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Alfie Conn

Posted on 12 August 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Alfie Conn represented the type of free spirit that will always find sanctuary at Spurs and Celtic. John Fennelly's Celtic programme profile recalls days of magical dribbling and unique trickery that still warm the imagination.

ALFIE CONN WILL always be remembered by Spurs fans as the man who sat on the ball during a game here at White Hart Lane.

Visiting Celtic fans will recall him as that rarity - a player who represented both the Bhoys and fierce Glasgow rivals Rangers.

Indeed after representing Scotland at rugby and football, the Kirkcaldy born striker looked set to join Leeds United before Rangers made their move and such was his potential and class that he made his senior debut at the age of 16.

"I had signed apprentice forms with Leeds in 1967 but when I got home that evening there was a delegation from Rangers on my doorstep," says Alfie. "I'd always wanted to play for them so my dad phoned Don Revie and asked him to cancel the contract because I wanted to play in Scotland."

He helped Rangers win the Scottish League Cup in 1971, the European Cup Winners' Cup the following season and then the Scottish Cup before finding himself on his way to White Hart Lane.

Alfie, now aged 50 and living in Hamilton with his wife, son and daughter where he works in a local pub, remembers it all clearly, as he told Neale Harvey in a recent Spurs Monthly article.

In what was Bill Nicholson's last signing, Conn was heading south in a £140,000 transfer - but nobody had told him the precise destination !

"It was right out of the blue but I'd had some problems at Ibrox," admits Conn. "I'd already spoken to Manchester United and everything was agreed with Tommy Docherty. So obviously that's where I thought I was going !

"Rangers were ready to go on tour to Sweden when I was called into the manager's office and told that I was going down to meet a club. I thought it was United but when I got to Glasgow airport I found that I was booked on a flight to London. I was with Willie Waddell who travelled down with me and next thing I was at Spurs !

"According to Bill Nicholson at the time they'd actually been watching me for three years. We'd played down at Tottenham in a friendly and I must have made a wee bit of an impression."

And the 22-year-old Alfie was immediately impressed when he walked into the senior dressing room at White Hart Lane.

"Obviously I'd played at a big club at Rangers but just looking round the dressing room on that first day of training and seeing players like Pat Jennings, Mike England, Cyril Knowles, Martin Chivers and Ralph Coates - all household names - it was quite something. To be honest, I was a bit in awe.

"I was quite experienced for my age having won cups with Rangers but linking up with players of that calibre was something else."

Sadly for Conn, a recent cartilage operation prevented him from starting the 1974-75 season. In the September he made his debut as substitute in the League Cup at home to Middlesbrough - and then couldn't believe it when Nicholson resigned as manager.

His replacement was former Arsenal and Northern Ireland defender Terry Neill who had made a name for himself at Hull City but did not immediately appreciate the flamboyant hirsute Conn. As a result, Alfie immediately found himself out in the cold.

It was to be a miserable season for Spurs in which we just managed to avoid the drop by one point. And there appeared little room for Conn's customised brand of sheer entertainment and cheek although, with typical irony, those of us on the terraces loved the total package.

Reflects Alfie: "When a new manager comes in he's got his own ideas and, unfortunately, being Bill's last signing didn't help. It was just a clash of personalities with Terry Neill. We didn't get on at all and he had his own way of looking at things.

"I was always ready to put my point of view and if I was wrong I'd hold my hands up. I've always been that way throughout my career. If I've got something to say I'll say it because there's no point in keeping it back."

Yet, throughout the dark times, one man still believed in Conn's abilities.

"After he left, Bill Nicholson was never off the phone, encouraging me and telling me to keep my head up. He said that I'd got the talent and would break through."

Neill finally gave him the call in January as we struggled in the relegation zone ahead of a trip to Newcastle. Conn marked what was his full debut with a superb hat-trick in a 5-2 win.

"I was surprised when I was included in the squad but I have Pat Jennings and Cyril Knowles to thank," continues Alfie. " They'd gone in to see Terry Neill and insisted that I was too good for the Reserves."

It's to Neill's credit that he listened to his senior professionals - and Conn certainly seized his chance to become a regular in the side from then on.

He adds: "Everything went my way that day at Newcastle. It was unbelievable then and still is. They were quite a good team but we played them off the park. Scoring a hat-trick was fantastic."

But we nosed dived after that. A disastrous run of defeats suddenly saw us win four in six league matches and there was a speck of light. But we needed to beat European Cup finalists Leeds at home in our last game and the omens did not look too good after Arsenal had beaten us 1-0 at Highbury just days before.

Alfie still recalls his finest hour in a Tottenham shirt with pride.

"Yes, that's my best memory of my time at Spurs," he smiles. "It was a Monday night at White Hart Lane and the gates were shut at 6.30pm. Leeds were flying in Europe at the time but we just had to beat them.

"We'd had the new experience of being taken to see a sports psychologist who took us back to our best game and all that stuff. After that we just went out and played. I scored one and made two of the other three as we won 4-2. It was tremendous."

Conn was so supreme that night that he even found time to sit on the ball for a moment of fun in the heat of battle. We all loved it but it wasn't so well appreciated by what was a renowned hard Leeds outfit at the time !

But it was another headline winning performance for Conn who was called into Scotland's full side by manager Willie Ormond. Alfie made his debut in a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland at Hampden Park.

He returned for pre-season training with an Achilles injury suffered playing for Scotland Under-23s but there were more disputes with Terry Neill.

"It just went downhill," he remembers with a sigh. "It was an unhappy time for me and I was on and off the list. There were a couple of clubs sniffing around and making enquiries but then I picked up another injury and that was me out for nine months."

Despite his near cult hero status with the fans, Conn's position did not improve when Neill left to return to Arsenal at the start of the ill-fated 1975-76 season. Keith Burkinshaw took over but he too was not relaxed about Conn's maverick approach to the game.

"I felt that they were forcing my hand and knew that I was on borrowed time," he continues. "Then I thought that I was playing quite well in a reserve game when I was taken off. So there I was walking off the park giving everyone stick when I was told: 'Shut up, there's someone in the office to see you.'

"It turned out to be Jock Stein."

So after just 49 appearances and 10 goals, Alfie was on his way to Celtic for £60,000 where he won a Scottish League and Cup double that season as Spurs were relegated.

After winning another Premier League title with Celtic in 1979, he had a spell in the States before returning to play for Hearts, Blackpool and Motherwell. Injury ended his career at the age of 32 and he became a Glasgow publican for 10 years.

Despite all the trials and tribulations at the Lane, Alfie retains great fondness for the Spurs fans and reflects on how things might so easily have been different had fate played him a contrasting hand.

"The supporters were unbelievable and, when the story broke that Spurs were selling me, the phones in the office rang with people wanting me to stay. That was a feather in my cap anyway.

"I loved it down south and had Bill Nicholson stayed on as manager for another couple of years, I don't think I'd have come back to Scotland."