(This photograph is from Tottenham Hotspur FC.)
David Culverhouse was a tough tackling and talented centre-half, but one who unfortunately had injury problems during his career. The younger brother of former Spurs player Ian Culverhouse, David signed trainee forms with Spurs in 1990, and would later sign professional forms in 1992. From Harlow in Essex, Culverhouse was a regular in the senior Spurs South-East Counties League Division 1 side, and would later play for the Spurs reserve side. David would even make two appearances for the Spurs first team, during his time at the club. Those two appearances came in a pre-season tour of Norway, before the start of the 1993/94 season. After leaving Spurs in 1994, David Culverhouse played for the likes of Dagenham and Redbridge, Aveley, Billericay Town and Heybridge Swifts. He would later go into coaching in non-League football, for a while. I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing David about his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
David: Obviously I’ve got a brother called Ian, who was firstly a pro at Tottenham before being transferred to Norwich City. So it was really a Tottenham household, as my dad is originally from Tottenham. So I would follow my brother’s career, and go to places like Cheshunt, and then also I remember the two cup finals in 81 and 82, and so they are real memories for me. My brother was my idol and Tottenham was in my heart and it was all family orientated, and so to have my brother at Spurs at that time was lucky and fantastic for me. So as a youngster I followed my brother all around the country in a successful Norwich team. So I was slightly more fortunate than others as having someone older in the family who was involved in football was a real bonus.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
David: I got scouted playing for the county, and John Moncur Senior was there (Spurs’ chief-scout) and me and another lad called Lee Hodges were asked to come down to train as schoolboy footballers at the old White Hart Lane ball court. And I remember first seeing Sol Campbell there that day, as it was also his first training session. So it was then just a Tuesday and Thursday effort from there with games at the weekend, but it’s so difficult to remember how it all transpired. You knew that you were always being assessed and judged, and just hoping that you’d be playing a match on a Saturday. So I think that I had the maturity and physical capabilities to be able to handle it, and I never really looked back. You’re just hoping that you’ll make it into the next rounds, and so those years including the YTS years just went so quickly. So I was fortunate to be offered a two year YTS scheme, where I was amongst some great players, and the club were looking at youth players from the north of England, Scotland and Ireland. So to be selected was a real honour. We were very kindly given first team tickets to attend some of the first team games, and so it just becomes this is what I want and this is what I’m going for.
My time at the club was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me, but I was just very, very fortunate at the time to be involved in the best youth set-up in the country, and we won so many competitions. So when the YTS comes in and you are going to the club full-time and you are around these superstars, then it just becomes reality, even though you can’t believe that you are there. Sometimes I think that that worked against me, and I questioned myself as to was I good enough, and not just at our level, because you also had the next youth team up as well, as well as the reserves and the first team. However, I’ve got nothing but good memories. In my first year as a YTS I probably wasn’t in for the shout to be offered professional forms, as I was in the South-East Counties Division 2 side. God rest his soul, the big centre-half Del Deanus, who I used to play alongside so much, he was being selected to play for the Division 1 side. However, my progression in the second year of the YTS was immense, and so I managed to get in front of Del and unfortunately they released him and so they offered me that place instead. So I was incredibly grateful.
By this stage in my career I had injury problems, and I’d had two operations on my knees and it had started to become a lingering doubt in me. And before I had left the football club I had probably had about three or four cartilage operations, after having meniscus tears in my knees. I actually had my first bad injury when I was playing in the South-East Counties League, when I was 15, and so that was always going to be a bit of a problem for me. I had the same surgeon who famously went on to repair Paul Gascoigne’s knee, when I was 15. So the injuries did mean that I finished early, as I retired at 30, and probably should have done a couple of years before that. I did have a good second year at Spurs though, and I started to become more comfortable and confident, but when they called you into that office to say if they were going to offer you a professional contract or release you, it was just like all of your Christmases and lottery wins coming at once. I am still to this day very proud of the fact that I made it as a professional footballer, and although it didn’t go the way that I would have loved it to, to actually have achieved it is a wonderful feeling that no one can take away from you.
In Anthony Potts’ book Losing My Spurs, a lot of his memories of his time at Spurs resonates with me. I can always remember that day when Ossie Ardiles told me that my contract wasn’t going to be renewed and that I was going to be released, and so you walk away from that football club and the training ground and never look back. But I’ve got nothing but good memories, although I have a few regrets such as the injuries, and also a bit of self doubt. But I was also very fortunate that Ossie Ardiles called me into a Spurs squad that went on a pre-season tour of Norway, which was just a wonderful experience for me. I thought that I was there with the big players now, but then I came back again after that and got injured. So when I came back again I never got a look in again with the first team. But I did make those two appearances for the Spurs first team, and being in a first team squad of players for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, is something that no one can ever take away from me, even though it wasn’t on home soil.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
David: Glenn Hoddle was definitely one, and he was from Harlow like me, so I would watch him. As a centre-half at Spurs you were encouraged to play football, and I was a massive Franco Baresi fan, and I also liked Ronald Koeman as well. So I liked those defenders. But then when Paul Gascoigne came to Spurs I was in awe of him, and I was lucky to play with him and also against him as well. And I’ve never seen an English footballer as gifted as him. I did like anyone who was in the 1981/82 Spurs teams, but for me it was mainly Glenn Hoddle.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
David: Patsy Holland was definitely one. He saw this centre-half who wasn’t particularly technically gifted, but who had a massive heart and who was determined to succeed. Patsy worked with me to help me to get better as a player, and even though he rightly criticised me on occasions, when I was progressing he would let me know. Patsy knew that I might fall short, but he was always willing me to achieve what I wanted to, and I listened to him a lot, and then in my second year I learnt off of Keith Waldon. Then later on after I progressed up to the reserve side, I learnt from Ray Clemence. But the man who I learnt the most off was Patsy, and I owed him a lot for my progression. I’ve also got to mention my brother Ian, who would always watch me when he could, and also he was a really good player. I tried to take as many of his good attributes as I could, and I would have conversations with him on a weekly basis. We also did lots of pre-season work together.
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 a centre-half, even though Ossie Ardiles played me at right-back in my first team debut for Spurs, as I was quite quick then. But it was at right sided centre-half that I played at throughout my time in the youth team, at Spurs.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
David: Gary Mabbutt was great and courageous, and he could also play football as well, but he was a leader on and off the field. But in my position I never felt that anyone was outstandingly strong at Tottenham, in my opinion. I was just mesmerised by Paul Gascoigne, and you would watch him whenever you could. He was a genius to watch, and it didn’t matter what position you played, everyone was just in awe of what he could do with a football. He was just incredible. So I would say that other than watching the group collectively, I would have to say that Gary Mabbutt and Paul Gascoigne were the two Spurs players that I would watch the most.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
David: It was brilliant. It goes in a flash, because you are in a bubble that you are very lucky to be in, but you don’t know that until it’s over. I’ve got nothing but good memories of my time at Spurs, and they were a great club to be at. I was lucky enough to be a pro at Spurs for two years, and you kind of have to pinch yourself that it’s happened. So it’s something that I cherish very, very much, and I feel absolutely honoured to have been at Spurs. Even for there to be a picture of me in The Spurs Alphabet, it’s something that will be there for ever. And nobody can take it away from you.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
David: Like I say I broke my leg in my first year, in a game against Barnet for the reserves. So I was out for most of my first year, but the then Spurs manager Terry Venables gave me another year. That was when I really rolled my sleeves up and thought let’s really have a go. I remember playing in a game at St Albans, which was where the reserve team used to play at. I played well in that game, and Ossie Ardiles was there watching the match, and then the next day the first team were off to Norway, and I got a phone call saying that they wanted me to join the team for the trip. I’d got in in front of the likes of David Tuttle and Stuart Nethercott. Then when I got back I got another knee injury, and then after that I got that vibe that it was just about seeing out the remainder of my time at the club. Queens Park Rangers were interested in me, and I went on trial with them for a month, but nothing ever came of it. I then went on trial with Cambridge United, when Gary Johnson was the manager. However, they were in the old fourth division, and as a Tottenham lad I was trying to play football the Tottenham way, whereas they are putting balls into the box, and want me to jump to contest a ball with a six foot five centre-forward.
I was feeling very sorry for myself, but I did have a twist of luck. John Still, who was the manager of Peterborough, had just left his role with Dagenham & Redbridge. He said to me that he wanted me to go to Dagenham & Redbridge, and he said that while he didn’t think that I was quite ready to play for Peterborough, he would watch out for me at Dagenham & Redbridge. So that’s where I went, and they were in the old Vauxhall Conference then, and so even though I was out of league football, I was at the highest level that I could be at. So I stayed with Dagenham for seven years/seasons, and in my second year I had a trial at both Oldham and Macclesfield, but I wasn’t sure that it was for me, and so nothing came of it and so I decided that it was going to only be a semi-professional career in football for me. But I had a wonderful time at Dagenham & Redbridge, and I managed to achieve a lifetime ambition of playing at Wembley Stadium, when we got through to the 1997 FA Trophy final. After leaving Dagenham I went to Billericay Town, and then Braintree Town and then Heybridge Swifts. But I did go back to Braintree where I would be player-manager for half a season.
So because of injuries I decided to stop playing football, although I was tempted to continue coaching, but by then I’d ended up falling out of love with football. Even non-League was a big commitment for me, and so before I reached my 30th birthday I stopped playing football semi-professionally, and I never looked back. Now I’m just a supporter of Spurs and England.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
David: I think that it would be being offered professional terms at Tottenham, and also making those two appearances for the Spurs first team. It means nothing to anybody else, but I got into a team of 11 players that at the time were representing the first team of Tottenham Hotspur. That was an amazing feeling, and having a brief encounter with the first team was just fantastic.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
David: Paul Gascoigne. After he had his bad injury and when he was returning to fitness, the youth team players were involved in football games with him, as some representatives from Lazio had come over to England to look at him. Him at his best, you just couldn’t get the ball off of him, he was just incredible. He had a lot of courage to demand the ball from anyone and everyone, and he had that positive arrogance to demand it. If it didn’t work out the first time then unlike others he would just try it again. So it was just a pleasure to share a pitch with him.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the various Tottenham youth teams and reserves?
David: One of the early memories was going over to Northern Ireland with the Spurs youth team to compete in the Milk Cup, in 1991. Nicky Barmby, Darren Caskey, Jeff Minton, Lee Hodges and Neil Young were all part of the team. That was a great week, but we played well and worked hard, and we went on to win the competition. Then a year later we competed in an international tournament in Switzerland, and I know that we got through to the final. I think that we won it as I know that there was a penalty shootout in the semi-final, and I scored the winner. Also, Arsenal in the South-East Counties League had a really good team, and it was always between us and them, but we always seemed to get the advantage over them. As a team we had so much ability, and winning matches just became an expectation for us. I was also lucky enough to have got the opportunity to play at most of the Premier League grounds. In my first year in the reserves I had a bad injury, but then after Terry Venables gave me that extra year I came back really fit and ready for that season. I don’t know how some of the players from the Spurs youth team that I was a part of, didn’t go on to have better careers in football. For example Jeff Minton was an unbelievable player, who I thought was destined for the top.
Could you talk me through your debut for Spurs’ first team in a friendly against Norwegian side Team Nord-Trøndelag? And how did that day come about?
David: Like I say I had been playing in a reserve game at St Albans, and the next thing I know I’ve got a phone call saying that I was going to be going to Norway with the first team, after Ossie Ardiles had watched that game. If I’m going to be honest with you I don’t really remember the game, but I just remembered being elated to be a part of it. It’s in the history books, and that for me is priceless.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
David: One of them would probably be Nicky Barmby, when we played a team from Lilleshall at Mill Hill, and he was tough and back then he used to play at centre-forward. He ended up becoming a really good friend of mine, but at the time he was very highly rated.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
David: Neil Young and Lee Hodges. I used to pick both of them up, and also Paul Mahorn who was a real character, in my car on the way to White Hart Lane everyday, as they were all quite local to me. They were all great lads at Spurs.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
David: Grab it with both hands and never let it go. You need to believe that you deserve to be there, and so you shouldn’t waste that opportunity. Just do what you do best.
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: Absolutely. I’m actually very fortunate that a very good friend of mine has four tickets in the tunnel club, so I go to the stadium quite a lot. Nowadays I’m just a big Spurs supporter. I’ve got one last story to tell you though. My first car was an old w reg Ford Fiesta, which was metallic bronze, and it had one electric window. In those days when Tottenham signed new players they put them up in accommodation in hotels. I remember picking up Lee Hodges in Waltham Abbey, and as we came up to these traffic lights and turned around, there was Paul Gascoigne in this big new Mercedes with Paul Stewart in the front, and so Paul Gascoigne winds the window down and says let’s swap cars. So at 17 out I get and go into this brand new Mercedes, while him and Paul Stewart got into my car, and I thought oh no! As he’d done things like this before, and I could remember that he’d driven David Tuttle’s car to Heathrow Airport and left it there. But anyway there I go to pick up a few more of the lads in this Mercedes, and we’re cruising around in this top of the range Mercedes. I got to Mill Hill, and so I was waiting and waiting for Paul Gascoigne, when I heard this car being absolutely thrashed up the high road. We swapped keys and everything, but that car was never the same again!