My interview with former Spurs player Paul Van Gelder:

East End born former footballer Paul Van Gelder was a right-back during his time at Spurs in the 1970s as a youth player, having previously been a midfield player. A talented and technical full-back who liked to get forward down the flank, after leaving Spurs Paul Van Gelder would play for Barnet, and then later Wingate & Finchley, where he played under a number of former Spurs players. Paul also represented and captained Great Britain at the Maccabiah Games. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to Paul about his time at Spurs, which was over 40 years ago. 

What are your earliest footballing memories?

Paul: We used to play out in the street and I sort of grew up in the East End, and so we used to play quite a lot of football. It was always a case of being called up to go upstairs because it was bed time, kind of thing. So that was really what it was all about as we didn’t really have much else, so it was really all about football, as there weren’t any computers or any of that around then. If anyone had a football then that was it, and it was just great. 

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

Paul: Well I’d got invited for a trial, as obviously I’d been spotted playing for my local club. Back in them days the trial was at Cheshunt, and so when I turned up at Cheshunt basically it was a sort of in-house game with some juniors, some youth team players and some trialists. We had a game with both of those categories, and so that was the first trial. Then I got invited back which was great, and we used to train at the ground on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but obviously back then it was a lot different to what it is now. There was only one team and not all of these different satellite clubs and different academies, as it was just a squad of probably 16 to 18 players. You were quite privileged if you like and it was quite a big thing because it was at the ground, and it was exciting.

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

Paul: I am a Tottenham supporter and I always was a Tottenham supporter, and so it was a massive thing for me to be involved with the club. At the time probably my biggest hero was Steve Perryman, because he was this young lad coming through the ranks. Initially I was that type of player but I ended up being a different type of player, but I suppose that I modelled myself on wanting to be like Steve Perryman, but beyond that my biggest influences are obviously the greats, like George Best and Johan Cruyff. Those types of players always inspired me and I loved that type of footballer.

Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?

Paul: I would probably have to say our manager Ron Henry from the double team, and it’s funny because I went there as a midfield player. In my first year there I struggled a little bit to pin down a regular spot in midfield, and the game was obviously a lot quicker than I was used to as a midfield player. Then out of the blue one Saturday we turned up and Ron Henry called me to one side and said that our full-back at the time Roger Wade wasn’t available, and so Ron asked me to step in at right-back. He could have told me to play up front, centre-half or anywhere as I’d have said yes, but I had a really, really good game there, and it just seemed to suit me. From that day on I was right-back regularly and never missed a game, as I was always picked, and I would have never have done that had I have stayed a midfield player. So Ron saw something in me and trusted me to play there, and I would say that that was a breaking point for me.

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

Paul: I played in lots of different positions over the years but at that age I always considered myself either a midfield player or a forward, because as a youngster you always like scoring goals. I was a skilful player and technically very good, and I just think that being further back and having everything in front of me enabled me to read the game a lot more. And I would say that in the modern day I was one of the original overlapping fullbacks in them days, which we would call wing-backs now. So I would say that I would be a modern day wing-back. 

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

Paul: Probably everyone that you’ve spoken to from my age group would talk about one person and one person only, and that’s Glenn Hoddle. Going back to that trial game I remember saying to Gary Hyams and Barry Pace, who was the number ten, and was he a youth team player? And bearing in mind that the youth team players would have been two/three years older than us at the time, but they said that he was one of the juniors and that he was the same age as us. Glenn just stood out and he was just phenomenal, and we used to train during school holidays at Cheshunt, and we would train with the youth team then, and Pat Welton was the youth team coach at the time, and he was a very, very good coach. Any demonstrations that needed to be done from what we were doing at the time, Pat would always pick Glenn above all of the youth team players. He was just in a different league and I was lucky enough to play at right-back behind him in quite a few games, and it was just so easy as you would just give him the ball. It was just do your bit and give him the ball and let him get on with it, as he was just phenomenal, and without a doubt the best player that I’ve ever played with, and probably even seen.

What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole 

Paul: I loved it and it was a dream, and I mean it was just turning up on a Saturday and training on Tuesday and Wednesday. And we used to get trained occasionally by Mike England and Martin Chivers, and as they were senior players they would come down on the odd Tuesday and Thursday night and give us a little bit of coaching. So that was obviously a dream and then to turn up on a Saturday and get on the coach outside the ground and put that kit on, you just can’t beat that. After the game we used to come back and if the first team were at home then we’d get our tickets for the game, and so it was just a boyhood dream. 

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

Paul: Basically I probably got to Spurs six months too late, as by the time that I’d got there a lot of the lads had already been there for two or three years. It came to signing apprenticeship forms and both myself and Chris Hughton got called into the office in front of Bill Nicholson to say out of probably eight lads who didn’t sign apprentice, that they wanted us both to stay, and sign what was then amateur forms. Both I and Chris did sign amateur forms, and after the first year I started to play more regularly and started to make a few appearances for the youth team if people were injured, as youth team players got priority. Then when that season finished they asked us both to do the same again, but I didn’t feel that I was getting anywhere with it. But obviously in hindsight if you could go back and put an older head on those shoulders, then I would have probably stayed. I remember going on a summer holiday and coming back and my mum said that Peter Shreeves, who had just taken over the youth team, and he had phoned. I spoke to him and he said that he wanted me to stay, but he said that he couldn’t guarantee me regular football because of such and such. I suppose that I lost a little bit of the drive that you needed to have, and the rest is history and Chris Hughton decided to stay and go for it, and look where he ended up! I’m not just saying this but I was actually a better player than Chris Hughton, but that’s my story. It was different times then and if you were doing that now then there is so many other opportunities to play a decent level of football and earn a good living out of it. Back in them days which was 40 odd years ago, even the top pros at Tottenham weren’t earning fortunes, and it wasn’t like it was a great career financially.

So then it didn’t feel that important as I thought that well I hadn’t quite made it, and so I’m not going to do it. Ron Henry was obviously friendly with Dave Mackay, who was at Swindon at the time, and he said that he could get you to go down to Swindon, and I also had an offer from Leyton Orient. But for me it was Tottenham or nothing, but then I played a couple of games for Barnet under Barry Fry, back in the day when they were in the Southern Amateur League. I then got a bit fed up with the travelling and the midweek games to somewhere two or three miles away, and then getting back home at one o’clock in the morning. I then actually got asked to play for Wingate, and I knew a few of the lads who were playing down there. At the time they were playing at a decent Sunday morning level, and then I stayed there for a while and went through the leagues and I ended playing in the Ryman’s, so I was there for a long time.

What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?

Paul: Obviously going back to putting on that Tottenham shirt is definitely the biggest highlight, but I would say after that it would probably be representing Great Britain in the Maccabiah Games, which is like the Jewish Olympics. So that was important to me, and so countries from all over the world would compete as an Olympian. And obviously I captained the Great Britain team and represented them on three occasions throughout my career (it is held every four years), and I captained them on the second and third occasion. So I suppose that would be my personal achievement and it is very like the Olympics, and the opening ceremony is live on TV in Israel, and there’s 60,000 people in the Ramat Gan Stadium. So that was a great experience.

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

Paul: Glenn Hoddle, without a doubt. But I played with Paul Miller, who I knew for a long time and he actually managed us at Wingate for a while with Joe Kinnear. Outside of that I have a good friend called Jeff Bookman, who captained England Under 18’s and played for Chelsea and Arsenal as a youth team player, and I’ve known him for a long time. But also Barry Silkman was another one, and he played for Man City and QPR, and he’s a good friend of mine, and we actually play in the same vets team. But no doubt the best player that I’ve ever played with at the highest level is Glenn Hoddle.

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

Paul: I think that it goes back to to the South East Counties League Division 2 Cup game against Chelsea, and obviously we played the first leg at the ground, and that was an incredible memory to go and sit in the changing room and put your kit on. And then you’d come out of the old tunnel at the old west stand and play on the pitch. Following that we played West Ham in a two legged final and the first leg was at White Hart Lane, and again we won that one-nil, and then we went up to Upton Park which was a great experience to play there. We actually lost that second leg one-nil, and we had the replay the following week at Cheshunt, and that was in 1975 and so West Ham had just won the FA Cup and so there was a lot of people at Cheshunt for that game, and eventually we beat them one-nil. So probably those three games are probably the three games that stand out the most as far as me being at Tottenham. 

During your time at Wingate you played under a number of former Spurs players. What was that like?

Paul: That was great and I got on great with all of them, and they obviously knew my background a little bit, so I would say that I got a little bit of special treatment from the old lads like Tommy Harmer and Terry Dyson, who were fantastic. Then obviously when Paul Miller and Joe Kinnear came down that was great, and I knew Paul anyway. And also there was Micky Dulin, who had obviously been at Wingate for a long time, but I got on great with all of them. We even had George Graham down there at one time, and he was there for about a year, just before he took over at Arsenal. As he was doing some work at QPR and one of the people at Wingate who knew him quite well got him to come down to Wingate.

Who was the toughest player that you have ever came up against?

Paul: Vinnie Jones. He used to play for Bedmond who were in the South Midlands, and we used to play against them. This was obviously before he went to Wimbledon. But other than that nobody really stands out, but I suppose that I probably wouldn’t have even mentioned him if he hadn’t have been the Vinnie Jones who ended up playing at Wimbledon. But I can’t say there was anybody when I was at Tottenham who I used to play against that was really difficult to play against.

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

Paul: I was close to Barry Pace, because I knew Barry before I had went to Tottenham. But there were other players who I used to play against that I used to know, such as Billy Porter who used to play for Leyton Orient. But at Tottenham me and Barry Pace used to meet at Liverpool Street on a Saturday morning and then get on the train to Cheshunt, as we used to live near each other.

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

Paul: Looking at it as a supporter now and the experience that you think you’ve now gained over the years, I would say just do the best you can. It’s a totally different game now and what you need to make it as a pro, especially at a club like Tottenham, but it’s difficult as a youth player to break into any team. I look at somebody like Harry Kane, and I’d be one of the first to admit that when he first came into the side that there was no way that you would ever think that he was going to be the player that he has turned out to be. But he’s obviously worked very, very hard and he’s obviously very dedicated, and I think that his hard work is paying off for him, and so for me he is the perfect example for any young footballer trying to break into the first team. I remember seeing Wayne Rooney play at 15 against the Tottenham youth team when Everton came to White Hart Lane, as a friend of mine called Michael Stone was coaching the Tottenham youth team. He invited me down to the game and I remember him saying to me before the game that Everton have this player who is 15, and to keep an eye on him. You knew straight away that he was going to be a top player, and he scored two goals that night and he just stood out. I also remember watching Gascoigne as well at a young age, but you would never say that about Harry Kane, whereas with Gascoigne and Hoddle you knew. Certain players you look at and you think that he’s got it, but not with Harry Kane. So I would say to any young player to look at Harry Kane.

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?

Paul: I went there as a supporter and I remember not long after I left that Glenn Hoddle had made his debut and Spurs got relegated, and I think that I only missed two games that season, home and away. Me and a group of friends used to go everywhere, and in one particular game we turned up away to Bolton and we were a couple of tickets short. We were sort of standing around when the Spurs coach turned up and Glenn got of the coach and we had a chat, and he asked me if I was alright for tickets, and I said that actually we need a couple. He said to come back in ten minutes, and he actually sorted us out a couple of tickets. I remember going into the hotel and seeing Peter Shreeves, who was the manager, and we used to have a chat. But listen Tottenham is my club and will always be my club, no matter what happens.

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