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*Meet Perry Suckling

Posted on 18 May 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).

"Success or failure is a very thin line," says our Academy goalkeeping coach Perry Suckling, who is in a better position than most to understand that particular truism.

Perry was one of the great goalkeeping prospects of his generation during his spells at Coventry and Manchester City in the mid-eighties before a combination of unsuccessful moves, injuries and dwindling confidence saw him become something of a travelling keeper that ended up plying his trade in South Africa.

He is now passing on his goalkeeping wisdom to our Academy goalkeepers Swan Jalal, Rob Burch and Paul Rutherford and has the ideal background to point out the perils and pitfalls that exponents of the art of goalkeeping can and are likely to encounter.

So highly was Perry rated during his formative years between the sticks, he was capped by both the England under-21 and B team and was viewed as, potentially, a future full England keeper.

"It just goes to show that all those people who thought they were good judges were actually bad judges!" laughed Perry at Spurs Lodge.

Unfortunately, mention the name Perry Suckling to many football fans and their abiding memory will be the night he conceded nine goals at Anfield when Liverpool crushed newly promoted Crystal Palace. His career never really recovered from the setback.

"I was very fortunate in the early part of my career that I had people like David Sexton, Billy McNeill and John Sillett, three guys I have tremendous respect for. Not only did they understand the game, they could also communicate with people.

"After that I went to clubs where, I would say, did not act as professionally as the previous clubs I was at. Players got away with a lot more and I have to say I lost track. I think the wheels came off my car a little bit.

"I had a nightmare at Liverpool where we got beat 9-0 - up until that I was an England B international.

"I think when you're a goalkeeper and the ball goes past you into the back of the net it does become very personal. Unfortunately on that occasion it flew past me nine times. But goalkeepers can be easy scapegoats."

Perry does feel his career did suffer as a result of the Anfield mauling.

"Definitely. At the time I was only 23 or 24 years of age and wasn't mentally strong enough. Today I am a lot stronger as a person and if I was still playing I would be stronger as a player.

"I think that's why it's so important that, at a club like Tottenham, we have sports psychologists there just to reassure, confirm and let the kids believe in themselves.

"Success or failure is a very thin line. If you can overcome mental barriers you become a better person and have a greater character.

"When I look back at the England under-21s it was David Seaman, Bobby Mimms, Nigel Martyn, Tim Flowers, Gary Walsh - all have gone on to play Premier League football for great clubs and been wonderful goalkeepers.

"I was probably one of the picks of the bunch. But I slipped out and made no money out of football - but I am grateful for the memories.

"I try to pass my experiences on the keepers here now and let them know that they've got to be very strong mentally."

Perry faded from the spotlight after the fateful night on Merseyside, but still has quite a story to tell.

"Nigel Martyn came and I started to have one or two problems with my back, my disc burst and that was the start of it. I then went to Watford under Steve Perryman and Peter Taylor, which I really enjoyed and had some good moments.

"It was a nice way to try and play football although, to be fair, we didn't really have the players to play the way Steve wanted to play. We lacked a little bit of quality, but it was really good the way he wanted us to play.

"I really started to struggle after that and was out for a whole season having broken a bone in my hand and with back problems. I was really struggling to attain any form of fitness and that's one of the hardest things in football. When you're playing and you stay free of injuries you can hit a level of consistency.

"When you're injured and you're training then not, playing, not playing - my form got erratic and I lost a lot of confidence in myself and the belief I had.

"I went to Doncaster for a short spell - about 12 months - really to ponder what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

"Luckily for me, Gary Bailey, the former Manchester United keeper who I used to play against while I was at Manchester City, got in touch. We have remained friends from those days and our England days - he was in the B squad and I was in the under-21s - we were always together.

"He phoned me up out of the blue and said there is a team in South Africa looking for a goalkeeper and would I be interested. It kind of fell nicely for me because the surgeon and specialist said my back was going to be a big problem for me and I needed an operation that would leave me with a limp in my right leg.

"I thought, at 29, that I didn't really want to be walking with a limp - not yet anyway. So I retired and went out to South Africa where I played for a year for Wits University.

"That was really enjoyable with the heat and the climate. My wife and children came with me and they put us in a lovely house with a swimming pool and tennis court.

"They didn't pay me any money! But they took us all over the country and we saw some fantastic sights.

"I originally went there for a planned six months, just to wind down, have a short holiday and ponder what I was going to do next. I ended up staying about three and a half years.

"I moved from Wits to another club called Supersport. It's like Sky in South Africa so I did some television commentary on the England Premier League games of the time along with Gary Bailey. Gary is like the Des Lynam of South African sport, he's a big man and luckily he always asked me to do a few bits and pieces for him.

"It was a good experience and I really enjoyed it, but I began to struggle even more with my back. The climate was fantastic for it at one stage; because it was so hot it helped with my lower back problems. Eventually it became more of a problem.

"My eldest daughter was looking to start High School the following summer, which was just over two years ago, so we decided to come back.

"It's been quite tough ever since I've been back. When you go out of football, people lose track of you. I was quite lucky that when I got back Ray Clemence asked me if I would do some work for the FA part-time because I wasn't attached to any club.

"I started doing the national women's side, the girls' under-18 side and helped Ray with other age groups with the boys - so he has been a fantastic help and a great friend with giving me advice and work to put some food on the table for a change.

"Last year when Alan Smith got the job at Crystal Palace he asked me to go in a couple of times a week to help out. I did the goalkeepers in my first season, the reserves, the youth team, the academy in the evening, Saturdays, Sundays - it was hard graft.

"I was travelling through the Blackwall Tunnel, getting stuck in traffic, leaving early and getting home late."

Then Tottenham came a calling...

"Luckily for me, out of the blue David Pleat called and asked me if I'd come and do some work at Tottenham."

Our trinity of Academy goalkeepers are now benefiting from the experience Perry has accumulated over the years, both good and not so good.

"When I was a kid Dave Sexton once said to me 'Perry Suckling, if you want to become a goalkeeper you must learn to accept criticism from all quarters every day'. At the time I didn't really understand what he meant - 25 years later I know exactly what he meant.

"I would never change what's happened to me, I love the job I'm doing today. I miss playing, the worst time is three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, I'm not at Tottenham and I just have the Teletext - it's horrible."

The young keepers are all in fine fettle and under-19 coach Pat Holland was quick to praise the impact made by Perry after the Youth Cup win at Bolton. Perry modestly deflects any credit.

"At the end of the day when they cross that white line, they have to make the decisions and have the technique to make the right decisions. So all credit really does go to the goalkeepers.

"When they play well I'm really happy for them, when they don't play so well I feel for them. The one thing I can honestly say is that Shwan Jalal, Rob Burch and Paul Rutherford have come in with a really refreshing attitude in training.

"They are really responsive to suggestions I have for them and act in a really professional manner now. That's not to say they weren't before I came, but I keep going on about the importance of stretching and things like that. They are taking that on board and hopefully we are now seeing some potentially good goalkeepers in the making.

"I keep saying to them that to play for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League they've got be in the top six keepers in the world. So they've got a real long way to go, but if their hard work and determination are anything to go by they've got a great chance.

"I have my own way of talking to them, I'm not a ranter or raver and I'm quite a shy person, but if there is problems I like to get it sorted out on the training field because that's the best place.

"There is lots of time given to individuals here and we like to help them. I remind them of how well the other is playing and hopefully that gives them a little gee-up for them to play well. So far all three of them are doing really good."

Perry has no desire to step up and work with first team keepers, his ideal would be for one of his charges to be promoted to Hans Segers' senior group.

"Personally, sometimes in life you have levels with what you're good at. I have no ambition at all to work with first team keepers. I think I am better at working with people between the age of 15 and 21.

"I can help them polish up their techniques, direct them into good habits and help them understand their game. Luckily for me so far, the three boys have taken that on board.

"For me to pass one over to Hans would be the ultimate for me and the supporters would be happy."

By Richard Hubbard