Gavin Toussaint was a skilful and technically gifted forward (capable of playing out wide or up front) who played for Spurs as a schoolboy at youth level, having previously played for Chelsea. Toussaint would play up for Spurs’ youth team (under 17 side) on one occasion during the early 2000s, but unfortunately he wasn’t kept on by the club when it came to the time when they gave scholarships out to youth players. Gavin subsequently played for the likes of Grays Athletic and Waltham Forest in the non-League, and I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to him about his time at Tottenham Hotspur.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Gavin: My team is Man United and they are the first team that I actually saw play on TV, and they were actually playing Wimbledon. Because Man United won the game I think that I just started to support them, and as I say they were the first club that I saw play on TV, and obviously they’re a worldwide club as well. So that was my very first footballing memory and I’ve supported Man United ever since.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Gavin: First of all I was actually at Chelsea before I went to Tottenham (I was there for six or seven years), and I obviously wasn’t going to be offered a contract there. So I then went to Spurs, and I was over at Tottenham for two seasons and then for the very first training I was signed on to schoolboy forms, which obviously takes you up to the scholarship stages. I wasn’t really one of the favoured players there and it was a case of me trying to prove myself, which I did time and time again. But what I can say is that I had good experiences at both Chelsea and Tottenham, and I played at all of the stadiums and stuff like that and been on tour in Europe, so I had good experiences of travelling with the team. So I can say that I was there as an Academy player, but I suppose that I was unfortunate in some ways.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Gavin: One of my favourite players is Brazilian Ronaldo and I’ve not seen a better striker than him in my lifetime. Obviously I supported Man United in the era where you had Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole and obviously Beckham and Scholes, but I think that Eric Cantona was probably the main one from watching Man United. But then worldwide you had Ronaldo as I said and also Ronaldinho, and now Lionel Messi is my favourite player, but I also like Neymar and Pogba and Martial. So there’s quite a few players that I can kind of relate to and just like their style of play, but Brazilian Ronaldo was the first one.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Gavin: I’m left footed and I was a striker and as I got older I played more as a number ten, but because of my height (I’m 5’6/5’7) and because back then there was a shortage of left footed players, so they used to play me out on the left wing. When you’re younger you think well I don’t play there so why am I not being given a chance where I want to play? And I was technical and skilful as a player, and in this country they like players who run a lot and are hard workers and don’t get me wrong everyone has to work hard, but the technical attributes are the main thing. I think that’s what worked against me as Spurs had two strikers at the time, one was called Andy Barcham and the other was called Danny Jones, and so both of those players were not better than me technically but the coach at the time liked them. So I had a very European style of play about me and as I said they played me out on the left wing, and that kind of worked against me in a way because when you’re younger you sulk a bit and think why am I not being given a chance? You also had Charlie Daniels who would later play for Bournemouth, and he was playing behind me at left-back and then when it came to picking the players for the scholarships, that’s when Mark Wright went to left-back, and Charlie Daniels actually moved up to left-midfield. So that was how I got moved out of the team, and in my opinion it was a joke to be honest with you and on ability alone I should have definitely been one of the players who got taken on. I can remember doing work experience and part of that was to practice being a scholar, and so at the time I went to train with the under 17’s and I showed everyday that I worked hard and could get better, and also showed that what I had to offer.
The then manager of the under 19’s at the time was a guy called Pat Holland and the manager of the under 17’s was Jimmy Neighbour. And when I was doing my work experience we played against the under 19’s, and the under 17 team had players like Owen Price, Michael Malcolm and Joe Watson, and so I was training with them and we played an under 19’s team which had players like Jamie Slabber and a few others. I was only a schoolboy but we (the under 17’s) played the under 19’s one time and I think that we beat them 2-1 and I actually scored one and created one, and I remember Pat Holland speaking to Jimmy Neighbour and saying who’s that? And he obviously said that’s Gavin and he’s come from the under 16’s, and then that was my first chance to play for the older age group because everyone says that if you play for the older age group then basically your going to be taken on. That was my opportunity and we played West Ham, and I started the game and played ok but it was more of a case of I wasn’t one of the favoured players, so it was more like a case of any excuse to kind of take me off. And so from there it was kind of an uphill task to convince them but I got released from the scholarship stages, and the biggest problem which I see in football a lot is the aftercare that I didn’t receive. These clubs build you up to be a professional but then when they don’t think that you’re good enough then they kind of leave you to it, and that’s kind of what happened to me. I had no real fallback option but at the time I had a chance to go to Burnley when they were in the Championship, but nothing really happened and I think that the club didn’t really push anything. Because I knew Mark Wright he got me some trials at Southend United and Rushden & Diamonds, but the problem is that the lower the level you go down the more it’s about the hustle and bustle kind of thing.
Technically I was good enough but physically I wasn’t really ready yet, and it was a case where a lot of these players that they took on from these trials were all physically ready at the time. From there I just went down the leagues, and now I just play five-a-side football.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Gavin: If I’m being honest with you then I probably wouldn’t say anyone, and I think that the only person that gave me encouragement as such was Pat Holland. I didn’t see much of him but he was the only one that kind of took the time and effort to say hi and stuff like that. In terms of players from the team I would probably say Phil Ifil and he obviously played for the first team as well, but because of the background that Phil has and the background that I’ve come from I related with him more than anybody else. But in terms of coaches and players I wouldn’t really say that there were too many great influences on me, to be honest.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Gavin: As I say I was a striker and so I looked at some of the players that they rated highly, and someone from the older age group was Michael Malcolm. Obviously when you’re younger you think that he’s a good player because the club are obviously building him up to be that kind of player. But then it was only when I started training with him everyday that I thought that I could reach his level, but in terms of technique I would say that I was ahead of him although he was more advanced than me at his age. So I kind of looked at him as somebody who is a year older to kind of look at to reach their level, because he was obviously taken on and given a pro. But I kind of looked at him and thought that I’ve got to better him, and then you also had Owen Price who was another one who was favoured, and he used to play on the wing which was where I was played. I looked at him and thought what is he doing for them to give him this sort of hype, and he liked to take on players and he was a bit more skilful as well. He was also confident which is what probably allowed him to do what he wanted to do, but as I say Michael Malcolm at the time was someone who I watched as he was favoured. But also there was Mark Yeates who was in the older age group, and I remember watching him play for the under 19’s, and he was a good player who was very good on the ball and also technical as well. So he was someone who I thought was the level that I needed to try and get to and obviously he played for the first team as well, but I would say him more than anyone was one of the top players, from what I saw, along with Michael Malcolm.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Gavin: Well it wasn’t me leaving Spurs as it was basically them leaving me, more than anything. As I said I didn’t get offered my scholarship and luckily I’m a strong-willed person and I kept it together and thought that there is something else that I can do, even though my career had not gone how I had wanted to it. So after leaving I had to start again, and from getting released from Tottenham I went on trial with a couple of clubs such as Cambridge United, Southend and Rushden & Diamonds, but then that didn’t really work out. So then I ended up going to play for Grays Athletic, and then I just went down the leagues and I also played for Waltham Forest as well, but from there I just went down the leagues.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Gavin: If I was to give it a mark out of ten I would probably give its 3.5, and that’s because of my experience there. There were times when we went on tour and they were good experiences and you obviously do remember those times, but on the whole you could clearly see who were the favoured players and who weren’t. I was playing on the wing and they had Andy Barcham and Danny Jones who ended up playing like every game, but I ended up outscoring them from playing on the left-wing, which is a bit of personal pride for me. I remember when we played MK Dons and back then we used to play like three 20 minute half’s, and the first team that was picked was in their eyes the strongest team. Obviously I wasn’t part of it but they went 1-0 up and one of the strikers scored, and then in the second quarter they swapped the team around which meant that I came on and got to play upfront. In the first six minutes I scored two goals in the game, and then about a couple of minutes later the coach goes to me and says that I think you’re finding it a bit too easy. I was thinking that didn’t make any sense, but he took me off and I didn’t play that whole second quarter, but then in the third quarter he brought me on for like ten minutes. My dad who is quiet and would just let me get on with playing, he actually spoke to my Spurs coach at the time and said what’s Gavin’s chances of playing up front? And the first thing that he said to my dad was that we’ve got two strikers of England national team recognition, meaning that the club were going to recommend them for England trials at that age, which was basically saying to me that I wasn’t going to be given a chance. Then as I say I had to prove myself, which I did but then when it came to that game where I scored two and the coach took me of I had basically embarrassed him in less than ten minutes. But as I say my time there was probably a 3.5 out of ten.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Gavin: I’d possibly say when I was at Chelsea when we went to France to play in a tournament, and I think that in the end we got beat in the quarter-finals, but I remember that before we got to the quarter finals we played Marseille and I scored the winner. And I played well and you can tell that you’ve played well when you’re getting praise from the coaches who were saying how well I’d played and stuff like that, and so on a personal level that is something that probably stands out in terms of playing for the pro clubs.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Gavin: There’s been quite a few and when I went to Amsterdam with Tottenham I can remember playing against PSG and I don’t remember the name of this player but he was a good player, and I’m pretty sure that he might have made it as a professional. We also played against Marseille and Samir Nasri played, and he was on another level and just so technical and good on the ball and you could see why he made it as a professional. We took a young team out there which was made up of the younger age group and some of the ones who I didn’t think were favoured. But when I was at Chelsea we went to a place called Keele University which is near Stoke, and all of the best teams in the country would go there and play in the tournament. And I remember playing against Everton and Wayne Rooney was playing and I’ve never seen someone so dominant on the pitch, and he was just too strong, too quick and too technical. I think that they beat us like 4-1 and I think that he definitely scored two and also had a hand in all of the other goals, but he was just someone who could do what he wanted to do, and he was just ridiculously good. I think that I went to barge him in the game and he didn’t even try but I fell on the floor and he was just that physical and good, and you could see then the career path that he was going to have. And based on that game alone I would say that I have never played against someone who was that dominant. There was also a player called Ryan Smith at Arsenal who was quite a good player, but there’s been quite a few players who I’ve played with and against who were good.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Gavin: I think that the most notable one was when I got chosen to play for the older age group, and that was something that excited me because I had been there for two years and I’d never had the opportunity to play there. I thought that I was just going to be training when I was doing my work experience and then I would just go and play for my normal age group on the Sunday. But Jimmy Neighbour said to me Gav, you’re with us tomorrow (meaning on Saturday), and in my head I was shocked because I didn’t expect it but it was showing the kind of progression that I was having when I was training there full-time. I didn’t look out of place and I was one of the better players in training and obviously in the matches, and I thought to myself that no matter how good I would do, they still chose the other players. But at the end of the training session when the coach said are you with us tomorrow? I was happy because I thought that it was justified because of the work that I put in, in those two weeks.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Gavin: Wayne Rooney was one, but I never really played against someone where I thought that I couldn’t get past them or they are just too good, as I never came on the pitch with that sort of mentality. Wayne Rooney was really good to play against but I would probably say Colin Kazim-Richards when I was at Chelsea, as he used to play at right-back and he was known as a tough tackling right-back, and so I was playing against him directly. Because he was a tough tackler you always had to be a bit wary, and he was quite quick as well and also difficult to get past, so I would probably say him.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Gavin: The two guys who I was close to were Phil Ifil and Harrison Tait, and the reason that I knew Harrison was because we both played for Redbridge District team. I was there before him but he came to Spurs on trial and got signed on schoolboy forms up until the scholarship, and we built up a bit of a friendship because we weren’t favoured players, and so I would say that the two players that I was close to were Phil Ifil and Harrison Tait.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Gavin: I actually work as a teacher at a school, and so my advice to any player who is aspiring to be a footballer or aspiring to break into the first team is to basically just have no regrets. Try and do everything that you possibly can to better yourself, and if I had my chance again then I would make different choices and I would just focus on football and nothing else. I believe that if you really want something such as being a footballer, then you’ve got to make sacrifices and try everything possible to make 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?
Gavin: To be honest with you because of my experience there I don’t really have any affiliation with Tottenham, the same as with Chelsea. Chelsea was very similar to Tottenham in terms of my experience, but I would probably say that because I was at Chelsea for longer I have a bit more of a connection than what I have with Spurs. I joined Spurs at a stage where a lot of the players had been there for years and a lot of them were favoured players, so I don’t really look back there with any fonds memories and I don’t really look out for their results every week.