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John Pratt

Posted on 12 February 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).

John Pratt reckons he is the most expensive player in Spurs history because, he claims, the club spent so much money trying to replace him.

Time and again during 10 seasons as a first team regular he would be written off, derided by sections of the crowd who unfairly branded him a mere workhorse by comparison with the galaxy of skilful stars around him. But time and again he would be back, as successive managers failed to replace his special brand of midfield steel.

Everybody loves a flair player, a Hoddle, a Gazza or a Ginola, who can change a game with an extravagant sway of the hips or an outrageous cross field pass. But behind every ball player there needs to be an equally fine ball winner and for 10 years, during a period of contrasting fortunes in the 70s, John Pratt dedicated himself to providing our midfield bite.

By his own admission, John was never the most gifted individual but he was a fighter who slogged his way up from playing on Hackney Marshes with the Crown & Manor Boys' Club to become one of the toughest midfield man-markers of his generation who helped Spurs conquer Europe in 1972.

After earlier trials at Portsmouth and a year in Brentford's youth team, John joined Spurs as an amateur in 1963 on the recommendation of Terry Medwin, his former school coach.

A fiercely determined character, whose eyes still carry that steely glint, he explained how he had maximised his potential to star in our cup-winning side of the early-70s.

"My principles were set down by my dad, Albert, and a fella called Dougie Workman at the Crown & Manor," said John, 53, as we talked at his home in Chigwell, a stone's throw from Spurs Lodge.

"My parents had always instilled in me a hard work ethic, there's no substitute for it, and nine times out of 10 you normally get out of something what you put in.

"I played in the FA Youth Cup against West Ham, when the only amateurs were me and another young lad who didn't do too badly for himself - Trevor Brooking.

"West Ham approached me to join them so I asked for an audience with Bill Nicholson. He decided to sign me as a pro on November 19, 1965. It was a massive day in my life and very pleasing for a load of people. Signing for Tottenham, being the club they are, was a great day in the family's history but I was never overawed.

"I always felt I was a diligent trainer, willing to learn and, while I had great respect for other people, I was very determined. My ultimate hero was Dave Mackay but in one of my first training sessions with the first team I was running round the track when Dave goes: 'Steady on Pratty, you don't win medals here'.

"I replied: 'Look, Dave, you're in the first team, but I want to get in it'.

"That was the single-mindedness I had. I've been a winner all my life and always gave my best.

"John's determination was tested to the full when he made his debut at Highbury in 1969 after being called in as an eleventh hour replacement for Mike England. Despite a 1-0 defeat it remains one of his favourite memories, as does his first goal, also against our old enemy, the following season.

"Mike had slipped in the shower that morning and I got called out of the gym to report for the game. I didn't think I'd play, as there were more experienced people around, but about five-to-seven Alan Mullery asked Bill who was playing instead of Mike?

"Bill's gone: 'John Pratt's playing', all matter of fact. He'd forgotten to tell me, though!

"My brief was to mark Frank McLintock, who was tremendous, and unfortunately we lost. But the following season we won 3-2 at Highbury when I scored. It probably looked better than it really was after I made about four tackles outside the box before running on and side-footing past Malcolm Webster, but it was a lovely moment.

"I had a good record against Arsenal down the years but, unfortunately, I also featured in the side that was beaten 5-0 at The Lane in 1978 and we won't dwell on that!"

John missed out on our 1971 League Cup win but, following injury to Mullery, broke into the side during the 1971-72 season and played a key role in the UEFA Cup run, which culminated in our final success against Wolves.

Following victories over Keflavik, Nantes, Rapid Bucharest and UT Arad, he faced an acid test in the semi-final when we went to the San Siro defending a 2-1 first leg lead.

"We played a very good AC Milan side and I marked Gianni Rivera, the Italian golden boy who had played in a World Cup final. He was a fantastic player and, I confess, he's probably the only one who's beaten me.

"Until this day I haven't a clue how he could be on one side of me with the ball and, next minute, on the other. I must have done a decent job, though, because we drew 1-1 and reached the final.

"The final was almost an anti-climax, though, having to play Wolves after we'd beaten all those foreign teams. They were a good side, with Richards, Dougan and Wagstaffe, but I always seemed to have a good record against them and they must have been sick of the sight of us after we beat them again over two legs in the League Cup semi-final the following season."

Ironically, for John, our League Cup final success over Norwich City at Wembley in 1973 was a bitter-sweet affair, as he was carried off injured after 25 minutes.

That was one of three major disappointments he suffered during his career, for, as well as never winning a league championship with Spurs, relegation in 1976-77 was another bitter pill to swallow.

"People ask me about disappointments and getting injured in the League Cup final was certainly one. I'd been given the job of marking Graham Paddon - Bill wanted me to get into his shorts for 20 minutes - and I'd just been given the nod to start ploughing forward when I stretched and ruptured my abductor muscle.

"I tried to get up but it was game, set and match for me. We won, though, and at least I got 25 minutes.

"Another disappointment was having been part of that team in the early-70s, with so many really good players, we never won the league. It was a bit like the double side and the names roll off the tongue - Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Perryman, Chivers, Peters, Gilzean, Coates.

"To be part of that was fantastic but you lose yourself in the grandeur sometimes. We could go away and win in Cologne but, week in, week out, we didn't beat the likes of Coventry or Ipswich."

Following Nicholson's shock departure in September 1974, a turbulent period ensued as the controversial Terry Neill came and went before Keith Burkinshaw struggled to establish himself at the helm.

As fortunes slumped, relegation was only narrowly avoided in 1974-75. But there was no escape two seasons later when we finished bottom of the first division. It was a torrid time for John as the terrace boo-boys, and The Shelf in particular, singled him out for some horrendous abuse.

However, by displaying the rugged determination that characterised his career, he toughed it out to become an ever-present as we made a triumphant return from Division Two at the first attempt, in 1977-78.

"The mid-70s was a difficult period, with the transition of Bill leaving and the team changing. Bill was a legend, a demigod even, and as a youngster you were intimidated by him.

"But I think the beginning of the end for him was during the UEFA Cup final against Feyenoord in Rotterdam in 1974 when the fans rioted at half-time.

"I've never seen Bill as agitated as he was. When he came back in the changing room after trying to calm the crowd, he took off his coat and threw it to the ground, saying: 'They're tearing the place to pieces'.

"I'm not saying the result (Spurs lost 4-2 on aggregate) hinged on that but we all had families in the ground and part of Spurs died for Bill that night.

"People have criticised Terry Neill and perhaps he did disperse players like Chivers and Peters a little prematurely, but he took the shackles off me and during the 1975-76 season I ended up eighth highest scorer in the first division with 13 goals - not bad for a defensive midfielder.

"I got stick off the crowd but I was a home-grown player and they're not going to have a go at Jennings, Knowles or Gilzean. It only left a couple to have a go at and, not being a Hoddle or Greaves, I was never going to stand out as a crowd favourite.

"But over the years I think they came to appreciate my worth to the team and The Shelf presented me with mementoes at my testimonial in 1978.

"Relegation was a massive blow because we were deemed failures. But winning promotion after stumbling over the line on the final day at Southampton was as emotional day as I'd had because it had been 27 years since we'd last been in the second division and to not have come straight back up would have been devastating.

"It was great, too, for Keith Burkinshaw, who was as honest as the day is long and had full backing from the players."

Following promotion John acted as an unofficial 'minder' to Argentinians Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa for two seasons before eschewing the offer of a new two year contract in favour of a highly successful move to American outfit Portland Timbers in 1980.

After returning home, he rejoined Spurs as youth team coach in January 1983 and managed the reserves before becoming assistant manager to Peter Shreeves following Burkinshaw's departure in 1984.

Unfortunately, John was sacked along with Shreeves two years later, a matter of some regret, but after spending time coaching in South Africa and America he set up his own cleaning business while undertaking scouting duties for old pals like Joe Kinnear and Steve Perryman.

Nowadays, as well as running Concord Cleaning he acts as a scout for Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen and takes a keen interest in the career of son David, who currently plays for Ryman League Chesham United after spells at West Ham and Dagenham & Redbridge.

Happily, John has renewed his ties at The Lane, where he can now be found entertaining our guests in the hospitality suites on match days, and he is a regular performer for Martin Chivers' Ex-Spurs XI, for whom he patrols the midfield with characteristic gusto.

"That's great, because as soon as you walk through the door all the Mickey-taking starts and, if you close your eyes, it's just like being back at work again. It's the same when I walk in The Lane on match days.

"I had the great fortune to play with some of the greats like Greaves, Cliff Jones, Ron Henry, Mackay, Ossie and Glenn, while Eddie Baily and Peter were among the best coaches I worked under.

"I always feel my ability was put to the test and what I achieved was the worth of that ability. I had a good, long career at Tottenham and managers wouldn't have kept me there had they thought I wasn't good enough."

By Neale Harvey - Spurs Monthly