Uxbridge born goalkeeper Peter Shearing would go on to have a successful playing career in the game, but his first professional club as a youth player was Tottenham Hotspur. Joining the club during the 1955/56 season not long before Jimmy Anderson took over as manager from the legendary Arthur Rowe. A commanding and vocal goalkeeper, Shearing played for Spurs’ youth team of which notably included Freddie Sharpe, but he also played for the A team in the Eastern Counties League on occasions, and also the reserves on the odd occasion. However, with such great goalkeepers ahead of him it would have been extremely difficult for Peter to have broken in to the Spurs first team. A spell playing for Hendon in the early 1960’s followed a move to West Ham United where Peter played for their first team on occasions, and it was to be the start of a long career in the game, and the former goalkeeper would later play for the likes of Exeter City and Gillingham in the Football League. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking with Peter about his time at Spurs during the 1950’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Peter: That would be playing with the Cubs football team when I suppose I was about seven or eight, and then soon after that I started playing for the school team. And I played for the school team which was the under 11’s when I was about nine, but I was a defender then and I played wing-half for the first year and centre-half for the next two years for the junior school.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Peter: Well I played for the London under 16’s against Glasgow and obviously Spurs had some scouts there because I was invited to a trial, along with two or three other lads who had played. So I had a trial at Tottenham and after the trial one of the coaches or one of the people who ran the youth team came up to me, and they said that Arthur Rowe who was the manager at the time was interested in me joining the club they said that I was number one at the top of his list. Well obviously as I was a goalkeeper you would be the first one on the list, but anyway I sort of signed for Spurs as a schoolboy. When I actually left school I joined a firm of architects and Spurs then asked me to join the ground-staff, and so I left the firm of architects and owner of the firm told me that it was going to be a big mistake, but I went anyway. So I went on to what was called the ground-staff as you weren’t apprentices as such, and so I worked in the first team dressing room and I used to clean up and put the kit away and then run the baths for the player’s after training. Then we as a group would be allowed to train in the afternoons and in those days it was without much supervision, and we would just copy what we saw the main pros do. Occasionally a coach load of us would go out to the Cheshunt training ground and we would join in the training, but that was very, very rare and so it was nothing like today with the Academy’s and that sort of thing where you have an individual coach for the first team.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Peter: Without television our heroes were from paper headlines and as I developed in the goalkeeping I was interested in Sam Bartram who was goalkeeper at Charlton Athletic, and he might have played one or two games for England as well. Of course Stanley Matthews was a big name in those days but it was all through the newspapers really because we didn’t get the opportunity to see players like people do now.
Could you describe to me what type of goalkeeper you were during your time at Spurs?
Peter: I was very vociferous with the people in front of me right from the start, and I would try and pull defenders about and make sure that they were picking up and that sort of thing. My long goal kicks were very powerful but I sort of worked on angles really, more than anything else and so for me it was about cutting down angles and that sort of thing. I did have my chance to get to a higher level but I just lacked a little bit of something and who knows what that was.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Peter: Ted Ditchburn who was the goalkeeper was the player who I would look up to as an inspiration but I didn’t have a lot of contact with him, although in one game I played at Tottenham itself but I’m not sure if it was a youth team or a reserve match. Anyway I had came out and punched a ball and then the next day Ted came to me and said oh I hear that you have punched a ball? And so I said oh yeah I did, and then he said well if you do that again I’ll sort of kick you kind of thing, and that was as far as the coaching went!
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Peter: For me it was all about goalkeeping and as you understand it is such a specialised position compared to everybody else. We didn’t see many players like you do now so really it was just the goalkeeping staff at the club, the ones that were ahead of me. Johnny Hollowbread and a man called Frank Smith were third and fourth ahead of me and also Ron Reynolds was there then, so they along with Ted Ditchburn were the four goalkeepers in front of me.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Peter: At one stage I was five days too old to play for the youth team and they had a first team, an A team and a reserve team of full professionals and so that laid me fifth in line. Someone who was connected to the youth team asked me if I would be interested in going to Hendon (I suppose it would be a loan spell now) as they had injury problems and this was right at the start of the season and so I said yes I was interested. So that was how I sort of left the club but then of course national service came soon after that and so I was out of the club for two years and I was then playing amateur football while I was in the army. Part of my army career sent me to Cyprus and so Hendon obviously got another goalkeeper but when I came back I joined Kingstonian, and then the next season Hendon invited me back and we won the FA Amateur Cup that year and went to Wembley to play in the final which was the 1959/60 season. And during that season we played against West Ham in a cup that isn’t run now but the senior clubs in London used to put a reserve team out against senior amateur clubs in a cup competition. We were drawn against West Ham and in that game I must have played reasonably well because the goalkeeper at the time came up to me after the game and said was I interested in turning pro, but I said that I wasn’t really as I said I was too old, as I was 21 at the time. Anyway after that they followed me all of that season as they used to have a representative at basically every game that I played at, but I said that I wouldn’t leave Hendon until we went out of the Amateur Cup. So we went all through the cup and won it and so then at the end of the season I joined West Ham and although I had already been at a professional club in Tottenham I hadn’t trained with the professionals, and so it was quite a culture shock to start training with the professionals.
Within a few weeks at West Ham I had gotten into the first team and I had a few games in the first team with players like Bobby Moore and Kenny Brown, and so I played six matches and then I got dropped. During that season West Ham changed manager and Ron Greenwood came in and at the end of the season he released all of the goalkeepers except one and so I was on my way somewhere else. From West Ham I went to Portsmouth where I got into the first team after a season there and I played a number of games although I was in and out of the side, but I had two or three years there without playing too many games in the first team. So after about the second or third season they released and I then went on to Exeter, and I played there for a couple of years before being transferred to Plymouth and was there a couple of years before then being transferred back to Exeter. However, I had broken my arm after returning to Exeter towards the end of the season and so I didn’t play for quite a long time, and they then got another goalkeeper in and so I did a loan spell at Bristol Rovers and then at the end of that season I was released. I then went from there to Gillingham as a friend from my days at Plymouth asked me if I would like to join him as the number two, but I didn’t go there to play as I had sort of retired. So I used to take the training and help with the injuries and all that sort of thing, but then the goalkeeper got injured and the manager at the time had told me to stay fit just in case we have a problem and so I ended up playing about 40 games in the next two seasons. During that period we won promotion but then the manager moved on to Charlton and he had asked me to go with him and so I went with him for a couple of years, but then we parted company and I came out of pro football in 1973.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Peter: I found that they didn’t have a lot of interest in the younger players and we used to clean the dressing rooms and put the kit up in dryers and then help put it out for training. So we didn’t have a lot of help as youngsters I didn’t think but I wasn’t there very long and then of course national service came in but when I came out of national I went back to Spurs as they were duty-bound to take me on for six months, as any employer had to take you on. Spurs offered me a professional contract but because of the number of goalkeepers that they had I said no and so I carried on at Hendon.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Peter: Winning the FA Amateur Cup was pretty good but as a professional my home league debut for West Ham against Manchester United when we beat them 2-1 was a pretty good moment. I played with Bobby Moore and when you look back he was such a big name and so to say that I played with him is quite something.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Peter: Funnily enough when I was in the youth team at Tottenham we obviously used to play Chelsea and Jimmy Greaves played for them, and both our paths crossed on quite a few occasions. I suppose you would say that Jimmy was one of the great players, but at Tottenham because I didn’t play with the real stars you were in awe of them really when you used to see them training and that sort of thing, and so then you had Danny Blanchflower and also Len Duquemin was the centre-forward, but not playing in the first team and only playing in the odd reserve game you didn’t see them play that often really, because you would be away playing matches when you were playing at home.
What was your then Spurs manager Jimmy Anderson like?
Peter: Managers in those days were quite distant and the only time that you would really see Jimmy Anderson was in his office as he didn’t come on the training ground at all as Bill Nicholson was in charge of the training. Even the manager at West Ham you would very rarely see out coaching players as they would come to watch the training, and so managers in those days were almost aloof really and when I think back now I think what was their job? I suppose that they picked the team and just said to the coach get on it, and so the idea of a manager really changed over the years while I was in football.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Peter: To me it was just a thrill to be in the youth team and I would play regularly as well as playing a few games in the A team and one game in the reserve team. I just loved playing and that was the thing and it was just great to be at a big club, and to think that they were interested in you was enough.
What was it like to play for Spurs in the Eastern Counties League?
Peter: Those were quite long trips really for me in those days as you would go out to Biggleswade or wherever. When I look back quite a few people from that team broke through into the first team and it was a surprise when they did because you didn’t see the first team that much and you just thought that they were great, and so you didn’t realise that the people lower down would break into that level, so it was quite interesting really.
Who was toughest player that you ever came up against?
Peter: I suppose the biggest dressing-down that I got was after having played in the 2-1 win for West Ham against Manchester United as we went to United a couple of weeks later and lost about 6-1 I think, so that was a bit of a comedown really. Manchester United had Bobby Charlton playing and Johnny Giles before he went to Leeds, and so they just overwhelmed us up there but mind you they did have a bit of luck as well but that’s just how it goes.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Peter: Freddie Sharpe was one and a man called John Titt and also Norman Lee, so they were all on the ground-staff with me and so we were together all of the time and we would play table tennis and snooker as well as training together. But on another level we were not really close because we just used to go in and do the job and just go home. At senior level Ted Ditchburn was always very pleasant to me being a fellow goalkeeper, and when you were around the dressing rooms everybody would be pleasant enough but you were just a lad in the boot room sort of thing.
What were former Spurs goalkeepers Ted Ditchburn, Ron Reynolds, Johnny Hollowbread and Frank Smith like as goalkeepers?
Peter: Ted Ditchburn was coming to the end of his career when I was at Spurs and the strange thing about him was that he wasn’t a very good kicker of the ball but other than that he had great reflexes. Johnny Hollowbread also had great reflexes and Frank Smith was quite a big man but because you didn’t play in the same team as them you wouldn’t see them other than at the occasional trip to the training ground, because you were playing at the same time as the other players (the A team, the reserves and the first team), so you didn’t really see those players perform that much. Also in regards to Ron Reynolds you had Ted Ditchburn who was in and out of the England team it was rumoured that Ron Reynolds would more or less take his place when when he retired, but Ron went down to Southampton and then Johnny Hollowbread followed him. However, Ron was recognised as a very good goalkeeper.
What was it like to play against Spurs for Exeter City at White Hart Lane in the League Cup?
Peter: Well it was great for us and I always loved playing under floodlights and in that particular game funnily enough we took the lead very early on, and then just before half-time Jimmy Greaves broke through and as I came out to sort of go at his feet my long studs in my boots got caught in the ground. It was a very wet night and so I sort of stumbled and Jimmy slipped the ball under the net and equalised, and then in the second half we were just outplayed, but up until half-time we were in the game. So going to Tottenham with Exeter was just fantastic.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs goalkeepers of today as they look to break into the first team?
Peter: Work hard, listen to all of the advice that you get and just work hard at your game and not to be sidetracked by outsiders as you’ve just got to concentrate on your football.
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?
Peter: I was flattered to be asked to join Spurs and I enjoyed my time at Spurs and there is no doubt about that. I loved the atmosphere of being at a football club and mixing with all of the international players and I used to work in the dressing room so I used to see them all when they would come in in the mornings and get ready to go out training, and then also seeing them when they came in. So my time at Spurs was great and I loved it.