David Ishmail was a left-sided midfield player during the early 1970s at Spurs, as a youth team player. The West Ham born former footballer who played in the same Spurs youth team as the likes of Keith Osgood and Chris Jones, was a midfield player who loved to be on the ball. During his time at Spurs, David Ishmail was a part of the Spurs youth side that won the 1971/72 South East Counties League 11 Cup final. David later went into non-League and Saturday football, and he notably played for Leytonstone F.C. David’s son James, also played football and he had a long career playing for Romford F.C. I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing David Ishmail, who is a really nice man, about his time at Spurs back in the early 1970s.
What are your earliest footballing memories in general. And how did you about joining Spurs and what are your earliest memories of your time at the club?
David: From when I could stand up I was kicking a ball indoors, and where we lived was a block of council flats, and out in the back was a playground. There was about five or six blocks and we all used to play goal to goal, and we were out there playing football from after we had our breakfast until late at night. And we’d only come inside to have something to eat, and then we’d be back out there playing football until it got dark, and that was great. I’ve always played football and I was in the primary school side from seven until eleven, and in almost every side that I played for I was captain. I later played for my district side when I was only ten, and I played for the Under 11’s side, and then when I went to the senior school in Canning Town which was called South West Ham Tech, I played for the district team from 11 until 15. What happened was that we had a cup final which was played at Clapton FC, and we won 6-3. Left-side of midfield was where I played, and that day I got a hat-trick. Anyway this man came over to me and he introduce himself as Norman Corbett and that he was a scout. Funnily enough he played in the same West Ham side as the main scout at Spurs, who was called Dickie Walker. Again he was a bit of a character, but anyway Norman Corbett was scouting for Spurs and he asked me if I wanted to come down for some trials at Cheshunt. I didn’t know where Cheshunt was as it was over at Hertfordshire, but I said that of course I’d come down there. With that trial at Cheshunt for the first time that I came down there was 200 boys there.
But anyway they put you on in a match for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour to have a look at you, and then they gradually whittled it down, so by the end of the day there’d only be a hundred footballers there, and they’d ask you to come back next Saturday. So they eventually whittled it down to a squad after I came back, and then I eventually came back for pre-season games and I loved it, and I loved the training. But there was a certain irony to joining Spurs as I didn’t know Norman Corbett and Dickie Walker, but I knew Ronnie Henry by name and what he’d achieved at Spurs with the double side. So the squad itself was a mixture of apprentices and full-time ground-staff and players like me who were classed as amateurs. Most of the lads who came down on Tuesday and Thursday nights were only amateurs, and there were a few such as Roy Woolcott who were lucky enough to get signed on as professionals when they were 17/18, and also Eddie Jones, who was one or two years older than us. This club was wealthy and quite okay to write out a check for a player, rather than progressing the youth players, and they had some good youth players here. And I do think that that worked against them, but West Ham have always done that. Although that is my earliest memories of coming to Spurs, I did actually go to West Ham. I did go for a trial but it was one of those mass trials again, and I didn’t get through that. But if they’d have said to me did I want to come and join, then I’d have probably gone there, because that’s where I used to go every Saturday afternoon to watch the reserves.
I’ll give you an instance of the training down at Cheshunt one pre-season, when we were doing a training routine. You stood in the centre circle and you’d have someone flying down the wing, and they’d cross the ball into the box. You had to go from the centre circle into the penalty spot, and try and score a headed goal. And on that particular night Bill Nicholson was over there, and he didn’t like what he was seeing from some people. He stopped it and called everybody in and said that when you head a ball all you’ve got to do is throw your eyes at it. And if you throw your eyes at it then it will hit you on the forehead and it won’t hurt. I carried that tip with me and told it to my lads when they played, and it was a terrific tip, which worked. At White Hart Lane, under one of the stands we used to do a drill, and they used to hang a ball on a rope from one of the rafters, and would it swing at all angles. You would line up in two lines in two different places, and alternately you had to go and head the ball, and that most certainly made me better as a footballer. Next to the gym at the ground there was a little room where you used to do sit-ups and all other sorts of exercises, which was great. I was always one who thinks that you get out what you put in, and if you’re going to cheat then you are cheating yourself, and I don’t like that attitude. Another really good trainer was Bobby Scarth, as he wanted to be at training and he did everything that was asked. You used to have a target and also a line up on a wall at the ground, which you used to have to try and hit with the ball. So it was just basic and competitive training, which you did if you wanted to get better.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
David: It’s funny that you’ve got England in the final of the Euros tomorrow, and people are saying don’t forget to do your lucky things and set routines. Well that links into my close hero, and probably many people in the same country had the same hero, and that was Bobby Moore. I once read that the last thing that he put on before a game was his shorts, and so I did that as well. When he used to lead the team out he used to have the ball on his left thigh while he was holding the ball, and so I copied and imitated him. So he was my all time hero, and he even served me once at his pub in Stratford.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
David: Obviously I looked up to the better senior players, but I used to also look up to what people did in their training routines. I always used to learn from people. I remember one time as we drove into Cheshunt we saw Graeme Souness looking really double smart, standing there with his hands in his pockets. He was a really good player but he wanted to be in the Spurs side tomorrow, and so that’s why he clashed with Bill Nicholson and went off to Middlesbrough. So anyway I looked at all of those people, but I also looked at Danny Clapton and even John Cook. So the people that I played with and trained with I looked up to, and also there was Bobby Scarth, who I admired immensely, and his disability didn’t hold him back, it actually made him try harder. There were some good characters at Spurs who had that determination. I also looked at the first team, and players like Steve Perryman. How was he in the first team at 17? He done it because he was a good footballer, and okay he needs other pieces of the jigsaws to fall into place, but at that time he was an exception. And I honestly don’t know who was the next one from the youth set-up who went onto regularly play for the Spurs first team, apart from Keith Osgood. Also, Danny Clapton was a real serious player for me, and I don’t know why Spurs ever released him.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
David: I was an out and out midfielder, and my choice of position was as a left-midfielder, which was just in-front of the full-back. I liked to play in that position because I wanted to be involved in the game, and I could make tackles but I used to think that I could get on the ball and finish chances off. So I liked to be involved in the game, and along with my skills I also used to work on my stamina, and I enjoyed that. So that’s where I played from my primary days until I stopped playing, and just as a side issue my last game of football was playing in a charity game for a mate. That game was played at West Ham and it was against his sons’ Sunday side – Rippleway. And so I played at West Ham in the same side as my eldest son. But since then I haven’t played football, as your body catches up with you.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
David: Particularly I would work on my own heading, and so I would look at John Field, who was good in the air. There was a player who was a bit more of a senior player, and he was called Joe Peck. He was an out and out centre-half who used to win all of his headers, and so I would watch centre-halves like them and see how they would head the ball. Of course there was John Pratt, who you could learn things from, and he was an enthusiastic and tireless player that you could learn stuff off. I think that you could learn bits off of everybody along the way, and so I would watch everybody. I was relatively two footed, although I was right footed, but I played on the left and so I worked on my left foot, and I made sure that I used it in training. So I was always looking to improve and I think that they are lessons that apply to today.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
David: Fantastic! When I look back now and say to people that I played for Spurs, I think that they don’t think that it’s a big deal, but they don’t realise that you had to go through that process of going to two Saturdays of four or five hours at Cheshunt. And that was gradually whittled down from 200 players to a squad of 18/20 players, and so it was tough. But if you stood out or you were lucky enough, then you got through it and you got signed. But overall it was great.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
David: I had the two years at Spurs and then they wrote to me in the summer to tell me when pre-season was to start, but I didn’t go. The reason why I didn’t go was because that when I went from here, I went to Leytonstone and I was only 18 then. I thought that if I stay at Spurs then am I still going to play, because they had age limits, but anyway I didn’t come back. But did I do the right thing? I probably should have given it a go, but I had the opportunity to go to Leytonstone, who were in the Isthmian League, and at that time that was classed as like the fifth division. So I went to Leytonstone and they were a good side who had three England amateur internationals. So they gave me a shirt at Leytonstone and I went to them and did okay, before later going to Harlow, which was a decent standard of football. All of that time I was playing with my mates for a team in Leyton called Goodall, in Saturday football. The nucleus of the side was seven or eight players, and ridiculously one year we got into 11 cup finals. But I look back and think should I have gone back to pre-season training at Spurs, but I thought that the decision that I made at the time was right, and I still think that it was right. They probably wouldn’t have signed me as a professional as they already had apprentice professionals, but anyway I loved my time at Spurs and I still talk about it now with a smile on my face, and with great memories about characters at the club, and also the training.
I remember after one game at Cheshunt that they used to give us towels which had the cockerel on it, and I used to think that this was alright! And I remember that Ronnie Henry would say to us to go and see Jimmy Joyce to get your wages, and he was a character. I can remember going to the club house and there would be Jimmy sitting there, while the tea ladies would be at the other side. After I left school I went to work in a stockbrokers in the city, just off of London Wall, and then at half past five I would get the train from Liverpool Street down to White Hart Lane. From White Hart Lane I would get the coach to training, before later having to get back to east London, and so it was great. So I do look back on my time at Spurs with pride and I did enjoy my time at the club.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
David: To pin it down to one it would be when we won the South East Counties League 11 Cup final, as we worked our way through the rounds and won it. But I suppose also it was to be appreciated and recognised, and without blowing my own trumpet I wasn’t too bad, as Spurs don’t take on anybody. But overall I can remember playing for a Sunday team, and we got to this cup final and then had to play this side who were based just the other side of the Blackwall Tunnel. Both teams fancied it, but we actually won that game in extra time, and so that was greatly satisfying.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
David: There were lots of good players but I would have to look at Danny Clapton. I do have a sense of mystified sadness about that, because what’s gone wrong for him not to make it in the game, as he had it all there and he could have gone to any club in the country. So I would say that Danny Clapton was the best player, as he wasn’t one of those players who would say that he was really good, like Graeme Souness, who was a bit like that. But also there was my mate Keith Hayzleden, who played for Enfield.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
David: I think that it was the whole experience really, rather than the games themselves. I can remember playing against teams like Crystal Palace and Chelsea, and also Millwall in an FA Youth Cup game, and that was quite intimidating, but that was a great memory as we won the game. I just really enjoyed the whole process of coming down to Tottenham and getting on the coach and going to training, and being part of Tottenham. They were a big club then and still are now, but then they were always a top four/five team. But when I look back on my time at Spurs I think that I did okay, but there is just that little bit of uncertainty, because should I have come back for pre-season on my third year? But I think that I was being pulled away to come to Leytonstone, but I don’t regret it as it’s sad to have regrets. I can go through a list of players from my time at Spurs, players like Steve Outram. He was like a quiet sort of character who was a bit shy, but when he got on a pitch he expressed himself, and he was so quick. Steve Oliver was another really quick player, and then you had John Cook and Kevin Worsfold, who were not big lads but they were strong in the challenge, and also tenacious. I look back on my time at Spurs as a good experience of life.
Who has been the toughest player that you have ever came up against?
David: I would think that goes into playing Sunday football, but I don’t actually have a name of a single player. But I didn’t get intimidated by people, and that’s how I was. We had some tough players like John Field and Bobby Scarth, who were tough characters.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
David: I felt that there was a good team spirit at Spurs when I was at the club. Me and John Cook and also Gary Anderson and John Field were close, and we would go into the cafe next to White Hart Lane.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
David: My advice would be to watch, look and listen to all of the good advice and to not cheat on your training or take a step back. Put yourself 100% wholeheartedly into it, as it’s a fantastic opportunity and you won’t get it ever again. It’s a stepping stone to a wonderful life, and it’s what people do on Saturday’s and Sunday’s for nothing. It’s a wonderful game and if you’ve got that opportunity then don’t waste it. Also, don’t have any regrets.
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?
David: Yes. They would be my second club, even though I can’t go away from the boys in the claret and blue.