A member of the the very talented 1969/70 FA Youth Cup winning squad at Spurs, Bobby Wiles mainly played as a forward for Spurs at youth level, during his time at the club. Part of the same Spurs youth team as Steve Perryman, Graeme Souness and Phil Holder, Wiles was a player who had good pace, skill and a real eye for goal. After leaving Spurs in the early 1970s he went onto have a successful time in the non-League, playing for the likes of Walthamstow Avenue and Hayes. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to Bobby about his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Bobby: Like everybody else I played for the school team, and then I went onto represent the district side from 11 right the way through to when I finished school at 16. So I was part of Walthamstow Boys and then Waltham Forest, but I was also selected for Essex although I never played, but that was where I first met Steve Perryman and Phil Holder. A lot of my footballing life revolved around my dad because he was interested and he taught me a lot. I played Sunday football for Walthamstow Rangers, which was quite a prominent team then and it was where I met a lot of the lads who I went to Tottenham with. People like Steve Kirby, Dave Phillips and Tony Hafford, who was a goalkeeper. With Tony I never really understood why he never made it at Tottenham, because in the first year that I was there he played every game in the junior side. But then when we went back the next year he had gone. But you also had people like Billy Hazel (former Spurs player), who was also in my Sunday side.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Bobby: Well there was a chap who I knew from my school days and his dad was a scout for Tottenham in the Walthamstow region. At the time I was already playing at Leyton Orient for the junior side. I played a few games and enjoyed it but didn’t really understand what was going on then because football for me was just a game that I was able to play quite well. So this scout got me a trial at Spurs with people like Steve Kirby and Dave Phillips, and I remember having to come back from holiday a day early so that I could play in the trial on the Saturday. I played in the trial which was really good for me as I knew a lot of the people there, and it was one of those things where I had always been a midfield player. But when I got there they said that they had enough midfield players and can you play up front on the left. I didn’t mind where I played and so I said yes. I had done quite well in the game and after the game Eddie Baily came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in joining Spurs to come and train, and I was very happy to join those people. So that was how it started for me from that trial from a guy who only knew me from schools football. I had had scouts look at me from Spurs, such as Charlie Faulkner and Dickie Walker, but it was only through this trial that I managed to get an opportunity there.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Bobby: Well my love of football came from watching Bobby Charlton, who I loved. I just thought that he was a fantastic player who had everything. He could score goals, he could make goals and he was just brilliant. Of course that sort of led me to supporting Manchester United. But I did admire people like Jimmy Greaves, who was a superb player, and also I loved John White. I used to go down to Cheshunt to collect autographs, and I can remember being so happy that I had managed to get John white’s autograph. But for me Bobby Charlton was the main one, but there was also my dad who only ever played Saturday and Sunday football, but he was the main influence on my career.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Bobby: I didn’t really see a lot of the first team because we trained on a Tuesday and Thursday. Pat Welton joined the same year that I did at Spurs when he took the job as the head of youth development at Spurs in 1968. So Pat was a big influence on me, but then when I started to play there were people like Steve Perryman, who was just superb and also a lovely guy. There was also Phil Holder, who although he didn’t play much in the last year because of injury he was quite a big influence on the team, as he was the captain before Steve took over. Basically he was quite a big influence of what went on in the side and the way the side played. Also when I joined Spurs Graeme Souness also joined Spurs as well, and I can remember playing the first game that I did for Spurs with Graeme in the side. Right from the off you could see that he was a class player.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Bobby: Well when I was at Tottenham I played in the forward line of the front three. So the front three of the youth side was myself, Ray Clarke and Johnny Oliver. So in a 4-3-3 I played on the left side of the forward line which was never me. I had never played forward in my life before as I was always a midfield player. But I was quick and reasonably brave, and being quick made a lot of difference during the games. But I could also play although I don’t ever put myself down as being a forward, but I did score every other game, and so I had a reasonable record of scoring goals. Whereas the other forwards scored pretty much every game
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Bobby: I didn’t really have a lot of chance to see the first team, but I remember one time sitting near the edge of the pitch watching Jimmy Greaves, as he was someone who I would take note of, as by then I was regularly playing up front. But it was quite difficult as we never had a car and every time that we traveled to Spurs it was by the bus, so it was only if I got an opportunity to watch Spurs after we had got back from our morning game. So I would say that Jimmy Greaves would be the one that I would take note of and watch his movement and things like that.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Bobby: I had a brilliant time and I just couldn’t believe that I was playing with some of these players, who were absolutely excellent. People like Bobby Almond, who had come to Spurs in the second year. And he was a centre-back who was playing at right-back, but he came in and did marvellous. Also you had Mike Dillon and Billy Edwards who were two really solid centre-halves and footballers, and you had Phil Holder who was a driving force in the team. Then when Phil got injured a young guy called Eddie Jones came in and played left-back and did very, very well. You also had Brian Turner who was Australian, and he came over for that last year that I was there and he was on the ground-staff. But he was a powerful player in midfield who was also good on the ball, but then you also had Graeme Souness who played most of the time in the centre of midfield, and he was just a quality player. There was also Johnny Oliver as well, and for someone who played out wide he scored lots of goals and he could strike a ball with both feet as well. I realised at an early age that I wasn’t going to make it as a pro, as when I looked at some of these young players at Spurs I was never that good. But playing in that side made me a better player, and I went on and had a good career in non-League and amateur football. So I look back at my time at Spurs as being a great life changing event for me, and I loved it.
I met a lot of nice people at Spurs as well, and a lot of the people that I played with at Spurs I ended up playing with in non-League football as well. People like Dave Yerby, Steve Kirby, John Field and Dave Phillips. They all went onto have good amateur careers.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Bobby: Basically they let me go, and it was just at the same time as we had come back from our end of season tour in Holland – at the Rotterdam Tournament. We got off the train coming back and Pat Welton had pulled myself and Bobby Almond aside and said to us that we weren’t going to be required for next year, as by then we’d have to be playing in reserve football. And basically that wasn’t going to happen, and so I left Spurs in 1971 and from there I went to Romford, who were in the Southern League. They were run by a guy called Harry Clarke, who was a Spurs player. He took me there and I played in the reserve side there for a little while and played a few games there. I enjoyed it and it was good, and there were a lot of old pros there like Ted Ditchburn and people like that who Spurs would know, but I wasn’t going to get into the first team early enough for me. I wanted to go and play on a regular basis and so I finished up going to Walthamstow Avenue, and as it happens the guy there was called Peter Carey, who was an ex-Leyton Orient player. Just before I’d got there he had signed Bobby Almond, and then the week after I’d got there he had signed Johnny Oliver, and so that was fantastic. I stayed at the Avenue for five years and a lot of my friends now are people that I played with at Walthamstow Avenue. Then after five years at the Avenue I went to Hayes, which was near to where Steve Perryman was in Ealing. I spent five years at Hayes where I played with Cyrille Regis for two years, and also there were a lot of players who had come out of the pro game having finished their pro career and went into the non-League.
After leaving Hayes I went to Leytonstone-Ilford and that was a really good time for me as I played in a really good side there. We came third in the Isthmian League in the first year, and then the second year we won it and then in the third year we finished second. So I had three years there where I really enjoyed it, and then after I left there I went to Barking to play for Peter Carey at Barking for a year, and so I had 14/15 years in non-League football playing a decent standard with some very, very good players and nice people. Non-League football was the best for me as I think that I realised that I was never going to be pro, and so I think that I had the best of both worlds really. I also managed to play in an FA Youth Cup winning team with some excellent players and I had a good career in the non-League.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Bobby: That would have to be playing in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final. We had over ten thousand people playing there then, and that for me was the pinnacle and I loved it. Unfortunately I didn’t play in the other three games as they picked Micky Flanagan to play, but I didn’t lose out to someone who I didn’t have some respect for as Micky Flanagan had a fantastic career.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Bobby: Because it’s a Tottenham thing I could say Graeme Souness and Steve Perryman, but the greatest player who I’ve played with was Cyrille Regis. He was just superb and when he came to Hayes he was just 18 years old and had only had one season playing non-League football in a lower division, but when he came he was just fantastic. He was also a lovely, lovely man. I also played with Robin Friday, who was just phenomenal, but if I had to choose one player then it would be Cyrille as I got to know him really well. Of course there was also Graeme Souness, who had everything, but I think that he was a bit impatient when he was at Spurs, and you can understand that with what he’d done with his youth caps, but I don’t think that Bill Nicholson wanted to put him in the team then. Bill Nicholson was a nice man and I met him about four or five times after I left Spurs and quite a long time after. He would always make a point of coming up to me to see how I was doing. He was a gentleman but he could also make hard decisions as well. I can remember training once and Jimmy Greaves was training with us in the youth set-up, and that was just before he left to go to West Ham.
Could you talk me through your memories of the 1969/70 FA Youth Cup winning campaign. And also describe what it was like to be a part of that squad?
Bobby: That was something special to me. We had played a lot of games and I don’t think that we realised that we were going to be that close to winning it. We’d been beat a couple of times during the season, but only in youth games and I think that we lost an early youth game against Millwall, and I think that we also lost a game to Fulham during that year 1-0. We had West Ham in the first game of the Youth Cup and we had already played them a couple of times during the season and beat them quite comfortably, but we ended up beating them 6-1 which built us up a little bit. Then in the next game we played Leyton Orient, and I think that we beat them 2-0 and Johnny Oliver got a couple of goals. But my lasting memory of it was the next round because we played Arsenal, and I managed to get us the only goal which won us the game. We’d beaten them 2-1 at their place earlier on in the season, and then we beat them 1-0 and Steve Perryman played a rare league game for us. After we played Arsenal we played Reading and then Stoke, and then the semi-final against Bristol City. We ran out reasonably comfortable winners, and then for the first leg of the final against Coventry I enjoyed it. But I didn’t play that well and I lost my place in the side to Micky Flanagan for the second leg, and unfortunately we lost the second leg 1-0. I can’t really remember much about that game, but what was annoying was that we had already played Coventry that season and beat them 3-0.
When we played Coventry in the final they seemed to play better players such as Jimmy Holmes, but anyway we recorded a 2-2 draw in the first replay. I think that Johnny Oliver and Steve Perryman scored. Then in the final game Graeme Souness got a goal from the edge of the box, before getting himself sent off! So that really was the highlight for me as a youth player, and it was just brilliant.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Bobby: The best memory for me was obviously the goal against the Arsenal, and that is something that I’ll always remember. As it happens my wife’s family are all Arsenal supporters and I’d just started going out with her at that particular time. I remember being in her front room when her brother came in and asked me if I played football, and I said that I played the other night against Arsenal. I didn’t know then that they were all Arsenal supporters, but I said that we managed to knock them out of the cup and that I scored. So that wasn’t a great start. I made some good friends from my time at Spurs and I have good memories of my time there. I listen to Steve Perryman’s podcast and he has been a good ambassador for the club, but I don’t understand how he never got England caps. But my best memory of Tottenham is meeting those teammates and then seeing how their careers developed, which was a pleasure for me.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Bobby: That would probably be John Borland, who was a Scottish international who came down to play for Dagenham. He was a really tough competitor and midfield player who I always had a really tough time against.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Bobby: I spent most of the time with the amateurs as we didn’t really get to train that much with the apprentices and professionals, as we trained Tuesday and Thursday evenings. So Bobby Almond, Johnny Oliver and Eddie Jones were friends of mine, and also Ronnie Gilson was a lovely chap, but he never played that much in our side. But when required he did really well. So those would be the people that I really remember.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Bobby: It’s difficult for me to say but my thing would be work hard, get good habits and also don’t be afraid to use your skill. The youngsters nowadays have so much skill, and they are taught more than we ever were. The best part of our training was running around the pitch at White Hart Lane. So nowadays it’s easier now for the youngsters in some respects, but they’ve got to use the skills that they’ve been given. I was lucky to be able to be given the opportunity to play for Spurs.
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?
Bobby: The club will always be close to my heart because of my time playing there. For me it was special and I can still remember goals that I scored for Spurs, and I remember being livid with the Spurs people in a game against West Ham. As I got a second goal there (it was a diving header) as an own goal to Clive Charles, as my effort was going in! It’s a silly thing to remember but that would have been something for me to carry. However, it was a pleasure to play for Spurs and my overriding memory would just be the people that I met.