Like most footballing kids, I ate, slept and played the game. It seemed that anything there was to kick, you kicked it. From matchboxes to stones and every spare minute seemed wasted if you weren’t thinking about football. My dad was the icon in my life and whatever he said to do I did and whatever he thought, I thought. School and lessons were an interruption between break times when I could really learn about life with a wall and a tennis ball.
Up until the age of 13, I had always played for the school and district and then one day it happened. After one district game at the age of 13, I was approached by a man in a waterproof jacket and flat cap called Fred Ricketts and asked if I wanted to train twice a week after school at an unknown place called WHITE HART LANE. ‘I’ve made it! I’m going to be a professional footballer at a top (old 1st Division) Club’. I needed some new boots, trainers and kit for Tuesday evening.
Tuesday came and being at school was a place to kill time. The bell went at 4pm and I ran to meet my Dad at the school gates where he was parked to take me to North London. Arriving at Spurs through the old iron gates with a giant cockerel on, I remember feeling sick with nerves. Where do I go? Who do I speak to? What are the other boys going to be like? An old gate man with a fag on told me where to go and we walked through some wooden doors under the old West Stand and was showed to the changing rooms. Inside there were about 25-30 lads all changing. The silence was daunting and undressing in front of older boys with my washboard tin ribs and just-turned teen legs was frightening enough without worrying about acne and puberty.
We were split up in to 2 groups with under 15s upstairs in the big ball court and under 14s downstairs in the smaller gym. Robbie Stepney was our coach with the most energy and enthusiasm I have ever seen in football. In the corner there were tennis balls with which we warmed up and learned our technique. After that we paired off and religiously went through passing and control skills followed by keep-ball and finishing off with a game. After we showered and changed we went into a side room and collected travelling expenses from an old boy called Jimmy Joyce. What an insight into pro-football, great training, the quickest 2½ hours of my life and then being paid money for doing so. This was a different world.
After a few weeks, I was good enough to be selected for the under 14s on a Sunday morning and for the next 18 months I played for Spurs and trained at Spurs, ate and slept Spurs and was even good enough to play out of my age group for the under 15s. Everyone seemed happy with my progression and even at the tender age of 13 I knew I was playing really well AND, then one Sunday morning it all changed.