James John Pearce was a versatile forward during his Spurs days, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Tottenham born and bred, Jimmy Pearce had played for Tottenham Schools and England Schools during his schoolboy days before joining his boyhood club Spurs as an apprentice in the May of 1963. Admired by his teammates at youth level during those early days at Spurs, Pearce as a player was a very skilful one and he possessed great ball control and was a superb ball player, but he also liked to take on and beat his man. Able to play as an out and out winger or as a centre forward and as a midfield player, Pearce worked his way through the various youth ranks and up from the reserves to Bill Nicholson’s first team. He made his first team debut for Spurs in an end of season tour of Greece and Cyprus, in a game against Anorthosis in the May of 1968. At the beginning of the following season Jimmy made his competitive debut for Spurs, in a First Division game against Arsenal in the August of 1968. Going on to make over 200 more first team appearances for Spurs (not all of which were in competitive games) scoring 35 competitive goals, Jimmy Pearce played a big part in helping Spurs to reach the 1971 Football League Cup final, by scoring the winner against Bristol City in the semi-final second leg. Although Jimmy was an unused substitute in the final of that seasons cup final, and an unused substitute in both legs of the following seasons UEFA Cup Final, he did deservedly start in the final of the 1973 Football League Cup, when Spurs beat Norwich City one-nil, thanks to a Ralph Coates goal. Sadly and not long after that memorable day at Wembley, Pearce was forced to retire from playing due to injury. He did however, play again for a spell, playing for Walthamstow Avenue. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking with Jimmy about his time at Tottenham Hotspur during the 1960’s and 70’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Jimmy: Well being a Tottenham supporter is one. Also playing football at school in the juniors where I started off, but also playing at home on the grass. I played for the junior school and I played for the Tottenham under 11s before I went to the secondary modern school in Tottenham, and I then played for Middlesex Boys before playing for England Schoolboys. So you know it was all from there.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Jimmy: Well playing for the Tottenham Schoolboys and England obviously all the scouts were about, and I think that Fulham, Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham and Arsenal (who I went to see early on when I was at school) were watching me, but I was a Tottenham supporter. I could have left school when I was 15 but I got invited down (by Spurs) in 1963 although I had a couple of England games left, and so I stayed on at school for a term and then when I left they (Spurs) signed me on as an apprentice, and that was in 1963. When I was going to my interview with Bill Nicholson with my dad, one of my school friends who played with me in the England team, we passed his house, and he called me and said that Ron Greenwood has spoken to me and he said whatever you do don’t sign for them (West Ham) because he knew that I was going to go down there. When I got down to Spurs I had the interview and I signed, and that was it really, but I did have Ron Greenwood coming round my house that night.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Jimmy: Well it was all the Tottenham team right from before the double side, so from about 1958. You know everyone was great, and from when I arrived at Spurs you had Dave Mackay and Jimmy Greaves and just so many names you know, I was just in awe of them all.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Jimmy: I started off as an inside forward which was a position that you used to have at number eight and number ten. I was a number ten or whatever, but then when I started playing professional and that, I started playing on the wings and at centre forward, and I think that I played a game at left-half as well. So I was versatile and I never had a set position as I was a utility player.
Could you talk me through your time playing in the various Tottenham youth teams and reserves, and could you share some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in those sides?
Jimmy: I remember that the youth games were played at Cheshunt and we played the likes of Arsenal and all them you know, and we had a good side and I think that we won the league once as well. Being an apprentice was quite tough you know and you had to knuckle down, I can remember being an apprentice because we used to do the grounds and the covers on the ground, where you used to roll them out when the snow was coming and all that, so that was difficult. As regards to the games it’s a bit hard to pick out as there were so many, and I was trying to think the other night about reserve games but they all sort of role into one. I did get some goals for them but it was just a matter of carrying on and just sticking by it you know, and there was a lot of luck involved.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Jimmy: Well obviously the trainers. You had Johnny Wallis who was our main one in the A team which was above the juniors in the South East Counties. Also you had Eddie Baily who was the assistant manager and he used to do a lot of shouting, but I think that he tried to toughen me up to get the centre forward spot but also to get stuck in. Though I wasn’t that type of player as I was more of a ball player, and without sounding big-headed it sort of came naturally to me you know, and I loved dribbling. As regards to players there were such great names at the club and I was just in awe of them every time and it was just unbelievable.
What are your memories of your competitive debut for the Spurs first team against Arsenal in the First Division, in the August of 1968. And how did it come about?
Jimmy: That was unbelievable (we lost two-one) but I can remember having a shot on goal and Bob Wilson saving it, and I think that it was a left footed screamer from the edge of the box and it was going into my top left hand corner. And Bob Wilson had just got to it, but I thought what if I had got that, but that’s all that I can remember from that game as you just remember little things you know, but it was a tough old game as they (Arsenal) were becoming a good side you know. I think that Martin Chivers was injured for that game so that was why I got in and I was centre forward.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Jimmy: Well I loved Jimmy Greaves and also Dave Mackay as a kid, since he joined in 1959 and he was just unbelievable really with his determination and grit and everything that he done. But I liked every player in the team from Pat Jennings to Cliff Jones who I used to love as well, but really it was just the whole team as they were so good.
If possible could you share some of your memories of your time as a player at Spurs during the 1971 Football League Cup winning campaign, the 1972 UEFA Cup winning campaign and the 1973 Football League Cup winning campaign?
Jimmy: Well in the final I was a substitute against Aston Villa but I got a couple of goals in that campaign including in the semi-final second leg against Bristol City when I got the winner, and that was that. I know in the other campaigns such as in 1972 that I got an away goal against West Brom when we won one-nil in the League Cup. In the 1973 Football League Cup final I knew that I hit the post in that game and I thought how did I miss that! Although Norwich played well in that game Ralph Coates got a goal, and I can remember that John Pratt was very unlucky in that game to come off after not being on very long. It wasn’t a classic game I know that but it was fantastic to win, and I remember going back to 1971 against Aston Villa when we won two-nil, and that was a better game although I didn’t come on in that. Although I didn’t play in either leg of the final in the 1972 UEFA Cup, I did play in some of the rounds, and I do remember the game against Olympiakos well and I scored two goals in that, which was during the following season.
Other than the various cup campaigns that you went on with Spurs could you share with me some of your other favourite memories of your time at the club, or ones which particularly stand out?
Jimmy: Every game that we won! It was just fantastic and I loved it you know but you always analyse yourself when you lose and you just think the worst, and you go through all of your bad points, and what you should have done and what you couldn’t do and this, that and the other. When I did start off I was totally besotted with Tottenham and I remember that we used to go straight from school to the ground for the cup games and the replays and all that. And I remember queuing up to get in the ground and the atmosphere and everything was just fantastic.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Jimmy: Well I remember that we won the League Cup and I remember that my last game was in 1973 and it was towards the end of the season, and against Sheffield United in the league was my last game. My knee was playing up and from then on I had this condition in my knee and at the end of that season I had an operation up at Stanmore, and the condition was Chondromalacia of the higher patella and I’ll always remember that. They did the operation on my knee and so then I was out for a year, and in that time I did a little bit of scouting for Spurs, but I didn’t want to leave Spurs, it was just because of this condition that I had. My ex brother-in-law used to play for Walthamstow Avenue and he used to keep on at me and say that he wanted me to come down to Walthamstow, and so I gave it a try. Although I only played about three or four games and that was it, as I was doing a job full time and my knee wasn’t good, and so that was it really. If my ex brother-in-law hadn’t have kept on at me then I wouldn’t have kept playing, as I knew that it just wasn’t right.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Jimmy: It was brilliant really. I mean as an apprentice you used to do an hour and a half of training a day from half past ten to 12, and then you used to have lunch and then you used to come back for an hour or so during the afternoon and that was that. Then as a professional you just had the mornings and then you used to go back in the gym during the afternoons, but it’s so different now as they are all so organised with their diets and whatever. We (the players) used to go down the cafe down the road as apprentices and have competitions as to who could eat the most dinners and silly things like that, and then go back and train and run it off. However, my time at Spurs just went so quickly but it was a brilliant time.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Jimmy: Although we lost it would be the game against Arsenal in my first game, so I think that that would be the highlight in a way, apart from winning the League Cup I suppose. I didn’t win a lot apart from that but when I look back now it was all like a dream for me and it was just fantastic.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Jimmy: It’s got to be Jimmy Greaves.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Jimmy: Well I played against Chelsea and they had some hard players, and also Liverpool had the likes of Tommy Smith and whatever while Chelsea had Ronnie Harris. Leeds were also tough but the pitches were different to what they are now and they used sand on the pitch as well, so it was a bit hard on your legs obviously, and nothing like the pitches that they play on now.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Jimmy: There were a couple who I used to be close with and as apprentices we all used to go around with each other, and you’d go bowling or something, however, the main players were all married and they had their own lives. I used to try to play golf but I couldn’t get the hang of it although I loved it and I still love it, but I never took to it because for me it seemed to take up too much time when you were bringing up a family and trying to get the balance right. I did used to get on alright with most of the players at Spurs though and we used to have a good laugh.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Jimmy: I think that the only advice I can give them is to make the most of what they’ve got now and really try and make each day your best day. I remember Cliff Jones saying to me that your career in football goes so quickly that you don’t realise it, and you wake up the next day and it’s all gone. So you’ve just got to make the most of it and make each day count as it’s a brilliant life.
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?
Jimmy: As I say it’s like a dream, and I’ve got all my old clippings from when Spurs won the double and from going to the town hall as a youngster and from taking photos on the balcony, and so afterwards I was part of that in a way. And I think that it was just unreal, and so that’s how I feel really.