Willie Young Talks Exclusively To The Tribute Trust

Crossing the Divide

Very few have made the journey across the North London divide. In modern times it is all but unthinkable, but in the 1970’s there were a number of high profile examples with both Terry Neill and Pat Jennings making the short trip south down the Seven Sisters Road. Before Big Pat left to join Terry Neill at Highbury, a tough uncompromising Scottish centre back Willie Young also made the move to reunite with his former White Hart Lane manager.

Ahead of the North London Derby , Edinburgh born Willie now 67 and his wife Linda reminisced with TTT Trustee John Ellis:

TTT: How did your move to Spurs come about?

WY: Terry Neill was the manager at Spurs when I joined not long after the team had only stayed up by beating Leeds 4-2 on the last day of the 1974/75 season. At that stage I’d made over 130 appearances since my debut for Aberdeen at 19. Terry was looking to restructure the Spurs team and in those days, there were no transfer windows and clubs could sign players at any time other than in the closing weeks of a season. The move to Tottenham eventually went through in September 1975 for a £100k plus transfer fee, big money at the time!

TTT: Aberdeen to London, how big a change of lifestyle was that?

WY: Put it this way, I used to supplement my Aberdeen wages with a summer painting job on the North Sea oil rigs!

LY: I hope Willie did did a better job on the rigs than he does in the house! I was pregnant with our daughter Victoria at the time of the move to Tottenham so Willie moved down to digs in Cheshnut close to the training ground to start with.

WY: Yes, the lodgings were run by a great lady called Jay Norris. She really looked after the young players, kept us on the straight and narrow and even taught us how to play bridge.

TTT: How were those initial months at Spurs?

WY: My first few days at training were to say the least eventful. There was a fair bit of banter between the English lads like John Pratt and Terry Naylor and my fellow Scot and later best friend, John Duncan. I think John was pleased to have a fellow Scot around to back him up! I also remember some ‘one on one’ drills and this young kid from the youth team was asked to try to dribble around me. I figured, no problem I can handle this lad, but the youngster waltzed around me. That young lad’s name was Glenn Hoddle! What a player Glenn was, it was obvious even then that he’d go on to be a real star and he wasn’t only a brilliant footballer but a lovely young man. Of course I couldn’t let him get away with dancing around me in training so I gave him a little tap on the ankle to warn him against making fun of me again! As well as Glenn, it was a privilege to be in a group that included stand out players like Pat Jennings and Stevie Perryman, they were not only fine footballers but also wonderful ambassadors for the club.

Off the pitch, once Linda moved down we became good friends with John Duncan, Don McAllister and their wives and used to get together for social evenings playing charades and Monopoly. Even though we only played for smarties or matchsticks, the burning competitive spirit within John Duncan always made for lively evenings! John, was a big ABBA fan, I remember once when he was out injured we were offered tickets in a box to see the band in Town. When the band offered a member of the audience, an opportunity to sing Dancing Queen with them on stage, John climbed down from the box and jumped onto the stage. So much for his injury!

TTT: Your debut was one to remember wasn’t it!

WY: Yes it was! It was away at Leeds United who were a very strong side at that time, we were close to the bottom of the table. I played pretty well and we got a good 1-1 draw – I managed to keep my long time friend Joe Jordan in my back pocket! I think Joe was a bit annoyed at the few little kicks he’d got from me during the game as he eventually sunk his fang teeth into the back of my neck! That game was the first of five successive League draws before I eventually tasted my first League victory in a Spurs shirt, 3-2 away to Leicester City.

TTT: You had a pretty well deserved reputation as an “uncompromising” defender!

WY: You could say that! Football was different then, most teams had players who knew it was their role to protect their teammates and remind the opposition that there were consequences for bad tackles! It was quite satisfying to sort out an opposing player who’d kicked one of my teammates up in the air! Whilst at Aberdeen I remember playing against Sir Alex Ferguson who put in a particularly bad tackle on one of my team mates – I certainly let him know what I thought (I can’t repeat the language in polite company!) and let’s just say Sir Alex was fortunate to be sent off and avoid retribution! Of course Sir Alex went on to manage Aberdeen with real success before his incredible achievements at Manchester United.

TTT: Did the Spurs fans appreciate that uncompromising approach?

WY: I think so, pretty early on they’d come up with a song for me!
“6 foot two, Eyes of blue, Willie Young is after you”

TTT: Tell us about your experience of playing in the North London derby that first season at the club?

WY: My first North London Derby was a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane. The away game was much more memorable though with us winning 2-0 at Highbury with John Duncan and John Pratt scoring the goals. The Arsenal attack didn’t want to go near our back four of me, Terry Naylor, Don McAllister and the cultured Keith Osgood!

TTT: How did that season end up?

WY: We finished the season in a creditable ninth place and on a personal level I’d been an almost permanent fixture in the back four. Frustratingly we missed out on a place in the League Cup Final by losing out to Newcastle over two legs in the semi final. It was a good group of lads with good camaraderie. The team had occasional social nights at the Walthamstow dog track which was owned by Martin Chivers father in law at the time. After every away game, the team coach dropped the players off at the ground on Tottenham High Road and many of the team would go straight across the road for a night out. That summer we toured in Singapore where the club are going back to play this coming summer – I remember that game well as I lobbed the keeper to score from the half way line!

TTT: The following season was pretty eventful for you from a North London Derby perspective wasn’t it?

WY: It certainly was. Terry Neill had left us to join Arsenal with Keith Burkinshaw taking over at Spurs. Sadly Keith and I never really hit it off and I found myself out of the team more often. I was in the team for the North London Derby at White Hart Lane on 27th December 1976 – it was a pretty eventful game to say the least! Malcolm MacDonald had put Arsenal in front but I headed in our equaliser from Peter Taylor’s flighted free kick. Unfortunately after that it all went horribly wrong. An Arsenal player, I think it was Peter Storey, kicked out at me and the red mist descended, leading to my knee and Frank Stapleton’s back coming together…. Four Arsenal players came towards me, there were punches thrown and pretty much all 22 players were involved in a brawl. I was sent off but fortunately John Duncan scored an equaliser and we got a 2-2 draw!

TTT: That game probably signalled the beginning of the end for your time at Spurs?

WY: It did sadly. In March 1977, two months before Spurs were eventually relegated, Terry Neill came in for me and I think Keith was more than happy to take the £80,000 transfer fee and I signed for Arsenal having made 64 appearances for Spurs.

TTT: A move across the North London divide can’t have been easy?

WY: From a dressing room perspective it was fine – Arsenal at the time had a large Irish and Scottish contingent who made me very welcome and of course a few months later Pat joined as well. The fans on the other hand were initially not so welcoming especially given the game in December ‘76! In those days the rivalry was fierce but somehow different from today and I remember going with a few of my new Arsenal team mates to watch my old teammates Spurs at White Hart Lane. We were recognised by one or two Spurs fans who had some words with us.

TTT: And a North London Derby on the other side of the fence?

WY: Those were no less eventful in red than they were in white! I remember going up for a header and receiving a full on punch from my own keeper Jimmy Rimmer. On another occasion, I tried to nip in to clear a corner but misjudged it and there was my mate John Duncan lurking behind me to score. John ran over to me to celebrate and I had to remind him we were now on different sides!

TTT: Your spell with Arsenal was pretty successful wasn’t it?

WY: Yes, I made 170 appearances for Arsenal and played in three consecutive FA Cup Finals losing two and winning one. Two of the finals were very eventful versus Manchester United and especially the 1980 Final against West Ham. We were losing 1-0 to the Hammers, the youngest ever player to play in an FA Cup final, Paul Allen was through on goal with just Pat Jennings to beat. I chased down Paul from behind and speaking honestly I thought we are 1-0 down, if the lad scores, the match is over, I will have to take one for the team. I tripped Paul from behind and I just assumed I’d be the first player to ever be sent off in an FA Cup Final and started walking towards the tunnel. The referee George Courtney shouted “Where are you going – come back here. I am not going to send you off because you did it gently!” I and I suspect the watching millions on TV were shocked! But West Ham went on to win the cup anyway. Years later I was able to apologise to Paul in person about that incident, and he was very decent about it.

TTT: After Arsenal you played for Brian Clough?

WY: Yes in 1981 I signed for Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, and was made captain. Clough was a great but also fickle manager. The players would always send me to his office if they had complaints and eventually Clough took the captaincy off me!

TTT: The word that keeps coming up in this chat about your career is “eventful” – how do you think you’d have fared in today’s game?

LY: He would be sent off and put on the naughty step every week!

WY: I’m not sure I can disagree with that!

TTT: And finally, what do you make of the current Spurs squad?

WY: I think Mauricio Pochettino is doing a superb job at the club, especially the way he brings through young players. On the playing side I think Harry Kane is the complete striker with quick feet and brain – I’m very pleased I never had to come up against him during my career. I also like watching Dele Alli and the attitude he brings to a match. Having been a centre back myself I’m full of admiration for the centre back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld who combine very well.