Thirty years ago…

It is said that the older one becomes, the faster the passage of time. It certainly feels this way to me as I look back over the years I have supported Tottenham. It has just struck me that it will be thirty years on September 27th this year that Stevie Perryman made his first team debut in a League match against Sunderland, at White Hart Lane.

THIRTY YEARS? Where has the time gone, for God’s sake! It really does not feel like thirty years but the records do not lie. Consider what life was like thirty years ago….

The Vietnam War was getting under way as Lyndon Johnson insisted the Vietcong had to be beaten. Harold Wilson’s Labour Government was coming towards the end of its second administration, having won the 1966 General Election. England were the World Cup holders and were looking forward to the World Cup, due to be held in Mexico at the end of the season. Jimmy Greaves was still playing for Tottenham.

The weekend before Perryman made his debut for Tottenham, a Derby County Dave Mackay inspired team had thrashed Tottenham 5-0 at the Baseball Ground. A train containing Spurs ‘supporters’ had been taken out of service at Flitwick, Bedfordshire, after being trashed. All on board the train were told to make their own way home as British Railways did not want them as customers. Bill Nicholson had vehemently denounced them as not being worthy of being accepted as Spurs supporters.

On the Friday afternoon, a bombshell was dropped when the Spurs squad was announced. Stephen Perryman, a quiet, unassuming teenager, was added to the squad after only 14 reserve team games in the Football Combination. He had played in all four games on the North American tour at the end of the previous season and had already won an England Youth cap. Perryman replaced Roger Morgan in the squad. It was not until 2pm that Perryman knew he was definitely playing.

Spurs were awful against Sunderland and played as if they were complete strangers who had been plucked off the street and asked to play for Spurs. Worse still was the fact that Sunderland were struggling to avoid relegation (they were destined to be relegated with Sheffield Wednesday at the end of the season) but onlookers would never have thought so as Spurs fumbled their way to an embarrassing 0-1 home defeat. Mike England scored the crucial own goal, backheading the ball beyond a startled Pat Jennings. It was understandable that Perryman made a quiet debut but he had got through an incredible amount of work, which manager Nicholson was not slow to mention in the post-match interviews.

A fortnight after his debut, Perryman played in a goalless draw at Liverpool. He produced a tigerish performance which left Shankly stunned. “Whir th’ hell did ye find yon tiger?” he asked Nicholson after the match. Perryman had not hesitated to tackle Liverpool players such as Tommy Smith, unlike some of his more faint hearted colleagues.

Spurs played some indifferent football that winter, culminating in the awful shocker at Selhurst Park on 28th January 1970. Perryman was one of five players dropped after that match but Nicholson was swift to deny that it was due to poor play on Perryman’s part. Nicholson said he was resting Perryman because some of his team mates were taking advantage of his youth, leaving him to do all the running around. He was not prepared to allow him to be burned out prematurely because some people were too lazy.

Perryman did not play in the first team again that season as Nicholson chopped and changed the team and sacked Greaves, making him the makeweight in the deal that brought Martin Peters to Tottenham. But thereafter, Perryman was rarely absent from the team. He missed only the odd game or two until in season 1982-83 he had a spate of injuries that enabled him to only make 32 League appearances that season. But he was again appeared in the vast majority of the League games until he realised that he was beginning to struggle. His final first team appearance was in the 1-2 home defeat by Liverpool on 2 March 1986. A few days later, he left for Oxford United and later joined Brentford as player-manager. He then had a spell as manager at Watford before joining Ossie Ardiles as Assistant Manager at Tottenham at the start of the 1993-94 season.

Season 1993-94 was a disastrous season for Tottenham. They were involved in a relegation battle for most of the season. They ultimately saved themselves when winning at Oldham in the penultimate game of the season, which was just as well as they crashed at home in the final match against QPR. Despite Ardiles making a number of impressive signings during the close season, Spurs did not look like making any improvement and Ardiles was sacked after a disastrous League Cup defeat at Notts County. Perryman was left to hold the fort until Gerry Francis was appointed a couple of weeks later before he left to join Ardiles in Japan.

But what was Perryman like as a player? I happen to think that Perryman’s virtuosity was his downfall. He only won one international cap for England at the end of his career but made a record 17 appearances for England’s U-23 team. Perryman was able to play just about anywhere on the park and played in most of the outfield positions at one time or another. I think his best position was that of sweeper at the back where he was a superb reader of the game. I think he was wasted as a full back, although I acknowledge that position was a problem one for a long time until Danny Thomas was eventually signed from Coventry City.

What I particularly liked about Perryman was his enthusiasm for the game. Like Dave Mackay, Alan Mullery and Graham Roberts, Perryman would never accept defeat until the final whistle echoed. Perryman was quieter than Mullery was but he could make his feelings known very well. There was no disguising his joy when he lifted the FA Cup at the end of the replayed Finals in 1981 and 1982.

But I think he played his best football during the promotion season of 1977-78. As things grew stickier at the top of the table and Spurs looked likely to throw away their promotion place, it was Perryman who scored the most vital goal of the 31 he scored in the League. The final home game of the season against Hull City was drifting to a 0-0 draw. Spurs _had_ to win in order to stand a chance of promotion. Hull were desperate for points to avoid relegation to the Third Division. With less than ten minutes to play, Perryman popped up under the Hull City crossbar to crash home the vital goal.

In all, Perryman made 1,014 appearances for Tottenham, including the abandoned League game against Everton in December 1969 and 167 other appearances outside the recognised first class matches. I doubt very much whether any future Spurs player will ever top this record. He had his chances to leave Tottenham. Liverpool twice tried to sign him, dangling a small fortune under his nose if he signed for them, but he preferred to remain at Tottenham. In an era where we have seen the odious and unpleasant sight of Nicholas Anelka sticking two fingers up at his employers, we at Spurs are very fortunate to have enjoyed such loyalty from a very modest player.

By Brian Judson.

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