My interview with former Spurs player John Collicutt

John Collicutt from Great Wakering in Essex was at Spurs as a youth player during the late 1950s. Collicutt joined Spurs after playing for their nursery club Canvey Boys and he would end up playing for a talented Spurs youth team of the time of which included future first team player Frank Saul. A versatile player who could play as an inside-forward or in a more central position, John Collicutt’s time at Spurs unfortunately came to an end mainly because of injury. He would later play for Southend United at youth team level and then Romford, where he played with Spurs great Ted Ditchburn. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to John about his time at Spurs in the 1950s.

What are your earliest footballing memories?

John: My earliest memories was of playing quite well in my school team where I was captain, and then I played for my district team which was Southeast Essex who I was captain of as well. I had done pretty well and I also got selected to play for Essex Schools and London Schools, and with London Schools I played with a few lads who did well and one of them who did pretty well was Terry Venables from Dagenham.

What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?

John: I played for Canvey Boys as it was known then and I was asked to play for them and that was not too far from where I lived and was brought up. At that time Canvey were a nursery club of Tottenham and I was playing for their under 18 team when I was barely 14, and that was the same team that Frank Saul played for so it was really through there that I ended up at Spurs. Whether it was the right decision or not I don’t know, because I could have gone to Ipswich which is still one of my favourite teams and also Southend who were my local team. However, I went to Tottenham when I was only 15 and I can honestly say that it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

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

John: I didn’t really have a lot of football heroes but I liked a lot of players and from my village Great Wakering there were a few lads who were a few years older than me who played football. One was Peter Sampson who played for Bristol Rovers and another was Les Stubbs who played for Chelsea and he won the Championship with Chelsea in 1955. So we had a few players who came from my village at the time and it was quite a hotbed of football was our village.

 Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?

John: Most of the time when I played for Essex and London I played out on the left wing but for a start I really don’t think that that was my right position, as I was better playing in the centre of the field or playing as an inside-right/inside-forward. My career at Tottenham never really took off very well and it just never happened for me, put it that way. 

Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?

John: Most of the senior players were lovely lads such as Danny Blanchflower and Bobby Smith who was a nice bloke. Another one was the goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn.

Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?

John: There was actually and this player was still an amateur and an England international and he was George Robb, and I liked him as he was a nice man. He helped me a lot and he had plenty of time to speak to you and to try and help you, but most of them did but not all of them as some of them wouldn’t give you the time of day but most of the senior professionals were pretty good. The reserves, youth team and the A team used to use all the same dressing rooms at the time in the week, but my time at Spurs just never really took off for me. I went to Spurs in 1958 because I stayed for an extra term to play for London at school level, and after about two or three months there at Spurs I got quite a bad knee injury when we were playing against Fulham’s youth team. I had fallen over but another chap had fallen over me on my leg, and I thought that my leg was going to break but it didn’t although the knee broke really, and so I did all of my ligaments and everything else. So I had a couple of months out injured and to be honest after that it was never really the same again.

What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?

John: Well I really didn’t leave of my own decision as it was Bill Nicholson the managers decision, and I don’t know why but he never did seem to take to me much even if I was playing well. In actual fact it wasn’t him that signed me as it was Jimmy Anderson and by the time that I’d left school and went to Spurs he had gone and Bill Nicholson was in charge, and he never seemed to have a lot of time for not only me but most of the lads at the time. Although he did like Frank Saul and Frank had this terrific left foot which was a real talent and if he hit the ball and it was on target then not many keepers could stop it as it was a terrific shot, and that was his main asset really and it served him well. After leaving Spurs I went to Southend where I played for their youth team and I also played for Romford for a while when they were in the Southern League, and at that time that was the next league down from the Football League. There were upcoming and old players there and so that was quite good, but that’s when my knee went completely after I had run for the ball and I couldn’t really put my foot on the ground. And that really ended it for me as I just couldn’t get myself fit enough again to play at that level but I did play for quite a few years (three or four) for my local team Great Wakering Rovers and we were quite a force in our District League, and we quite dominated the local football scene at that time. I quite enjoyed my football there but I knew really in my mind that it should have been so much more, but it didn’t happen.

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

John: It was alright and it wasn’t bad and I can’t say that I really got excited about anything really. We had a different coach for the youth team called Andy Thompson and he wasn’t there in the week and so the only time that we saw him was on a Saturday afternoon and so you didn’t know that much at all, whether you wasn’t playing and you didn’t know if that was his decision or a joint decision if your name wasn’t on the sheet. Nobody really taught you a lot and told you if you were doing this right or that right or if you weren’t training hard enough or whatever, so there wasn’t really any close coaching as I expected to get at Tottenham at the time.

What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?

John: It’s got to be before I really had a career I suppose when I was playing for the County and for London. As a starstruck kid from out in the sticks in a country village  to be playing for the County and for London was really terrific and I was quite proud of myself at the time, not knowing how my career would turn out afterwards. Funnily enough I’m not saying that I was better than Frank Saul but as a 14 or 15 year old most people I think would have considered myself better than Frank at that time, but he did well and got his head down and did the right things I suppose, and hitting the back of the net was the main thing. So I was pleased for him but very disappointed for myself.

Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with? 

John: As a youngster I knew all of the Spurs players but not personally and I’ve got to say that it was the goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn who I played with at Romford after his career was finished. And he was a really nice man and he would help you too, but at Tottenham I unexpectedly came across all of the England football team in the dressing room at Spurs as they were training there for a game at Wembley. There was Bobby Charlton, Nat Lofthouse, Billy Wright and all of the England players of that time, so that was quite a shock as a 15 year old.

Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which standout from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?

John: I’ve got be honest that I didn’t have any outstanding moments in the Tottenham youth team and I don’t know why but it just didn’t seem to happen for me. I played with Roy Moss at Spurs and we were good friends and he was a nice man and when he turned 17 he did get signed on by Tottenham but he wasn’t there long before he went to Gillingham. 

 Who was toughest player that you ever came up against?

John: I only played practice games with him but I would have to say Dave Mackay as he was a really tough guy even though he wasn’t that big, but he was very stocky and strong, and as hard as nails. At that time he was like Tottenham’s enforcer.

Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?

John: There was one lad who played for the A team but I don’t know what happened to him after that and he was called Barrie Aitchison and he was a winger, and he played mainly in that time for the reserves or the A team. And I also got on well with Roy Moss who was from Maldon and also Frank Saul as well, and me and Frank used to travel back and forwards as he came from Canvey, but I would say that Roy was probably the best friend of mine really. 

What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?

John: The only thing that I can really say is to get their head down and work hard and to not get any false ideas about yourself or whatever, and you’ve just got to work hard at it.

 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?

John: I’ve got to be honest and my time at Spurs was not good for me and I rue the fact to be quite honest that I went to Tottenham. I wish that I’d have gone to a smaller club like Ipswich or somebody as I think that my chances would have been a lot better. I can’t really say that my time at the club was a happy time.

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