My interview with former Spurs Youth Team player Donald Turner:

Donald Turner joined Spurs on amateur/part-time forms 1965, and would play for them at youth team and A team level during the 1965/66 and 1966/67 seasons. Turner was born in Finchley and brought up in Whetstone, and he was with QPR prior to joining Spurs as an amateur youth team player. Donald was a promising attacking-midfield player, who could also play at centre-forward. He left Spurs during the 1966/67 season, and he would later play non-League football for Walthamstow Avenue and Enfield. I recently had the great pleasure of talking to Donald Turner about his time at Spurs during the 1960s.

What are your earliest footballing memories? 

Donald: That would be playing football at school, and that was Queesnwell school in Friern Barnet Lane. I remember being at school when I was 5, and the earliest that you could play football at school was at eight, and so straight away I was interested in playing football. I can remember my first pair of football boots, and they weren’t the brand new boots of today that you just pull on, they were the ones with the big toe caps. Quite a few times I could remember my the studs on my boots actually come through and bit into my foot, because they were the only boots that my mother and father could afford. 

How did you come about joining Spurs? And what are your earliest memories of your time at the club?

Donald: I wasn’t signed on by QPR, but because I played for the Friern Barnet Boys. Club and also Middlesex Youth, our football manager Peter Johnson was friendly with the scout at QPR. There were about four players from our side that QPR took on, and so we played practice matches and everything else and so what happened was that out of the four of us, two of us got picked. And so we played in their Under 16’s team against Mansfield and another club. So what happened was that both of us got picked out and they offered me the actual captainship of the QPR Under 16’s team, but the manager knew a couple of people at Spurs and Arsenal, but mainly people at Arsenal. And so he told me that Spurs were after me, and I was so happy to hear that, being a Spurs fan. Back then QPR were in the old English Third Division, and so naturally being a Spurs supporter I thought to myself here we go, I’m off to Spurs. The first time that I played in a real Spurs match was in a youth game at White Hart Lane against Crystal Palace, but the first actual match was at Cheshunt. And that game was against either Millwall or Brentford, and I scored in that game and so straight away they asked me if I would sign forms with the club. So they are my first memories at the club.

Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations? And if so who were they?

Donald: When I first went down to Spurs, Dave Mackay was absolutely superb. Also, as a fan I used to really like watching Cliff Jones, Bobby Smith and John White, as they were all heroes of mine. And in the defence Maurice Norman was absolutely titanic, but my big football hero was Jimmy Greaves, and I used to watch him and he was just unbelievable. 

Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?

Donald: The only person that I could honestly say had an influence on me was Eddie Baily. Sometimes I wouldn’t be in the first 11 for Spurs, and Eddie would say to me to get myself organised and it’s your time to go on the pitch, if nothing was happening. To be quite honest he was good to me. He was a hard man who would want you to do exactly as he said 

Could you describe to me what type of player you were? And also what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?

Donald: I was kind of like what you would nowadays call an attacking-midfield player. I was always put in at left-half or inside-left, and when I played in the FA Youth Cup side against West Ham I must admit that they probably thought that they had the better players in the middle, and so they put me out on the wing. Personally I thought that that was a bit of a waste of time, but when you go and play in the FA Youth Cup at Upton Park against West Ham, and you’re playing against Brooking, Redknapp and Lampard, well you’re just up in the air. Funnily enough when I played for the Spurs A team against Hillingdon, they put me at centre-forward. I was always the kind of player that wanted to score.

Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?

Donald: Dave Mackay. I was a player who could play left-half, and Dave Mackay was a superb player who was also a real professional. There was one player who was in the reserves a lot, and that was Tony Marchi. But if ever someone was injured then he would play in any position and play a great game, and yet still he wouldn’t get picked each week. 

What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?

Donald: I was three foot taller when I was at Spurs! I remember when I was at Cheshunt and we were training, and Pat Jennings had recently been signed by Watford, and when I saw him I thought to myself that that’s what I want to be, and I wanted to be a footballer. And I tried really hard to become a footballer, but it came to a point where I was playing for the South-East Counties Under 16’s, Under 18’s and the FA Youth Cup side and the A team. And so I thought to myself, why hadn’t I been offered an apprenticeship? Being big headed I said to Bill Nicholson that I needed to be signed, and so he said that he needed another six months to make his mind up. But I thought that I couldn’t keep doing this, and so I thought that I’ve got to say to him that you either want me or you don’t. And so in the end he said nice to meet you lad and you have helped us, but I’m awfully sorry but goodbye. And so in the end that was it. I thought to myself that I couldn’t say please sign me, and so in the end I just left. And so that was it in the end.

What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?

Donald: I was playing for the England Boys club and we played Wales at Wycombe Wanderers’ ground. We were 1-0 down when I scored a goal from 25 yards, and that feeling was just unreal. Because it was the first one that was just unreal, and it’s hard to explain. Also, when I was with Middlesex Youth we went to The Netherlands to play in a tournament, which was held over a week. We won the tournament and I was voted the best player of the tournament by two Ajax players. I received a model of a footballer on a wooden carved block. I’m very proud of that. Another great moment/memory was when my old football manager at the Friern Barnet Boys Club had five complimentary tickets for the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley. So I got to attend the final.

Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with? 

Donald: I should think that it must be either Frank Lampard Senior or Trevor Brooking, but I would say Lampard, because he was a really, really powerful player. And Trevor Brooking was just as good as he was when he was a professional, as at that time he’d put the ball over you or push it around you and score a goal. And at Spurs I would have to say John Pratt and Jimmy Neighbour, as they were the ones who were outstanding that I remember well, and who made it. But I was with players at Spurs like Ray Bunkell and John Clancy, and John Cutbush, and I thought that I was of the same class as those good players, and without being a bit big headed, maybe even a bit over. I couldn’t understand how I didn’t get an apprenticeship at Spurs. Also, John Conway (former Spurs apprentice) used to live eight houses up the street in Barnet, and he could have been a very good footballer.

Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Spurs Youth sides?

Donald: The favourite one has to be that cup match against Crystal Palace. They were 2-1 down and Bill Nicholson was there watching the game, and I scored twice and we won 5-2, and afterwards he came into the dressing room with a bottle of bubbly and he handed it to me and told me that I’d played really well. So then I was sort of eight foot up in the air and I thought that this was it. So then later on to be told that I wasn’t quite there as a footballer, that was hard. 

Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?

Donald: When we got together as players I was close to Ray Bunkell, John Clancy and also Brian Parkinson. But I was friendly with all of the players and I didn’t get into a bad argument with any of them. 

Could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites? And what prompted you to leave the club?

Donald: I thought that I was up to that standard at Spurs, and I had been there for just over 15 months, and I thought that I could be an apprentice. So me being me I asked Bill Nicholson, as so he said that he needed another six months, and so I thought to myself that I couldn’t stay around because I was just over 17, and I felt that I needed an apprenticeship now, or just find somewhere else to go. So that’s the reason why I left Spurs. After leaving Spurs I went to Walthamstow Avenue, and Charlton Athletic had been watching me and wanted to sign me. And They (Walthamstow Avenue) wanted me to play on the Friday, Saturday and the Monday over the Easter, as they were competing to be top of their league. However, I broke my leg and so I was in plaster for almost a year. It took me almost two years before I signed for Enfield and met my wife and moved up to Bedford. And so I didn’t play any sort of top football afterwards.

What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to progress up the youth ranks?

Donald: You’ve got to eat the right food and also train so hard. But you’ve got to let people know that you can read a game and you’ve got to let them know that whatever happens that you don’t give up. You’ve got to listen to the people in charge and try to the best of your ability. 

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?

Donald: Yes. It was a small amount of time in my life, but I wanted it and although I didn’t get it I’m still Spurs through and through, and I’m a big Spurs fan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s