Talented left-sided winger Gary Hyams was a young player at Spurs during the 1970’s. Hyams would play for the various youth teams and reserves during his time with Tottenham, and the player from Edgware played in a very talented Spurs youth team of which included the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Neil McNab and Noel Brotherston. Gary was made available for a free transfer by the club in 1976, and he would later play for the likes of Crystal Palace, Urban Services and the Los Angeles Aztecs, in what was a very interesting footballing career for Gary. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of catching up with the former Spurs man to look back on his time at Spurs during the 1970’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Gary: I imagine that my earliest memories would be from the age of five/six playing in the garden where we lived in Edgware, with my dad and family, and also in the park. It progressed from there and playing in the school team, and then from school I suppose I ended up playing for the Borough of Barnet as I lived there, and then there was a Sunday team that I played for called Weardale, and I played there for quite a few years, up until I signed schoolboy forms at Spurs. Getting up at like seven o’clock in the morning on freezing cold days and I remember my dad waking me up and saying that we’ve got to go to football, and so he was like my chauffeur, and he took me here, there and everywhere. And so it all went so quickly, and here we are now.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Gary: So I was playing for the Borough of Barnet and then I played for Middlesex, but I was actually playing for the Sunday team Weardale, and I remember a talent scout called Dick Walker approaching my dad after the game. I then ended up going training two nights a week at Spurs, and I think that it was a Tuesday and a Thursday, or it might have been a Monday and a Wednesday. So I ended up doing two nights a week there and then maybe within a month of that happening I then had another talent scout from Arsenal approaching my dad. So I ended up as a schoolboy doing two nights training at Arsenal which I think was on a Wednesday and then I did training on a Tuesday and a Thursday at Spurs. So four days of my week after school was spent training in the gym at Highbury and White Hart Lane. And then Spurs approached my dad and said that they’d like to sign me on schoolboy forms, and actually my dad was a mad mad Tottenham supporter, and in his day he used to travel all over the world to watch them play and the double team. In actual fact he was such a Spurs mad supporter that in our house and as you came into the front door there was like a Tottenham foot mat. And when people used to come into the house they weren’t allowed to step on the mat and you had to step over it, but he was thinking of getting an Arsenal one for the outside of the house so people could wipe their feet on that one, and that was the rivalry between the Arsenal and the Spurs.
My career at that time was basically managed by dad and he wanted me to stay at Spurs because of his history. We had to obviously then go and approach Arsenal and tell them that Spurs wanted to sign me as a schoolboy, and I can remember being invited into Highbury and I actually sat in-front of Bertie Mee. He said don’t sign for Spurs, it’s early days and we would like to see Gary develop a little bit more and we’d like him to stay here with us and train for a bit longer. However, my dad was like Spurs mad and the thought of me playing for Tottenham was kind of more of his dream than mine, so I ended up signing schoolboy forms for Spurs and then from there it was like training twice a week. In the gym I remember that we were coached by Steve Perryman and John Pratt who used to take the coaching sessions, and then from that I went on to apprentice professional.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Gary: Well I suppose because my dad was a Spurs fan and we used to watch all of the Spurs games and so a player like Jimmy Greaves was an inspiration to watch along with a lot of the Spurs double winning team. There was also Allan Clarke at Leeds United who was a winger and of course George Best, so more of the talented sort of players that were inspirational to watch, and that I found exciting and entertaining to watch.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Gary: I was a natural left footer, so whatever team I played in I always played on the left wing wearing the number 11 shirt. I don’t think that I ever changed my position, apart from maybe a few times when I was an apprentice at Spurs and they put me on the right wing, and so I could cut in on my left foot kind of thing.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Gary: Well obviously there was a lot of people, so there was people such as Steve Perryman who I connected well with and also Bill Nicholson who I had a good relationship with. I found Bill Nicholson to be such a nice person and also there was Eddie Baily, and I was also quite connected with Glenn Hoddle because we came up together and grew up together at Spurs, and obviously we connected and we played golf quite a bit together and we socialised quite a bit together. In actual fact we used to clean the first team dressing room together as apprentices when you had to do your chores when you finished your training sessions, and to do a few hours of cleaning the boots of the first team players or whatever, or sweeping the terraces or sweeping the gyms. Three other people I forgot to mention that were an inspiration to me whilst at Spurs in my Schoolboy days were Ron Henry, and later on as a pro in the reserve team Keith Burkinshaw and Peter Shreeves.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Gary: So there was like Jimmy Robertson and Ralph Coates who was a winger there as well, and also Neil McNab when he came in and at one point played as a winger. And obviously it was great watching Glenn play and also Steve Perryman who I also used to enjoy watching along with Cyril Knowles who was a left-sided fullback, and obviously Pat Jennings. Pat was I suppose my overall idol out of everyone and for me he was probably the best goalkeeper ever worldwide, and I was so proud in a training session to score a penalty against him one time.
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?
Gary: I think that playing in the youth team (I don’t remember what season it was) but I think that we were close to winning the South East Counties League. And I remember that Peter Shreeves was our youth team manager and I liked Peter a lot, and I kind of felt that I connected well with him. It was hard in those days and it was physically and mentally draining training everyday and thinking that I’ve got to get through this session, but I think then that it was more focused on a physical element, and we were lucky to see a ball in a training session. It was nice when you got to play because you got to play with a ball, but obviously we did have practice matches and we did use a ball, but a lot of the time it was more about the fitness and the physical elements rather than the ability elements. So obviously as a ball player myself I was kind of more interested in having a ball than sort of running around a pitch for two hours and feeling sick.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Gary: I suppose my debut for the Spurs reserve team as obviously I never got to play in the first team, and that was probably one of my greatest memories at Spurs. I think that me and Glenn were selected to play in the reserve team and it was against Southampton if my memory is correct, so that would be one of the memories. Another memory was playing my first ever youth game at White Hart Lane when you came out on the pitch, I mean obviously we used to train on the pitch occasionally and run around the pitch a lot, but playing an actual game at White Hart Lane and having a crowd was great, and would probably be my fondest memory of my time at Spurs. I was actually put on a free transfer after Bill Nicholson resigned and Terry Neill came in as the manager, and I was told that Terry Neill didn’t really see me in his plans at Spurs, and so I was put on the transfer market, and so eventually I went to play in Hong Kong. So flying to Hong Kong and then arriving and being met at the airport, and then it being on the news that I as a Tottenham player was playing for a team called Urban Services in Hong Kong. Then obviously playing there in front of 30,000 people was something that I had never experienced before, so playing in-front of that amount of people was a tremendous feeling.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Gary: I suppose that I would have to say Glenn to be honest with you with his ability, flair and talent. Also playing with him we had a connection, and you know what a player is going to do and know to do a pass exactly where he wanted it. I also played for England Youth with Graham Rix, and I also played against him too. I also played against Liam Brady, who is another player who springs to mind.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Gary: Every game was different and I suppose sometimes you had a good day and sometimes you had a bad day. I don’t think that I really thought about it like that, but one time I remember playing in a Sunday league team, and some of the teams used to put a man marking me. So when the tactics of the other team are to man mark you then I would say that that was probably the hardest thing to overcome.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Gary: I wasn’t prompted to leave Spurs as Terry Neill decided that there were too many left wingers, and so at the time when Terry Neill came in there was like Alfie Conn, Jimmy Neighbour and Ralph Coates. So there was like two or three, or four left wingers in line for the first team and so Terry Neill didn’t think that there was a future for me at the club. Before I went to play in Hong Kong I went to Crystal Palace for a while on a loan and I was also at Charlton for a while and Crystal Palace, and then I got an offer to sign a contract and go and play in Hong Kong, and it sounded exciting and my dad said that it would be a good move for me. In those days you didn’t have managers managing your affairs even in the first team I think. Players then weren’t getting more than £50/£100 a week, so it wasn’t a lot compared to today. I later ended up in Los Angeles playing for the LA Lasers who I first started playing with, and then I ended up going from there to the LA Aztecs, and George Best was playing for them at that time. I remember training with him in LA and spending many many evenings in his bar in LA with the team in those days, and that was a terrific experience. So probably one of my greatest experiences was playing in LA and you were really well looked after, so that was an amazing experience.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Gary: It was obviously a privilege to have had that opportunity to be there and it was something that will live with me, and it was a privilege to have had that experience. I’m not saying that it was all roses, it was hard you know but it was a good experience and it was rewarding, but it is something that will always be with me and also something that people find interesting. It was a privilege to have had that experience.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Gary: I was close to quite a few players and obviously I was close with Glenn and also another player called Freddie Barwick who was at the same school as me before we went to Spurs. So I was connected with quite a few players, also there was John Margerrison who used to live locally to me and pick me up and take me to training because he was driving at that time. So there was quite a few players but there was no one that lived in my Borough, and so obviously your playing and training with these guys everyday but socially the only one that I had a real connection with was Glenn I suppose. Everyone else was living in different parts of the country so I don’t think that there was too much of a social scene outside of the club, but I might be wrong and maybe there was, but I certainly didn’t have that.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Gary: My advice is that you really have to be dedicated and have a hunger for it and also have a correct mindset to deal with all of the politics. I don’t know if there is still that much politics involved in football but you definitely need to be strong minded. So I’d say that you definitely have a hunger for it and also the correct mindset.
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?
Gary: Obviously I’m not involved in football that much anymore and I don’t follow it that much anymore but I kind of tend to look at the Spurs results and see how they are doing, so I like to see how they are doing, and It’s nice to see that they are doing well. I did do some coaching and I got my UEFA coaching badge and I did quite a bit of coaching with different clubs, but as I’ve got older it kind of seems like a different lifetime ago.