South Londoner Thomas Dudfield played as a right-back for Spurs’ youth team during his time at the club in the early 1970s. Dudfield (his son is former professional footballer Lawrie Dudfield) would later combine work with playing semi-professional with the likes of Walton & Hersham and Wembley after leaving Spurs. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to Thomas about his time at Spurs during the early 1970s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Thomas: That would be playing for the school team (the under 11s) when I was eight.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Thomas: Well the postman used to come at half past eight on a Saturday, and I was waiting for a letter from Spurs to say yes or no. Half past eight came and there was no postman, half past nine came and there was no postman, half past ten and no postman, and then at half past 11 the postman came and I opened up the letter and it said that you’d been invited to an apprenticeship at Tottenham, so it was happy days! My earliest memory of my time at the club was going in every Tuesday and Thursday at the ground with John Pratt and Tony Want and also Ron Henry. So people like that were quite an influence on me, as I had seen people like that in the papers, but never in real life.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Thomas: Just football generally as everybody who played professional football I wanted to be. To be fair I actually wanted to be Harry Cripps of Millwall as he was a stalwart at Millwall.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Thomas: I played right-back and I was fairly attacking and I had a good football knowledge and brain, but my confidence wasn’t that great although going forward I was good. Heading was my let down though as I was terrible in the air no matter how hard I worked at it, it just never came.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Thomas: John Pratt, Tony Want and Ron Henry were the ones that sort of mentored me but I also had a soft spot for Pat Welton, but they were the biggest influences.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Thomas: The best player that I saw at Spurs was Graeme Souness as virtually he had everything, but I was never going to be a Graeme Souness. I really moulded myself on Joe Kinnear really.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Thomas: I was playing really, really well and I went from the South East Counties League into the youth team with Souness where I made my debut against West Ham against a player called Johnny Ayris. He was a top, top player then and he was going to be the next George Best, but we played West Ham in a league game in the Junior League and Souness and Mike Dillon played as well as Terry Lee. I marked Johnny Ayris out of the game and I absolutely had him in my pocket and so that was a great day, and I had thought that I had made it then but unfortunately it was not to be. I had been playing really, really well until we had a Southern Junior Floodlit game at Aldershot and it had been raining for 24 hours and how the game was on I don’t know. Souness played in that game and we had a good team out against Aldershot but one minute in to the game I did a back pass and I got stuck in the mud and we were 1-0 down, and then three minutes in to the game I made another costly back pass, and my confidence completely went. Bill Nicholson said to me that you’re never going to make a professional footballer if you play like that, and at that time they had told me that they were going to sign me as pro but then my form just dipped after that and I had no confidence at all. After leaving Spurs I could have signed for Bournemouth and I played a trial for Millwall but then I just really decided to go semi-pro and I played for Walton & Hersham and Wembley, but I was earning a good living when I left Spurs because my granddad was a bookmaker. So he got me a job from Monday to Friday in the bookmaking trade and so I played football part-time.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Thomas: Absolutely fantastic. When we won the League Cup in 1971 that team was just unbelievable with so many great players including Alan Gilzean who was one of the best players that I’ve ever seen. The memory was I used to live in Southeast London and we lived six floors up on a council estate and on the morning of that final I went down in the lift all suited and booted to make my way to White Hart Lane which was where we met, and the next thing I know I’m going up in the lift at the Savoy. So it was just unreal and I wouldn’t swap it for a million quid, and they say that it’s better to have been a has been than a never was!
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Thomas: Probably that game against West Ham where I marked Johnny Ayris out of the game, and you had people like Ray Clarke playing that day along with Graeme Souness. When people like that come up to you and say that was great the way that you marked him out of the game, I felt a million dollars.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Thomas: On a pitch it was Graeme Souness but in regards to on a training pitch it was Alan Gilzean. He was a legend.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Thomas: Obviously going to see that League Cup final and going to the Savoy was a fantastic memory. I can remember going in one Boxing Day when we had played badly on the Saturday and Pat Welton got us in for training and Danny Clapton was there along with Chris McGrath. Alan Gilzean was there and he was injured, but we did all our training and did a bit of sweeping up in the gym and then afterwards Alan Gilzean invited us for a drink in the White Hart pub, and we ended up coming out of there about four hours later a bit the worse for wear!
Who was toughest player that you ever came up against?
Thomas: Graeme Souness. He had studs growing out of his feet and he was just a hard man.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Thomas: There used to be a group of us of which included Danny Clapton, Chris McGrath who went on to play for Millwall and Man United and also Kevin Worsfold and Phil Ward. Me, Phil and Danny Clapton used to go out all of the time.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Thomas: Just work and also remember your background and who you are and that I imagine will put you in good stead.
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?
Thomas: I always look out for Spurs’ results although I’ve not been to the new ground yet. It’s actually been 50 years this year since we were playing and I did actually try and get a reunion going but not too many people replied.