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Justin on the Bill

Posted on 18 June 2003  - 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).

A naturally left-footed full-back who was strong in the tackle and never afraid to mix it, Justin Edinburgh had his fair share of scrapes with the authorities during his 10 years with Tottenham Hotspur. But it was this wholehearted tenacity that had enabled him to achieve every boy's dream of making the transition from park football to the First Division in a little over three years.

Now back in grass roots football as the new manager of Ryman League Billericay Town, Justin talks to Neale Harvey of Spurs Monthly about his time at The Lane.

JUSTIN EDINBURGH is one of the most affable people you could meet, but mention the words Robbie Savage to our former left-back and the cheerful persona darkens momentarily as memories of Wembley 1999 come flooding back. Spurs defeated Leicester City 1-0 that day to lift the Worthington Cup but, four years on, he still has mixed feelings about events.

"I got a five-match ban for getting my fingers caught in someone¹s hair!" said Justin, ruefully, as he relived his 62nd minute sending off by referee Terry Heilbron for tangling with the feisty Welshman.

"It was a bit of a dull affair, but it's probably where Savage made his name.

"He was his typical self, just going round and spoiling things, and he'd been late a couple of times on people and verballed them, so when he came in late on me, my reaction was to push him away. He shouted: 'Ref, he's hit me in the face', which he now admits got me sent off, and my chin was on the
floor when the red card came out.

"My first thought was: 'If we lost I was to blame and I'd let everyone down' my family and friends were in the crowd, so it was sheer disappointment. But, like in 1991 (the FA Cup final), something rattled our players and livened them up; it was like they said: 'Let¹s win it and not let that fella
(Savage) get a winners' medal.

"I never saw our winner because I had to go to the dressing room, but I thought they¹d scored because I was under the Leicester end and it seemed like people were jumping up and down above me. I stuck my head out, though, and saw a replay of Allan Nielsen nodding it in on a little monitor, so I went to the top of the tunnel, waited for the final whistle, and then ran on and jumped on top of him.

"One of the security guys said I wasn¹t allowed to go up and get my medal, but I said: 'If you think you're stopping me, you've got another thing coming' ­ and I got it!

"It was disappointing to be sent off but there was jubilation that we'd won a cup and were back in Europe. There¹d been a big gap between cup finals and there was big pressure on us to beat Leicester."

Success in 1999 lent a certain symmetry to Justin's Tottenham career, coming as it did just one year before he left to join Portsmouth in March 2000; for he had first arrived at The Lane as a 20-year-old in the summer of 1990, a year before starring in our last never-to-be-forgotten FA Cup-winning run.

Here was the original rags to riches story; the football mad teenager from Brentwood who had fought his way up from Sunday football to play for Fourth Division Southend United before being given the chance of a crack at the big time, when Terry Venables, our former manager, summoned him into the midst of our star-laden dressing room.

But far from being overawed, Justin seized his chance. "I'd been on loan at Spurs and was going to sign earlier in 1990, but because of the financial restraints I had to go back to Southend. Terry assured me I'd done everything right and was going to sign, but summer came and I was still waiting for the phone call. It seemed like it would never ring but eventually it did and there was no looking back.

"Terry was fantastic for me and had loads of time for everyone. It didn't matter how big or small the player was, he was such a good man-manager. His ideas were good and you could express yourself on the pitch. He was very calm and collected in the dressing room, even if things went wrong; he
wasn't a bawler or a screamer and sometimes managers get respected a little more for that.

"Walking into Spurs at 20, there was Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Gary Mabbutt, Paul Stewart and all guys like that. But there was no point being in awe of them, they could be your team-mates, so you've got to get in amongst it and show people what you can do. I was motivated and wanted to be
the best. I'd come from Southend and now I wanted to play in the First Division."

And he didn't have long to wait. After making his senior debut in a League Cup tie against Hartlepool United in October 1990, Justin's first division baptism, against Wimbledon, soon followed and he was involved pretty much every week thereafter. But his big break came in the FA Cup when, with Terry
Fenwick injured, he made a defensive berth his own during our march to Wembley glory.

Blackpool, Oxford United, Portsmouth and Notts County were all seen off as we progressed to the semi-finals. Then came Arsenal at Wembley, THAT goal and the ultimate battle to overcome the early loss of Gascoigne in the final against Nottingham Forest.

Justin takes up the story: "Against Arsenal, I just remember Gazza's goal, and if you look in the pictures I was right behind it.

"The free-kick was way out and I think Paul was just going to curl it to the far stick, but Gary Lineker ran past and said: 'Hit it, hit it'. I thought, 'Gazza, come on, I know you¹re good but...'. But as soon as it left his foot he was off to the bench ­ and I was with him. People blame Seaman but he would never have got it. That was Gazza, though, and he had a fantastic year.

"That semi-final would have to be my finest day in a Tottenham shirt, but more for the fans really because Arsenal had been going for the double and we stopped them doing that. It was a great day, with it being my first visit to Wembley ­and to beat Arsenal 3-1, I don¹t think they come much better
than that.

"Gazza getting stretchered off in the final didn¹t help us by any means, but the players gathered round ­ and it was David Howells, I think, who said: 'Look, no one expects us to win now, there's no pressure on us, so let's go out and play'. He was right: we'd lost the player who was supposed to win
the match for us, gone 1-0 down and the pressure was off.

"I know it was an own goal that won it for us, but we were pushing all the way after that. All of a sudden, people weren¹t living in Paul¹s shadow and guys like Vinny Samways, Paul Allen and Paul Stewart were outstanding on the day. We showed people we could do it without Gazza and it was a fantastic day, fantastic night and a fantastic week!"

The celebrations carried on and on; too long for some, in fact, and Justin candidly admits that he got caught up in the euphoria to an extent where his fledgling career suffered in the aftermath of this sudden rise to fame.

He said: "After my first season, I perhaps lost my way a bit and I probably got caught up trying to be like the players I was playing with. My feet came off the ground too quick; I probably did get caught up in the social side of things and I had a real bad second season.

"Expectations were high: I'd come in, played in a cup final and people thought I'd be the left-back for years to come. Suddenly, though, people were thinking I was a one-hit wonder who couldn¹t cope with it. But I did look at myself, and with the help of the coaching staff ­ particularly Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence ­ I went on to have one of my best seasons in 1992-93."

Unfortunately, that season ended with Arsenal avenging their earlier cup semi-final loss and was the prelude to a decade of managerial turmoil. In fact, few Spurs players have worked under as many managers as Justin, who, as well as Venables, played under Peter Shreeves (1991-92), Livermore
(1992-93), Ossie Ardiles (1993-94), Gerry Francis (1994-97), Christian Gross (1997-98) and George Graham (1998-2000), not to mention three caretaker managers in Steve Perryman, Chris Hughton and David Pleat.

"It is amazing, isn't it?", says Justin. "We were getting a good team in place and had bought Neil Ruddock, Dean Austin, Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton. Nick Barmby was coming on to the scene and it was happening. But from looking at a realistic challenge for the league - ­no-one had a stranglehold back then - we all saw what happened next, and it set the club back a good few years because everyone forgot about what was happening on the pitch.

"Ossie was fantastic and some of the football we played under him was great. He had an attacking philosophy and maybe if he'd just tightened up at the back things might have been different, but, really, everyone was more interested in the power struggles off the field.

"Then, under Gerry, we had some fantastic players, like Dumitrescu, Popescu, Klinsmann, Anderton, Barmby and Sheringham ­ a team of internationals apart from myself! ­And we had a good year under him. But maybe he never really recovered after we got beaten 4-1 by Everton in the FA Cup semi-final in 1995.

"Like everyone, I didn¹t know much about Christian Gross, but I was open-minded. His preparation and a lot of his training was top class, but he just couldn't grasp the English game and, personally, I don't think he gave me a fair crack.

"When you start playing centre-halves or midfielders at left-back despite having a proven player available, he obviously took a dislike to me and we didn¹t get on from day one.

"I had a bit of a sticky time with the crowd during that time and the first person they often pick on is the most established player. He kept bringing me on when we were two or three down and I was like a lamb to the slaughter going over to that East Side. I felt like I just didn't want to go over there and my confidence was shattered. But I think it made me a stronger person, and to win the crowd back over later on says something about my personality and me as a player."

Having resurrected his career under George Graham, however, Justin knew he was on borrowed time from the moment the Scot informed him that he was looking to recruit Ben Thatcher from Wimbledon, so the opportunity to join Portsmouth looked a good move at the time.

Sadly, he suffered a serious Achilles injury shortly after moving to Fratton Park and, after three years spent almost exclusively in the treatment room, he was forced to retire at the end of last season.

His time on the sidelines has been far from wasted, though, as not only has Justin successfully completed his UEFA 'B' coaching licence, but he has also gained coaching experience with Spurs by taking our Under-13s on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Two weeks before this interview, he was appointed as the new manager of Ryman League Billericay Town, which, at 33, makes him one of the youngest bosses in senior non-league football in the country.

"I¹m delighted to have been given the opportunity to start on the managerial ladder and if I can achieve half as much as a manager as I did as a player I'm going to have some success," he said. "It's an opportunity I couldn't miss and if I can progress with Billericay, fantastic, but come back next
year and see if I've got any hair left!"

Original interview by Neale Harvey of Spurs Monthly