Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Return to the LANE N17.......

I left Camden and the following week I was back at school and back to training twice a week at Spurs. In the next few months I had my O’Levels to take and the Spurs coaching staff were making decisions on apprenticeships. I was over a year behind with both and I didn’t want to fall between two stalls. What shall I do? I would run the 2 miles home from school as quick as I could so me and my Dad could get up the park and do some ball work and I was back at my beloved Tottenham training on a Tuesday and Thursday evening. At Spurs I wasn’t involved in any games or competitive situations yet, just getting back my technique, fitness and ball skills. My knee felt fine apart from a heavy feeling from the scar tissue. After a few weeks I was told I could join in an 8-a-side in the gym and within the first five minutes I was involved in a fifty-fifty. I went in a bit tentively and my knee jarred, but there was no reaction and what a massive relief I felt. You know when you have that split second doubt between good and bad, similar to when you drop toast and will it or won’t it land butter-side up. I played for about an hour, got a good sweat on and that lovely ‘kiddy’ football feeling of doing something you love returned to me after such a long time.

Time was moving quickly now, my O’Levels had come and gone and I just sat in the exams having done absolutely no revision and even getting a mark deducted for putting my name in the f******  wrong place.  I think I used my injury to fail and anyway football was the REAL passion in my life.

My 1st game back for Spurs was in the South East Counties V West Ham at Cheshunt (The old training ground). Players will tell you that the 1st game back after a long lay-off is a concoction of mixed emotions. The adrenalin pumping through the body with excitement and trepidation is a real “buzz”. You can’t wait for the match to start, you can’t take in a word anybody is saying because you have a thousand thoughts rampaging through your brain and you hope that all the extra training will get you through unscathed. My best position was centre-midfield but they played me on the right to give me a bit more time and space. I managed an hour and was then substituted whereby which time I had played OK, had some good touches but felt absolutely shattered, but I was back and that’s all that mattered.

Weeks passed and I was playing regularly, but my game wasn’t back yet. I was doing alright but not setting the world alight. People seemed to forget how long I had been out and Apprentice decisions were imminent. A player knows instinctively what’s happening to him and I could feel a lonely cold shoulder breezing over me. Management stopped asking how I was feeling and I could understand that full time contracts were being discussed and could they really take a RISK with my injury?

The trouble with a lot of managers is their people skills and rapport with individuals is not good enough and really all players want to know is the truth whether it be good or bad. Players and their Dads were being spoken to about contracts or their release and it’s hard to see that traumatic rejection at such an early age. Lads that were getting apprenticeships were not in my league as schoolboys but time had moved on and I hadn’t. My Dad and not myself was called into the office (this bloody waiting outside THE OFFICE is a bit like that sweaty feeling before you go into the dentist with toothache) and explained the situation and till this day I do not really know what was said except that an agreement was made for me to work with the Ground-staff and train throughout the summer break in the afternoons. I worked with the Ground-staff in the mornings around White Hart Lane helping ‘Chalky’ White with the bowling green pitch, painting the stands and general maintenance of the stadium and in the afternoons I would train in the gym, on the weights or around the track surrounding the hallowed turf. I think Spurs were training me up with other jobs in the event of my leg giving way. My aim was to be the fittest and strongest I had ever been for the new pre-season so at home I was working with an old ‘Charles Atlas Bullworker’, eating raw eggs in milk and drinking ‘Makeson’ stout all in an effort to build up my body to compete at a man’s level. How diet and training has changed now!

Pre-season came along and I knew I had to prove myself. My upper body was transformed and I was super fit. No one could believe my metamorphosis and my confidence was growing. I was training full time and loving it. I did everything an apprentice did but was still really a member of the ground-staff. When they went to college on a Monday to study another job in case they never made it in the game I trained all day with the pro’s and a brilliant coach called Pat Welton (R.I.P).  I never went back to school; I never thought of anything else, it was 100% football.

I was sixteen nearly seventeen and my football was back to its pre injury form. I was a regular in the Spurs Youth Team and had been sub a couple of times for the Reserves. I can’t think of any footballer who has taken this route into the game and still being paid as one of the painters, decorators and pitch mowers of the fantastic ground-staff. A couple of days after my 17th birthday I was asked to see the manager Keith Burkinshaw in his OFFICE (not the dreaded OFFICE again). My heart was in my mouth, I had worked my B####### off and Spurs were going to release me. I couldn’t believe it, F### football, F### Spurs, F### life. I was too old to sign Apprentice Forms, what else was left?????


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