A schoolboy with Spurs for a period during the early 1980’s, Ilford born Spurs supporting midfielder Stephen Charles Castle would go on to enjoy a very fine career in the professional game. A central midfielder with an eye for goal, Castle joined Leyton Orient in 1982 after not being offered associated schoolboy forms with Spurs, it was to be the first of three very successful spells with Leyton Orient. Castle would later play for the likes of Plymouth Argyle, Birmingham City, Gillingham and Peterborough, but since retiring from playing Steve Castle has since gone into football management. The manager of Royston Town since 2013, he has achieved great things at the club from Hertfordshire, and they play some great football as well. Playing with the likes of Des Walker, Martin Hayes, Gary Cooper and Perry Suckling at youth level at Spurs, all of those players weren’t offered associated schoolboy forms by the club, but still went on to have great careers in the game. I recently had the great pleasure of catching up with Steve to look back on his time at Spurs as a schoolboy youth player.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Steve: Going back quite a way it was as a young kid when I was playing for quite a successful team in Romford called Romford Royals, and I was playing with a player called Tony Cottee and several other lads who made it or get apprenticeships such as David Ridley, Ian Beal and and Carl Cowley. So we had a very successful football team which kept together for three or four years, and I don’t think that we ever got beat so that was quite a task in itself, and from there I went to a team called Redbridge United which was obviously where I lived. That was a reasonably successful team as well with players that had gone on to become pros so that would probably be my earliest memory, when you could go to most pro clubs if asked but really only if you signed associated schoolboy forms then you had a choice of whichever club you wanted to train for.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Steve: Well obviously Tottenham is my team as well so that was obviously a real bonus, but I was at Arsenal and I did play a couple of games for the county. I got an invitation from a scout called Johnny Simmonds and he used to play amateur football with my dad, he said that he saw something in me, and I was very excited about it and we were as a family as well. I went down to Spurs and I think I had a couple of training sessions before my first game which was against Leyton Orient and I scored two goals, and Robbie Stepney was really impressed and he said that we would like to offer you associated schoolboy forms.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Steve: Bryan Robson when I was very young, and then Glenn Hoddle as well as Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa and Graham Roberts to a degree, but in general the Tottenham team of the late 70’s and early 80’s were my idols.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Steve: I played in a midfield role at Tottenham probably on the left hand side and occasionally centrally, then obviously as a pro I ended up playing central midfield all of the time but I could also play on the left as I was very predominantly left footed. So I was a midfielder and a left back as a push, but generally I was a midfield player.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Steve: Well Robbie Stepney, Ronnie Henry and obviously the older lads who were there at the time such as Gary Brooke, Terry Gibson who were a little bit older but were obviously playing youth team football at that time as well as Pat Corbett who I knew when he came to Leyton Orient. They were generally the lads along with Allan Cockram who were a couple of years older and who I always looked up to playing Saturday football, which was the first taste really of professional albeit in the Southeast Counties League. So they would be the group of lads who I would look up to.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Steve: Yes, so at the time David Kerslake was above an awful lot of people especially in midfield, so obviously he would be one that would be there. Also Des Walker who although not a centre half did look an excellent footballer and I was very surprised when he didn’t get the invitation, but obviously he had other avenues and has made it into international football, but probably out of our little age group they would have been the ones.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Steve: Well it wasn’t as successful as the rest of my career has been as I think that I’ve excelled at most of the clubs that I’ve been at, but I was a young kid who was probably overawed by an awful lot of things and I wouldn’t be the first person to be like that. However, as I said to you earlier on Tottenham was my boyhood club and it was a dream that I’d put the shirt on and played a few games but if I’m really truthful I don’t think that I done myself justice, as I really was intimidated by the whole atmosphere, and I probably didn’t have my best of times playing wise, and consequentially and unfortunately I didn’t get what I wanted which was an apprenticeship at Tottenham.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Steve: Well as I say I initially got offered associated schoolboy forms and probably stayed for a year just after that but didn’t really do as well as I would have liked to, as I sort of mentioned. I was one of quite a big group that weren’t taken on that actually went and sort of done quite well after being released from Tottenham, and after I got released I played in a county game. Leyton Orient saw me playing in that county game and my dad was quite well connected to knowing people in that regard, and someone came up to him and said what’s going on at Tottenham, and he said I don’t think that he’ll be getting anything. It was a lad called Jimmy Hallybone that said that if he doesn’t then we’ll have a look at him down at Leyton Orient, and I played two or three competitive games under Ralph Coates at Leyton Orient at youth level and they sort of decided to take me on, on a two year apprenticeship. So I did my two years at Leyton Orient and I had another two years as I say as an apprentice before having another nine years as a pro. From there I moved on to Plymouth and there I had three years and had a successful period down there, I then went to Birmingham City for two years in the Championship and then went to Peterborough via Gillingham on loan. I then went back to Leyton Orient for the last few years of my playing career.
Being released from Spurs must have been incredibly disappointing and difficult. How did you find that at the time?
Steve: Obviously I was probably devastated at the time but I can’t remember as being as disappointed as other people would, as I pretty much knew that I wasn’t up to the standard at the time. Half of me was probably a bit relieved that I didn’t have to keep on to get to the high standards that were needed, and for my development probably Leyton Orient was perfect as I had that time to mature and get bigger as I wasn’t the biggest of people. The boy that I was at probably 15/16 was the man that I was at 18, so those formative years of development were really important and they sort of put me in good stead for a professional career. However, it was very very disappointing as Tottenham is one of the best clubs in London if not the country and it still has such an established set up, so it was still disappointing but I had the advantage of bouncing back quite quickly.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Steve: I’m very lucky as I’ve got a few. I scored a six minute hat-trick for Plymouth up at Stockport, I scored four goals as a youngster playing for Leyton Orient against Rochdale. I scored three goals against West Brom at West Brom which was probably my highlight I would say, but yeah I’ve been lucky enough and I’ve had a few promotions and I’ve played at Wembley. So there’s a few that I could add, I couldn’t add one specific thing.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Steve: Well I shared a pitch with Glenn Hoddle albeit in a charity game which is obviously quite a testament in that, passing to him and passing back to me, and he looked fitter than me but that’s beside the point. I’ve played with quite a few good footballers with Steve Bruce being one and Gary Ablett and Mark Ward who were very good footballers for Birmingham when I was there. So I’d probably put Steve Bruce as a regular lad that I played football with on a regular occasion.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Steve: There weren’t many but unfortunately that’s the case, but for me my first competitive game that I played for Tottenham against Leyton Orient which we won seven-two and I scored two as well as the offer of the signing was a real highlight. After that we got invited with all of the parents of the under 18’s youth team to go and watch Tottenham play against Manchester United at Old Trafford, so that was another highlight. Obviously getting to know a few of the other lads that got invited, which was my first sort of time talking to lads like Martin Hayes, Perry Suckling and Des Walker which was really good. Obviously I didn’t realise that they were going to be as successful as they eventually were, but they were sort of the two highlights that I could name along with playing on what was the reserve team pitch at Cheshunt which was another highlight as it had a stand which was fantastic. Under 18 games and reserve games, as well as practice games were played there, so Cheshunt was an impressive place as well.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Steve: Probably Jimmy Case the old Liverpool player who after playing for Liverpool used to play for Brighton, and I played against him on several occasions and he was a very strong player, who you could tell had been a top top player in his day. For playing against quality it was probably playing against Steven Gerrard, but yeah I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve played against a few including Glenn so it’s sort of been an experience.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Steve: No not really, because as a kid you sort of just go in and mix with everybody and as I told you before it was a time that I wasn’t particularly excelling so I sort of kept myself to myself, and I wasn’t a confident or overly confident person. As a 14/15 year old lad you probably just keep yourself to yourself a little bit.
Now as a manager yourself, what would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Steve: Just express yourself and enjoy it, I had that sort of disappointment of probably not doing that and it getting that little bit too much for me. Don’t worry about not getting taken on or don’t worry about getting released or whatever like that because there’s always pathways, and just prove yourself in the nicest possible way by working hard and really trying to make the most of every chance that you 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?
Steve: I’m still a Tottenham supporter and I have no regrets and no resentment, and in an actual fact looking at it now I wasn’t good enough at the time but it will always be a fantastic grounding even though it didn’t work out for me. Little did I know it just gave me the resilience to be what I was over these last 20 years.