My interview with former Spurs First-Team Chief Scout and Head of Youth Development John Moncur Senior:

John Moncur Senior spent 25 years at Spurs, and in that time he held a variety of positions at the club. A man who is greatly respected within the game and by the former Spurs players who he came across, John Moncur Senior (his son who is also called John played for Spurs’ first team after coming up through the ranks at the club) held the positions of First-Team Chief Scout, Youth Development Officer, Head of Youth Development and Head of Youth Scouting at Spurs. Moncur joined Spurs when Keith Burkinshaw was still the manager, and he stayed at the club for many years more until leaving them in 2005. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking with John about his long association with Spurs.

What is your earliest footballing memory?

John: That would be playing for the school I would imagine, as you can’t get much earlier than that. 

Did you play the game at any level?

John: No, not really. I played sort of non-League/amateur football but I got involved in coaching and that’s how Spurs took me in because they wanted to sign my son to be honest, but I was already involved in coaching the school district team at Harlow. I was offered a job by West Ham as well but my son loved it at Tottenham so I decided to go there and do a job for them, but that was only a part-time job to begin with and then after a couple of months they offered me a full-time job. It was still apprenticeships in them days (1980) but then the following year the YTS came in which made it much bigger, and that was how it all started really for me, and I stayed there for 25 years.

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

John: Players that I really loved were someone like Glenn Hoddle and for me he is one of England and Spurs’ best players along with Paul Gascoigne. For me I thought that Glenn was really special and I knew him for years and he was my manager for a time. I also loved Ossie Ardiles and he was a good player, also Steve Perryman in particular was a great club captain and a really nice guy to know and I still talk to him a lot now.

What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?

John: I joined there in about September of 1980 and I was heavily involved right from the beginning with the Spurs youth team and in bringing in young players to the club, and I suppose that one of my earliest memories was when Easter time came around and we were on the plane over to Switzerland with the youth team for a youth tournament. That was a big thing for me in them days.

Could you talk me through your career as First Team Chief Scout for Spurs?

John: When I first went to Spurs they called me Schoolboy Representative as that’s what you did when you worked full-time for a big football club and went out to recruit young players to bring in to the club. Once the YTS came in I became Youth Development Officer which I was much more involved in because we had many more players and the idea then was to look over the development of the young players, as well as being responsible for my scouting network to bring them. It went on from there and I was then given the title of Head of Youth Development, and this went on over a number of years obviously. Then when Ossie Ardiles and Steve Perryman came in as manager in the early 1990s they asked me to be Chief Scout as well, so I was Chief Scout as well as Head of Youth Development, so doing two jobs was really difficult at the time. Then when Ossie left and Gerry Francis came in I stayed doing both of those jobs which was even harder under Gerry because he had me flying all around Europe a lot of the time looking at players, so I was away on weekends and away sort of midweek. Therefore I thought that the other side of it suffered and we had a bit of a lull in our youth teams and so I couldn’t really keep right on top of it, but then Gerry called me in as the academies were coming in and so he said that you’ve got a choice and you can do one job or the other. He knew how difficult it was for me but he said to me that he wanted me to stay at Spurs as Chief Scout but if you want you can go back to the youth team, and he was very honest with me and this was sort of in the summer in pre-season. So he said I might not even be here by Christmas because that’s how football was, and as it worked he wasn’t and so I decided to go 100% back to the youth development side, and that’s when all the meetings were going on about academies even though it hadn’t started then. 

So after two managers I came off doing the First Team Chief Scout for the first team and just went back to youth development.

Would you be able to tell me some interesting players that you recommended to the club as a Scout?

John: Ole Gunnar Solskjær was one and the story about that one was that Steve Perryman had left and gone over to Norway because Steve had good ties in Norway. Because we were always friends he phoned me up from there and said John you’ve got to come and see this young player over here, as he said that he was top drawer and he’s playing for Molde. So I said ok and so I went and told Gerry and Gerry sent me over but Norway were playing France on the Saturday in Oslo, so I could go from there up to Molde on the Sunday morning. So I watched the France game and he (Gerry Francis) wanted me to look for any young players who were playing for France who were making their debut and there were quite a few that I sort of recommended to the club. Then I went up to Molde and came back and put a report in and said that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy him and that I’d buy him straight away, and I had actually met the president of the club and so he told me what they were looking for which wasn’t a great deal of money at the time. When you see a player it’s what you see on the day and I won’t say who but Gerry then sent someone else over who was at the club, and he came back and said that he didn’t fancy him which is fair enough. So I said look Gerry I’m telling you, and so I went out again to watch him play Paris Saint-Germain in the Cup Winners Cup, and they (Molde) lost 3-1 and he scored and again for me he really stood out. So I came back and said look Gerry we’ve got to do something about this and so he said arrange a game for me to go and see him with you, but it can’t be on a Saturday. So the only game that I could find was a Norway Under 21 game and it was in Stavanger, and so Gerry said to book that. 

So I booked that game and we went but the Norway Under 21 side only played with one player up front and so they had Tore André Flo up front and Solskjær played out wide on the left. He didn’t get a lot of the ball because if you’re playing wide you’ve got to depend on the midfield players getting the ball to you, so Gerry couldn’t really say too much on that and that was about October time. And so that was the end of it and in the following pre-season an agent took him to Man United and he was there for two days and Alex Ferguson gave him a contract and so he did stand out there, but I’m not blaming Gerry or whoever went as it’s what you see on the day. I had seen him twice and I was really impressed with him and so that was one player, then we were looking for a right-back and so I went out to Metz to look at Rigobert Song and I came back and said that as a man marker he is very good, but I’m not sure where he could have played in a sort of back four, but as a man marker he was very good. So Gerry said alright well go back and have another look and so I watched him before going out again to watch him when he was playing in Monaco, and so I went out to Monaco. There was a young player playing for Monaco who really gave him such a hard game and so I came back and I put the report in about this young player, and I was actually lucky enough because when I was there I had met an agent there who got me a video of the game. So I took that back with me and I gave it to Gerry and said that this young player is something else, and so Gerry looked at it but he looked at it about ten days later. 

Gerry then phoned me up in the middle of the night and he said wow you were right this player is unreal, and to be fair Spurs and I think Mr Sugar was involved in that, and I think put a bid in or they went to Monaco to sign him. And Monaco turned us down and that player was Thierry Henry and Arsène Wenger was the manager then, and they said that he wasn’t ready and I think that he was only 17, but then a couple of years later they sold him and I think that he went to Italy and then Wenger brought him over from Italy and we know the rest. So I suppose that they were two real big players that I saw young but they would have caught anybody’s eye because good players find you if that’s what your job is. I suppose your expertise comes in on the way that you look at them and on the way that you look on the game, and if I went to watch a player then I would watch him for 90 minutes and I didn’t notice too much else unless somebody like Henry was up against the player that I was watching and he gave him a really, really difficult game and so that catches your eye. Going to Head of Youth Scouting I always had players in the first team and don’t forget I had scouts who worked for me but it was my decision on what we did with the players once they came in. One of the bigger players that I battled for and won was Nicky Barmby because Manchester United were very strong in the league and it was Alex Ferguson himself who was dealing with it, and so I had to beat Alex on that one which was quite a feat at the time, because everybody expected Nicky to go to Man United but he signed for us at Spurs, but Nicky was a good player. There were so many players that I’d have to look back at the history to see players that I was involved in bringing to the club who played for the Spurs first team.

I signed two goalkeepers that played in the first team which is very, very unusual at a First Division or Premier League club, and that was Ian Walker and Espen Baardsen. All of the top clubs signed goalkeepers and they very rarely produce them and I don’t think that they produce them today as they sign them from other clubs. Sol Campbell and Ledley King all came through me at Spurs when I was there and I thought that Ledley was a tremendous player and it was just a shame that he had knee problems which took him out of the game, otherwise I think that he would have been one of the best centre-halves in the world because he was such a good player.

What was it like to be Spurs’ Head of Youth Development?

John: Even though I didn’t have certificates to be Head of Academy when the academies came in I still ran the recruitment and the running of the place under the Academy manager. The Academy manager who I actually gave a job to (Peter Suddaby) was at Spurs to run the under 15 side and he took over because he had the qualifications that was needed to do that job. I could have got them but it would have taken me some time to do it.

 As Head of Youth Development at Spurs you helped to produce some really good players. What do you put that down to and how would you compare the Spurs Academy setup to when you were in charge to what it’s like at the club now?

John: Well I think that Spurs carried on, I mean when I left Harry Kane was there and Winksy was there and they were all there at the club when I was there. My scouts brought them in and we kept them and then those that took over carried on the coaching side, and I used to work very closely with the coaches and my youth team coach Patsy Holland did a tremendous job at the club for bringing through players and working closely with me. If I brought players in then I was held responsible for the quality of players that we brought in and so I made most of the decisions on whether we kept them or let them go. I would obviously work with the coaches and they would work on it with me as well, but if there was a split decision then I would make the final decision saying are we taking him or letting him go, because when you’re responsible for what you bring in then you’ve got to be responsible for what you keep. Then it’s the coaches job to do there job and produce the players and make players out of them.

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

John: It was tremendous and I mean I had 25 years there and I think that when they wanted to make wholesale changes to the medical side they did, and they made wholesale changes to the first team and the way they went about things. Then they decided to make changes on the Academy side which we all can say why mend something that isn’t broken, but that’s what happens and to be fair they carried on and what pleases me is that the players that have come through when I left earned them a lot of money as well, but they were all players that I signed when I was there. If they sell Harry Kane for 100 million look at that one, but we’ve had several like that like the Jamie O’Hara’s and loads of them of this world who were all sold for five or six million. So if you add all of that up then it adds up to a good revenue and plus they played in the first team, but my biggest regret was that we didn’t sell Sol Campbell because Sol wanted to leave and he knew that his contract was up and so he waited a year, but we could have got 20 million pounds for him which was a lot of money. I mean he turned down moves to Lazio because he knew that he was going to Arsenal but you can’t blame him because if he stays until the end of his contract then he gets a much better deal. 

Were there any people at Spurs who you looked up to during your time at the club?

John: There were several people such as the managers who you worked under and you looked up to them as they do a very good job. I had quite a few managers actually and I suppose that I had about 12 managers while I was there, and I worked with the likes of Terry Venables who was an absolute genius of the football side. David Pleat was another one and he knew a player did David Pleat and he was excellent at that but he had such a knowledge of players that he could name you Scunthorpe’s reserve team for instance, as he was so knowledgeable on that side of football. He knew what made a good player but there was loads of other people such as Ossie Ardiles who was tremendous and he just wanted to play with that flair which sometimes let him down because of the way that he wanted to play, which was that South American way, but he was a tremendous manager to be fair. Gerry Francis was as well and I really liked him when he came to Spurs, and also Peter Shreeves was one of the best sort of coaches that I’ve seen but unfortunately things didn’t work that well for him at the time. Keith Burkinshaw who was my first manager was excellent but he left because he felt that the board weren’t backing him. George Graham was another one who was very good although he was an ex-Arsenal man, but he knew the game backwards. In addition a tremendous manager and somebody who was my hero was Glenn Hoddle, but he was great on the management side as well but the trouble with Glenn was that even as a manager he could do a lot of things better than what the players could do, and that was Glenn as he was a genius. When I was at Spurs I got to know Bill Nicholson (I worked with him for 20 years at the club) which was very humbling and he assisted me even when he had retired but was still at the club, and he used to confirm where I wanted my scouts to go, and he was a tremendous help to me. I suppose that he is someone who you would always look up to 

As somebody who was at Spurs for such a long time and who held a variety of positions at the club what do you feel was your greatest contribution to the club?

John: My contribution to the club was I imagine running the recruitment and youth development for 25 years. That’s a long time and if you don’t do the job then you soon lose it.

Are there any memories from your time at Spurs which really stand out to you?

John: Going there in 1980 stands out because not long afterwards we won two cup finals on two replays, and I mean that was a fantastic time. You have more and more as you go on and I can remember going to Swaziland with the team and Peter Shreeves as the manager with Liverpool in 1984, and that was a massive thing at the time, but time does go on and obviously whatever you do each season is different. You have great times and you have bad times, and disappointing times. Another story is that I originally found the original part of the new Spurs training ground when David Pleat was the Spurs manager and we sold Cheshunt which was the training ground that we owned. After that we went just up the road to train but my under 15 side couldn’t play there because there wasn’t enough space and pitches and we couldn’t ruin the pitches that the first team trained on. So David Pleat said to me that you’ll have to go and find somewhere for the under 15s to play, and so I walked through the hedge of the training ground where we was on and I came into a place called Mydellton House where there was pitches all over the place. Anyway I saw this little clubhouse down the bottom and it was owned by a medical university in London and so I phoned them and my under 15 team started to play their games there, and we played there for a couple of seasons which was good. However, when Terry Venables came in we had room to play over there at that current training ground so that was ok but then Spurs needed a new training ground and they tried to get a site opposite Heybridge golf course but that didn’t work out. So I just happened to mention about Mydellton House as me and Peter Suddaby were sort of looking at places, and so we went down to Mydellton House which was the start of it. Although they obviously had to buy a lot more ground around it but that was the start of the current Spurs training ground. 

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

John: I think that it’s a lot more difficult for them today, I mean Harry Winks is still in the first team squad and obviously the big man up front himself, but they are homegrown players. We’re getting more homegrown players now than we got through say five or eight years ago and so there’s more of them coming through now but it’s difficult for them and it’s not as easy as it was. What I feel for is the ones that don’t make like when I was there when I’d have clubs ring me to ask me who I was letting go, and so you had then Division Two and three and four clubs ringing you and asking who you’re letting go. But now it doesn’t work like that so much because the money in the game at the lower level is not there anymore not like it used to be, unless you’ve got players who can go straight in and play in the first team. Whereas as say ten years ago they would take them for a year or two to develop them before selling them on and making money out of them, but they haven’t got the time and resources to do that now. So that’s what makes it hard for young players plus the fact that with academies there’s far more young players in the game, but under the old system when you signed schoolboy forms you could only sign 16 schoolboys (when they turned 14) in three age groups and that was the total. So you signed players that you really felt that you knew yours were going to give a YTS to or an apprenticeship, whereas some of these squads today in each age group they’ve got 25 or 30 players, and that’s from under 9 to under 16 level. That’s an awful lot of players and an awful lot of disappointment and so what do you do with them all?  

Obviously the real top young players come through at least that’s what you like to think, but what do you do with the rest of them? Don’t forget that a lot of these kids have had great upbringings but there’s know room for them and a lot of them end up playing in the National League.

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?

John: Of course I do and I was a Tottenham supporter anyway before I went in there, and it’s like everything else that you do. I had 25 great years there and when I went it was time to go, so I don’t hold anything against them by leaving as they didn’t sack me as such but we had a compromise agreement where I left. But like everything else you move on and so after that I spent 15 years running a players agency, and so that kept me going until I retired. 

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