Hackney born midfielder and Spurs legend John Arthur Pratt in fact started his footballing career off with west London club Brentford, whose youth team he used to play for. An exceptionally hard-working, versatile and intelligent midfield player, Pratt joined Tottenham Hotspur as an amateur, after having been spotted playing by Spurs legend and double winner Terry Medwin at Clark’s College in Enfield, where Medwin was a coach at the time, and where Pratt was a pupil. The tenacious John Pratt signed professional forms with the club in the November of 1965, and he would play for the juniors and the youth team in the South East Counties League, before progressing onto the reserve side. Excellent at breaking up play in the middle of the park, the defensive minded midfielder also had an eye for goal as well as being able to strike a ball sweetly, and he scored a very respectable total of 64 goals from 462 first team appearances for Spurs, although not all of which were in competitive games. After having risen through the various ranks at the club, John was eventually given his first team debut for Spurs by the great Bill Nicholson, it came in an end of season tour of Cyprus in a friendly against a Cyprus International XI (John made his competitive debut for Spurs against Arsenal the following year), with Spurs winning three-nil thanks to a brace from Jimmy Robertson and a goal from Alan Gilzean. Pratt would go on to establish himself in the Tottenham first team in a spell at the club as a player that would last almost 15 years, and he won the 1972 UEFA Cup, the 1973 Football League Cup (he played a big part in the run up to the final of that seasons competition), and he also played in both legs of the 1974 UEFA Cup final, when we finished as runners up to Dutch side Feyernoord. After enjoying on the whole a very successful time at Spurs albeit with the team enjoying mixed fortunes in that long period of time, Pratt left Spurs to join American side Portland Timbers in the May of 1980. He would later return to Spurs to coach both the youth and reserve team, before becoming assistant first team manager to Peter Shreeves for a period.
After having left Spurs permanently, Pratt would later manage Chesham United, coach Stevenage Borough and become assistant manager of Worthing, to name just some of his post playing career roles. I felt extremely privileged to have recently got the chance to interview John about his hugely memorable and eventful time at Tottenham Hotspur.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
John: It was going to the Crown and Manor Boys Club in Hoxton where I was born, and going over to Hackney Marshes. I was in the under 11’s when I first went to Crown and Manor and they were called the minors, and when I was ten and a half they had a really good team, and they got to the London Federation of Boys Clubs finals. And the manager of the team was a guy called Dougie Workman, and he was one of those people that was far ahead of his time, he was a Chelsea supporter but in years later I let him get away with that. He was a forward thinking man and I got picked to play in the semi-finals, and all of the 14 year olds said no, no, no we aren’t going to have that, we want Jimmy Mason who was one of their mates, and they wanted him to play. But Dougie said well no, if you don’t want to play with him then I’ll get ten other boys that want to play with him. So they went out and I was sitting there but I was ten and a half so I didn’t know what was going on. Eventually they all came back in and said yeah alright we’ll play, and so we played on Hackney Marshes against a good team called Alexander who were from Stoke Newington. I was playing on the wing in them days and I was having a really good first half and then in the second half they had a Hackney and London fullback playing, and they changed him over to mark me and so instead of going down the right hand side of the pitch we predominantly went down the left hand side of the pitch. So obviously I wasn’t getting a kick of the ball and it was freezing cold, and I just got colder and colder and colder, and at Crown and Manor we had the British lightweight boxing champion called Arthur Howard. I remember him picking me up and carrying me from pitch 167 all the way back to the dressing room, I was so frozen!
We ended up winning that game and I’ll always remember that welcome to the world, tactically it was the right thing for us to do but I didn’t get a kick of the ball in the second half as one the player was a very good fullback, and two we changed our tactics. That was my first realisation about playing football at any level, but my dad was a good footballer and he basically sort of showed me all of the techniques when I was around that age group. Then afterwards I had the good fortune that at the school that I went Terry Medwin from the double side at Tottenham was our coach at school. So I had another good mentor to follow, but basically most of it was off the cuff and you just played and you enjoyed yourself, perhaps a little bit more than the boys do now as there is too much pressure on young players now I think.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
John: Well I played for Brentford when I was 14/15 in the youth team there, and I think that we had played Tottenham and I had had a couple of good games. However, because of the association with Terry Medwin when I was 16 Terry said that Tottenham wanted you to go and have a trial, and this was in 1964. I said well I’m doing alright at Brentford and I was only 15 and I’d had half a dozen reserve team games, but he said to me where are you going to go if you don’t make it at Brentford. And I didn’t have a clue as I was just a kid from Hoxton who didn’t know about all of the things in football, and he said to me well put it this way John if you don’t make it at Tottenham then there are 91 other teams that you can go to. And I thought wow what a good answer that is, I’ll have some of that, and so unfortunately for Tottenham it was the day that John White was being buried when I went for my trial. So one John went and one John came, and the 45,000 people who were there at Tottenham were hoping that the other one hadn’t gone, but that was the day that I had the trial. My dad used to say to me when I played for London and others, that all of the people around you ask them their names and say if you pass the ball to me and make me look good then I will pass the ball to you and make you look good. So when I went and had my trial up at Cheshunt I said to the winger and I said to the fullback that my name is John Pratt, and I said exactly that. So I probably got a little bit more of the ball than I may of done, because to be fair you know that people are trying to make themselves noticed and they are going to want to dwell on the ball and have it more than perhaps they should do. So after that I played for a year, and Bill Nicholson was big on education and he said to me that I want you to stay at school and so I said alright then I’ll stay at school.
So I stayed at school for a year as an amateur in the youth team and the first year that I was there the under 17’s were formed in the South-East Counties League, and I think that Bill Nicholson fancied winning that. I used to play in that sort of as a centre half or as a left back, and Tony Want who played in the first team and went to Birmingham also played in it, and he seemed as if he really wanted to win the under 17 league by putting some of us who were playing in the FA Youth Cup team in cup games. We did go on and win the league, but we were playing West Ham in the FA Youth Cup in I think the fifth round, and we’d drawn about three or four times. We were playing up at Upton Park and the only other amateur playing on that day was Trevor Brooking and myself, and I’d played centre half and after the game people were saying how did I play centre half. However, like Gary Mabbutt I had a good technique to jump and head the ball, and I was a pretty decent header of the ball. So after the game Ron Greenwood came up to me and said that I understand that you’re an amateur, and I said yeah and then he said are Tottenham going to sign you. I said well I don’t know, and he said well if they don’t want to sign you then we’ll sign you and so I said well I’ll ask Bill Nicholson if he wants to sign me, so afterwards I went to see Bill and I knocked on his door and got an appointment with him because I actually worked for a month before I turned professional, in the import and export business in the city. And unfortunately it was a bittersweet situation because I signed on the 19th November 1965 when I turned pro and it was on a Friday, and I’d worked and then I met my dad at Liverpool Street station. We went on the train to White Hart Lane and then went across the road to Bill and this was after half past five, and on the Saturday I was supposed to play for England Amateurs.
That was the only time in my life that I was good enough to play for England, and I used to play for a Sunday morning team called Samuel Lithgow which was another boys club in the London Federation of Boys Clubs. We had nine England amateur internationals in our team and me, and needless to say we won most of our games, and so I was due to play as I had got picked to play. In the Evening Standard and the News of the World on a Friday night it was John Pratt from Hoxton signs professional terms with Tottenham Hotspur. I arrived at London airport with my dad on the Saturday and they said no you can’t play because your a professional, but as I know now I wouldn’t have been a professional until the Monday. Because it was after half past five so I wouldn’t have been registered with the FA until Monday morning, but nevertheless one of the biggest days of your life when you found out that you were going to become a professional footballer happened on a Wednesday. We were playing in the Metropolitan League at Charlton and I had arrived from work as I’d had another afternoon off work, and the firm Gillespie Brothers were brilliant and they were really good to me, I spent more time playing football then I did doing any business on the import and export business. Anyway I’ve arrived at the game and Eddie Baily’s got his clip board and he’s thrown it on the floor and he’s said Pratt we’ve only got to sign you professional and he said what’s the game coming to. However, Eddie Baily loved me and he was one of the reasons why I did get into the Spurs first team and played in the early 70’s with him and Bill. So that was how I became a professional footballer and somebody has said what’s the game coming we’ve got to sign you professional, and so that’s how I signed for Tottenham.
I think that I had went to Tottenham three times prior to signing for them, and that was the Benfica game, the Glasgow Rangers game and the game against Aston Villa in the FA Cup sixth round. My mates at school were all Tottenham supporters but I had only been there (White Hart Lane) three times before I had actually joined them, but I’m a Tottenham supporter now as I’m a fair bit older obviously and having done all of the things that I’ve done at the club they are my team. At the time I suppose if I had supported anyone it was Leyton Orient, because my dad played for Leyton Orient before the war as an amateur, and when he came back from the war they offered him £6 a week, but he was getting £7 a week working as a plumber at Truman’s. So it was a no brainer that he stayed at Truman’s, but he was a pretty good footballer and I was lucky enough to inherit his natural ability, I think.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
John: I think inspiration wise it would sort of have been the Manchester United 1958 team that died in Munich. My mates were Arsenal fans and I remember that I went to Arsenal on the Saturday when they played Manchester United who beat them five-four, but the only thing that I can remember about the game was one of the goals that they scored. Duncan Edwards played but I can’t remember seeing him play although I obviously saw him visually, and I suppose that in 58/59 Bobby Charlton was the player that everyone wanted to aspire to be. Where I lived after the FA Cup final on the Saturday you used to go out, and you used to have to have a fight to be Bobby Charlton before you actually played the game, because everybody wanted to be Bobby Charlton. The irony is that ten years later I was playing against him, which was obviously an experience to say the least. Then when I was at Tottenham I suppose that Dave Mackay was a massive sort of influence by watching him play and the way that he conducted himself, and he was a born winner and I have always enjoyed winning. To be fair I didn’t watch that much football as I was always playing, and on a Saturday morning and afternoon, and Sunday morning I was always playing football. There’s loads and loads of people that I admire and since playing against them you become more and more aware of players ability and one thing and another, and having played in as many positions as I did. I think that I’m the only person to have played for Tottenham that’s played in every position apart from goalkeeper, for obvious reasons as I’m five foot seven. If I looked at people like Ron Henry who was my captain in the reserves, and when I was doing my coaching badges Ron was very influential there and also in the A team he was brilliant.
Also there was Terry Medwin and people like Jimmy Greaves, so there were loads of them really in and around Tottenham. Later on I had the great fortune to become very friendly with Bobby Moore, so there was lots of people to admire but there was loads of people that weren’t actually professional footballers that told you a lot of great things about life. Johnny Wallis who was the kit man used to train all us young lads, and apprentices and young professionals up until you were 20 and teach us all of the fundamental things about discipline and hard work etc, and technique and quality, and they were all of the things that Tottenham are known for. So the people were my dad, Terry Medwin, Johnny Wallis, Eddie Baily and Bill Nicholson. But the three managers that I played under Bill, Terry for the year that he was there and Keith Burkinshaw were people who I learned a lot from, and they all helped me to become a better player.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
John: I played every position to the point where I can remember we were training at Cheshunt and Cyril Knowles got injured (he had pulled a muscle or something) and Alan Mullery said to Bill what are we going to do about the left back, and he said that it’s not a problem, John Pratt will go and play left back. I just happened to look up and I saw the face of the reserve team left back at the time, and his face just hit the floor and he thought I must be a good player, because we’ve got a midfield player which I predominantly was, going to play left back. Because I played in the youth team at left back and centre half, as well as centre forward for few games and I took a right hiding there because I was alright at dishing it out. In midfield if you get kicked you know how to give a hard tackle back but I was having a really hard time, and it was about three games that I played and I went to see Bill, and I was taking a bit of a chance. I had only been on the first team squad a little while, and I said about being a centre forward I don’t mind taking it as long as I can give it a little bit back as I don’t have a clue, and he said it’s ok John Pratt Jimmy’s fit and he’ll be playing. As I walked out the door he went by the way I’m going to move you back to midfield, so I thought thank goodness for that, and so because of the education that I had had in the youth team of playing every position if I wasn’t a Jack of all trades, master of none then I wouldn’t have played as many games as I did. I also wouldn’t have been substituted as many times as I was, because with the one substitute at the time you had to cover a number of bases and apart from the goalkeeper I covered most of them. So I was fortunate enough that I was reasonably good at most of those positions that it gave me that opportunity to play as many games.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
John: Just by watching them and looking at them the managers and Johnny Wallis, and basically listening and watching the way people conducted themselves and technically how they adapted themselves, and the approach that they gave it was just phenomenal. You learn different things from different people, I learnt awareness of the people around me from Jimmy Greaves, and my competitiveness sort of got me accepted into the first team squad. I went into a tackle with Dave Mackay and you could have heard a pin drop thinking that Dave was going to have a go at me, and instead he just slapped me on the back. So I was sort of accepted into the first team pool as they say.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
John: Well basically you learn from different people, so with Greavsie people used to say that Greavsie weren’t a brave player and things like that, but when you knock a ball on to someone and you shout man on you see an opponent try and close them down and tackle them. Someone knocked the ball to Greavsie once and I shouted man on, and he knocked it back to me and then I played the ball, and I looked around and the look that he gave me was like what are you talking about man on! He’s miles away. So the next time the situation has happened the balls gone up to Greavsie and this player was onto him and Jimmy dropped his shoulder one way and went with the ball the other way, and I went keep your mouth shut when it comes to Jimmy Greaves you know, because he knows what he’s doing. People like Cliff Jones for example, he was only five foot seven but he was a good header of the ball and when I played wide on the left or wide on the right I would always make sure that I wasn’t staying wide on the right when he was on the left or vice versa. I’d make sure that I was getting inside the box, so that was one of the things that I learned from Cliff. Also Alan Gilzean, when I was playing centre half in the reserves I would be marking him at Cheshunt and his elbow would come out and hit me in the face and he’d tread on me, but it was just natural and he did it. I said look Gil you’ve just elbowed me, but it was such second nature and part of his game to feel the centre half etc and if you like give him a little bit of a whack, that I said Gil I’ll have to give you a little kick soon (not that I would have done!) but I learnt those little things from him. You know if you’ve got any intelligence at all and there’s football intelligence and intelligence, but if you’ve got any football intelligence then you pick up things by looking at different people doing different things.
The day that you think that you know it all is not a good day, because you are learning all of the time and I found that out when I was coaching. A lad would do something and I’d say could you do that again, and then I’d get the whole group in and I’d say now he’s under pressure because he’s got 20 lads watching him. He’d perform the technique which he’d done, and if someone sees one of the other lads doing it then they think that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it. So you’re learning all of the time and seeing different people doing different things, and I mean years ago Johan Cruyff did that turn and it’s forever been known as the Johan Cruyff turn. It’s peoples awareness of like forwards against defenders to touch them to feel you, before then pulling away. John Duncan was someone who scored goals of all different types like from the back of his head or anywhere, and he used to stand still in the box and where you had all the movement in the box he just used to stand still. He used to say well John well everyone else is moving and the great majority of the time the ball would find him, and he was quite prolific at putting it away. So different people you learn different things from.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams and reserves?
John: Well I suppose with the youth team it would be from the under 17’s because the South-East Counties was the under 18’s, and then they brought in an under 17 team and to be fair you know in that league you could be playing someone who was 19. If there birthday fell the right way then you could be playing against a 19 year old as a 15 year old, which I did. I actually forgot to mention that when I was I think 13 I went down to Portsmouth in Easter time when they used to invite a lot of players down, and we stayed in a hostel which Dougie Reeves the centre forward at Portsmouth years before had run and looked after. And Jimmy Dickinson the famous Portsmouth player was I think the director of football there or in the hierarchy, so we played against Chelsea on the Royal Marine pitch down in Portsmouth. We lost like nine-one but I got the one and it was quite a long distance shot and so shooting from long range was something that I became a little bit well known for. My thesis on that is if you don’t buy a raffle ticket then you’re not going to win the raffle, and that’s something that I don’t see us doing at the moment. If you keep having shots on goal then the goalkeeper is going to say to his defenders to close him down and stop him trying to have attempts. Then when you close him down then that’s when you do your little push and runs, instead of trying to do the push and runs all of the time and making it a five a side game you’ve got to make people think, and also think that they’ve got to close him down. So you learn from different people. Ossie Ardiles used to use the weight of people running at him to beat them, so as they are closing him down the ball would come to him and as they’d close him down he would knock it past them and run past them. Ossie was a very intelligent player and an intelligent man, but you learn all of those things as I said before you are never too old to learn.
Keith Burkinshaw once called me in one day on a Friday when I was in my 30’s and he said John Pratt I’m thinking of leaving you out tomorrow. And I said I’m glad you’re only thinking about it (I laughed but he didn’t) but he explained the reason why, and I could understand the reason why because he said I’m not saying that sometimes you don’t see a situation, but you can’t get your body in the right position to make the pass. He said what you’ve got to do is give other people credit that they see the same thing that you do, and your playing in a high class team that they should see what you’ve seen. So instead of trying to disappear, hold it up and knock it back for someone else to play the through ball, and the thesis we had at Tottenham was that for every sideways and backward pass there should always be a forward pass. That is pretty alien to the game in general at the moment, and I love me football but I personally think that it’s becoming very Italian 1970’s, where everyone keeps the ball and and they drop off. We was always taught at Tottenham like basketball to always create two on one situations, so if you’ve got the ball and you run at an opponent, then drag him into an area where he doesn’t want to be. And then you make a forward pass and you don’t have to follow the pass sometimes, particularly if you’re a defender but if I played right back my first look was the winger or wide player. And my second look was the midfield, while my third look was the second centre forward as we always used to play with two centre forwards, and he’d come short. If that wasn’t on then my last get out ball was a clip into the other centre forward to run into, and I don’t like all this arm waiving when people don’t have the ball trying to get people into positions. It’s the man off the ball that makes the play not the man with the ball.
If you’ve got the ball and I run, and say I’m in the inside of the forward position and I want to go into the left hand side of the position and you knock the ball, then wait hold on that’s not where I want it, I want it here. Roberto Soldado’s movement was fantastic at Tottenham and he obviously didn’t get too many plaudits for what he did, but he would go one way and then go back in the aisle. Our fullbacks at the time were looking down at the ball which you shouldn’t do because you should know where the ball is, as that’s one of the first things that you learn as a footballer. So his movement was wasted, but it’s the man off the ball that makes the play and that was ingrained in us all of the time. Some memories from playing in the reserves with Spurs, was one when I was playing in Swansea and we had a Welsh fullback called John Collins who played a couple of times in the first team when he was young. So we’re playing Swansea away and they were constantly kicking us and we had a lad Roy Woolcott and he was a semi-professional player, and Roy was so hard and he was six foot three. This centre half was kicking him and he went whack, and he chinned the geezer! The referee didn’t see it and there was a commotion going on and he said he’ll be alright, but the crowd was shouting go home you cockney so and so’s and all that. But John Collins is going but I’m Welsh, but in the end he said whatever! The other one was when we had just signed Dennis Bond and we were playing at Fulham and Bondy came and he had this lovely new suit on and he looked a million dollars. We came in at half-time and big Roger Hoy who went to play for Crystal Palace, and in the end he had a go at Ron Henry about something. Well Ron flew at him and all of the teas went over Dennis, and we all turned around and said welcome to the club Den! But that showed the passion.
I think that at this moment in time that everyone should be captains and there was three of us later on at Tottenham, Terry Naylor myself as well and Steve Perryman who would always be shouting and encouraging, and if you had to shake your fist at someone then you shook your first at someone. But now if something happens then everyone accepts it but everyone knows what should be done and alright you’ve done that mistake, but show me what you’re all about. Like all things in life as you go on, you know the ones that you can have a go at and you know the ones that you can’t have a go at. Whereas as a manager there’s some players you look at and say sorry, and there’s others that you put your arm round and you say that they are a million dollars and get your head up. So we’re all different people and consequently you can’t treat everybody the same, but you should have 11 captains out on the team, not just one. I’ll always remember that Bill Nicholson used to say that playing football is like driving a car, you should be driving everyone else’s car so you know what they are doing. So I said Bill is that why I keep on smashing my car up! The other memory from the reserves was when Tottenham were playing Liverpool away and it was the time that they got beat seven-nil, and me and Terry Naylor were playing in the reserves and I was playing centre half. We were playing Chelsea and they had a load of young lads playing and so I’m marking the centre forward, and at the old ground at Tottenham they used to have the alphabets up. They used to put the half-times up when we were playing, and in the corner every 15 minutes they would put the first team score up, and so after 15 minutes we’re three-nil down at Liverpool. So me and Terry Naylor are laughing hysterically and the centre forward went what are you laughing at? And so I said that the first team were losing three-nil. And he said don’t you want them to win? Well put it this way I said if they were three-nil then I’d be marking you again next week!
We were only on half a bonus anyway if you didn’t get in the team, so it wasn’t a lot to lose to get back in the team. I was brought back in for the next game.
Do you remember much about your first team debut for Spurs in a friendly against a Cyprus XI in the May of 1968?
John: Well that was eventful because it was Cliff Jones’ last tour, and the pitches were like concrete with sand thrown over them. However, that was a good tour as we had Greavsie, Terry Venables, Dave Mackay, Gilly and Cliffy Jones, so there were some characters there on that trip, and it was great to be introduced into the first team on that tour. Me and Tony Want were only told a week before that we would be going on the tour, and so we had to go and buy some trousers and all this, that and the other down in Barnett’s down in Bruce Grove. The man there knew us and because our thighs were quite big we used to have our trousers taken in and those were days, as nowadays they have them taken out. It was a good trip though and it was a nice way to get brought into the first team squad.
If possible could you share some of your memories of your time as a player at Spurs during the 1972 UEFA Cup winning campaign, the 1973 Football League Cup winning campaign and the 1974 UEFA Cup campaign, when we finished as runners up?
John: Well that was a terrific sort of three/four years really and of course I also played a few games in the 1971 League Cup campaign and got a medal for it, but there was only one substitute allowed back in them days anyway, so that was good. Then in 1972 I remember that I broke my nose before the second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final against AC Milan, and now they talk about people playing too many games. However, back then we’d played on the Saturday and then on the bank holiday Monday against Ipswich, and then we were playing AC Milan in the semi-final replay on the Wednesday, and I broke my nose after eight minutes against Ipswich. Colin Viljoen who eventually went to Chelsea did an overhead kick on the halfway line, and I’d gone up to head the ball and all my nose was on the other side of my face. So I had to have all of that pushed back the following morning up at the hospital at Bruce Grove, with the possibility that I could be playing on the Wednesday. That’s when Alan Mullery got called back from Fulham, and Steve Perryman scored two goals against AC Milan, and then we went out to the most electrifying atmosphere that I’ve ever played in, even more than Wembley, which was the San Siro stadium when we played AC Milan. I hadn’t headed a ball all week and I played in the reserves and Ian Hutchinson was the centre forward, and he was all arms and legs. Bill Nicholson said to me that he wanted me to play centre half but that he didn’t want me to head the ball, and I thought that I’m playing centre half but you don’t want me to head the ball, ok that sounds feasible to me. So I got the 90 minutes under my belt and then Bill just like Keith always told you the team either the night before, or an hour before the game. And the night before we’ve gone to Milan he’s said you’re going to be playing and I’m going to leave Alan Gilzean out, and I want you to mark Gianni Rivera, the AC Milan captain and captain of Italy.
About that I thought ok then, because at that period of time over those four years if you like that was my job and I had marked the creative player of the other team, and I suppose with the ability that all of these players had if I could put them out of the game then they weren’t going to miss me as much as the other team were going to miss their player. That was a compliment from Bill for my ability and you name them I marked them and we had good results, but so I did think wow they’re leaving Alan Gilzean out but for me that was some compliment. So that was that one and I got the winners medal for that one and the runners up one for the other one. I suppose that the disappointing thing was that Feyernoord game because we had done so well but the referee didn’t have a great game that day, and Chris McGrath scored a goal which should have stood, and Martin Peters missed like three headers which you would have given him on any other day. Then they scored just before half-time and of course the crowd were fighting (that’s not the reason why we lost) but the fact that we conceded two goals in the last last five or ten minutes at White Hart Lane was the reason why we lost over the two legs. That was what cost us the game really and so that one was a bittersweet one, they had called Bill out just as he was going to give the team talk, and when he came back he threw his coat on the floor and said they’re tearing the place to pieces. So it wasn’t so eerie for me, but my wife and my mum and dad, and her mum and dad were there, as I had sort of flown them over to watch the game. It’s the only time that I would possibly say that I’ve been embarrassed to have been an Englishman. Having said that the Feyernoord supporters were no angels and they fought the good fight so to speak but it was eerie, and even the following day (we didn’t come back until the Monday) you sort of kept your head down.
You also didn’t want to speak because if you spoke with an English accent or in my case a London accent you felt that you were intruding on their territory so to speak, but it was better to have played in the finals than to never have played. I suppose the only regret really is that I had the good fortune in those early 70’s to play with so many good players and that we never won the league. Me as a workman like player if you like and as a team man winning the league would have been fantastic to have been the best over 42 games, yeah it would have just been the icing on the cake. Like most flamboyant teams if you like which we were, you have to win the right way and you have to win entertainingly and you have to do the right things. At this moment in time Tottenham are winning by dropping off and defending, whereas back in the day dare I say it Spurs supporters expected you to play in a certain way and to win a certain way. Alan Mullery has got a great saying and he says sometimes you have to win ugly, and that’s a fantastic line to go by and I mention that all of the time. Put it this way I’d rather win ugly sometimes than play all the best football in the world and lose every week. It’s like when you’re coaching which I went into, and when I was youth team manager they (Spurs) had not taken any apprentices for ages and ages, and the saving grace for me was that the government brought in the YTS scheme, and for every apprentice that we had we could sign two YTS players that the government played for. So we had people like John Moncur and Vinny Samways and Shaun Close who was another one that played in the first team, so there was like four or five of them which played in the first team, including Richard Cooke. And they were all 16 year olds and we were suffering some bad defeats, we got beaten nine-nil at Ipswich and centre forward Jason Dozzell who played for England a couple of times, got five!
Neil Ruddock played for Millwall and he was a centre half and he got three goals against us, and at that moment in time we just didn’t have that turn over where the experienced players in the youth team could help the younger ones. You need a certain amount of success to make people believe what you’re telling them is the right thing, it’s about enjoying it but the end result is about winning. Back to my memories of the 1973 League Cup winning campaign obviously the final when Bill Nicholson said to me that he wanted me to mark Graham Paddon. He said that he would give me the signal when to release myself, as I loved getting forward. I’ll always remember Terry Neill saying to me John I want you to get forward and score me some goals, because I know you’re going to run back so get yourself forward. The season that he was there I scored 13 goals, I was eighth leading goal scorer in the First Division, but that League Cup final was great, especially playing at the old Wembley which was iconic. Ever since I was about seven I sat there on cup final days and watched the FA Cup being played at Wembley and all of the things used to start at nine o’clock in the morning and went on until long after the game had finished on the television. So I as I say Bill said to me to mark Graham Paddon, and about 20 minutes in Bill shouted go on, and I marched on and when I came back I went to make a slide tackle and my left knee hit the ground while the rest of my body was going the other way, and I tore my abductor muscle. I had to come off after 25 minutes and the saving grace was that Coatesy came on and he scored, and having won it it would have been lovely to have run around the pitch but I was on crutches.
Me and and Ralph were joined at the hip and he was a lovely man, and I remember that he went to the 1970 World Cup with England. I used to say to Coatesy what would have happened to your career if I hadn’t have been injured, having already gone to Mexico for the World Cup, but he was a lovely man. And it was better to be on the winning side than not, and he scored the winning goal which was fantastic, but that was a bittersweet memory, but it was better to be on the pitch for 25 minutes than not at all. People now are derisory of the League Cup and I go to these people that say that it’s a Mickey Mouse cup, well how many times have you won it and played in it? Have you played at Wembley in front of 100,000 people? So I’ve been involved in all those four cup runs, the two League Cup campaigns and the two UEFA Cup campaign but we didn’t the league and we didn’t win the FA Cup. We got to the sixth round a couple of times, and I was only a pro for two years in 1967 when we won it, but it was a really good party at the Savoy afterwards which I thoroughly enjoyed. But winning the FA Cup and the league were the two things that I wish I’d had the opportunity to have had the chance of winning, but I’m not going to give the other four medals back.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Tottenham first team?
John: Well I suppose those campaigns which we did ever so well in and there was sort of a camaraderie, and we had a good team with Jennings and Kinnear, Knowles, England, Mullery, Philip Beal, Martin Peters, Chivers and Gilzean. Going back a bit further you had the good fortune of playing with Dave and Jimmy Greaves and Cliffy Jones on tour so they were fantastic memories. From a boy from Hoxton to have played as many games that I did was great, and there weren’t too many other people to have played more games than I have. So from someone that wasn’t supposed to be particularly adequate I didn’t do too badly.
Are there any memories from your time as assistant manager of the Spurs first team that standout?
John: Well I remember that we won at Liverpool for the first time in I think 73 years, but when people say that, me having a Leyton Orient background, Liverpool came up in 1960 with Leyton Orient. So I said I’m not being funny or anything but how can we beat Liverpool if they’re in the Second Division? And they were in that division for loads of years, but we had grounds like Anfield where we played particularly well at, and we had as many draws as we had defeats there to be fair, but then we didn’t win. So as assistant manager when we went there and Garth Crooks scored the goal that was great, also the European journey that we went on was good and we got Real Madrid but decisions didn’t go our way on that day. Mark Falco scored a fantastic goal and that was disallowed and then Steve Perryman got sent off straight away after that, but yeah it was a learning curve for me. Shreevesy was a fantastic coach, and I mean the Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily partnership was what Keith Burkinshaw and Peter Shreeves were. They were both good for each other and as I say you always learn all of the time, and once again having been part of that as assistant manager I felt that we should have been given a little bit more time. We’d bought Chris Waddle, we’d bought Clive Allen and Paul Allen and they had their various reasons for needing time to settle in the team or settle at the club, but we weren’t given it, but having said that I’m back now doing match day hospitality for the club when we’re allowed to go there. So yeah it’s been a massive part of my life from when I signed in 1965, and I’m still there now in 2020 so I think that I should be super proud of myself. I’ve never been a boastful person but sometimes my mates go Pratty how many people do this and how many people do that, that you realise what you’ve done. I’ve had many a supporter come up to me and said that you weren’t a good player, and I go well everyone’s entitled to an opinion but the three people that mattered were the three managers Bill Nicholson, Terry Neill and Keith Burkinshaw, and they thought that I did a job for the team.
As I say now that the priority is that it’s a team game and it’s all about helping each other and getting the best out of each other. I suppose that one of the pluses that I’ve had for the club, was that when I was doing my coaching badges I helped shape Glenn Hoddle. It’s funny because I coached him when he was young and then playing with him when he made his debut and he scored at Stoke, and I’ll always remember Brian Moore interviewing him after the game and he said what made you shoot? And Hod went well John Pratt said shoot and if John says shoot then you shoot. And you know that’s lovely and we’re still mates till this day, and I think that’s the one thing that I would take away from all of my experience with Tottenham is, from all the eras from Cliffy Jones who is now 85 from the 60’s side to Glenn Hoddle and Steve Perryman and Ossie Ardiles and Paul Miller and Pat Jennings is that we are all mates. We all care about each other, and I’m lucky enough that from the era I played in that we all became firm friends that will do anything for each other. And if that’s the legacy I’ll take away from me then that will do me, because people are the most important thing.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
John: Well it was 1980 when my contract was up and in my 16 years at the club I’d only ever been on a one year rolling contract. So I went in to see Keith and it was the only time that Tottenham have ever offered me a two year contract and I said to them am I going to be in the team? And Keith Burkinshaw who is sometimes a little bit too honest went well you’re my perfect substitute, and I took that as a compliment, I didn’t take it as a negative. I said well Keith I want to be in the team but I’ve had this offer from America to go and play out there for Portland Timbers, and I said that if I’m not going to be in your starting team, but then he said I’ll have to bring you back after three games like I normally do. And I said just imagine those three games have gone and start me it’s that easy, but I said that I needed a free transfer and he endeavoured to eventually get me one, and there was a little bit of haggling over that at the time, because the club wanted a quarter of a million for me, and I hadn’t cost them anything. I said well look I’ll retire as I’ve had a better career than I thought I’d ever have so forget it, and then all of a sudden I got a phone call from Keith saying that I had a three transfer. So I went and played at Portland Timbers for three years and it was just like being injured because during the campaigns when Spurs won cups, Stevie Perryman, Ossie and Paul Miller kept me in touch with everyone and the ball that they played at Highbury with against Wolves in the semi-final, they all signed that and sent it out to me. They also all signed an Ossie’s going to Wembley record and so it was like being injured and I couldn’t play but I was still involved, so that was great. Unfortunately the recession of 82/83 put an end to my time in America and I lost all of my money, but they were great years that the family had. My wife became Marie Pratt instead of the wife of John Pratt the footballer or the footballers wife, and the whole family had a great time there.
If somebody said to me you’re going to lose all of your money but you’ll have three of the best years of your life, I’d take that all day long. 18 months before that Keith had phoned me up and offered me the youth team managers job, and then when I came back from America (we had deportation orders and one thing and another) I said to Keith can I train down at the ground? I wanted to continue playing and that’s the reason why I didn’t take the youth team managers job anyway, and then Harry Redknapp asked me to go to Bournemouth with him as like a player-coach and then Keith said do you want to be the youth team manager? And we just sort of changed house and so I took the youth team managers job, then obviously I became the reserve team manager and the assistant manager and the sack which is now an inevitability in football, but Tottenham will forever be a part of my life and the people involved with it.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
John: There’s a few so I couldn’t put one, people ask me who was the greatest player that I played with at Tottenham and years ago I used to say Dave Mackay straight away. Garry Brooke once asked me whose the greatest player in their position that you’ve ever played with? And I said that it’s Pat Jennings, but then no one ever says the goalkeeper, although going back to the greatest moment of my footballing career it was signing pro, playing at Wembley, making my debut against Arsenal which was my local team when we lost one-nil. The following year I scored my first league goal against Arsenal and I nearly got my mates in big trouble because they were in the Clock End and they said well we jumped up when you scored and then we spent the next 20 minutes trying to explain to the people around us who were angry that you were our mate, and that we lived in the same block of flats as each other. Then obviously the League Cup final and the UEFA Cup finals, and above all of them is having the good fortune of having played with as many talented players as I did play with. When you’re lucky enough to have had as many of those things as I had then it’s very difficult to name one, it’s like the lads who played in the FA Cup final and then the UEFA Cup final which was the best? Maybe the first or maybe the last, they’re all great at the time and in there own context they were always the best times.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
John: Well that’s what I was saying with Pat Jennings, but I always say Dave Mackay because Dave was all things to all people but that would be detrimental to Mike England the best centre back, Cyril Knowles the best left back. And also Jimmy Greaves who was the best goalscorer that I’ve ever seen, then there was Alan Mullery and Martin Peters and Alan Gilzean, where do you stop. Having played with Glenn Hoddle, Steve Perryman and Ossie Ardiles it’s very difficult to stop, because in there own way they were all very good players, and some of them great players. By the way George Best is the greatest player that I’ve ever played against, by far.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
John: Well the only time that I’ve ever went into a tackle where I’m still shaking now was with Romeo Benetti of AC Milan, and he was built like a house. It was in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in Milan and I was shaking for about ten minutes after it, he had legs that were bigger than Mark Hughes’ and Alan Mullery’s and Graham Roberts’ all put together. He was a colossal and there’s a difference between being hard and being dirty, and there were nasty players such as Johnny Giles who is arguably one of the best player to play in England, and he could leave his foot in there, but there was one or two that I played with that could do that as well and be equally as nasty. I always like to think that I went for the ball fairly and sometimes people are going to be quicker than you and they’ll get to the ball first, but I can’t say that I ever deliberately tried to hurt somebody because that shouldn’t be in the game. It’s like all this pulling and punching and one thing and another, there’s no need to pull each other.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
John: It wasn’t all sweetness and light obviously, they bought Martin Peters and I got left out, they bought Roger Morgan and I got left out, they bought Ralph Coates and I got left out, so obviously those times weren’t particularly good times, but I like to think that I was a good professional and that’s why I got back into the team. I also think that I proved that we were a better team with me than they were without me, and I think that the statistics do prove that actually.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
John: When I first joined Spurs Tony Want the left back who went to Birmingham was the best man at my wedding and we’re still mates. Also big Pat and all those that I’ve mentioned we’re all mates, and even the people that I didn’t play with but I coached I still like to think that I’m a friend of Gary Mabbutt’s and Graham Roberts and Micky Hazard and Steve Archibald and Clive Allen and Paul Allen, so there are numerous people, but probably the closest one at Tottenham was Tony Want. I’ve also known Pat since 1964 and all of the people still about like Alan Mullery, Cliffy Jones and Mike England and big Martin Chivers. The phone go’s and it’s how are you, and once you meet again it’s like yesterday that you were altogether.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
John: Have an open mind, look, listen and adapt yourself. There’s no substitute for hard work no matter what walk of life you’re in, Gary Player used to say that the harder I practice the better I become. Apply yourself and become the best player that you can be, and work to get as fit as you can. When I hear now about the wonder boys that play too many games, only the successful teams play too many games. Nowadays everyone’s bigger, my son is bigger than me and it won’t be long before my grandson is bigger than me. But back in 1967 Jimmy Robertson could do 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, in 2007 Thierry Henry was reported to be able to do 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, but who was the quickest? It’s the same.
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: Well obviously I’m a shareholder and ex player and ex coach and ex legend in inverted commas. Tottenham was good for me and I would like to think that I was good for Tottenham in my own way, which was at times making other players fulfil all of their ability. A reporter once said in an article that he once done that I used to watch caveat and champagne, Mackay and Blanchflower, now I’m watching bread and bread, Perryman and Pratt, but Perryman and Pratt played over 1500 games for Tottenham Hotspur between them. As good as those two other players were they didn’t play as many games as we did. Always be yourself, that’s what I would say to the young players of today.