Spotted playing for non-league St Albans by Bill Nicholson’s assistant Eddie Baily, the teenage right-back arrived in N17 in 1965 and would spend the next decade serving us well at the very top level as a key member of Bill Nick’s evolving side.
A world away from his controversial stints in the dugout and boardroom at Newcastle United in the modern era, the Dublin-born defender didn’t necessarily grab the headlines on the pitch but was always full of energy and went about his job with fierce competitiveness, illustrated by his blistering performance as we beat Chelsea in the 1967 FA Cup Final at Wembley.
More honours followed in the shape of the 1972 UEFA Cup and two League Cups (1971 and 1973) and, by the time he left us for a brief spell at Brighton in 1975, he’d racked up 258 games in our cause, scoring twice.
“It was a fantastic experience. Always my ambition was to play at the best level I could and without actually preparing myself for it, Bill Nicholson put me in the team straight away and I picked it up,” reminisced the now 71-year-old in a rare, in-depth interview with us.
Above: Joe on duty for us in 1973.
“I was 20 when we played in the 1967 FA Cup Final and I got Man of the Match, so it was a great start for me. My arrival here was just unheard of, really. They had the youth team system here but Eddie Baily came along and saw me play for St Albans and thought I had a future. He came back and told Bill Nicholson, then Eddie rung me up and asked me to come and do some pre-season training. That was down at Cheshunt where the old training ground was, so I went down and did a six-week work-out and at the end of that, they called me in and gave me a three-year contract. That’s how it started off and I ended up doing 10 years here!
“To win the FA Cup was fantastic, then I went back to Wembley two more times, winning the League Cup, and also won the UEFA Cup in 1972 so I ended up with four trophies in my stint with the club. Bill Nicholson was a great man and so too was Eddie Baily. I had some great times here, it’s not often you can get to Wembley three times and pick up three winners’ medals, so I was delighted. I’ve still got a big soft spot for the club and the players.”
With our 1961 Double-winning side slowly drifting apart throughout the mid-1960s, Joe admits he was grateful for the influence of some of our more experienced campaigners upon his introduction to the team.
“We still had Cliff Jones and a few other players from the Double-winning side that were training with us and coming to the end of their careers and they set a really good example,” he explained. “I got really friendly with Cliff, he was just an amazing left-winger and one of the best in Tottenham’s history. We got on really well together, the two of us, and I was learning the tricks of the trade from him. He was up there in my estimation, he was one of my heroes as a young player myself and so it was a great experience being with him.”
Winning the FA Cup in 1967 represented a first major prize in the career of the Republic of Ireland international, but how does he look back on that moment now, half a century later?
“It was a fantastic occasion. I’ve still got the film of the match and I occasionally play it at home on my screen. It’s good. We did exceptionally well to win it. I went to Wembley three times and every time it resulted in a winner’s medal. I was lucky enough to be playing with some great players – we had Mike England in the team, Pat Jennings was in goal, Cyril Knowles was left-back, Alan Mullery was in the team, Martin Peters was part of it, Martin Chivers was in the team so we had a heck of a good side every time we went to Wembley.”
Joe was pushing 30 when he left us and, on the advice of Bill Nick himself, was thinking about moving into management. Yet it was hard. Our legendary former midfielder Dave Mackay, who used to frequent Walthamstow dogs with Joe after training, took him on as his assistant for coaching roles in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia as well as closer to home at Doncaster Rovers after Joe had spent time in India and Nepal, but he struggled to find a British management position in his own right.
Then, in 1992, he got his chance at Wimbledon.
“The older I got and the more experienced I got, Bill used to look upon me and say to me ‘set an example to the younger players’ because they were coming into the side and I was still playing at 29, 30 before I finished,” said Joe.
Above: Joe as Wimbledon manager in 1998.
“He always said to me ‘go and get your coaching badge and start learning to be a manager’ so I took his advice and did just that. I was delighted then to just be in the business because it was difficult for me, not having the experience that Bill had, to get jobs. In those days, most of the managers had six- or eight-year contracts, not like they have today. They were long contracts in those days but the only chance I got was with Wimbledon, which was the Crazy Gang back then. I thought ‘yes, of course, I’ll manage any team, as long as I can get back in the game.’”
Over the next seven years, Joe’s no-nonsense Wombles outfit was hard to beat. They would often frustrate more fancied sides in the Premier League and, after finishing a respectable sixth in 1993-94, an achievement which saw Joe named LMA Manager of the Year, they climbed all the way to second at one point during the 1996-97 campaign before finishing eighth, reaching the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and League Cup as well.
Joe was keen on taking over as manager at the Lane in 1997 but that never materialised and he remained with the Dons, again leading his charges to the semi-finals of the League Cup in 1999 where we knocked them out on our way to lifting the trophy. He stepped down later that year after suffering a minor heart attack.
“I went to Wimbledon and I was there seven years, learning and enjoying it,” said Joe. “The fun of it all was quite something because we were the Crazy Gang and we had notorious players like Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu and so we had to put up with that. That was just the hype that was going on – I wasn’t proud of the fact but there was nothing I could do about it. It was interesting and really enjoyable.”
Joe later managed Luton Town, whom he restored to the Second Division after their initial relegation, Nottingham Forest and Newcastle. Nowadays, he’s impressed to see our squad bulging with international players – much like it was in his own heyday.
“We’ve got key players,” he said. “I would say Harry Kane is a modern Jimmy Greaves. At the end of the day, Jimmy Greaves was Jimmy Greaves – no-one else could go up against that. He was just a genius, Jim. He would score goals out of nothing and he’s one of the all-time great players that Tottenham have ever had.
“Like this current group, we had a whole team of internationals. We had Pat Jennings in goal – the best goalkeeper that you could ever wish for – who was playing for Northern Ireland, Cyril Knowles was left-back having won a few caps for England, I was right-back and played for Ireland virtually the whole of my career, Mike England played for Wales, Dave Mackay played for Scotland, Jimmy Greaves played for England, Jimmy Robertson I think played a game for Scotland, Cliff Jones played numerous games for Wales, so the entire team were internationals. I don’t know who it was but somebody said to me once that Bill Nick or Eddie Baily used to say, ‘if you don’t play for your country, you don’t play for Tottenham.’ It was as simple as that.”