James Yeboah was a technically gifted centre half who joined Spurs as a 16 year old from West Ham United during the 2010/11 season. Born in nearby Edmonton but brought up in Watford, Yeboah was at Spurs for three years, playing for the under 18’s and the old reserve side. Good at anticipating danger and excellent in the air, James had a fine future to look forward to in the game. However, sadly his career in the professional game was cut short due to injury, and despite a spell on trial with some non-League clubs, James is now no longer playing the game and he currently works for a construction company. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of catching up with James to look back on his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
James: So probably when I was six years old I started playing for Barnet Sunday league, and I played up until the age of 11 when I got scouted from like Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. I ended up going to Chelsea on a trial but they took quite long to make a decision, and actually the runner Adam Gemili’s mum basically gave my mum a contact for somebody in West Ham. So I then went to West Ham and trialled there for like six week and got signed, and I spent six years there and got a YTS there but I didn’t sign my contract. It got to the stage where like oh I haven’t signed yet and so the club thought that maybe I was being a bit big time, so I ended up doing a trial for Tottenham at 16 for three to four weeks, and then they signed me straight away. My West Ham days were quite good as well and we were part of a very good youth team, and then obviously when I signed for Tottenham which would have been 2010, I played for the youth team and reserve team there. Harry Kane was the year above me and I think that Andros Townsend was the year above him, but my time there was good but the only bad thing were probably the injuries that I went through that really affected everything. I played reserve team games more often than youth team games even.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?
James: So I signed when Spurs had just qualified for the Champions League, and my earliest memories were being a ball boy for a bit in the Champions League. As a player we travelled a lot, we went to Eurofoot and we won that, so my earliest memories would be the games on a Saturday and scoring my first goal. We also went to the Milk Cup which was quite good.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
James: I was a very big fan of Rio Ferdinand and Franz Beckenbauer because obviously I was a centre back, so for me they were ones that really stood out. I’d say that I like modelled my game on them and I liked to pass and I liked intercepting as I was very technical. I was also good at long balls, quite fast and also great in the air as well, so in terms of players they were ones that really stood out for me.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
James: So I played majority centre back and sometimes right back, but I would say that I was a ball playing centre half, and very good at interceptions like I said, and very good at attacking the ball and I never really lost a header. I was aggressive when I needed to be but I never really had to slide tackle unless I’d not defended properly or it was a last ditch tackle, but other than that I was smart with my positioning and stuff. When we did do reserve games I played with a couple of the first team like Jake Livermore, Ledley King and then maybe when it was like a first team training game Bale played, Crouch played, Modric played. So I’d say that that was probably the best experience that I had, training with the first team, that was amazing. Also meeting Beckham as well when he came.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
James: Most probably I’d have have to go for Brian Klug who was at the club at the time I was there, and probably John McDermott who was like a very strict father figure. And also probably Chris Ramsey who gave me my chance to play in the reserves.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
James: I’ve always been one of them people where you can admire everyone that was there as a good footballer, but it was more about improving myself. We’d go on debrief and I’d watch more of the first team players and what they’d do because obviously they were more complete players. When Ledley King played I thought that he was magnificent and if he did not get injuries then he would have been one of the best centre halves in the world. He was absolutely unbelievable in the way that he read the game, and Gallas as well was good at reading the game, but in terms of players Ledley King was a very special player.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
James: I’d say that the Milk Cup was really good and that was a good memory to be able to travel as a youngster, and we didn’t do too bad but for experience for being away from home and knowing that you were now a footballer was really good. Winning the Eurofoot in Belgium was another really good experience, but I was only there for three years and then it all went a bit down hill.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
James: I think that it was actually signing I would say, knowing that all the hard work that you’ve put in from the age of six to 16, and signing your first contract is a change to your life. Obviously your family’s really proud of you and they know that you’ve worked really hard for that, so I think that that was probably the best moment if I’m honest.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
James: It would have to be Gareth Bale from that training session although Modric was there as well and Adebayor was there at the time and he played. So in terms of the best player I’ve ever played against for the opposing team it would have to be them.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
James: I would say Modric in training who was unbelievable as well and you could say Harry Kane as well, as another one. We trained and played together a lot.
What was Harry Kane like as a young player to play with?
James: Harry is a top professional and he’s always done the right thing, he’s one of those players where you can have the best game of your life and he can still somehow score one goal or two goals as he’s always been like that. I was there when he made his debut in the Europa League I think, and we knew that if he got a chance then he will score.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
James: So basically it came up to my pro year and I had obviously played more reserve games than I had ever played youth games, and so we were just training and I got a tackle from one of the players and it was an impact injury. I ended up tearing my rec fem which is the muscle in your thigh where it had like lifted up the tendon as well in my thigh, so I had to have rehab from that and basically have to learn how to walk again which was not the best. A couple of weeks before that I’d been asked if I was offered a third year would I have accepted it, and I was like no I’d rather just go to another club and try my luck. I had an agent at the time so they would have set everything up so that would have been with Tim Sherwood, Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand, and they were all like you’ll get a club straight away as they knew that I had the ability. Then a couple of weeks later I got the injury and I tried to get fit from it but it was a really long injury and it put me out for a whole year. I went to clubs to like train like Banbury or some lower semi-professional teams to try and train up to see what would happen with that, but it never really materialised and so I then went in to working for a property developer in 2015. I worked for them for about half a year and then I thought that I wanted to make a living out of it so I applied to go to uni and I did three years at the University of Westminster, and then I got a job with a construction company. So I’ve just started working for them since last year September so it’s been a crazy couple of years, and actually the funny thing is in 2015 when I was working for the property developer I worked there for half a year. So when it got to June I used to go for a kick about with a couple of the lads, and I ended up snapping my Achilles unfortunately, which is one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt.
Again I had to learn how to walk again, and then when I was supposed to start uni for the first year I then ruptured it again so I had to have surgery, so it was a really tough time as it’s a really big injury. Everything seems to have worked out now and I’ve met my partner and I’ve just bought my first house and so things have got better and hopefully it will continue. I’m looking to open up my own business in the future, and so that’s about it for now.
Are you now officially retired from playing?
James: Yeah, so in terms of would I try and go semi-pro or try and play League Two or League One I know that it’s possible but I think if it’s meant to be it would have happened. I’ve got to just be careful with my body now because that first impact injury weakened my left side and then that’s when I got my Achilles ruptured two or three years later. So it’s like my body wasn’t strong enough and my mind knew how to do everything but my body failed me on that part.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
James: It was good and it was a good experience for me as a young young man compared to the man I am now. In terms of good experiences yeah there were some great experiences, and there were also times where it’s bad but what can you really do.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
James: Andros was really cool and he dropped me home a couple of times and Harry Kane dropped me home like twice, because we all lived in digs which were close to each other. I seen Harry Winks come up and I trained with him and played with him and also Josh Onomah, but I would say that Grant Ward was the player that I was closest to, and me and him were really good friends and we still keep in touch sometimes as well. I was closest to him because in our digs we lived two doors down, and Grant is a really good lad.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
James: I think that they need to understand that you need to enjoy it, and take it seriously and just train really hard but make sure you have a balance. A lot of players don’t have a balance from it, so have a balance and be strict with the way you eat and be strict with the time that you go out, and be strict with your sleep. Also figure out what you’re really good at and continue to do that and then figure out what you’re not so good at and work on that. You only ever lose when you give up in my opinion.
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?
James: I think of course it will be a club that I hold very close to my heart along with West Ham, because it’s made me the person that I am today. It’s given me so many opportunities and it’s let me meet so many different people and cultures, and I’ve met all the people you can think of such as heroes, David Beckham, Henry and even Johan Cruyff, so It was an amazing experience. One of my CEO’s actually used to play for West Ham when he was younger, so for me there is always a link to football and it’s something that you can’t escape.