, and it wasn’t Astro at the time, it was cement. That sorted you out and it did used to get a bit tasty in there, but yeah on a Monday night we used to train there and I used to go up and get my expenses which I think was a couple of quid. That used to be up on the fourth floor and Dickie used to be up there, and you used to have a cup of tea and a biscuit, and I’ll always remember it as they were great times. Then obviously playing for school, and I think back then as a schoolboy we played at Middleton House which is a the back of where the new Spurs training ground is, and the pitches were lovely there as well.
I then carried on as a schoolboy all the way up from 11 to 15 and I can remember playing for my secondary school team at the time which was Salisbury, and we managed to get to the final of the Middlesex Cup where we beat a team called Latymer. They were always the school that everyone wanted to go to, and we beat them in the final 4-1 and I remember that Mount Salisbury had never won the trophy before. There was a guy who had been to the school whose name I can’t remember, and he had done really well for himself and was living in America, and he heard about this Middlesex Cup against Latymer. And so he flew all of the team over to Atlanta, and I was the only one who couldn’t go because obviously I’d been offered YTS at Tottenham, and my mum wasn’t very happy about that at the time because Spurs said that I couldn’t go. So I missed out on a great trip there but these things happen, and you’re never going to turn down a two year YTS at your boyhood club who I lived around the corner from, and could see the floodlights from my bedroom. So it was always an ambition of mine and when I got the two year YTS it was the best feeling in the world when I left school. As I will tell you later on in the interview if it wasn’t for my injuries I do think that I would have played, and fingers crossed would have made a lot of appearances for the club, but I think that I did the cartilage in my right knee in the first year of my YTS, so they obviously weren’t fond memories. However, you were treated so well, and I remember John Sheridan and Dave Butler (John was brilliant) got me back fighting fit after my first one, when I basically had a clear out of the cartilage on my right knee.
When I came back from that injury it took me a while to get back into it again, but when I did I featured in a lot of the games. So I was a first year YTS and obviously second year YTS was like Ian Walker, Neil Smith and Warren Hackett, and as it’s all sort of coming back to me now, previous to that when I was a schoolboy still at school, I think I was 15 when I was on the bench against Arsenal, so that was my first ever memory. I’ll always remember getting dropped off on a Saturday morning with my mum after I’d had my breakfast, and I didn’t know anyone there because obviously it was all sort of YTS boys at the time. However, looking back I think there was Dave McDonald and Billy Manuel and them sort of boys along with Ian Gilzean who I got on really well with in the end. So that was my first memory in the end, and they made quite a big thing about that in the programme saying that I was one of the first boys to ever feature as a schoolboy in the youth team, and it was against Arsenal, so that was a really brilliant memory. So going back to when I started my first year YTS, the memories I have of that, and after my knee injury was fantastic because we went on to win everything, and I think that it’s got to be up there as the most successful youth team there ever was. I think we won everything, like the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup, the Southeast Counties League and obviously the FA Youth Cup. However, what I remember fondly the most was the days when we used to play against Arsenal. We talk about it now because I still go and watch a lot of the academy and under 23 games at Tottenham, and I speak to people there still and I say this is too nice. We wanted a fight in the car park afterwards, and I remember us going to a couple of nightclubs, and we used to have our bar and Arsenal used to have their one. They were great times and I think that they all sort of talk about them now, the likes of Ray Parlour, Andy Cole and Mark Flatts, and they had a great team as well but they could never beat us for some reason.
I remember when they beat us one – nil at White Hart Lane in the first leg of the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup, and it went back to Highbury and they made such a big thing of it, and there was a massive crowd. I played in that game as well and we beat them two – nil and we were parading the trophy around Highbury, which didn’t go down too well. That year was fantastic but obviously the highlight for me and I still talk about it now, was playing at Old Trafford in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup against obviously Ryan Giggs, Robbie Savage and Mark Bosnich who was in goal, but it was a shame that it wasn’t the Beckham/Neville era. I think that I was a sub for that game but I came on for the last half hour and did really well, and after that game I got picked for the England under 17 squad, just off the back of that really. And then we obviously got Middlesbrough in the final, but going back to the quarter-final that was the day that I probably had one of my best games in a Tottenham shirt against Man City at Maine Road, which was the old stadium. I’m pretty sure that my mum and dad were telling me at the time that Man City were the favourites, and they had Gary Flitcroft and Mark Hughes, and they had a really good side. I think that they were the favourites and we beat them two – one or one – nil, but I probably had my best game in a Tottenham shirt, that year anyway. Although I didn’t score that night I did used to score quite a few goals as I was a goalscoring midfielder, but then it was obviously Man United in the semis (we really wanted them in the final!), and then we played Middlesbrough in the final. I think that we beat drew at Ayresome Park and I played the whole of the first leg, and I was always looking to the final, but Keith Warden and Pat Holland pulled me to one side and said that they’d spoken to Terry Venables and said that they had to play players who were getting released from the club. That was a shame really because of what we’d done and what we’d won, but I don’t think that they could have taken on so many professionals.
So on that day they told me that I was going to be a sub but they did tell me that I was going to be coming on, and I think that I came on for the last half hour of the final along with Stuart Nethercott I think it was. So that was one of the highlights of my career, and then when I was a second year YTS obviously we were the older ones then, but obviously I’d struck up a really good relationship with Ian Walker. I remember that he was staying up at digs in Alexandra Palace and he didn’t like it, and because me and him had sort of hit it off he ended up coming and living with us and my mum, and so we became really really good friends. However, going back to when I was signing YTS Jamie Redknapp was at Spurs as well, and me and Jamie were really similar players and Harry had played with my dad when he was at Millwall and Harry was at West Ham. And he told my dad and my mum that he wanted a meeting with us, and we went and saw him and had a bit of a dinner, and he said that he wanted to take me to Bournemouth. However, obviously because I was living with my mum and was a Tottenham boy, but my dad thought that it would be a good decision to go down to Bournemouth with Harry as he did sort of promise that if I didn’t get injured then I would be in the first team with Jamie at 17/18. However, my mum said no he’s not going anywhere! Which in hindsight if I’d have go down to Bournemouth and not been with my mum, it was quite a decision, but I wasn’t too fussed really. I just said to my mum what do you think, but she said no I don’t want you going, and so I said fair enough. Going back to my second year that went quite well although it didn’t go as well as planned but we did have a really good side as well. We did have the first year YTS’s coming through at the time and they had a really good group of boys coming through, with players like Darren Caskey, Andy Turner, Jeffrey Minton and Kevin Watson who all sort of made first team appearances.
So that was another good group of boys coming through and I think that we got beat by Birmingham that year in the FA Youth Cup, I think that it was in the fourth round, and I missed a penalty that night and it just didn’t go for us. That year I had a few injuries but I still played well that year, and then you sort of come round to the end of the season where are you going to get a professional contract, which is all that you ever dreamed of doing and wanted. I remember that there was a few clubs sort of coming in for me, and I remember the day when we were all at White Hart Lane in the box holders lounge and we were all getting called up to see Keith Warden and Patsy Holland, one by one. It was a tough day that was when you’re seeing boys coming down who weren’t getting offered contracts, and I remember me going up and they said that Terry really thinks a lot of you and he’s got high hopes for you, and so they offered me a two year professional contract. So that was obviously one of the best days in my whole life, and then for some of the boys it was probably the worst day in their whole life. I remember that there was various agents getting into contact with me and my mum, and I didn’t really know what it’s all about to be honest. I remember Eric Hall getting in touch and saying that he wanted to see me and my mum and my dad and everything else, and we went and met him but we didn’t need anyone at that time. So my dad said when we go up to sign my contract he’ll come with me to see Terry, and I remember the day we went up there to the ground with my dad. And it was obviously a really really proud day for my family, and I remember my dad saying to me let me do the talking and I’ll ask for this and I’ll ask for that, and I’ll ask for a bit of appearance money. I was like ok dad I’ll leave it all to you, and I remember Terry sitting there and he shook my dad’s hand and he obviously remembered my dad from playing against him from when he was at QPR, and they’d had some battles together, so they were having a laugh.
The contract was all there in front of me and he sort of said to my dad, Ron I’ve got really high hopes for him and this was the best compliment I ever received from anyone and I still talk about it now, he said to my dad that he’s the best passer of a ball at the club since Glenn Hoddle. So you can imagine that was a great compliment, and so we sat there and Terry said this is what we’re going to offer him and before I could sort of say anything my dad said that will do. So there was no negotiations, no appearance money, and so I looked at my dad and thought really! But he said that will do and where do you sign, but obviously the money was great after YTS when you were on £27.50 a week I think, when you used to get your boots and bits and pieces. So going from that to a really good contract was brilliant, and I think that my dad said I could have got a bit more money out of it but then again I didn’t want to sort of rock the boat at 18 and start asking for this and that. However, I also remember him saying as well that I was at the bottom of the ladder, and when you think that YTS is the bottom of the ladder and you’ve crept up that ladder by getting that professional contract, no you’re at the bottom now and you’ve really got to work, and this is where all the hard work starts son. After I signed that contract obviously Ray Clemence was my reserve team manager and what a great man he was, and I’ve got some fond memories of Ray. So he was my reserve team manager and I think we played Norwich at Carrow Road as a first year pro, and we won one – nil. I played against Ian Crook who played for Norwich that night, and other than the Man City Quarter-final that was one of my best games for Tottenham. I can remember on the coach on the way back Ray called me down to the front and said listen I think that you’re going to be in the squad (I think that we were playing Wimbledon in the FA Cup) the following weekend. And he said just listen and keep doing what you’re doing and take the day off tomorrow.
I can remember going into the ball court when I should have had the day off and recovered, and I went in to do a few extras, and I went in the gym and I was messing about in the ball court. I can remember going up for a header playing about with a few of the young lads, and when I went up I got knocked in the air and as I came down the knee my left leg buckled underneath me really badly. It was one of them where my shin and my foot went one way, and my thigh and my body went the other. And I just knew straight away that it was something serious, and I went down into the home dressing room and they called the doc and everything else, and they thought that it might settle down, and I wasn’t allowed to do anything until the swelling went down. This was two or three months and I remember Ray coming in and saying to me is it that bad, and can you strap it up and will it be alright and this and that. And I said I don’t think I can as I can hardly walk, and I know for a fact that it was Nick Barmby who came through and sort of took my place, and I can remember him scoring the diving header against Wimbledon on ITV. Then obviously once I done that and once we knew the extent of the injury I had my operation done in the Princess Margaret by John Browett who done Gazza’s, and then that was it for 14 months. I think that a month later was when Gazza done his knee in the FA Cup final, and then once he done his we struck up a really good relationship because we were both sort of in rehab together. And for me that was really it, I never thought that I could really come back from it and I was told as well by the surgeon, and my mum and dad were told as well that I might not ever play again, it was that serious. However, I managed to still come back and I did sort of get a bit of money from the PFA, and I can remember Terry left the club (these 14 months out took me to the end of my two year contract) and I was sort of left in limbo really. I was on the verge of being involved with the Spurs team by playing that well against Norwich at Carrow Road, to all of a sudden like going in to do some extra training thinking that it was good, but it ended up being the worst thing that I’ve ever done.
I later went out to New Zealand to play for a team called Wellington United and so I went out there, and then I came back and I think that Harry Redknapp was at West Ham and he said to me to come in and do some training. So I done some training there just with the youth team to get my fitness, and that youth team was an unreal one which had Lampard, Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, and so I was training with them for a little while. But I remember at the time that he was overloaded with midfield players and I would have had to have paid the money back with the PFA to sort of semi-retire from the professional game, but then that’s when I went into the non-League scene. That’s when I sort of played for various clubs in the non-League.
Could you talk me through your memories of that famous 1989/90 FA Youth Cup winning campaign?
Greg: So obviously the Man City quarter-final at Maine Road was probably my best game, and we weren’t favourites as Man City were favourites but we ended up beating them one – nil. I had probably one of my best games in a Spurs shirt that night, and then we played Man United over two legs in the semi-final and again I don’t think we were favourites for that, because they obviously had Ryan Giggs, Robbie Savage and Mark Bosnich playing. Obviously we got through that one and then played Middlesbrough in the final, which was at the old ground at Ayresome Park and it was a shame really because I think that the following year Sky Sports came in and that was when it was televised. Obviously ours wasn’t as we were the year before, but I think that there was about seven or eight thousand at White Hart Lane that day when we beat Middlesbrough in the second leg in the final. Obviously there was Ian Walker, Ian Hendon and Scott Houghton and Warren Hackett and David Tuttle, and we won it off the back of our defence and having Ian in goal, that’s how we won that, the league and the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup finals. I remember that Ian Walker and Andy Cole had been at Lilleshall, as had a few of the Arsenal and Spurs boys but I hadn’t fancied going there that much. So every time that he played against them it was brilliant and the games were so heated, and you know what the Spurs v Arsenal games are like now, but when you watch it now I don’t see any of that passion or the tackles. The way I look at football now is that there’s not the personalities, I think that there’s so much money involved now in the game that they are athletes and everything is structured. Back in our day and I always said that Terry Venables was the best coach although I didn’t really work under him, because everyone sort of looked up to him when we sort of trained and used to play against the first team and the reserves, and also the times when I used to train with the first team squad. He was a fantastic coach (the best!) and he used to let you let your hair down but at the right times, and if you look back at some of the players we had there such as Paul Stewart, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Andy Gray, Steve Sedgley, Gazza and John Moncur, we had some great characters.
Everyday going into training was a joy really as it was enjoyable, and it didn’t feel like work it just felt as if you were going in with your mates to play football. The atmosphere was fantastic at the time, especially under Terry Venables.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Greg: Well obviously my first hero was Glen Hoddle and I did try to base my game around him because I was obviously a good passer of the ball as well, and I scored goals from midfield. So he was definitely one of my first heroes and he was the king of White Hart Lane as they used to call him, and I’ll always remember his last game which was against Oxford, when he went went round the goalkeeper and put the ball into the empty net which was fantastic. So Glen was my first one, and then after that when Paul Gascoigne joined the club I looked up to him and he was brilliant. He was brilliant for the young lads and he was the first one on the training pitch playing rondos like the piggy in the middle, and he was always the last player off the training pitch. I used to love standing out there practicing my free-kicks with him and we used to be out there for hours with Ian Walker and Erik Thorsvedt, and they used to have to drag us off the training ground at Mill Hill because he just loved playing football. I’ve got some fond memories of Paul from when I was in rehab with him, and when he eventually went to Lazio he invited me out there and I went and spent the weekend with him in this villa in Rome. I went to one of the games and I met his manager at the time Dino Zoff, and I also went into the changing rooms before the game, so it was just fantastic. However, that was just the guy he was and I remember when my mum was really ill at one point and he would ring her up and talk to her on the phone and have a laugh and a joke with her, and he was always buying her chocolates. He was just great and he just used to treat all of the young lads well, and I do say now that he would have been one of the best players in the world if not the best if he hadn’t have injured his knee the second time. They were fantastic times, just the best really.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Greg: I was a central midfield player but we used to play a diamond, so I used to play to the right of the backside of the diamond. I always had an eye for goal and I used to take the free-kicks and the penalties, and I remember when Harry Redknapp wanted to take me to Bournemouth, me and Jamie were very similar players, good passers of the ball and had a good eye for goal. Jamie had a great career whereas mine after my injury I didn’t sort of get back to the heights of what I would have done. So yeah I was an attacking midfield player who was good at set pieces, good at scoring goals and also a really good passer of the ball.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Greg: I’d have probably have said Terry Venables as he always liked me, and I can remember Keith Warden saying to me he really liked me. Whether that was because Terry was a midfield player and a really good passer of the ball or whether he saw some of what I done in his game i don’t know. However, he used to take me to one side and have chats with me and tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, but he was always encouraging and always trying to give you confidence. That is what I say to my son now to enjoy his football and be confident, and play how you want to play and don’t let anyone tell you what to do and how to play. All these players now they seem to be able to play in all of the same positions and this is why this Jack Grealish is a breath of fresh air and he’s the nearest player that I’ve seen to Gazza. I’m not saying that he’s as good as Gazza but he’s the nearest thing to him, but I still keep in contact and play golf with Harry Kane and I’m in business with David Bentley who I’ve got a flooring company with called GFS Bentley & Howell Flooring which is based in Bishop’s Stortford. So I still keep in contact with ex players, players now and obviously a few of the coaches down at Spurs such as Stuart Lewis whose doing really well, and he was at Tottenham as a youngster as well and he’s a good family friend of mine. I’m just sort of looking at my son and I do see a lot of myself in my son but I’m not putting any pressure on him, I just want him to enjoy his football and we’ll see where it goes.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Greg: Gazza. He’d always say to me when we used to be in rehab and when we used to be swimming at the Swallow Hotel where we used to spend a lot of time, he used to say that he’d talk me through games and get me through games, if I had got to that level. He was brilliant for me and I always used to watch him play in training, and another one who thought a lot of me and I used to clean his boots and that was Nayim. He was a technically gifted player who had so much skill it was just frightening, and so yeah I used to look up to Nayim, Gazza and obviously Terry who was great for the ball playing midfield players. I always say now that I was a typical Tottenham player who was good on the ball and on the eye, and looked to pass and score goals, but when it gets down to the nitty gritty can they do it.
How difficult was it for a young Spurs player like yourself to break into the first team during the 1990’s?
Greg: To be honest with you Terry was brilliant and he used to give all of the youngsters a chance and he would have looked to have given me my chance and I’m 100% sure of that, because Ray Clemence liked me and he was sort of pushing me through before I done my knee. However, the boys that came through the year after me such as the likes of Sol Campbell, Darren Caskey and Andy Turner were all given their chance, along with Paul Mahorn. So it was a great club back then for giving players a chance, it really was.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Greg: I wouldn’t change it for the world, like still even now I get people saying to me do you have any regrets or do you beat yourself up, but I say listen if it was meant to be then it was meant to be. If I was meant to have gone on to play 200 or 300 games for Tottenham then I wouldn’t have gone in the next day to have gone Into training to do some extras. I would have had the day off and it might have been different, so I always say that things happen for a reason and now I’ve got a wonderful wife and a wonderful family, and I live in a wonderful area. I’ve also got a successful business and I look at some other players such as David Bentley who I’m in business with and who I’m a really really good friend with, and when I talk to them it’s all a bit of a blur to them for some reason. They always say that they were like race horses and to honest with you I wouldn’t say that they enjoyed it, and I know that David used to always say to me that it was a nine to five job, and that he had to go to work. So I think that it’s much harder now than what it was back then, and as I say we did used to have some fun back then and like I say now they are athletes whereas now you can’t drink and you can’t eat the wrong foods. I think David used to tell me that they were weighed every day and had a urine test everyday. If you were half a pound over or half a pound under then they would want to know why, and people say to me that it’s the best job in the world and it is and the moneys great but it affects some players. It’s really not easy now.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Greg: Like I said when my contract ran out and I think Terry left the club as well at the same time, I did say would there be any chance of another year but Terry said no, and I’ll see if I can take you to where I go. I was sort of waiting around and I didn’t really know what to do, but like I say from 11 to 20 everything was done for me like dentists and doctors, and I could ring up the club if I needed anything as everything was done for me. Then when I left it was like right what do I do here, and this is where even now lads have there problems, and I’ve been talking to and educating a few of the boys that left Tottenham a few years back just to have a chat with them really, and to just tell them that it’s not the end of the world. What you’ve done so far is great and now they do have to do there education and there A Levels, and so if it doesn’t work out as a footballer then you can go out and get another job in London and play non-League football and be on a really really good wage. And then also have a chance of getting back into the Football League’s, although obviously when I left I was like what do I do know and a few people such as Terry tried to get me sorted out, and like I say Ted Buxton (the chief scout at the time) rang me and said do you want to go to New Zealand. Of course they speak English there and I said yeah, and I remember Ian Walker driving me down and my family to the airport, and I was like right, and then I can remember being on the flight and thinking what have I done! However, once I got there and I settled in and they’d gave me a flat and a car with good wages, plus I was coaching in some of the schools so in the end I really enjoyed my time out there, I absolutely loved it. Like I say when I was out there Tony Potts who I was in the same youth team with me, they were looking for a centre forward, and so I asked him if he wanted to come out there and he did, and I’m pretty sure that he enjoyed his time out there as well.
When I came back from New Zealand I’d obviously spoken to Harry Redknapp through my dad and I went to West Ham and trained there, and Harry was obviously great like that for getting my fitness. So he was great to let me train there but I didn’t sign as they had too many midfield players plus I would have had to give the PFA my money back, so then I think I went to Enfield and that didn’t work out for me. I was offered a contract but the manager at the time didn’t put the contract in the top drawer and he didn’t file it with the FA, so then I started to find out all of the tricks and the trades of the non-League game. I then went to St. Albans under a guy called Allan Cockram who was a fantastic manager, and he used to be at Tottenham too. I think that I had four years at St. Albans and I got to the second round of the FA Cup where we played Bristol City after I’d scored the winner against Wisbech in the first round. However, we got beaten I think 7-3 by them, so that was one of the highlights of my non-League career, and then I had a little spell with Enfield bringing the young lads through when we were playing at Boreham Wood when the Southbury Road fiasco was going on. I really enjoyed that and since then I’ve just enjoyed playing and now coaching my sons team – Potters Bar United EGA under 15’s. So I’m involved with that and I’m really really enjoying that, and we’re playing at the stadium, and that’s a really good league as EGA is just under academy football. I’m also sort of involved with an agency called YMU with Rob Segal whose sort of really good friends with Daniel Levy, and I do a bit of scouting for them and watch players. So yeah I’m still involved in the game in quite a big way really, obviously through my son and my business with David and going to watch the youth team at Spurs and the under 23s, which I enjoy doing.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Greg: I’d probably say winning the FA Youth Cup and obviously signing my professional contract, and Terry Venables telling me that I was the best passer of a ball since Glenn Hoddle. As compliments go they don’t come much bigger than that, and like I say it weren’t meant to be and I’m a big believer in that and also to be positive, and it just wasn’t meant to be. I haven’t got any regrets and like I say I’ve got a lovely family, a wonderful wife and I’ve done alright for myself.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Greg: I’ve still got photos of it and I remember playing in the game when Lazio were there to make sure that Gazza was fit enough to travel and sign. That was a game at Mill Hill and it was such a great game with floods of water. Sol Campbell played in that game as well. I was up against Gazza and me and him had such a battle, so I would say that Gazza was the best player by far that I’ve ever played with.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the various Tottenham youth teams and reserves?
Greg: Obviously for the youth teams it was the games against Arsenal, also all of the cup finals along with the FA Youth Cup which was by far the most prestigious don’t get me wrong. But the final against Highbury when we were one-nil down after the first leg and then we beat them two – one in their own backyard at Highbury is something I’ll always remember, and the marble foyers and the changing rooms and everything else. I remember in the warmup thinking that they’d already won it, and yet we were the ones who beat them two – nil and were singing we are the champions and jogging round Highbury with the trophy at the end. So beating Arsenal was one of the highlights as well, and then reserve wise it was beating Oxford United five – one at White Hart Lane and in that game I was exceptional and I sort of ran the show. And Terry came up to my mum and said that you must be really proud of him, so that was one of the best reserve games that I ever had. Also a few of the tours that we had were good and I scored a few goals in Germany but I can’t really remember whereabouts we were. I do remember that in one of them we played Paris Saint-Germain in the final and beat them, but we just got that confidence that we were going to win as we had such a great back four and a great goalkeeper in Ian. If ever we got beat it was like what are they doing they aren’t supposed to beat us.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Greg: I only played against him once but probably Vinnie Jones in a reserve game. I remember me and John Moncur playing against them and he was playing and I was looking at John Moncur like I’m not going near him. He hit me in one tackle and I’ll always remember that. Training wise at Tottenham the toughest one was definitely Neil Ruddock.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Greg: Just Ian Walker really, and when I signed YTS we sort of struck it off really well and had a really good relationship. Obviously he wasn’t happy in his digs he was staying in, and my mum said that there was a room free in mine in Tottenham, and the club sorted it out with my mum and paid my mum for food and this, that and the other. So he came and stayed with me and obviously we struck up a really good relationship, and we’re still in touch now. So Ian is the only one that I’ve really kept in touch with, although Tony Potts is somebody who I also stayed in touch with as he came out to New Zealand with me to Wellington United. Also I still see Ollie Morah now and again and he coached my sons teams as well, but in terms of talking to it would be just Ian and Ollie.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team:
Greg: Just stay focused, it’s so professional now and you’ve just got to stay focused and work hard at your game, so there’s nothing more I can say really now because like I say they’re athletes and they’ve got to eat the right food and they’re not allowed to drink. It’s very very different from the days back in the early 1990’s when I was playing. Enjoy yourself and express yourself. Will we see another Paul Gascoigne that’s the thing. One day I would love to see my son put that white shirt on, and he’s got half a chance but as long as he enjoys it that is the main thing.
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?
Greg: It was the best time of my life and I still go and watch them now and I went loads to watch them last year. I still go and watch the academy side and the under 23 side and I’m still involved in a little bit now with recruiting young players, and like I say from when I got scouted by Dickie Moss when I was 11 and going to do my first session on a Monday night in the ball court to now going to watch them at 47 is a privilege and it always will be. It was the best time of my life and I’ve actually won something there and people still say to me now that Spurs still haven’t won that FA Youth Cup since 1990 and to be honest with you that’s quite devastating really, because that’s over 30 years ago and we still haven’t won it since.