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View from...Steve Perryman

Posted on 6 November 2009  - 12:00

Just over 40 years ago, the great Steve Perryman made his first team debut for Spurs against tomorrow's opponents Sunderland - and he remembers it like it was yesterday.

View from...Steve Perryman

Just over 40 years ago, the great Steve Perryman made his first team debut for Spurs against tomorrow's opponents Sunderland - and he remembers it like it was yesterday.

And on that day in September 1969, there was one moment that could have defined his career or, worst-case scenario, killed it stone dead before it had really begun.

And when you are talking about a record-breaking career spanning three decades and over 850 competitive matches for Spurs, a player held in as high regard as any to have pulled on the famous white shirt, you are talking about a BIG moment.

He recalled: "I remember early on Gordon Harris, a very famous player who was in the England squad, ran at me probably thinking ‘he's young, he's new, let's put some pressure on him' and he sold himself, so that was great for me.

"But a couple of minutes later I gave an awful backpass to Pat Jennings and I think Dennis Tueart ran onto it and Pat ended up deflecting his shot onto the post and out for a corner. It could have been a disaster to give away a goal so early in my career. Anyway, Pat saved it. We eventually lost the game 1-0 but people were pleased with what I did and I was pleased.

"It might have been different, I suppose. That's fate. It would have been a huge cross to bear had I given that goal away but naivety is a wonderful thing and at 27, I would have worried about it, but I was 17 and just got on with it."

Steve clearly made an impression though. Our next official programme described his performance as ‘the only satisfaction from this match' and that he'd come through his debut with ‘considerable credit'.

The man that mattered - the great Bill Nicholson - must have been impressed as well as Steve started the next 17 league matches in a total of 28 appearances after his debut.

"Bill wasn't great on praise but I think he told the press that he thought I had a good debut," said Steve. "He always thought that I was fairly mature for my age, football-wise, and it proved that Spurs could produce young players. Up to that point there was Phil Beal and Joe Kinnear as the two young players who had come in and done well.

"He was always planning ahead and he knew that Spurs couldn't always go out and buy the top players as they had done and he wanted a flurry of youngsters to come through."

So how did the debut come about? As is often the case in football, a shake-up of the side followed a big defeat and a poignant one in this case - we'd suffered a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Derby County the week before in the first match we'd come up against the great Dave Mackay since his departure from Spurs in 1968.

"I went to that game as the 13th man," recalled Steve. "We then had a reserve game at Reading on the Wednesday and I was due to play in that game. But when they named the team, I wasn't in it. I found out later it was to hold me back to play against Sunderland on the Saturday.

"I was called into Bill Nick's office on the Friday after training with Dennis Bond and he told us that one of us was definitely playing, maybe both of us. I assumed that was going to be Dennis, a player the club had purchased, but I hoped it would be both of us.

"We got to the game, he named the team and I was in, so was Dennis. It was a great honour and a great feeling. It was a chance to get into the team early and at Spurs that was quite a rarity at such a young age.

"I remember it was a big crowd, a sunny day. The debut is the starting place of something good, you hope, and you just want the people who are paying the money to think well of you.

"I was fresh, keen, eager and up for the running that needed to be done. I sometimes think I got my chance because it was almost a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians, international players who it wasn't quite happening for, for whatever reason.

"The game was changing as well. It was always about a 4-2-4 formation, then 4-3-3 or even 4-4-2. The coincidence of that for me was that I came into it as a midfield grafter, I wasn't that as a schoolboy but the Spurs way had been driven into me over my apprenticeship days.

"What I had in my game fitted the bill. At that time, Graeme Souness was a year younger than me and knowing what type of player he finished up as, people were surprised he didn't get in the team.

"But he was more of a flair player in those days, lacking a touch of pace but a great player on the ball and he was up against the likes of Martin Peters and Alan Mullery. The work rate stood me in good stead.

"Sometimes I look at my record now and don't believe it. I actually wonder how I could do it. The year I got in I played for England youth team, Spurs youth team, Spurs reserves, Spurs A team and then the First Team.

"Every afternoon by the time I got home I went straight into the front room, put some music on and fell asleep within a couple of minutes. It was a habit I got into because it was so physically demanding. I was busy coping with playing the games I needed to play.

"You wouldn't be so blasé as to think it was going to last forever. Of course, being Spurs and Bill Nicholson, if you weren't up to the mark, the likely scenario was that they would go out and buy someone and maybe it would then be another two years to impress again and wait for another opportunity.

"It's okay liking a young player but I always used to read how Bill was incredibly careful of how and when he blooded a player and it looked like Sunderland was the right time for me. I'm pleased it worked out."

It's a thought echoed by every Spurs fan because September 27, 1969 saw the birth of a Lane legend.

Steve played over 850 competitive games for the club and made over 1,000 first-team appearances between 1969-1986. He won more honours for Spurs than any other player - League Cup winner in 1971 and 1973, UEFA Cup winner in 1972 and captain of successive FA Cup Final wins in 1981 and 1982. He was also captain of the 1984 UEFA Cup winning side but had to sit out the second leg through suspension. He was Footballer of the Year in 1982 and was part of England's 40-man World Cup squad, but only won one senior cap. He was awarded the MBE in 1986 and is currently Director of Football at Exeter City.

And it all started against Sunderland 40 years ago.