Following on from the piece that I wrote on Spurs Academy player George Abbott last summer, I thought that I’d write another short piece on George, who has made some really good strides this season at Academy level, and today Spurs announced that he had signed his first professional contract with the club, which is great news. The Londoner who was born in Islington and brought up not very far from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Muswell Hill, North London, is a versatile player. George can play as a defensive-midfielder, box to box midfielder, or as a full-back on either flank. Tenacious in defence and very hard working off the ball, Abbott reads the game very well, and has good skill on the ball. A regular starter for the Spurs Under 18 side this season, he has helped them to reach the final of the Under 18 Premier League Cup, as well as helping a Spurs Under 17 side reach their equivalent of the Premier League Cup final (the Under 17 Premier League Cup).
George has really good balance to his game, and this season he has played in a variety of roles, and for the Spurs Under 18 side he has still managed to provided a respectable three assists so far this season for that Spurs side. George is very good at breaking up play from a defensive-midfield role, as he has shown for Spurs’ Under 18 side, since really establishing himself in the side early on in the second part of last season. Since impressing at full-back at the annual Terborg Under 19 Tournament, in the Netherlands last season, the second year scholar has impressed in that position for Spurs at various levels so far this season. Impressing for the Spurs Under 19 side in the UEFA Youth League this season at right-back, he has also stepped-up to represent the Spurs Under 21 side well, on six occasions so far this season.
The 17 year old Spurs Academy player particularly impressed me in the recent Premier League 2 fixture with Crystal Palace, a game in which he started at left-back in. He was defensively solid during that game in my opinion, but he also showed his quality on the ball, as he travelled inside well with it into midfield, as well as looking to receive it in similar positions during that game. A player with good pace and whose off the ball work I really admire, George Abbott also impressed me when he came on as a substitute in the second half of the Spurs Under 21’s 1-1 draw with Everton, earlier this year. Signing a much deserved first professional contract with Spurs at this stage of his career must be a very proud moment for George, and I would like to wish him all the very best for the remainder of this season with Spurs. He will also have two cup finals to look forward to with Spurs this season!
Former Spurs Academy player Luis Binks left the club during the 2019/2020 season to sign for MLS side Montreal Impact. Binks had been in consistently outstanding form for Spurs’ two main academy sides since signing scholarship forms with the club in the summer of 2018 (he actually made his Spurs Under 18’s debut two seasons earlier in a Premier League South game, along with Noni Madueke). A tall central defender, Luis Binks has great ability on the ball and a really good sense of positioning. Having progressed up through the Spurs Academy ranks with the club, Luis had formed a very good central defensive partnership with Malachi Fagan-Walcott, who he would of course continue to team up with very well for Spurs at Under 18 and Under 21 level. After making further good progress with MLS side Montreal Impact, the Gillingham born former Spurs defender made a really good number of appearances for Montreal Impact, and it wasn’t long before Italian Serie A side Bologna signed Luis, although he was loaned back to Montreal for a short time.
In his first full season with Bologna the former England youth international made an impressive 15 Serie A appearances, at the age of 20. However, this season he has joined Italian Serie B side Como 1907 on a season long loan, and Luis has already made 24 competitive appearances for Como during the current 2022/23 season. He has been in good form for Como this season, a Como side which includes Cesc Fàbregas. Binks has improved even more of late, and he is helping Como climb up the Serie B table, with his impressive defensive performances. Como are currently in 13th place in Serie B, with 35 points from 28 league matches played. They are just four points off the play-offs section of the league table. I always try and watch the games that Luis is involved in, and on last Sunday I was lucky enough to attend a Como match (against Modena) as he put in a really good defensive performance on the left side of a back three. Luis was defensively very solid and he made some really clever defensive decisions during the game, which Como won 1-0.
Luis Binks also provided the winning assist (the first of his senior career), after setting-up Alberto Cerri’s goal with a cross, in the win on Sunday. It is so good to see Luis doing well this season and getting regular football for Como. He is one of my favourite former Spurs Academy players, and at Spurs he was excellent at Academy level for the club. I wish him all the very best of luck for the remainder of this season.
Tarrelle Whittaker is a highly skilful and versatile forward, who can play in a variety of positions. The former Spurs Academy player who joined Spurs full-time in the summer of 2019, would feature regularly for the Spurs Under 18 side in his first season with the club, and he scored a good number of goals for the side that season. Whittaker featured for the Spurs Under 18 side on occasions during the 2018/19 season, prior to signing scholarship forms with the club at the end of that season. He would often play at centre-forward or out wide on the flanks, during the 2019/20 season, and in my opinion he did well during that season. Tarrelle is very skilful and has great ball control, as well as outstanding pace and off the ball movement. He can finish well inside the penalty area, and he is also well capable of creating good chances for his teammates. The 20 year old forward started the following 2020/21 season also with the Spurs Under 18 side, scoring two goals from 14 Premier League South appearances, and he would also make one appearance for the then Spurs Under 23 side (as a substitute) in a Premier League 2 game with Chelsea, during the same season.
Tarrelle Whittaker didn’t really feature for Spurs at Academy level during the second half of the 2020/21 season, and at the end of that season he left Spurs at the end of his contract. Signing for Swansea City for the following 2021/22 season, Whittaker quickly started doing well for Swansea at Under 23 level, in the Professional Development League. He impressed for the Swansea City Under 23 side during his first season with the club, scoring seven competitive goals for them. And during the first part of the current 2022/23 season, Tarrelle was in really good form for Swansea’s Under 21 side, impressively scoring 11 competitive goals for them. This was made even more impressive by the fact that he was often not playing at centre-forward. I attended a Professional Development League fixture between Charlton Athletic and Swansea City Under 21’s, in January of this year, to watch Tarrelle Whittaker.
In the game against Charlton, the former Spurs Academy player was excellent. He scored a really good free-kick goal in the 1-1 draw, but it was his superb skill on the ball, dribbling ability and link-up play which impressed me the most. Tarrelle also showed his great pace, and his ability to bring the ball forward really well from wide positions as well as his movement off the ball, made him in my opinion the best player on the pitch during that game. His fine progress with Swansea was clearly noticed by other clubs, and he recently signed for National League side Wealdstone on a loan move. So far Tarrelle has made five appearances for Wealdstone, scoring one goal. His most recent appearance for Wealdstone came in a league fixture against FC Halifax on the 28th February. I would like to wish Tarrelle all the very best for the remainder of this season.
Goalkeeper Alfie Whiteman is a local lad to Spurs, in Tottenham, and he has always been a Spurs fan. The 24 year old Academy graduate recently signed a new contract with the club until 2025, and the player who made his debut as a late substitute in a UEFA Europa League group-stage fixture against Ludogorets Razgrad in 2020, also impressed for the Spurs first team in matches during the following pre-season. A talented and commanding goalkeeper with great reflexes and a good amount of success at saving penalty kicks, Alfie Whiteman has been at Spurs for a long time, along with goalkeeper Brandon Austin, who was also part of the same very talented 2015/16 Academy age group. Impressing and featuring a lot for the Spurs Under 18 side during his two years of scholarship with Spurs, Alfie would later step-up permanently to the then Spurs Under 23 side, from 2017 onwards.
A vocal goalkeeper with good organisation skills, I remember well Alfie Whiteman’s time in the Spurs Academy, from the scholarship days onwards. He was consistent for both the Spurs Under 18 and Under 23 side, and the former England youth international who was capped by England up until Under 19 level, would put in some big performances for the two main Spurs Academy sides. I can remember him putting in a brilliant performance at Old Trafford for the old Spurs Under 23 side in a Premier League 2 fixture with Manchester United in 2018, as well as some other really good ones against Arsenal and Leicester City respectively. And in the same season (Alfie and Brandon were the two main goalkeepers for the Spurs Under 23 side that season) Alfie got a really good amount of game time for Spurs. He would later often train with the first team in previous seasons, as well as playing some matches for the Spurs Development side, on occasions.
Very good at saving efforts from distance owing to his impressive positioning, the Spurs goalkeeper also claims corner-kicks and set-pieces well, and he has very good reactions from close range. Alfie Whiteman would join Swedish side Degerfors on loan during their 2021 season, before returning to Spurs and later rejoining them on loan for the 2022 season, where he got some very good experience of playing regular football in the Swedish top flight. Not long after returning from his second loan move at Degerfors, Alfie played a match for the Spurs Under 21 side against Liverpool, in the Premier League 2. He had a really good game against Liverpool, making some fine saves and also organising the Spurs defence well. I am very pleased that Alfie has had his stay extended at Spurs, as along with Brandon Austin he really deserves it. Also, given the opportunity with the first team in a match, I am sure that he would do the club proud. I would like to congratulate Alfie on his new contract, and I wish him well for the remainder of this season.
Stephen William Pitt joined Spurs as an apprentice in 1963, and the very fast and skilful winger with a real eye for goal, was a very highly rated young player at the club. The Willesden born former Spurs player progressed up through the various youth ranks, the A team and the reserves to make two first team appearances for the club. Steve Pitt made his first team debut for Spurs as a 16 year old, in a friendly with the Maccabi club of Tel Aviv. He would also make a Football League appearance for Spurs, in a fixture with Blackpool, in the same year. Later playing for Colchester United, Stevenage and Corinthian Casuals, after leaving Spurs during the late 1960s, Steve did spend a really good number of years at Spurs during that decade, playing with some great players. I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of interviewing Steve about his time at Spurs during the 1960s. Steve is a really top man!
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Steve: My earliest footballing memories would obviously be at school. I was playing for the school team and then when I was ten I got picked for the county team. In fact in those days I used to have to borrow a pair of boots to even play football, from a friend of ours, and they were the old leather boots with studs, that you used to have to nail in. I later played for Middlesex and then London Schools, before being invited to the England squads for trials. And I can remember playing at Highbury against an Arsenal youth team, and I walked into Highbury and then they had underfloor heating, which was great. So they would be my earliest footballing memories.
How did you come about joining Spurs? And what are your earliest memories of your time at the club?
Steve: I left school just before I was 15 (I was born on the 1st of August, and the term finished on July) and so that’s when I left the school. So then from my time playing schools football Dickie Walker contacted me, as we had one of the only phones on the North Circular Road, as my dad was a bookies runner. So my dad told me that a scout had been in contact, and that he was going to see me tomorrow. I wasn’t really too interested, as I thought that this was a big club and so I was a bit nervous. So the next day I went out all day and didn’t come back to the house, because I didn’t want to see him. So my dad got annoyed when he realised that I wasn’t there, and so he then made arrangements for the scout to come back again to the house the following week. He would then invite me to a trial at Cheshunt, and so I went to Cheshunt. But back then I used to have to get the train from Stonebridge Park to Dalston, and so on and so on to Cheshunt. So anyway I went up there and had the trial and played pretty well, and then they offered me an apprenticeship straight away, and that was in 1963.
I enjoyed the camaraderie at Spurs in those early days, but going to a big club like Spurs was a big step-up for me. I didn’t used to enjoy training as a footballer, and me and Jimmy Greaves were probably the worst two trainers at the club, then. So I suppose that I didn’t push myself enough, and so I could have done a lot better. Just before I was 17, Spurs told me that they wanted me to sign me as a professional.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations? And if so who were they?
Steve: As a youngster I liked Dennis Law, who I thought was always a great player, and who had style and class. I also used to really like John White as a player, who was also a really lovely bloke. And so then you had Greavsie and Mackay, who most people would probably say were the real influences. And Greavsie was just so good, and he was so casual and laid back in training, and just a genuinely nice bloke. Most of the players were really nice, but the two that really impressed me were Greavsie and Mackay. I was also on the end of Danny Blanchflower’s career as well, but I would still mention Greavsie and Mackay as the main two, and that would probably be most people’s view.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Steve: Eddie Baily was a character, who wouldn’t stand any nonsense. But in them days the players mostly ruled the roost! When I was picked to play against Blackpool I travelled up by bus to training, and then Bill Nicholson told me that I was on the team. I couldn’t get back home in time, as the game was in the evening, and I had only came for the training at the ground. So I stayed in the snooker room at White Hart Lane, and on the biggest night of my life nobody explained to me what to do or give me advice, and so I was on my own all day, and so I was disappointed about that. They did tell me what to do when the players and I got into the dressing room, and I was of course up against England player Jimmy Armfield in that game, but things are so different these days. I went out onto the pitch at White Hart Lane completely nervy, obviously, and I didn’t really play my own game, which was getting on the ball and dribbling past players. But as I say, I was a bit overawed by it all on that day in front of 40,000 or so people.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were? And also what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Steve: When I was at school I used to play at inside-forward, and I was a little bit better than most of the other players as I had the speed and dribbling ability with the ball. I always scored a lot of goals from playing in that position, but then when I started playing for the county, I started playing on the wing. So I could play on the left or right wing, which were the positions that I eventually played in at Spurs. Later on when I was at Stevenage I ended up playing as a sweeper, and despite my height I ended up playing pretty good at it. I used to score a lot of goals as a winger at Spurs, and I remember that I was the top scorer in the Metropolitan League for Spurs, one season.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Steve: There wasn’t really anyone player that I used to study, as I just used to play my game, and so there wasn’t anyone that I used to watch closely.
Could you talk me through your memories of your two Spurs first team appearances for the club? (against the Maccabi club of Tel Aviv, and also the game against Blackpool).
Steve: I travelled with the Spurs first team to play a match in Tel Aviv after being picked to be a part of the Spurs squad (I was still 16 then). In that game against the Maccabi club of Tel Aviv, I played pretty good and I’m sure that Alan Gilzean scored a goal from a cross that I put into the box. So that was a great tour, but I was amongst the big players at the club, whereas I was in my comfort zone in the Youth team, A team and reserves, but stepping up to that level was different. But I did play pretty good in that game in Israel, and I had a really good time there, and we stayed in a big hotel. The game was the John White Testimonial game, and in that game I was able to play my own game, and I did well. I enjoyed that game a lot more than I did the Blackpool game, and I was a lot more relaxed than I was in the Blackpool game. As for the Blackpool game I can remember sitting in the dressing room before I went out, and it’s weird as I wasn’t really told what to do. So I was very nervous as I walked out at White Hart Lane, and I was very disappointed with my game against Blackpool. I actually should of scored in that game, as I got put through, but I just slotted the ball wide. That might have made a difference to me, had I have scored.
In that game against Blackpool I found myself running back and forth, and not really playing my game.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Steve: I had a great time. A lot of the lads who you have interviewed, who played at Spurs during my time, like Jimmy Pearce and Jimmy Walker, well we were like a unit. Most players at football clubs are mostly the same. They like a laugh and enjoy going out and having a few beers, and so I had great social times at Spurs, even in the first team. Even when I got a car when I was 17, I used to be able to meet up with the other players and go out with them. The Rolling Stones used to be my favourite band, and I remember when they used to perform at the Angel Edmonton, and I went with Jimmy Walker and Jimmy Pearce to watch them. We also used to go down to the Tottenham Royal to watch The Dave Clark Five.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories or ones which stand out from your time in the Spurs Youth sides, A team and the reserves?
Steve: I was also a good player in those sides, and I think that my goals proved it. I used to enjoy playing at that standard as well. I also obviously won the Metropolitan League during my time in the Spurs A team. And I can remember we played a penalty-kick short in one game in the Metropolitan League, to pass it. I don’t think that many people probably knew that at the time, but unfortunately I didn’t score from that penalty! We used to play against some tough teams and players in the Metropolitan League, and in them days we did have Dave Mackay and Ron Henry at times playing for the A side. Just before I made my first team debut for Spurs, I played in a game against the Spurs first team. And Dave Mackay, who was the hardest man who I ever came across in football, well me and him went in for a 50/50 challenge. I expected to get clattered by Dave Mackay, as it was a really hard tackle. However, he stopped me after the tackle and he told me that he admired me for that, and that it was a great tackle.
Unrelated to that, I remember playing a game (probably with Stevenage or Spurs) and I think that it was away at somewhere like Brighton. And Bobby Smith was playing (either in the reserves or A team) and one of the fans in the stand was having a go at Bobby all of the time during the game. When the ball went out of play near where the half-way line was, he jumped over and got hold of this fan and went for him! I’ll never forget that.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Steve: Obviously I didn’t fully enjoy the game against Blackpool that would probably be the one, along with the game in Israel and the cup that we won there. Plus I was one of the youngest players to play for the first team at Spurs. Also, playing for that England Youth side against Arsenal was a big thing for me, as I got to play with some really good players, such as Frank Sibley of QPR.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Steve: There was so much individual talent in that Spurs team of the 1960s, from Maurice Norman at the back, right through to Dave Mackay, and Greavsie and John White. I was of similar stature to Terry Dyson, and he was someone who I used to admire. He was also at Colchester when I was playing for them, and he was living in Sudbury and I was at Wembley, but we used to meet at the tube station and travel to Colchester together, and we used to have such a laugh.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Steve: My main friends were Jimmy Walker, Jimmy Pearce, Tony Want, Billy Mail and Ray Evans. We used to all meet in a group and get together quite often and that was my main group of friends, although I got on with all of them.
Could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites? And what prompted you to leave the club?
Steve: I was at Spurs until 1969. One day I got called in and I was told that the club weren’t going to renew my contract, and they then told me that Colchester United wanted me to sign. The Colchester manager at the time was a hard man, and he offered me a house in Colchester to sign for them at the time. So anyway I was there for a little while, and I’ll never forget a game for them against Doncaster Rovers, that I played. I got injured in both legs after a Doncaster player slide tackled me, which meant that I was off for probably four or five weeks. So I was just getting fit again after that injury, and the manager put me as a sub in a home game against Chester, after my return to the side. It was 0-0 until with about five minutes to go Chester scored. He told me to get warmed-up for the game, and after I got on I was probably on for about four or five minutes before the final whistle went, and so all of the lads knew what to expect if you lost at home. Anyway the manager went around and was having a go at the players for their performances. So he gets to me, and I’m thinking that he’s not going to say much to me, as I’d only been on the pitch for a couple of minutes. So he told me that he was going to have me in to train every morning, afternoon and evening to run until I could run no more.
So nobody used to answer the Colchester manager at the time, but I told him that I ain’t going to be doing what you’ve told me to do. I also told him that he wouldn’t see me at Colchester United again, and at the time all of the players were looking at me in disbelief. I went up to the secretary’s office and told him that I wanted to finish with the club today. He couldn’t believe it, but I went around to my house after leaving, and as I got there I could see four or five of the Colchester players telling my wife that I was going to be leaving Colchester. So that was it anyway, and after four of five months we left Colchester the next day. After that experience with Colchester I wasn’t that bothered with playing football full-time. Jimmy Burton was a business partner of Dave Mackay’s tie making company, and he was a big Spurs fan. He eventually got me to Stevenage, to sign for them, as he became a director of Stevenage. I ended up playing with them for almost four years, before finishing my playing career with Corinthian Casuals.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to progress up the various ranks at Spurs?
Steve: I think that they have a lot better an opportunity than all of the players from my era at the club, so it’s difficult to say. The set-up nowadays is far better then when I was playing as a youth player, as we didn’t have that much personal one to one training, so it was very different.
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?
Steve: I loved being a part of the group at Spurs, and I had a fantastic six years at the club. I could have done a lot better at Spurs, but I loved the six years that I was there, and I would have stayed there longer had they have wanted me to. I loved the people at Spurs and I also loved the camaraderie at the club. That gave me a good confidence for all aspects of life, and so Spurs taught me that.