John Lacey was a left-back during his days at Spurs as a youth team player during the 1960s. From Tottenham, John made the most appearances for the Spurs Youth team in the South-East Counties League, during the 1963/64 season. Quite a defensive left-back, after leaving Spurs Lacey would play in the non-League for Finchley. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking with John about his memories of his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
John: I played for my school team (Devonshire Hill) when I was about seven. I’ll always remember that the teacher saw me playing football in the playground, and he asked me if I was an attacker or a defender. And not really knowing the difference between them, I said that I was a defender. And so I ended up playing at centre-half for Devonshire Hill, for three or four years, until I was 10. I then played for Tottenham Schoolboys, where I played in my own year and also the year ahead of me as well. When I was 13 I was approached by Harry Evans, who was Bill Nicholson’s right hand man, and he came to my house and spoke to my mum and dad, and me, and asked if I wanted to sign on as an amateur. So I did sign for Spurs as an amateur, and so I just started going training on a Tuesday and a Thursday at the ground.
What are your earliest memories of Spurs?
John: My grandad was a big Spurs supporter, while my dad was West Ham. I’ll always remember that I saw Racing Club of Paris versus Spurs, and so that was my first game at Spurs as a spectator. So it stuck with me since then, and I still go now to watch Spurs, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
John: The two players that really stuck out to me were Dave Mackay and John White, and there was also Jimmy Greaves as well. Later on in life there were people like Mike England, Cyril Knowles and many others, but when I first went to Spurs as a 13 year old there was a man called Jimmy Joyce, who used to be in charge of the second youth team. I think that we used to play in the Wood Green and Metropolitan League, which I played in for a couple of years, before obviously progressing into the youth team. Although you never used to train with the senior players of the double winning era, you used to just stand there and admire them.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
John: It would really have been just watching the first team play in the games and also in the training sessions as well, which was just a dream to be that close to them.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were? And what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
John: I used to play at left-back for Tottenham Schoolboys, which was why they used to pick me there. I was probably more of a defensive player rather than an attacking player, and so I used to like to making sliding tackles and heading the ball. But I wasn’t the kind of player who was rushing down the wing putting crosses in, and so I was a more defensive player.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
John: Obviously I looked up to Ron Henry, as he used to play in the same position as me. Whenever we used to finish playing in the morning we would go over and watch the first team, and we used to sit down by the pitch where the old scoreboard things used to go up. So I used to watch Ron Henry all of the time, to see how he did and how he played, and try and copy what he did on the pitch.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
John: I really enjoyed it. I was local to the ground, and it only took me about 15 minutes to walk to the ground, and so I’d look forward to the training on a Tuesday and Thursday, and also to the matches as well. It was a dream to go on the coach to Cheshunt to play home games, and then also to play away games against West Ham and Arsenal, and also Leyton Orient. So I thoroughly enjoyed it.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
John: Firstly it would have been joining them, and then secondly it would have been playing for London Schoolboys. Unfortunately we never won the South-East Counties league or the FA Youth Cup while I was at Spurs, but we did win some cups, such as the Winchester Cup and one other as well.
What was future Spurs first team player Jimmy Pearce like to play with in the same team?
John: Jimmy Pearce was a year younger than me, but he used to play in my team in the Tottenham Schools team, and he used to play on the wing. He was a really good player, and back then he was very small and slim, but very quick and very good with the ball, and also at scoring goals.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
John: I would have to say people like Harry Redknapp and John Sissons, and also Joe Kinnear. I played against Ron Harris, but apart from that no one else really springs to mind.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Spurs Youth side?
John: Getting to the finals were good, but I used to thoroughly enjoy the pre-season training and mixing with the professionals and the reserve team players, but the whole thing was just great. It was a bit disappointing when I was told that I wasn’t going to make it there, but not everyone makes it and I knew that.
Some players that you played with for the Spurs Youth team went on to have very good careers. What was it like to play for that side?
John: I thoroughly enjoyed playing for that side, which was a really good side. Everyone got on well together, and as far as I’m concerned there were no natural stars in the team and everyone played for each other. Obviously some are better than others and they progressed and made it, and had good careers.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
John: It was probably Harry Redknapp. He was very quick, and I remember playing against him before I joined Spurs, when he played for East London Schoolboys. When he had the ball I always used to show him on the outside, and he used to run to the corner, and nine times out of ten he overran it and I tackled him and got the ball, but I would have to say Harry Redknapp, to answer your question.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
John: Tony McGurk was someone who I was close to at Spurs. As I used to play for Tottenham Schoolboys with him, but I’d also have to say Jimmy Pearce and Joe Kinnear as well, because Joe used to play on the other flank to me as a full-back.
What prompted you to leave Spurs? And could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
John: Well I left because Bill Nicholson rang me up one evening and said that he didn’t think that I’d make it. Because I went to grammar school, the best thing that he advised me to do was to get a job, and also play football as well. He introduced me to Finchley amateur side, as he knew the manager. And so I went there to play for Finchley for a couple of years, but when I left school I started off working for an insurance company in London, before working for a travel agency. And then when I was 21 I joined the Metropolitan Police, and I played for their Notting Hill side and later the Metropolitan Police side.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
John: You need to train hard and not get distracted at all with anything, and listen to your coaches. Also, you should watch other players to help you to improve, and just work hard and try your best.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club that you still hold close to your heart?
John: Yes they are. About a group of 30 of us go to all of the home games and most of the away games and European games, and I thoroughly enjoy it. To be honest Spurs has been my life.