Anthony George Want joined Spurs as an apprentice professional in 1964. He would sign professional forms with the club in 1965, and would work his way up from the youth teams into the A team, and later the reserve side. The Hackney born former England Youth international was a tough and defensively solid full-back who read the game well. Want would go on to make 56 competitive first team appearances for Spurs (he made his competitive debut in the March of 1968). Tony Want had a lot of competition in the full-back roles, and would leave Spurs to sign for Birmingham City in the summer of 1972, and would become a regular and important player for them during the six years that we was there. He would spend the final years of his football career in America. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking with Tony about his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Tony: I suppose it would be playing on Hackney Marshes for your local team on a Sunday morning or a Saturday afternoon. I was only about 11/12 then, but as it went on and when I was about 13, one of the scouts saw me playing in a match. I’ll always remember his name, and his name was Dickie Walker, and he found loads of famous players, and he was from east London himself. The lad who used to do the scouting with him was Ronnie Clayton (Eddie Clayton’s brother), and he was a good man who was always smart and well dressed. But Dickie Walker saw me and asked me if I wanted to train at Spurs, and that was it. So I would go training twice a week, and so that’s my earliest memories of my time at Tottenham.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?
Tony: That would be the apprenticeship itself. One of the first things that you were told by the more senior players was to build yourself up. There used to be a fight everyday in the gym! I’ll always remember Johnny Wallis, as he used to look after us apprentices.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Tony: Players like Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton were the ones, and then as I got a little bit older there was Jimmy Greaves. I think that as a youngster your favourite players are the ones who score the goals, rather than a centre-half for example, but that’s how it was.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Tony: The biggest influence was without doubt Dave Mackay. And you could ask players like Graeme Souness, and he’d say the same. Dave Mackay had a massive influence on the youth players at Spurs. Pre-season was the only time that we used to play on green grass in training, as during the season we used to run around the pitch at the ground, and then play in the gym on concrete, and so the football was one and two touch football. If you were on Dave Mackay’s side you were his friend, but if you were playing against him then he’d give you a really difficult time in matches. I remember him saying to a few lads in pre-season if they wanted to stay out and practice training, and he was someone who would stay out there with you for half an hour to help you improve a part of your game. He was without a doubt my biggest influence at Spurs. And I’m sure that he was Brian Clough’s biggest influence, when he took him to Derby.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Tony: I went there as a midfield player who got goals, but I never played a game for Tottenham in midfield, because in a couple of weeks of being there they started playing me at full-back. In them days all the wingers were very quick, and so they wanted someone like me, who was reasonably quick but who could also give them a bit of stick as well. So I played in that position for Spurs from youth team level, and then when I got called into the England Under 19 squad during the World Cup year of 1966, the man who was running the team asked me if I could play in midfield, as I could get forward. We played a lot of games (around 28), and not all against international teams. We played against sides like Manchester United Under 21’s and Arsenal Under 21’s, when we were all Under 19’s. So I played all of those matches in midfield. I liked playing in midfield as it obviously meant that you got forward and got chances to score goals. In those days if you played at left-half then your responsibility was to defend against the inside-right. And so you couldn’t get forward as the inside-right was your responsibility. So there was a lot of man to man marking in those days, in football. I loved those early days at Tottenham, and although I never had to do national service, it was a bit like that in those days, as you weren’t going to make it if you were relaxed.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Tony: I suppose it depends on your position, but for me Dave Mackay was a massive inspiration. Outside of Spurs someone I always liked was Franz Beckenbauer, as he was someone who could do everything, and he showed this at World Cup’s. He was brilliant.
Could you talk me through your memories of your competitive first team debut for Spurs, in a league game against West Brom in the March of 1968? And how did that day come about?
Tony: I remember that Terry Venables had a bet with someone that I’d get in the Spurs first team before the Christmas of the 1967/68 season. However, it went past Christmas and then into March, and what was ironic about that West Brom game was that Jimmy Greaves was waiting for either his 200th or 300th league goal. And I remember the game finishing 0-0, as I so wanted him to score. But I didn’t find the game any different, although it was a good game for me as we never looked like conceding a goal. And I was also expected to get forward from full-back, which was good as well.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Tony: Well I liked it, but in the end I probably stayed a couple of seasons too long. In them days you only had one sub, and for example Jimmy Pearce was a sub for Spurs in home games very often. Whereas when we played matches away I was the sub, although Cyril Knowles used to do what he could to make sure that I could get my appearance money, and the money between then and now in football is so different. However, although I probably stayed a bit too long, I loved my time at Spurs. All you wanted to do was play, as a footballer, and so rather than being a standby at Spurs I moved to Birmingham City, and I loved it there as well. After training at Birmingham it was a bit different to being at Spurs, as at Spurs everyone used to go their own way, but at Birmingham a good number of us used to go out together after training.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Tony: I had a phone call from Bill Nicholson one day, and he said that a decent financial offer had come in, and so I said yes. And so I went up to Birmingham and I liked what I saw, and the manager of Birmingham at the time even said to Bill Nicholson that I had probably wasted a few years of my career by staying on a bit too long with Spurs. After spending some great years with Birmingham City I continued my playing career in America (Tony played for Philadelphia Atoms, Minnesota Kicks and Philadelphia Fury) and that was a great time. I first went to play for Philadelphia Atoms, and I was there for a couple of months, which was a great experience. As was the whole experience of playing in America.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Tony: I didn’t ever win a cup, so I can’t say that. But as for matches there were many, such as games against the likes of Liverpool. There are also great memories of playing for England at youth level, as well. And there were so many great players in that England team.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Tony: I would have to say when I was in America, when I got to play against the very best players right from 1978, although not the very best on the day. By the very best I mean Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Eusébio and George Best, although Pelé had just retired then. But you had teams with great players, such as New York Cosmos, who had six players who had just won the World Cup.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Spurs youth teams, A team and reserves?
Tony: The Spurs Youth team that I was a part of was really successful. We won the South-East Counties League countless times and also the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup, which everyone loved as they were played at night. In the Spurs programmes at the time, they used to have listed the First Division, the Football Combination for the reserves, and then you had the Metropolitan League which was for the A team, and then you had the Southern Junior League and also the Juniors side. One day my dad spotted in the Spurs programme that every different Spurs team were top of their respective league, at one point of the season. However, coming through the ranks at Spurs, we must have won about 90% of our games up until I got into the first team. We also won the London Challenge Cup three times, and what amazed me was that we played top amateur teams like Enfield Town, and I remember when we played them that they didn’t even get a kick of the ball. They had decent players and yet us who were in the reserve team at 17/18 won the match 4-1. Then when you do progress into the Spurs first team you find it difficult at times and then easy at other times, but Spurs in the 1960s were terrific.
I remember after Spurs had won the 1967 FA Cup final, that they played a Celtic side who had just won the European Cup, at Celtic Park in a friendly in front of a sell out crowd. And Spurs recorded a 3-3 draw in that game, and so they never even lost that. To have won the European Cup meant that you had to be the best of the best. I remember then going up to Old Trafford to watch Spurs in the Charity Shield, and Bill Nicholson couldn’t believe that I’d traveled up there on my own to watch the game. He had seen me and my friend who was an Arsenal fan, and he asked me to stay where I was in the stadium after the match and then he’d take us down to the dressing room, where the players were. I remember that the game ended in a draw and so both teams had to share the cup. But my mate who was an Arsenal supporter couldn’t believe it as we came back in the Pullman’s carriage on the train with the team. While I was at Spurs as a young player I’ll always remember us being told to tuck our shirts in and pull our socks down, as we were representing Tottenham Hotspur.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time with the Spurs first team?
Tony: My first team debut against West Brom really stands out, but then there’s other games that I played in, that you don’t even remember that you played in, whereas in other games you remember the little things that standout. We won at Arsenal quite a few times, which I remember, and they always used to finish above us in the league at that era. One game that I’ll always remember, was playing against Liverpool in the sixth round of the FA Cup. Jimmy Greaves scored the opening goal, but then Liverpool equalised later on in the game, and so the game went to a replay. So that game does standout, but as for the games with the best atmospheres, they would be the games between Spurs and West Ham.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Tony: That would probably be Peter Thompson of Liverpool. I had a difficult game against him one time at right-back, and I remember that Bill Nicholson selected Alan Mullery to play at right-back in another game, against Peter Thompson. I remember at half-time in that game after Peter Thompson had given Alan a really difficult first half, that Alan said to Bill Nicholson to never, ever play him at right-back again. I was sitting in the dugout with Joe Kinnear, who had been dropped for that game, and he said to me that we’ve just got to sit back and watch the Peter Thompson show! However, going back to your question there’s so many players, and in particular wingers who were so good and difficult to play against.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Tony: It was mainly John Pratt, as he was from Hoxton, and I was from very close to Hoxton, in Hackney. However, he wasn’t at the club when I signed as an apprentice, and there was really no one from my area at the club when I joined as an apprentice. But me and John Pratt did a lot of things together when we were both at the club, and for example we’d go out for a drink together on a Saturday night. Terry Venables always got on with me at Spurs, and years later when I bumped into him when he was the Crystal Palace manager, he said that we’ve got a player at Crystal Palace who will make it, and that he really reminded him of me. And his name was Kenny Samson. So I got on well with Terry Venables.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Tony: I honestly wouldn’t know now, as it’s totally different. In my day the manager did everything, and no one answered back to him. It was very different in those days. For example in my day we used to have a fillet steak before games, and when I first went to play football in America I was asked what I wanted to eat, and so I said a fillet steak. The man who asked me thought I was joking, as he said that I wouldn’t get one ounce of energy from that fillet steak during the game that I was going to play.
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?
Tony: Oh yes. My whole family are Spurs supporters. I still remember when Dickie Walker and Ronnie Clayton used to send two tickets for me to watch the first team, when I first joined Spurs as a youngster, and I remember going into the tearoom at the ground, which the players also used to use. They were great times at Spurs.