Stephen John Perryman (M.B.E.) is Spurs’ most successful ever player, and the former Spurs man from west London who wrote his name into the history books of Tottenham Hotspur during a 19 year spell with the club as a player, was someone who had one of the best footballing brains in England during his time as a footballer. His anticipation of situations in games, his tenacity and energy on the pitch, as well as his ability to pick a pass and keep the ball moving, were all first class attributes of his. Always one step ahead of the game as a player, regardless of whether he was playing in midfield or in defence, Perryman’s reading of the game and defensive organisation skills more than made up for the fact that he was never one of the quickest players on the pitch. Rarely missing a game for Spurs since he stepped up to play for the first team, the Londoner was the complete captain, who had the respect of every player that he played with at Spurs. Without doubt Spurs’ most successful ever homegrown player, Steve Perryman won two FA Cups, two League Cups and two UEFA Cups during his time at the club as a player. Joining the club as an apprentice back in 1967, Spurs’ all time record appearance holder endeared himself to the Spurs faithful during that time, and still to this day the Spurs fans have a massive amount of respect and gratitude for one of their own. After leaving Spurs in 1986, Steve Perryman played for Oxford United, before becoming player-assistant manager and later player-manager at Brentford. Since then Steve has held roles of which included being manager of Watford, assistant manager to Ossie Ardiles at Spurs, a successful spell managing Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse, and also being director of football at Exeter City.
I recently had the absolute privilege and pleasure of interviewing Steve about his legendary association with Spurs as a player. From those early days as a youth player at the club, to captaining the side to major silverware. If you haven’t already read Steve’s fantastic book which is called A Spur Forever, then I would highly recommend that you purchase a copy. Even if you are not a Spurs fan, as you will still thoroughly enjoy reading it.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Steve: In general it would be going over to the field or the park, or in the road outside of our house, as we lived in a cul-de-sac. There were not a lot of cars around in those days and there wasn’t too many of us. And my brothers were actually responsible for getting us a park as we only had a field to go to, and so they went around the next estate and turned the field into a park, which is Lime Tree Park in Northolt. So that was my earliest memories which was playing with my older brothers and older kids, but not always, although they were usually my brothers age. And then I played football for my school which was never easy as you’re playing against bigger, tougher, stronger boys.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Steve: So I had relative success at primary school level, and for instance I was in the district team a year early, and if you got into the team you were a good player, but if you got into the team a year early, then you were a very good player. I managed to be good enough to get into the team in my fourth years, but I then dropped completely out as I got into a basketball playing grammar school, and I followed my two brothers to one of the local grammar schools. Of course I was going to follow my brothers as I could share their blazers and stuff, but anyway I dropped out of the football scene. Although my brother wrote to a couple of clubs like Brentford and Reading and at 13 years of age I had trials, but I had no backup and I wasn’t going in there with any real confidence, as when you’re young you don’t know that you’re a good player. But anyway you would go to a trial situation, and I think that I went on trial to Chelsea because they had a lad called Steve Skoulding who joined Chelsea as an apprentice professional, and he was from our school. My dad and my brothers asked him if there were any trials at Chelsea and if so then to let us know. So I just turned up at Stamford Bridge and there was about 60 kids there, and then when they read out all of the names of everyone that had been invited, they said had they missed anyone? So I said me! As I had been invited but they had just missed me off the list, and so they asked me where I played? And I said inside-forward, and so they said that they had plenty of them but they said could I play left-back? So I said yeah. But that was not successful, and it was not until my last year at school that I got put into the district trials again, because of the new sports master.
I got into the Ealing District team, and then eventually throughout that year I progressed into Middlesex, London and England. But on my very first game for Ealing against Harrow the chief-scout at Spurs (Charlie Faulkner) scouted me. Instead of scouting a professional game in the afternoon he came around our house and he invited me to training. My eldest brother Ted, sort of believed in me the most, and Charlie Faulkner had asked me to sign this form to come to training, but Ted said no, he doesn’t have to sign that form. How he knew that I do not know, because I would have been 14, and therefore Ted would have been 18 and so I don’t know how an 18 year old knew the rules, I don’t know. I couldn’t understand it as no one was asking me to go training and this was Tottenham Hotspur, and although I had never been to a Tottenham game I was obviously aware of Bill Nicholson and the double team, and all that went with that. So anyway Ted was right and I could go training without signing this form but I did go training, and as my sort of schoolboy career progressed I ended up being the only England Schoolboys player who wasn’t signed to a club. So the interest in me was huge but ironically I never ended up signing for the team who knocked on the door first, and the decision on why I went to Tottenham was on how they treated me, and how they treated my family. And I’m talking about respect and not money, but that was down to Bill Nicholson, who had his finger on the pulse of everything that happened at that club. He even visited my house at least twice during that year and he was also writing letters to us, and of course Charlie was backing all of this up as chief-scout.
Charlie in fact was new to the job and I suppose that I was his first sort of signing as such, and Charlie didn’t live a million miles from us and so and he was always around the house. You never know what would have happened if you went somewhere else, and the contenders were West Ham and QPR, and QPR were because I was local and I used to enjoy watching them play in the old Third Division. And if I wasn’t at QPR then I was at Brentford following my two brothers, but West Ham were because of Hurst, Moore and Peters, and also my brother Ted was a a bit of a Ron Greenwood fan. But when it came down to it Bill Nicholson was the man and he was honest, and I said to someone the other day that the love for his club just shone through every pore in his body. And that was a convincing sell, and he wasn’t very praiseworthy and said it like it was, and so I thought that with someone like that then you are going to have a chance.
What was it like adapting to being at Spurs during those early days as a young player. And what was it like to have so many top clubs wanting to sign you as a schoolboy footballer?
Steve: So the minute you sign for someone else then you forget about all the other clubs, and I forgot about most of them (it was only between three) as I knew that I was never going to live in digs somewhere up north. Adapting was difficult, it was strange, it was four hours travelling (two hours there, and two back), and it was tough physical, stressful, and you had to do your bit, work-wise and playing-wise. So you were taking in all of this new information, which is why you joined a club led by Bill Nicholson, and they certainly didn’t fall all over you because you were a good player, because they were all good players. Certainly the younger group of the club maybe thought that I was an England schoolboy who thought that I was better than everyone else, but I certainly wasn’t that. But the fun part was when you were training and when you were playing, and that gets you through the moments where you think what am I doing. I was thinking this is tough, I was falling asleep on the train and missing my station which was Northolt and ending up at West Ruislip, which was about five past where I should have got off. I also got an injury which was a bad back and I missed about six months of my development, and although it was the same as everyone else, the treatment wasn’t great in them days. For some reason the medical thing with injuries hadn’t moved on but thankfully I had all my injuries early on in my career, and not later on. So I had got a bad back and was having to spend all of these hours on a train, and also sweep the gym, and spend time in the drying room in the summer, which was stifling hot.
So when you’re having to do all this nasty stuff that you haven’t done before and with a bad back, you were not walking properly and couldn’t walk straight and so that was testing. A lot of these days I’m hearing about people and stress and all this stuff, but forget my stress think about the people who fought in wars and were in the trenches and who weren’t fed properly. So I was the next stage of that which was nothing, but as a young person you’re thinking about your bad back. But looking back on it and if you get through all of that then it toughens you up, and you deserve a career.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Steve: With local football being QPR and Brentford, Rodney Marsh was the standout player. But there were lots of other players that I liked, like Mark Lazarus and Peter Angell and Frank Sibley, and George Francis and Jim Towers at Brentford. But at the international stage the higher class of football would have been Bobby Charlton and he was the pinnacle and the one to look up to. In terms of how he acted and played he was such a good role model, and I’m lucky enough because of my success that I have met him in later years, which is great.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Steve: Well I’ve been very lucky and I think that your career depends on your influences and at a young age I had Ted, and then when I joined Tottenham, from a managerial point of view it would have been Eddie Baily and Bill Nicholson. You weren’t dealing with them everyday as they had bigger fish to fry, but they were having a total influence over the club and that filtered down to you as an apprentice. Of course if you were playing for the England youth team then you would get a telegram from Bill Nicholson saying “ wear the white shirt of England just as proud as you would the white shirt of Tottenham, and you’ll be fine ”. But from a playing level as it’s who you’re mixing with everyday and who you are leaning from everyday, and so that would be Phil Holder. He was my age group and he seemed to do everything, and he had experience before his time and he had fighting qualities and as a competitor he had nous, and he knew how to live his life. I was from west London and I wasn’t from the east end or anything, but Phil was was just a dream for me. We traveled in together and traveled out together, and when I eventually turned pro and could drive I would pick him up at certain stations and then drop him off. So we spent hours and hours and hours together in the car, and you live off someone as competitive as him off of their words. My brother Ted made me a captain by saying that if you realise that if you help the man on the ball (your teammate) then it will help you as a player. Not that he’s got to listen to you as there is a lot of things going on in peoples head when you’re on the ball, if you’re telling them to turn or shoot or whatever. He said that they don’t have to listen to you but if you just pass on that then it makes you a better player and gives you an opinion on the game. Not because you’re a better player than them, but because none of us have got eyes in the back of our head.
What advice that is to a young schoolboy player, and it gave me such a leadership string to my bow, and you need as many strings to that bow to make you selectable. I was never a captain at school or in the youth team but people and particularly your teammates notice when you give them good advice, and if it’s good advice then they trust you, and you then give them more advice. It gives you the confidence that you’re saying the right things and so eventually when I get in the team as a 17 year old (I’m still not a captain) I didn’t have any problem to advice Jimmy Greaves that he could turn, or Gilly that he could hold it. That was part of you getting integrated into the team but if you were doing that in a flash way then that could work against you, but because I was brought up the right way I never took liberties with it no matter how good I was. So I just accepted whatever I got with good grace and tried to help those around me, and that put me in very good stead over the years.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Steve: Alan Gilzean, as Bill Nicholson put me as a room partner with Gilly. So I was taught to be humble but not listen to nonsense, and to stand up for myself. Those two things are quite hard to put together because if someone pulls you up for talking nonsense to them, then it could be because you’re flash. But stand up for yourself, be humble and listen to the advice, as the next bit of advice that someone may give you may be the best bit of advice that you’ve ever heard in your life and that can change your football life, and therefore your life. So if you’ve got too big an ego to listen to that bit of advice then you’re going to miss it, so I learnt more life things than football things at Spurs, because football is life.
Could you talk me through that 1969/70 FA Youth Cup triumph with Spurs. And also your standout memories from that cup winning campaign?
Steve: So the final was over four legs. We had a very good team, and me and Phil, and Barry Daines were in our last year in the youth team and we’d turned professional. The year below us had good players like Mike Dillon, Ray Clarke and Graeme Souness of course, and then we had a group of apprentices. So Eddie Jones who was a local lad, and people like that, but Spurs also had a group of amateurs and that’s not being disrespectful, because they were not on the professional staff. But they were as important as everybody else, as if you had a 15 year old apprentice left-back, and their best player is the right winger who has played in someone’s first team then you may lose the game because of that sort of battle. So you needed this age group of amateurs, who were attempting to do what people like Chris Hughton and Terry Naylor had done, and do enough as an amateur to then be offered professional terms later in life. Some people would say that if I’m good enough to sign apprentice then I don’t want to as they wanted to go into education as well, and therefore if they were good enough then the club would offer them the chance to play as an amateur. But we all develop at different rates, and I was in the first team at 17 at a club where you had 22 year olds who had never really played for the reserves. Because there was a team in-between which was an A team, and so in a way that was sometimes difficult to cope with, as in a way they were looking at me as if I was a favourite. But managers don’t have favourites, they have players that they trust, and if trust means that you get selected then that could be turned into you being a favourite. Well he (the manager) trusts what you do and likes what you do, and his job depends on you doing it at first team level.
If the manager doesn’t quite trust you like with Graeme Souness, who didn’t do enough to be trusted to the point where his patience ran out and he decided to go home. The timing has got to match, but at 17 and in the first team I don’t think that I was in a position to say that I was homesick or that I’d lost patience, as there was no reason for me to do that. But going back to the FA Youth Cup winning team, we were a very successful group of lads who had a very successful few years, but the pinnacle was to win the FA Youth Cup. I think that we only lost one game that year which was away at Colchester. So one week I was playing with Jimmy Greaves and Alan Gilzean, and Pat Jennings, and then the next week I’m playing with amateurs. But that’s not being disrespectful, but there were people like Bobby Wiles and John Oliver who were in that bracket and trying to do well enough to achieve a professional contract. So the expectancy level just went sky high for me as I’d just played for the first team. But I didn’t play against Arsenal on one of the last games of the season, because I was playing in the FA Youth Cup final and we wanted to win it. So that was a good decision by Bill Nicholson, but of course he wanted to beat Arsenal as well in the first team game, but managers had to make thousands of decisions everyday, and there is a mistake around every corner. But Bill Nicholson had his finger on the pulse of everything at Spurs, and of course he appointed Pat Welton, who had had success at the Little World Cup, and a lot of good players had come through his leadership in that team. Probably the first time that I was coached in an FA manner, was by Pat, as he was an FA coach. But Bill Nicholson, Eddie Baily and Johnny Wallis was more competitive, and there was 11 v 11 football, and there was a guideline of things to stick to, such as playing quick, easy and accurate.
So you were told all of these things, and I’ll never forget when Alan Gilzean had controlled the ball, that he wanted to play the ball in behind to Jimmy Robertson, past the reserve left-back Tony Want, but Jimmy was stood still. So in his eyes he had played it in behind, but Bill Nicholson had said to stop that and why did you put the ball there for? And Gilly was right, and he knew what Bill was going to say, and that was that the man off the ball makes the play. And so he said to Gilly what was he doing? And so he said that he was stood still, but Bill said to leave it to him to dictate that he makes that run, and that you have to respect that he’s the man off the ball. That’s a very simple thing but it’s so right from a managers point of view, and those lessons were gold dust for you, and you were getting those messages regularly. Sid Tickridge was our manager at weekends in the youth team, before I got into the A team with Johnny Wallis. Those messages just kept coming thick and fast, and if we played a big game such as on the pitch at White Hart Lane then Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily would have been there along with a number of the first team players, which was great. And the players would say what a goal that you scored or well played, when we saw them in the corridors the next day. But Bill Nicholson used to have a session with us in the away dressing room, and he just used to be underlining all those messages again, such us one goes back, the next one should go forward. So there were maybe 20 of these which were the framework for which you played your game within, and he wasn’t telling you that you couldn’t do a step over, and he wasn’t telling you that you couldn’t do a trick on the ball. But if you did and you did not adhere to one of these rules then you had to watch out. They didn’t actively encourage flair but they didn’t discourage it either, as it was what the flair resulted in, and that was a very good way to manage, as you knew exactly where you stood.
Could you talk me through your memories of your first team debut for Spurs, against West Ham United in a friendly in Baltimore, in the May of 1969?
Steve: So I was very surprised to have been taken on that trip as I don’t think that I’d played a reserve team game up to that point. So I was travelling with a group of people who knew me and my face, and my name, but they didn’t really know me, although I certainly knew them. West Ham were based in Baltimore and we were visiting them, and so that was to sort of spread the name of football in that country. The game was played in a baseball stadium and the pitch included the diamond and the track where you run for the baseball was also there, so that was different. I was playing against Hurst, Moore and Peters, against the team who were managed by Ron Greenwood, who I might have joined. The similarities between the two clubs were amazingly close, and Bill Nicholson and Greenwood were great friends and I think that Bill and Eddie both went there when they left Spurs, because of the closeness of ideas. I can’t remember too much about the game but I loved it and I enjoyed it, and I ran about and I just loved being in the company of these players, and I probably did okay in the match. I was supposed to play that game and then go home, as Alan Gilzean was joining that after that game because he’d been playing for Scotland in an international game. But anyway David Jenkins had been swapped with Jimmy Robertson at Arsenal, and he was on the trip, but he couldn’t play in that Baltimore game because he had sunburn on the top of his feet. You can imagine how Bill Nicholson reacted to that and so he sent him home and I stayed, and so there’s little moments like that in your career where there is no way that they could be planned. That resulted in me having an extra opportunity, and I ended up playing every game on that tour, from Baltimore to Atlanta, and then to Toronto in a tournament playing Glasgow Rangers and Fiorentina.
I think that that trip gave Bill Nicholson the thought of me being involved in the first team at a quicker stage than he was already thinking. It was inhibited by a thigh injury, and I never got injured other than that back injury, but I had a thigh injury in pre-season and that as Bill Nicholson described, stopped me from being in the first team photo, that is sent out to every away team at the start of the season for their programme. So Bill Nicholson would say that if you hadn’t have got that injury then you would have been in that first team picture, but you never answered Bill Nicholson back. But if I’d have been braver then I would have said Bill, do you think that I want to be injured? But of course you don’t say it. So those things live with you for ever, as it’s such an important mark in your career, and that said a lot about their reaction to injuries. I remember when Bill Nicholson came into the treatment room and he would just stare at you, and then sort of end up sighing, before walking out. The message was, that if you were injured then you’re no good to me, as I’ve got to concentrate on the ones that are good for me. And I think that there’s something to be said to that.
What was it like to play for the great Bill Nicholson at Spurs. And could you talk me through the impact that he had on you making that transition from being a youth player at the club to becoming an established first team player at Spurs?
Steve: Well it was all in the preparation, and that was through the apprenticeship and the young professional, which wasn’t long in my place. It was treating you in a tough love type of way and nobody really told you how good you were. Looking back now, I was part of the squad who went to Baltimore and I was also on the list that was kept on rather than being sent home. So then I was selected in the team to play against Fiorentina and Glasgow Rangers. Alan Mullery told me that he was on an England trip and he came back having played all three games, and Bill Nicholson phoned him and said how did you get on, Alan? And so he said yeah I feel fit, and so Bill said to him to have a good rest, and also did you do well? Alan said that Alf Ramsey said that he was the best player. And Bill said that that’s great Alan, as I’ve found you’re replacement! He said who? And Bill said young Steve Perryman, and he’ll replace you one day. You can imagine Alan Mullery’s answer to that. But yet Bill Nicholson wouldn’t say that to me personally that I would be replacing Alan Mullery one day. If Bill smiled at you then you did a lap of honour, if he said well done to you then you must have played well, but it was tough love wilt everything. When I was about 21/22 I got married on a Monday in March, during the season. Bill said why are you getting married in the season for? Well I said that I wanted to leave the summer clear to rest and enjoy myself, and in the super professional Bill Nicholson’s eyes that was just so strange. Bill Nicholson also couldn’t stand long hair, and I think that the fact that I had a short haircut (I used to get my haircut by a guy who used to cut hair for the local boxers) didn’t harm my case for when I got into the first team.
Bill Nicholson truly thought that Spurs were special, and why wouldn’t he believe that, as they had been great to him. And he had been great for them as well.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Tottenham youth teams and reserves?
Steve: I remember when I played a reserve game for Spurs in front of probably 200 people away at Crystal Palace, and I think that we won about seven-nil. It was known that I was going to leave the club, and so I assume that people had come to look at me, to see if my legs had gone, or if my attitude was bad. As how’s he going to cope playing for the reserves, after 866 games playing in the first team. But I absolutely loved it, because I was surrounded by young players who wanted to learn and who wanted to thrive. They were at the same stage as me all those years ago, and they wore the white shirt of Spurs with some pride and passion, and they would listen to me as I was the captain of the club. They weren’t worried that I had one foot out the door, and so how could I be arrogant and flash, and think that I don’t deserve to be in this team? I’ve never understood why a player who is out of the team for whatever reason (mostly injury) would not want to play for the reserves to get back to fitness, to help young players improve and give advice. From the Spurs youth team there was one day that was special. As that one year I played for the youth team, the reserves, the first team and the England youth team, and how ever many games I played that year I do not know, but I don’t think that I had one midweek off. During this year the Spurs youth team were playing a final against West Ham at Cheshunt, and I’d have been training with the youth team at Cheshunt the day before and nobody had told me that I was involved in this youth final. Maybe I should have asked the question, but you can’t have it both ways, and I wasn’t told that I was needed for this game and therefore it was a day off. It was difficult training and playing in the first team and you needed your rest, but anyway I got a phone call from Pat Welton asking me where I was. I said that I was at home and so he asked me what I was doing at home, as I had been picked to play.
No one had told me that I was in the squad, which can happen as coaches have a lot to think about, and a lot of planning to do, and I was in two teams. I had to knock on next doors door, as my brother was at university and my dad was working, and so there was no one who could drive me to Cheshunt. But I eventually got a next door neighbours son who wasn’t into football to take me, and by the time that I’d got to Cheshunt I went into the changing room and got changed and I got put on for the second half. Spurs were either two or three-nil down. I’m not the player, unlike Souness or Jimmy Neighbour who can change a game like that, but anyway we got a goal and we were back in the game and in the end we ended up winning three-two or four-three. But it was as if I had made the difference, and in a way I did, but not the normal type of difference you know, when you come on and score four goals, as I was and never would be that type of player. So that is a game that I remember because it was so unusual for the miscommunication and how I dealt with it, and I didn’t come in and play like some superstar, I just played like I had the first time that I had played for the youth team, as a 15 year old. That was doing my best, working hard and in this situation trying to get a goal back, and not over celebrate when we got that goal, and instead get the ball back to the halfway line, and on we go again, and let’s be relentless, and in the end we won it.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which standout from your time in the Spurs first team. As well as talking about the various cup successes which you were a part of?
Steve: So it was like a whirlwind when I got into the team and all of a sudden I was playing with Jimmy Greaves, and Pat and Gilzean, who were all great people and players. Then Jimmy Greaves goes and Martin Peters arrives, and all of a sudden I’m in a new midfield with Mullery, Peters and Perryman. So wow, it’s not always great week in week out, but eventually we get to the League Cup final and we win that, and then in the following years we got to a League Cup semi-final which we lost, and then another final. It appeared to me that you didn’t have to have a great whole season to win a trophy as you just had to win various games, and if that luck came as well then it was that competition which you won, be it the UEFA Cup or the
League Cup. So it was like a whirlwind and this young Steve Perryman was just going along with it all, but they were great moments if not particularly great individual moments. I had my moments in every competition, like when I kicked the ball off the line very importantly against Aston Villa at 0-0, and I know that I did my job against Norwich. I also certainly did my job over two legs in the Wolves game, but I done more than my job in the first leg semi-final against AC Milan when I scored two goals. It was very unusual for me to have two shots at goal, let alone to score two goals, and it was very unusual to shoot the ball under eight foot for me, and twice as well! So you’re basically doing your job and some weeks you’re doing it surprisingly well. But then there was relegation in the mid 1970s and life goes into a depression because your great club that you’ve been loyal to is now not signing great players, like we have had in the past, and so we were signing second and third rate players. So the club just goes from bad to worse and that is a bad thing to cope with, but when you’re talking about stress, I don’t like the word stress, but it’s all that I hear these days out of young peoples mouths.
But anyway Spurs managed to regroup and get up again and that was my favourite season as that was the season that was the pinnacle for me, in terms of me showing my ability. Because I went to the back and just brought the ball out and set Hoddle free and McNab free, and John Pratt free, as well as the overlapping full-backs. It sounded like I didn’t make a mistake but I didn’t make many mistakes, but from being a worker/runner I sort of returned to my youth of having a freedom, because of lack of pressure, in terms of having an immediate opponent. I just flourished with this freedom of playing, and this is why today I get so disappointed with how clubs don’t play the ball out of the back good enough. There is too many square passes and there is no one going between two players and running forward between the two, and that very rarely happens, and I think that’s where England lost out to other countries, as they could do it to us in such a way. But that season was a particularly good year and we managed to get out of the division and eventually sign Ossie and Ricky and get a really good team together, and have the purple patch of seven games in 18 months at Wembley. I can’t distinguish really between all of them, but Ricky Villa’s goal and the way that we were leading and losing and then get back and win it, and then get back on the stage. I led that team down and I led them up again, and now I was leading them at Wembley and was going to pick the cup up. That was the greatest day of your life, the greatest! And so they were the sort of highlights but of course I missed out on the 1984 UEFA Cup final at Tottenham, but you know what I sampled it against Wolves, and I know what that crowd can do to a team. Yes they can be critical and they’ll let you know if they are not happy, but when the crunch came, they lifted us over that line.
What a night it was at the Lane, and Danny Thomas missed a penalty and they chant his name back to the halfway line. That is a special crowd and if there was one, how does the next penalty taker feel having heard the reaction to Danny Thomas, if they understood that the crowd were chanting Danny Thomas’ name. That’s the power that a crowd can have on you and don’t undersell or undervalue the power that supporters have got. The referee for the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup cost me my appearance in a final, and you know what the Anderlecht players all apologised to me after the game, even though I thought that they were apologising for celebrating my second yellow card in that tournament. But I consoled myself that we had won the final and that I had already done it against Wolves.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Steve: I just didn’t really get on with the chairman at the time, and it was becoming a different club to the one that I had joined. My legs had ran out and so I wasn’t worthy of a new contract and so I do understand that, but I’ve never understood how Tottenham say goodbye to players, as it’s ridiculous. So I went to Oxford United who were trying to stay in the top division with a capacity crowd of 6,500 at the Manor Ground. We managed to stay up, and I ended up moving on as assistant manager/player to Brentford under Frank McLintock, and I eventually took over from Frank. Then after a couple of years I moved onto Watford, and then Ossie gave me the chance to come back to Tottenham as his assistant, and the club was now totally not the one that I knew. It was almost a different club with different ethics and different ways, and of course the game becomes more of a business as time carries on. But do not tell me that Bill Nicholson wasn’t a businessman, but he was a football man first, with an eye on the business. Some of the chairmen when I was involved with Spurs did not trust anyone, and if that was to do with football then that is a disgrace. So anyway I moved onto Japan after some time in Norway, after Ossie had offered me the chance to join him in Japan, which I did, for the experience and adventure. We were very successful in Japan, individually and as a pair, but eventually I came back to England for a while, before getting another job in Japan, which I took up. I eventually returned after 2002 and decided that I didn’t want to work for any businessman again, who had enough money to tell me what to think about football. So we moved down to Devon, and I helped Exeter City who were in dire financial straits, and I worked for them for nothing for four years, before starting to turn it around and starting to put the youth policy into action.
Exeter City eventually got back in the league and spent many good years there, and then supporters wanted to tell me what to think rather than chairmen of football, and that was when I decided that that was enough for me. But I’m delighted to see some of the former players like Ollie Watkins doing well, and the club now is in a very healthy position in terms of money, and that was done by hard work. The owners kept a distance, but when the supporters trust didn’t want to keep a distance anymore then that was enough for me.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Steve: It was wonderful, with great people. If you have supporters, the club and it’s players and then you have the people in-between who are supporters and they live local and they work for the club. Like the groundsman, office staff and the scouts, and that group of people were top football people, and I remember that I used to go in the local cafe, and the groundsman used to go in there. One would say are you ever going to have a shot on goal, Steve? And that was just gold. No one ever speaks of those people, like the laundry lady, the tea ladies and the lady at the training ground who made the lunches, and the groundsman at Cheshunt and his wife, those people are what Tottenham is about. Of course it’s about Jimmy Greaves and Gilly and Pat, and all those greats, but we were all one, together. That’s my abiding memory of Tottenham, and as I just described what they (the supporters) did to get us over the line at Wembley and against Wolves, when the team and the supporters are one then you’ve got something, and that’s a force that can’t be reckoned with. I’ve seen some highs and I’ve seen some lows, and relegation is a low, but if I’d have changed clubs and I’m sure that I would have met good people at the other clubs, but I wouldn’t have met as many good people that I met at Tottenham Hotspur.
You returned to Spurs during the early 1990s to serve the club as assistant manager to Ossie Ardiles. What was that like and could you talk me through your memories from your time in that role?
Steve: Awful! Football was not the most important thing anymore and it was about making money and it was not good, and it was not the club that I joined. It was not what I believed that the football club should be. When I was sacked I was absolutely delighted as I did not want to be surrounded by these people who were in control and have to listen to their nonsense. They could not teach me one thing about football or life. I’m a great believer in respect for football, respect for the players and respect for supporters. So it was a very sad time for both Ossie and me, and that’s why I’ll never ever criticise managers, as you don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors. Spurs had to pay me and Ossie to leave the club, which I’m not proud of, but that’s the rules. And for us to then go and do what we did in Japan, they should be ashamed of themselves.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Steve: Picking the cup up in 1981. I led the team down and I led them up, but to be serious you have to win a trophy and the FA Cup is a serious trophy, and that was a serious victory with a lot of style and richness about us. I’m truly, truly proud of that. The second year was good but it didn’t feel as good.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Steve: That’s a difficult one, as how do you judge a saver of goals like Pat Jennings to Jimmy Greaves, a scorer of goals? How do you judge a Glenn Hoddle, who played it his way and delivered the ball and then George Best who did his stuff? But I’m just proud that I played with and against some of the best players of all time.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Steve: I think in tough in terms of a competitor it was Bryan Robson. I remember saying in a magazine interview that this player was going to be a superstar, and without being like a George Best or a Glenn Hoddle, he was in his own way. And that was in terms of drive, energy, power and desire. He was the toughest player that I ever played against, and I don’t mean that in a nasty way.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Steve: Phil Holder is still to this day my best friend in football. I had a closeness in play with Glenn Hoddle. Alan Gilzean was another one, as I roomed with him and he was like a father figure to me, and also Pat Jennings in terms of respect. I respect Pat’s career and what he stands for, and maybe he would say the same about me. We had a mutual respect.
You were the captain of Spurs for many years but you’re also the clubs record appearance holder during your 19 years at the club as a player. What do you put that down to?
Steve: That is a bit of luck, and also being a stopper of goals who could help turn a team to be in a position to make the goals. And that’s what a good captain does and he helps to set the scene. I had a football brain for sure and I had a football desire, and a desire to keep learning, and also a competitiveness.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Steve: Be humble, keep listening to football people, never forget that the most important people in football are supporters, and enjoy what you are doing.
After all these years and a 19 year association with Spurs as a player, how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
Steve: Yes. It wasn’t before I joined but the moment that I walked into the club I knew that it was something special. Bill Nicholson was a special man and it’s no surprise that he made a special club. I love it when Spurs win and I don’t like it when they lose, and I love the style of Tottenham over the years, which all comes down to Bill Nicholson, from my knowledge. I’m proud of what Tottenham stands for, and if I can be labelled Spursy, then I’m proud to be that, because that attaches me to the great Tottenham Hotspur.