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You must be - Clive Wilson

Posted on 8 January 2001  - 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).

Spurs had finished seventh in the league and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1995 when Gerry Francis brought in Clive Wilson on a free transfer to strengthen the squad that summer and put pressure on long-serving full-back Justin Edinburgh.

Manchester-born Clive admits he was surprised to have the opportunity of joining the "biggest" club of his career at an age when players normally begin treading a downward path.

"I knew that Gerry was interested and that I could leave QPR on a free but he never made contact with me until the end of his first season at Spurs," said Clive as we talked at his flat in Woodford Green.

"When I look back, at 33 I was probably joining the biggest club of my career and it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. I’d played for Manchester City and Chelsea, but Tottenham was the biggest in terms of tradition and history."

Hopes were high that, despite the loss of German striker Jürgen Klinsmann to Bayern Munich, Francis’ side could top the achievements of the previous year and mount a genuine challenge for honours.

After suffering an ankle injury during his first Spurs training session Clive missed the opening two league matches but came in for the 3-1 home defeat by Liverpool as Spurs suffered a poor start.

From there, however, Clive’s calm assurance and foraging helped provide the ammunition for twin strikers Teddy Sheringham and Chris Armstrong to shoot Spurs up the table as Francis’ side tasted defeat just once in 17 matches.

"My first impression was that we looked like we had a very good side. I was happy to be part of that and although maybe the squad wasn’t big or strong enough to challenge for the league we had Darren Anderton, Teddy, Chris and David Howells in the side and had expectations of winning trophies.

"I remember my debut at right-back against Liverpool like it was yesterday. John Barnes played in midfield for them that day and scored two wonder goals. They gave us a football lesson — murdered us — and 3-1 probably flattered us. But we picked up after that."

The bubble burst, however, when the chance to go second at Christmas was spurned after Bolton Wanderers came from two goals down to earn a draw at The Lane. Despite a remarkable 4-1 win over eventual champions Manchester United on New Year’s Day, just six more league wins followed as Spurs eventually missed out on a UEFA Cup place on the final day.

Hopes of FA Cup glory also foundered on the rocks of a fifth round penalty shoot-out defeat by Nottingham Forest at The Lane.

"I remember that Bolton game well and, yes, it was a turning point. We should have won that game comfortably but they got back and our season fell away after that through no particular reason.

"It was just a case of getting so far but we couldn’t take the next step to get up to second spot. As for the cup defeat, you won’t mention that, will you? Yes, of course I featured in that — I missed the first penalty in the shoot-out, didn’t I?

"The original game got abandoned through snow after 20 minutes, then we drew and they came down to us and we drew again. It was one of my worst moments, to be honest. Overall, however, that was a reasonably successful season."

Anti-climax soon forgotten, Spurs set out with renewed hope in 1996-97. But any optimism was destroyed after the team was constantly decimated by injuries.

Gary Mabbutt broke his leg in the opening match at Blackburn and, at various times, Anderton, Armstrong, Sheringham and new boys Steffen Iversen and John Scales spent lengthy periods on the treatment table.

Clive himself was ruled out for much of the season after suffering a knee injury at Christmas and as Spurs trailed in 10th in the Premiership the knives were out for Francis.

A good start was required in 1997-98 but despite the arrivals of David Ginola and Les Ferdinand the goals failed to flow and Francis fell on his sword in November with Spurs lying 16th.

It was a sad time for Clive who had worked under Francis for six years at two clubs, but he insists that the resignation did not shock the players, nor was he as close personally to his former mentor as some believe.

"In many respects Gerry was very unlucky in that he could not play what he considered his best side. Nowadays, given the money and squads clubs have, injuries are not going to affect them as much.

"Of course Gerry was under pressure. He’d lost his star striker (Sheringham) but that’s the nature of the job, it’s how you handle it that matters. I was also injured at the start of that season, but it seemed a little belief had gone and we weren’t playing flowing, attractive football.

"We needed something to happen but it didn’t. I wouldn’t say we were shocked but it’s always a surprise when a manager goes. People say I was quite close to Gerry but I wasn’t that close at all. We had a working relationship and that was as far as it went. It wasn’t that he’d phone me and ask things, anything like that."

With Francis gone, Switzerland’s Christian Gross made his way famously up the Victoria line, travelcard in hand, to The Lane.

Much has been said and written about Gross’ year in charge of Tottenham, his hard work ethos and alleged communication problems with players. So let’s hear the truth from Clive.

"Christian’s arrival was a shock in that no one had heard of him. Usually, when there’s a sacking you’ve heard of the next person but everyone was saying: ‘Christian who?’

"For me, he was on a loser from day one because people were always going to ask that question. They asked the same about Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but he turned the club around more or less instantly.

"The only way Christian could have got the respect of the fans was to have done that and for Spurs to shoot up the league. But we didn’t and that season became one hell of a struggle.

"We beat Everton away in his first game but there weren’t many highlights after that. I actually thought his tactics and ideas were good, it was just the way he put them across. I don’t think the players were totally happy with that side of it.

"Because they didn’t know who he was he had the problem of earning respect and maybe he needed the advice of someone who’d been with the club a bit longer.

"He brought along his fitness coach, Fritz, and it was just the two of them to begin with. Chris Hughton came along after Fritz wasn’t granted his work permit. Christian could have done with someone like Chris from day one — someone who knew Tottenham.

"The ‘must work harder’ thing was a bit of a cliché, though, and I don’t think he was radically different from other managers. Most managers say if you’re not winning it’s because you’re not working hard enough. The one pre-season I spent with Christian, he didn’t work you any harder than an English manager would, so it wasn’t the case that he was a hard task master."

Gross’s reign lasted until September 1998, when he was replaced by George Graham.

At 37, Clive was injured and did not feature at all in Graham’s first season before being released to join Cambridge United during the summer of 1999.

Clive, who remains in close contact with Les Ferdinand, would like to be remembered as a "cultured" player, noted for his wholehearted approach during his time at Tottenham.

"I think, overall, I had a good rapport with all the fans I played in front of. I still see Spurs fans and no one gives me any stick — not to my face anyway. I’d like to be remembered for positive reasons."

After a year at the Abbey Stadium, Clive’s professional career ended last summer. At 39, however, he is still ploughing a furrow as part-time player-coach for Ryman League outfit Wingate & Finchley.

Clive is also now an area representative for Gilbert Pollard Sports in St Albans who are the licence holders for English sales of Le Coq Sportif products.

His eventual aim is to break into coaching within the professional game and there is no doubting the determination of a man who made over 600 professional league and cup appearances to achieve that, even if it does mean starting at the bottom.

"My ambition is to get as high as I can in the game and Wingate & Finchley is a start. Ideally, I’d have like to have started higher up but they offered me the chance.

"It’s opened my eyes a bit, however. When you’re a player you don’t think about anything other than turning up and playing, but as a coach you have to think about tactics, formations and style of play. It makes you look at football in a totally different light.

"For obvious reasons, Gerry’s probably made the biggest impression tactically because he was the person I played for the longest, but I’d like to think I’ve taken bits from everyone I’ve worked for."

SPURS MONTHLY