Luke Paul Young was a good and versatile defender who came through the various youth ranks and the reserves at Spurs during the 1990’s, before going on to play football at a vey high level throughout the entirety of his footballing career. The younger brother of Neil Young who also played for Spurs as a youth player, Luke signed for Spurs as a trainee in the summer of 1995 (he had signed as a schoolboy two years earlier, but had already been at Spurs for a while before that.) and would later sign professional forms with the club two years later. A good and technical defender, Young was also dominant in the air and he was an intelligent defender, plus he could also play anywhere across the back four, as well as being able to play a defensive midfield role. From Harlow in Essex, Spurs fan Luke Young would make his competitive debut for Spurs’ first team in a Premier League game against West Ham United in the November of 1998, and he would go on to play over 60 more games for them during his time in north London. Young left Spurs to join Charlton Athletic in 2001, and he would go on to have a really good career in the game, playing also for Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers, the player who was a former England youth international would also play for his country at the highest level on seven occasions. Luke now works as a consultant at interEuropean football agency and his Instagram account is @lyoung_intereuropean. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of catching up with Luke, as he talked about his time at Spurs during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Luke: My earliest memories of football would be going to watch my older brother play for the local Sunday team called Spartak, and I always remember it because they had a similar kit to Barcelona. I would have been about six or seven years old, and I always had a football at the end of my foot then, and I was watching my brother play every weekend before I was sort of old enough to play myself. Professional wise I liked watching football as a young kid, and the first sort of memories that I’ve got of that are the 1986 World Cup and that was a great World Cup, and I remember trying to be like the Brazilian midfield player Sócrates, and also Maradona was obviously unbelievable in that World Cup. Even though I was already hooked on football that kind of cemented it I think.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Luke: I joined Spurs as a ten year old and we used to train once a week on a Monday night in what I can only describe as basically a car park, so like a match day car park, which I don’t think would be allowed nowadays, but I used to really enjoy those sessions and learning my trade once a week. I actually went into West Ham before about a month before I went to Spurs but I never really enjoyed it, so I was absolutely delighted as a Spurs fan when Tottenham asked me to come in. I always remember playing as a ten year old and putting the kit on for one of my first ever games for Tottenham, and putting that Tottenham kit on as a ten year old was brilliant, and we played against Brentford I’ll always remember, so they were good times.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Luke: Growing up I was always Gary Lineker in the garden, even before he joined Spurs due to his England exploits. Later on when I got a bit more knowledgable about Tottenham Paul Gascoigne came on the scene, and what a terrific player he was and you’d pay your money just to go and watch him, and I managed to do that a couple of times at White Hart Lane. Also from that Spurs side I liked Chris Waddle and I thought that he was excellent for us, but moving on to when I got in the youth team I remember seeing Gary Mabbutt lying on the treatment table and I think that he was getting both of his ankles strapped. He also had to have insulin injections for his diabetes, and he was at least 35 at the time and what he went through to get on the pitch and as a proper captain of the club he was a real inspiration for me to see someone go through that sort of desire to get himself out on the pitch, and I found that absolutely inspirational, so that was another player that I enjoyed watching.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Luke: I guess I was quite a versatile player even in the youth team, and I probably think that I just scraped in getting a schoolboy contract and YTS, and I was never one of those players that everyone thought watch this space, he’s going to be the next so and so. So I had to work at my game and luckily for me I had a real good work ethic in training and I always trained 100% and it gave it my best in every single game that I played in, which I think probably helped me to progress and develop as a player as quickly as I could. I played a lot at left-back or centre-back and at right-back and right wing-back, all in the youth team and in the reserves. I think that what gave me my chance in the first team was that I was playing centre-back in the reserves for about five or six games, and then all of the first team centre-backs got injured. So that gave me my chance and I hadn’t even trained with the first team and I got called over on a Thursday and played that Saturday at West Ham away, next to Sol Campbell. Being in that first team dressing room and putting on my boots and shin pads it just felt so surreal at 19 years of age. So I ended up playing everywhere apart from my real position which was right-back, and that was obviously due to the fantastic form and fantastic player that he was at the club in Stephen Carr, who at the time I think was probably the best right-back in the league.
Could you talk me through your Spurs debut against West Ham in the November of 1998 and how it came about?
Luke: So I hadn’t even trained with the first team before and all of the centre-backs got injured, and i trained on the Thursday and then on the Saturday morning I tuned up at White Hart Lane obviously in the squad. George Graham turned the clipboard over and my name was there next to Sol Campbell’s, so that was an amazing feeling and there was a lot of nerves and butterflies in the belly. I think that we were 2-1 down in the game and then we got a corner and it came out to the edge of the box, and it fell to me and I chested it and caught a bit of a half volley and Shaka Hislop just got a little finger on it and touched it onto the crossbar. So that would have been an unbelievable debut for me, but unluckily we lost that but I went on to play quite a few games on a run after that where we were undefeated for a while. So I think that my second game was in the quarter-finals of the League Cup against Man United at White Hart Lane which was a special night for me making my home debut in such a big competition against such a big team and managing to beat them, and there was an absolutely unbelievable atmosphere that night.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Luke: I was really lucky at Spurs to have some great coaches all of the way through really, and I had some really good youth coaches such as Bobby Arber and Patsy Holland and Des Bulpin. Then into the reserves you had someone like Chris Hughton who has gone on to be a fantastic Premier League manager, so it was a really good grounding at Spurs and I learnt how to become a footballer and how to deal with certain aspects of playing the game. I couldn’t have asked for anything more as my development and education as a footballer at Tottenham was fantastic.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Luke: Obviously being a right-back and being three or four years younger than Stephen Carr, as I said I think that he was the best defender in the league at the time. So I used to watch him and his work rate and the way that he would train and put everything into it, and I used to go up against him in sprints to see how far off pf him I was. So I saw that as the level that you sort of had to try and get to if you’re going to have a career in the Premier League, and so I always tried to push myself and I watched him carefully. Other than that it was a joy to play and train with David Ginola in training, but obviously completely different positions and different skill sets, but he was unbelievable to train with, and you used to watch him and some of the things of the things that he used to do on the training pitch was different class.
What was it like to be a part of the Spurs side that won the 1999 League Cup. And if possible could you talk me through your memories of that campaign?
Luke: Obviously that was my breakthrough season and as I mentioned the quarter-final was my home debut I believe, and I think that we won 3-1 against Man United and as a 19 year old who was training in the reserves with eight players a week before, to be playing in that game and beating some real big names in that United side was a bit surreal to be honest with you. I played about ten minutes or so in the semi-finals against Wimbledon which was two legged, and in the final I managed to make the bench which was still quite big for me, because I think that we left out a few senior players. At that age I was probably a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t playing but it probably felt like I would settle for a spot on the bench as I had only just settled into the side, but we have not won many trophies since then and I think that only another League Cup has been added. So you only realise how rare that victories going to be until you look sort of 20 years later and it’s still only one of only two cups.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Luke: I was obviously playing in a variety of positions and under George Graham I think that I was playing left wing-back for a period of time, and my form was really good and I’d got myself into the side on a bit of a run. And just before the semi-final of the FA Cup that year George Graham was either sacked or walked, I can’t exactly quite remember. We then brought in Glenn Hoddle and I didn’t feel as though Glenn trusted me as much as George Graham did, and there was a few occasions where he played similar age players to me in a position that I thought that I could play better. I got offered a couple of new contracts off the club that really were a bit derisory really, they were offering me terms because I came through the youth and I’d played sort of 70 or 80 games by then, so they had two or three go’s at it and then I said that I’d like to leave because I had heard of Charlton’s interest. It was a little bit because I didn’t feel valued with the offers of the contract that I was being offered and also the major point really was because I felt at 22 almost that I needed to cement being a right-back, and that meant moving clubs because Stephen Carr was still at Spurs and I wasn’t going to get in in front of him. So I went to Charlton really to learn to play week in week out and every game, and I managed to go there for the first season and I found it tough doing that. It’s a learning curve when you’ve got to go out there Saturday, Tuesday and in cup competitions and you ended up playing 40 odd games on the bounce. So it was something that I probably needed to do to progress my career although it was a sad time to leave Spurs, and also a little bit sad because I felt that the contract offers that I was receiving were sort of way below what I deserved.
I didn’t go to Charlton on a lot of money but it was still about five times more than what Tottenham were offering me to stay, so I had to think about that as well. Following on from that I obviously had a great time at Charlton and it was really tough to stay in the league but we were a hardworking battling squad who knew what we were and what we needed to do. We introduced some good footballers along the way to make the team stay in the league for five seasons on the bounce, before unluckily we sort of went down in the sixth season. Then when we went down I went on to Middlesbrough and I absolutely loved it up there for one season playing under Gareth Southgate, who is a great man and he was a good manager. It was hard for him as he’d only just come out of being the captain of the club to being the manager so it was a difficult job to do as one minute you’re one of the lads and the next minute you’re the manager, but I really liked it up there and enjoyed my time. I would have stayed longer at Middlesbrough but for Aston Villa putting in a good offer that the club couldn’t really refuse, so I ended up going to Aston Villa for three years and again I loved it there. We had expectations and pressure to try and put some pressure on the top four and that didn’t quite happen, although I think that we finished sixth three years in a row, and I finished sixth twice in a row when I was there. They had been sixth the year before and also I think that they came ninth in my last year there, but again it was a fantastic squad that we had there and we had great players like Ashley Young, Downing, Milner and Gareth Barry and Gabriel Agbonlahor and Carew and Richard Dunne, all top top players, but the only thing was that we never had them all at the same time.
I feel like if we had had all of those players in the same season then we could have put a bit more pressure on the top four, but I loved my time there. Then I finished off at Queens Park Rangers where I had hip problems, and I knew that they were coming as I had them for sort of pretty much half of my career but it had got to the stage at QPR where they had become chronic. I had an operation but I couldn’t quite get back to that sort of elite level, so I played out the last couple of years just training with the under 23’s and not really being involved and that was tough. It was part of my career that I didn’t enjoy and it was actually sad but I couldn’t wait until the contract ran out, as I knew that I couldn’t get back to that elite level which I found tough going in every day and knowing that you’re not going to play and not going to be involved. And perhaps to be honest you’re not quite at that level anymore.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Luke: I’ve only got good memories of my time at Spurs, I’m a Tottenham supporter so to play for your side that you’ve supported since you were a kid, is actually quite unbelievable really. You don’t take it in at the time when you’re a young player, I’d played in FA Cup semi-finals two years on the bounce and you feel that there going to come around all of the time, but they don’t. You don’t actually appreciate things, but when I’m looking back now to actually run out there and hear the Tottenham music going off before kick-off with the fans, and playing at White Hart Lane was just a dream come true. Obviously being at Spurs from the age of ten I learnt my trade there, and I’ve only got great things to say about the club.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Luke: I never actually managed to play in a cup final or start a cup final, or win promotion as generally all of my games were in the Premier League. So the greatest moment of my footballing career would have been representing my country playing for England. As a young kid growing up and playing football I never thought that that would ever be possible to actually be lining up and singing the national anthem, really it was just unbelievable and that would be just the greatest moment of my footballing career.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Luke: The greatest player that I felt like I’ve played with was David Ginola in the 1999 season where he was unbelievable, and I think that he won the PFA player of the year. I remember playing sometimes behind him and I was just watching and felt sorry for the right-back because he was just that unplayable at times, and a true pleasure to be on the pitch with. Also, obviously being in the England squad and playing a couple of games and looking at that team sheet with Gerrard and Lampard and Owen and Rooney and Beckham, and to say that I played a few games with these guys is a real pleasure.
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?
Luke: I still say now that the youth team days were the best days of your life really, and it was so much fun being in it together with the other lads. We managed to win a couple of cup competitions when I was at Spurs, I think that we won the FA Floodlit Cup which is what it was called at the time, and we beat Norwich at White Hart Lane, and that was obviously a special moment. In the league I think that we always managed to come second or third and I don’t think that we ever won the league. It was a tough league with the Arsenal’s and the Chelsea’s of this world in there, but yet again I loved my time in the youth team and I was lucky enough to win a couple of cup competitions. I think that I was also voted the youth team player of the year which was obviously a lovely accolade to get as well, so yeah I have really fond memories of my time in the youth team.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Tottenham first team?
Luke: My favourite memory of my time in the Tottenham first team would obviously be winning a trophy and being involved in that quarter-final against Man United, which was huge for me on my home debut. I think just playing for the club that you’ve supported all your life was massive, so that’s a huge thing that I look back on with pride now. I was actually disappointed that I never scored for Spurs so that would be one of my regrets but I think winning a cup competition would be one of the memories that stands out the most.
Who was toughest player that you ever came up against?
Luke: I would say that was probably Thierry Henry, although not directly up against me for the majority of the game, but for the last ten to 15 minutes of the match and generally in play as well. He would drift out to the left which meant that I would generally be picking him up for a while and at the time he was a great athlete compared to everybody else, and he would knock the ball ten to 15 yards past you and then put the afterburners on and there was no catching him. So I found him to sort of be one of the standout players of the Premier League era.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Luke: In the youth team days we had such a great group of lads and I was close to all of those guys, and I look back so fondly on my memories there. Moving on to sort of the reserves and the pro ranks I was close with Mark Gower who was a centre-midfield player who went on to play in the Premier League with Swansea and he’s a great lad. Also I was close with Stephen Clemence and we had a good few years where we would celebrate after games and go out together, as we didn’t live that far away from each other. I holidayed together with both of those guys as well and I still speak to them to this day, so yeah I was close to those two.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Luke: It’s really difficult as every player has got their own route that they take to get into the first team and I think that it’s all about just giving it absolutely everything you’ve got everyday in training, and looking at the players in your position. And also looking at the better players in the world of football and studying their game and trying to take bits and pieces away from you. You’ve got to try and be like a sponge but I think that first and foremost that you’ve got to be dedicated and everything’s got to be dedicated to football nowadays, because your contemporaries are trying to vie for that same position. If you’re not 100% on it and dedicated then somebody else will be and they’ll take your place. So I think that you’ve got to eat, sleep and breathe football really nowadays to get into the first team and manage to stay there.
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?
Luke: Like I said I’ve only got massively fond memories of my time at Tottenham the club that I supported as a boy, the club that I watched from the stands and watched on telly and listened to on the radio. Then to actually be standing in that tunnel with glory glory Tottenham Hotspur’s playing and you’re walking out and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as a 19 year old was something that I’ll never forget. Obviously I’m absolutely delighted that I managed to pull on the famous white shirt of Spurs, a club that I still follow closely now, and a club that my son follows with me. As we speak now he’s running around in his Son shirt, so we’re still a household of Tottenham fans.