My interview with Spurs’ former Northern Ireland scout Gerry McKee:

Gerry McKee was Spurs’ Northern Ireland scout and has had an association with the Club Academy for over 25 Years in an employed and voluntary capacity. During that period, the man with a great knowledge of Northern Irish youth football would recommend players to the club. From a village in County Armagh, Northern Ireland called Keady, McKee was a boyhood Spurs supporter, and he was delighted to be asked to become Spurs’ scout for Northern Ireland in 1994. A man with a great eye for talent, Gerry has continued to recommend players to the club although no longer formally employed by the club. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of talking at length with Gerry as he looked back on his time as Spurs’ Northern Ireland scout. 

What is your earliest footballing memory?

Gerry: I remember the Cup Winners Cup match v Manchester United in 1963 and for some reason I just took to the team at that time even though they lost. My next memory was John White being killed by lightning I had never heard of anything like that before, that coincided with Pat Jennings signing for the club and over here that was big news. Pat later told me his first official function for the club was to attend John’s funeral. I would have listened out for results in the intervening years but my first real memory of an actual match would have been the ‘67 Cup Final v Chelsea, after that I was hooked.

Did you play the game at any level?

Gerry: I grew up in a town in Northern Ireland which was predominantly Gaelic orientated and at school we only played Gaelic Sports so there was no opportunity to play soccer apart from informal street leagues, it was not until my late teens/early 20s when I started to play works league football but nothing of any significance. However, I was always involved in the administration or organisation of games and competitions, so I always had a love for the game.

Did you have any footballing heroes or inspirations and if so, who were they?

Gerry: At that stage it was predominantly always goalkeepers even though I am only about 5’6”! That was probably driven by Pat who would be my ultimate hero, I always collected photos of Keepers Lev Yashin, Peter Bonetti, Harry Gregg, Ron Springett, Gordon Banks etc and then Spurs Players, Steve Perryman and latterly Ledley would have been top of the list.

What is your earliest memory as a Spurs scout and how did you come about joining the club as their Northern Ireland scout?

Gerry: In 1991 Tottenham were bringing a team over to the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland and the guy who was head of recruitment at the time was John Moncur, I happened to get in contact with John. I was managing a team at the competition which was a select of the Youth Training Programme (YTS in England). Through that contact I became acquainted with John and Head of the Academy Peter Suddaby and over the following two or three years I brought a couple of teams across to play games in England and had coaching sessions arranged for the boys at the club. The first group that were over was in 1992 when we were based at Mill Hill and Patsy Holland took the session and again in 1993 we had a session at the ball court at White Hart Lane and Chris Hughton took that. Both coaches were terrific with the kids and they were memorable trips. Then in 1994 Robert Walker who had been the club scout in Northern Ireland stood down. I was in contact with John Moncur on another matter and he said he knew I was heavily involved in Youth Football in Northern Ireland and asked me if I would like the role. I could have walked from here across the Irish Sea to London that was the way that I felt, to grow up supporting a club and then being offered the opportunity to physically do something for them was to me the greatest thing ever. 

One of the first players that I recommended to Spurs was the goalkeeper Roy Carroll, and at the time we had Chris Day and Simon Brown at Spurs who were England internationals. I think that the club just thought that they did not need another goalkeeper and so Roy signed for Hull, within a short space of time he had signed for Wigan and then Manchester United. I really thought that signing Roy was a missed opportunity for us as neither Chris or Simon really played for us, but that’s the way it was. Then Ciaran Toner and Ciaran Duffin went to Spurs at the same time, they were followed by Jonathan Black, Mark Hughes and then Kieran McKenna who is now the first team coach at Manchester United. There were other lads too and to be fair most of the lads who had gone across have signed for some club or another. While those players did not make the ultimate breakthrough at Tottenham Ciaran Toner and Mark Hughes went on to have successful careers in the game in the lower divisions. Little twists can have a major impact on a player’s career and George Graham liked Ciaran Toner and was in his plans but just as that opportunity was opening George left, and Glenn Hoddle came in and suddenly all changed. Mark Hughes was featuring in pre-season under Jacques Santini but again that was another opportunity that did not get the chance to develop. A lot of it is about being in the right place at the right time.

 Injuries also play a part as in Kieran McKenna’s case, so there is a lot of luck that goes with making that final breakthrough. In Kieran’s case he did come back to the club in a coaching role at the Academy and Ciaran Toner and Mark Hughes also have taken up coaching roles at clubs, Jonathan Black is now coaching in the USA. I believe that shows the boys who did go over were driven and committed to succeed in football. At the time when you’re 16, 17, 18 you think that you’ve given everything to football but it’s only when you come out the other end that you realise what more you possibly needed to do to convince the guys at the club that you warranted more effort or commitment. Back in those days If you were a kid going over from Ireland the coaches would generally give you an extra year or more time to develop that physical and technical ability, but that has now changed and so players have got to hit the ground running when they go over to England and that’s very, very difficult. In 2005 that all changed because the guys who were running the Academy at Spurs left and when John McDermott came in his philosophy was probably to have more of a London based club. If you look at the makeup of the Academy since that time it is predominantly London based players.

Having told me some of your early memories of being a Spurs scout could you talk me through the rest of your career as a scout for the club?

Gerry: When I was a scout it was a lot of hours a lot of miles, and a lot of watching football for the one person who you think may have the opportunity. My preferred way of doing things was after six months or so of watching games and watching players I would get a representative team of those players that I thought had a chance. I would then speak to John Moncur and he would either come over himself or send someone from the club who knew the standard, and it meant then that if they were picking someone out of the group that I had preselected then it meant that when they would then take across someone on trial they had a foot in the door. They had come, they had looked at them and assessed them and said that they could be possibly better than what we had at the club. You knew that you were getting a positive second opinion on the player and the player had confidence then in going across. The other option then was of just sending a player in, I found that when that happened that they were probably not sleeping the night before the trial and were nervous/excited, and they were probably being asked to do things that they weren’t doing with their club. Maybe the coaches in some cases were over assessing how they were doing in one-on-one situations, where as their club might have been discouraging that and asking for pass and move and that type of movement, so I found the former approach was more successful. 

When you went down the line and the Academy people changed then that all changed but being a scout for Spurs was a labour of love and I would basically get out two, three or four times a week if there were youth games on, and I would just watch and observe. Then one day someone like Kieran McKenna would do something and just show a flash of something that was over and above the norm and you knew that the lad had the intelligence and potential to go and take his chance. The understanding of the game that Kieran had is very, very important now because so many lads have talent, but they don’t understand the game and don’t understand where to run to or where to be. However, my one regret is that none of the players that I scouted for Spurs played for the first team (in a competitive game). The difficulty now is that clubs in England have programmes for young players in the community, and so recently you have players like Dane Scarlett who have been at the club from 6 years of age. Our lads can’t go over to England until they’re 14 so you are potentially eight years behind in that development association with the club and coaches.

Would you be able to tell me some interesting players who would go onto make it in the game that you recommended to Spurs?

Gerry: Roy Carroll was the obvious one, but I was also very interested in Paddy McNair and he was the best player I saw in that time however, he was always destined to go to Manchester United, that was a familiar path for young players from here. The support is predominantly for United, Liverpool, Celtic & Rangers. Darren Gibson was another who finished at United and then Everton. Darren always seemed to score against us! 

What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?

Gerry: I loved it and I loved being able to do something for the club, it was a privilege to represent the club that I support and that was it. I have made friends at the club and know that I can always go back to watch the youth games. The head of the Academy Dean Rastrick is a gentleman and others that I’ve known from years ago like Perry Suckling and Jason Hogg as well as the kit man Stanley White, so those are the people that I would look to meet if and when I can get back.

I also had the U18 Youth Team under Peter Suddaby and Patsy Holland over in Northern Ireland for their pre-season and had set up the training camp and two friendlies against a NI Counties Select and then against the Northern Ireland International team and both of those games were at Glenavon FC.

Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?

Gerry: John Moncur without doubt, I will always be grateful to John for the opportunity to work for the club. Patsy Holland, Chris Hughton and Bob Arber were also very generous with their time. Later on Richard Allen and Dean Rastrick were always available if you needed advice.

What do you feel was your greatest contribution to Spurs as a scout?

Gerry: I hope honesty. I always went out with the intention of trying to deliver something for the club. Everything that I did for the club I tried to do it honestly and in the best interests of the club, and to represent the club in the best way possible.

Are there any memories from your time as Spurs’ Northern Ireland scout which stand out to you?

Gerry: After I had managed the YTP teams for four years at the Milk Cup tournament I was appointed manager of the County Armagh team that would participate in that competition and held that post for the next 21 years. In 1996 we played a Tottenham team that contained Peter Crouch, Ledley King and David Lee (Ciaran Toner and Ciaran Duffin also played), and Bobby Arber was the manager at the time. We (County Armagh) played Spurs in the opening match of the tournament at the Showgrounds in Coleraine and recorded a 0-0 draw. Tottenham were really fancied to win the tournament and in the end they did, we also had Hearts and a team from Canada in the group stages. The nerves I had before the game of possibly being embarrassed by the result but at the same time the excitement of being able to play against Spurs in competition. So just to play against Spurs was probably one of the most memorable moments of my involvement in youth football. 

What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to make it in the game?

Gerry: Listen! The coaches and mentors at the club know their job. Just look at the record the Academy has over the last 30 years. Above all the talent you must have the desire to succeed. Never give up. If you are at the Tottenham Academy you have talent and there is a pathway in the game for you at some level even if that is not ultimately at Tottenham. Finally, keep on top of your education. Football is a short career and injuries can restrict it even further and it is important to plan for a future without football.

After all these years how do you look back on your time with the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who still hold close to your heart?

Gerry: I love them! I was a supporter before I had the privilege to work for them and I will always be a supporter. That goes right from following the fortunes of the Academy from the 16s, 18s and 23s through to the first team. This season at the time of writing Spurs have played 42 matches and including the pre-season friendly away to Watford I have not missed a minute of any one of those games, some better than others! Lockdown has helped with that. All being well when we are allowed spectators into the games I will be back over. I was at the last match at White Hart Lane against Manchester United with my son Simon and we stayed at the ground until late into the evening and the emotion was just unbelievable. Spurs are my club and always will be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s