My interview with former Spurs man Brian Statham:
Born in Harare, modern day Zimbabwe in 1969 but brought up in Essex via a short stay in Saudi Arabia, former Spurs defender Brian Statham’s journey to playing football at the very highest level is anything but ordinary. Statham rose through the youth ranks at Spurs before making his competitive first team debut in a league game against Southampton in the December of 1987. Brian would go onto make a further 26 appearances for the ‘ Lilywhites ‘ before departing them in 1992 to join fellow London club Brentford. Statham was a talented cricketer as a youngster and he represented the Essex County Schools side however, the offer of an apprenticeship at Tottenham Hotspur was enough to make Brian’s mind up as to which career path he’d take. A talented and combative right back, the tough tackling Statham represented England at under 21 level, and at Spurs he played with the likes of Chris Hughton, Ossie Ardilles and Chris Waddle, and at times he was the clubs number one right back. However, Statham was eventually overlooked and fellow Tottenham youngsters Guy Butters and Mitchell Thomas were favoured ahead of Statham who left the club for Brentford in 1992. Following his departure from the ‘ Lilywhites ‘ Brian went onto play for the likes of Brentford, Gillingham, Chesham United and Chelmsford City. He also went on to manage non league clubs Heybridge Swifts and Billericay Town. Today Statham works in the city but he still has a close bond to Spurs because of his son Maxwell (also a defender) who is currently in his second year of scholarship at the club. I had the great pleasure of interviewing about his time at Spurs on Monday evening, and it truly was a privilege.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs?
Brian: Being a schoolboy (at Spurs) and going to the football club twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday nights, and then playing a game on the Sunday at the old Cheshunt training ground. There used to be a gym which almost doubled up as a car park and we used to play five a side and train in there. We would also do a lot of running around the gravel track at White Hart Lane, so they were probably my earliest memories from my Spurs days.
How did you come about joining the club?
Brian: Funnily enough I’ve been at my mothers today and she pulled out a couple of old programmes and there was one in there with me in one of them, hence the reason she kept it. It just reminded me of some of the things back then. I used to play for a Sunday league team called Great Danes and one year the manager was the father of former Spurs player Ian Crook. Ian used to come in and do the training and he invited a few of us over to Spurs. We started training and then that was that and so I went through the whole process up until apprenticeship.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Brian: I think you can’t be at a better football club as far as I’m concerned when it comes to being a player, and even more so now, but back then it was a dream for me every young boy to be a footballer and I just so happened to be at one of the best clubs around.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Brian: My hero strangely enough was somebody who I played with in Paul Gascoigne. He was just a real decent man, he was crazy at times, unpredictable, charismatic but what he was able to do on a football pitch was just Roy Of The Rovers stuff. You used to watch him play and train and it was a real pleasure to play with him. Another inspiration was my father who used to do all the running around for me. He was always there and he was a real Tottenham fan, so that helped. He used to follow me at all my games and he did so up until my last game.
You made your first team debut for Spurs in a 2-1 defeat to Southampton on the 26th of December 1987. What are your memories of that day and how it came about?
Brian: it’s all very sketchy now given that it was so long ago but I think as a youngster you were called up to train with the first team and I just remember being asked that day and thinking ok, well this is interesting. When the coach Ray Clemence said to me you’re in the first team today, that was a real bonus for me. You always hope that you’re impressing but you don’t know until such a time as when you’re called up. So when I was called up it was a real surprise but I guess I took it in my stride at the time, because as a youngster that’s the aim so after making that step now I’ve got to maintain what I was doing to impress Terry Venables and the coaching staff. It was a really pleasant memory and one that when you look back you realise how special it was.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in for Spurs during your time there?
Brian: I played right back, I played central midfield and centre halve for the reserves and the youth team. I was probably five foot nine inches, I was aggressive in the air and I had a bit of pace. I probably wasn’t as good technically as maybe I would have liked to have been because I came into Spurs as a 12-13 year old so I probably missed out on a lot of the technical aspects of the football that a lot of the boys had got. However, I had that willingness to do what it took to win, and that aggressive nature I had helped. I was pretty tough tackling and uncompromising and I like to think that my reputation went before me. Because if you’re going to play against me today I want you to know that you’re going to be in a battle. I always wanted to be stronger and fitter than my opposition!
What was it like to play with legendary Spurs players such as Ossie Ardilles, Chris Hughton and Chris Waddle?
Brian: You take it for granted at the time, you’d watch those players on the tv like Ossie Ardilles and Ricky Villa. I came in when the likes of Paul Miller, Chris Hughton and Graham Roberts were playing. Tough tackling defenders with big reputations and big personalities and you’ve got to fit in, and I tried to do that with my style of play. I’d like to think that those players around me understood me for the player I was and that they accepted me for that, but you’ve got to fit in quite quickly. However, it was a real privilege to play with some of those players, players such as Steve Hodge who I had the pleasure of meeting again at the weekend at a Spurs legends game. I not only had the privilege to pull on a Tottenham shirt but also to play with some of the great players over the last 50 years.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Brian: Keith Blunt was our youth team manager and I only heard very recently that he’d passed away. He was another uncompromising northern manager who was very robust with what he expected from us as young men. That respect of being a footballer and what it meant but also that hard work. We always used to work very hard at everything in training. As a young apprentice Keith was a really big influence and it’s not until you look back how good those experiences that Keith brought were for me, and he was a really good man. He was tough at the time and I’m sure that there were days when I didn’t particularly like him but on reflection I enjoyed the time that he coached me.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Brian: Again you’d look at the type of players who were around when I joined such as Graham Roberts, Paul Miller, Gary Mabbutt, Terry Fenwick and Chris Hughton. Those ones, particularly the fullbacks were the players I looked up to because those were the positions that I was learning to fill and I had to try and fill their boots.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Brian: Liverpool away around 1988-89 when we went up to Anfield and drew 1-1 and I think Peter Beardsley scored the equaliser which was enough for Liverpool to win the first division, that was a really great place to go. John Barnes at the time was at the top of his game and I can remember vividly the players ribbing me the day before the game, sliding pictures of John Barnes underneath my hotel door the night before the game, but luckily for me John didn’t play because he’d got injured. So that would have been my biggest challenge as opponents go at the time, but I had a decent game at Anfield so all in all it was a good day for me, and we didn’t lose!
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Brian: There has been a few such as making my debut for Spurs, representing England at under 20 and under 21 level which is something to look back on with fond memories. Also playing at Wembley in a play off final for Brentford which unfortunately they lost to Crewe who had a really good side. However, as showpieces go that has probably got to be the one.
Who was the greatest player that you had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Brian: Well at the beginning of every season (at Spurs) we played in a tournament where you had the likes of AC Milan and Juventus, so I came up against the likes of Rudd Gullit and that Milan team of the 1990’s. However, I’d still have to say Paul Gascoigne was the best player I had the pleasure of lining up with in the same team, and that goes some way to defining the type of player he was.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the Tottenham youth team?
Brian: We actually had a really good team and it produced a lot of players who went onto have very good careers. Beating Arsenal in youth games was a great and fulfilling achievement for me as a young boy and you had to learn quickly the rivalry and you couldn’t take it for granted. Although we didn’t get to win any youth cups unfortunately, we certainly got very close on occasions, but those are the sort of memories which spring to mind and playing with players who you’re still in touch with to this day.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Brian: So when I made my debut as an 18 year old I think I went onto play 25-30 odd games for Spurs but unfortunately I got some injuries which for one reason or another were prolonged. I had a number of operations within 18 months being under the surgeons knife. When I returned to playing I went out on loan after Terry Venables had brought in quite a few new players. So it looked quite difficult for me, so I sat down with the manager and he said look Brian it looks like your going to have to play your football elsewhere. So I went on loan to Reading, Bournemouth and Brentford, and eventually I signed for Brentford and went onto play 160 games. The year I joined we won the then third division as champions going away to Peterborough United and winning one nil and winning the title was a great day, and it felt like a great move at the time. After going onto play 160 games for Brentford where I had a really good time at, playing some good consistent football every week. However, that came to an end after I broke my leg (a double compound fracture) in an FA cup game at Bournemouth I was out for a year at the time. I came back from injury and that season 1997/98 we got to the play off final against Crewe but we went onto lose. The following year I went to Gillingham but unfortunately that didn’t work out because me and Tony Pulis may not have seen eye to eye, but those types of things happen. After Tony said I was surplus to requirements we agreed to part ways and after a few trials I made the decision to move into semi-pro football which I did, and that was pretty much that.
While you were in the Spurs youth team during the late 1980’s you would have been coached by legendary double winner Ron Henry. What was Ron like as a coach and as a young fullback was he somebody who you looked up to?
Brian: Ron was a bit like Keith Blunt. Very uncompromising and another tough, tough manager who I don’t think would have stood the test of time in current football because of their outlook and the way they trained. But they probably got the best out of me. Ron and me were very similar players, he coached how he trained and he was a real good, decent guy who demanded the best from you every time, and it was always hard work.
How did your time at Spurs prepare you for your subsequent career in the game as a manager?
Brian: As I began to come towards the end of my football career and began thinking of management you look back at all of the managers who you’ve had in your career. And you take a little piece of all of them, or some of them or none of them. I looked very quickly at some of the great things which motivated me and motivated others. And I think that’s what built up that belief system in me and how I could get the best out of players. I think Terry Venables showed some great man management skills and the way he set up his teams was something I took with me when I went into management.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Brian: Justin Edinburgh who was another Essex boy was one and we used to travel up together because I didn’t live far away from him. Another one was Paul Allen, again from Essex so we spent a lot of time together on the motorway. Also Philip Gray was another good friend who I spent time with outside of football.
As somebody who worked your way up the youth ranks at Spurs before breaking into the first team, what would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Brian: I grew up in an era of footballers who embraced the drinking culture and the going out after games. I look back and think how I could have improved and how I could have been a better athlete and a better footballer. I would say to anybody who wants to be a professional footballer especially the young boys at Spurs including my son is that you’ve got to do whatever it takes. The sacrifice that I made as a footballer compared to my friends was immense at the time. And I would say to any footballer today as I constantly do with my son is that if you want to achieve your goal then you have to sacrifice a great deal, and that is not leading a normal life. You don’t eat the same as your mates, you don’t go out and drink the same as your mates because you are totally different. As long as you understand and believe in that then you give yourself a chance to be successful. As an athlete it’s all about how you live your life.
Being eligible for Zimbabwe did it ever interest you to represent them at international level?
Brian: Yeah it did, there was a couple of times where it came close but the only draw back was that I had to have dual nationality which meant having a dual passport, which was a little bit complex at the time. And I didn’t think that there was the infrastructure there to support it and get it done.
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?
Brian: Every weekend you watch for the results but Tottenham are the team you look out for, because it was a big part of my life and it made a big impression on me as a young man and that will never change. Whatever way you look at football today it is going to remain a part of my life and plus the fact that my son is there continues to play a big part in my life. I end up spending most Saturday’s watching him play which is an amazing feeling and I hope that the football club remains a part of my life for as long as it does Maxwell’s life, and I hope for him to be more successful than I was at the club.