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Gary Mabbutt: "Bill said 'you have the potential to be a Spurs player'" - three months that made a legend

11 May 2017|Tottenham Hotspur

The days, hours and minutes are ticking away to 'The Lane, The Finale' and the final match at our famous old stadium against Manchester United on Sunday. To mark the occasion, we've spoken to a number of legends for their memories of White Hart Lane. Next up - 16 years a Spur, FA Cup-winning captain and legend, Gary Mabbutt...


- Second all-time Spurs appearance-maker with 611 between 1982-98
- Captain of the Club between 1987-98
- Won the UEFA Cup in 1984 and as captain, lifted FA Cup in 1991
- Won 16 England caps, 1982-92
- Diagnosed type 1 diabetic aged 17

Gary Mabbutt was under no illusions when he first walked through those famous old black iron gates at the entrance of White Hart Lane in 1982.

Still just 20 but with a relative wealth of Football League experience under his belt at Bristol Rovers, 'Mabbsy' had just taken one of the most important phone calls of his life from 'Mr Tottenham', Bill Nicholson.

"I was at Bristol Rovers, my contract had run out and it was about the time freedom of contract was coming into the game, so at the end of your contract you could write to all the clubs you wanted to look at you," he expained. "I wrote to all the clubs and a few days later, I got a call from Bill Nicholson.

Below: Gary's full debut against Liverpool in 1982


"Having been involved in football throughout my life and coming from a footballing family, and Bill Nicholson being a legend of the game, you can imagine what it was like when I picked up the phone and it was Bill!

"Bill said that he’d seen me play a number of times, that he thought I had the potential to be a Tottenham player and he’d like to have a talk with me.

"The following day I drove up to London and I can remember driving into White Hart Lane for the first time, through the black iron gates and parking up. As I drove through those gates, I thought ‘this is where I want to be’.

"I went into reception, Bill came down and showed me around, showed me the pitch, the stadium and as you can imagine, I was very impressed because globally Tottenham Hotspur are one of the biggest names in world football and I had the opportunity to join the club.

"I went to the training ground, met Keith Burkinshaw and signed a few days later. I wanted to progress in the game and joining a club like Tottenham Hotspur was incredible for me."

Below: Gary's England debut in October, 1982


Gary began training at the Club in July, 1982. By October, he'd made his Spurs debut at Wembley, had nailed down a place in the team, been called-up by the senior England squad and made his full international debut against World Cup finalists West Germany no less! Those few months laid the foundations for Gary's wonderful 16 years at Spurs.

"I remember walking into the dining area where all the players were eating after training and just about every player in that room was an international," he recalled. "I’d only ever seen them before on Match of the Day or Top of the Pops!

"It wasn’t daunting though because Keith Burkinshaw didn’t give me too many high hopes. He was honest and said ‘Gary, Bill has recommended you and we feel you have the potential but to be honest, it might take two or three years to break into the first team because we have such a strong squad’ and I was happy to do that and continue learning the game.

"That was the middle of July. We went on our pre-season tour to Norway a few weeks later and during the tour a couple of players got injured, Keith brought me into the middle of midfield and I then stayed in the team for the next 16 years!

Below: What a day! Mabbsy lifts the FA Cup in 1991


"My full debut was the Charity Shield at Wembley against Liverpool and a week later, the first league game of the season at home to Luton and you can imagine, all the Spurs fans are used to seeing all these million-pound signings and big internationals and suddenly there was this young lad they’d never heard of from Bristol Rovers coming in for a bargain basement £105,000!

"I’m sure they were wondering who the heck this was but in the first five minutes we got a free-kick, Glenn Hoddle took it, put it on my head and I scored and from that moment, the Spurs fans warmed towards me and we’ve had the most amazing relationship since.

"Tottenham has been part of my family for 35 years now. When people say things like that, people say, ‘yes, okay, go on then...' but your life is taken over by the game and your whole life evolves around being a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur.

"Everything, every holiday, Christmas, New Year, everything is geared around football. Spurs is home, White Hart Lane is home. You know how everything works, the dressing room, pre-match rituals, the pitch, the stadium, where your family is, where everything is. You feel like you are at home and feel so comfortable being there, and I still feel comfortable being there.

Below: Mabbsy pictured in 2016


"As a Club, we’re known globally for our history and traditions and that is all embedded within White Hart Lane. In future generations, it will become embedded in the new stadium, new success, new history made.

"Sunday does have that feeling of finality. You know it’s been coming, but now it’s upon us, that’s the reality. It will be a sad, emotional day but at the same time, perhaps even more so, it will be a celebration - because we will celebrate those 118 years."