Spurs fan since the early-eighties, Mel Gomes, who wrote the e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’, documenting Tottenham Hotspur’s return to the Champions League in 2010-11, interviewed Graham Roberts in 2003 for his website at the time, Melstars.
At the time Roberts was manager of south London side Carshalton Athletic, while Spurs were being led by his former team-mate Glenn Hoddle, who inherited a side who had lost its identity under the successive reigns of Gerry Francis, Christian Gross and George Graham.
Ahead of Kiwi Spurs’ evening with Graham Roberts on April 15th, 2017 at The Paddington here is a reproduction of that Robert’s interview, where he recalls the glory days of the early-eighties.
Graham Roberts Interview Thursday 8 May 2003
There have been few bigger influences on my outlook on sport than the Spurs team of the early eighties. A very good group of intelligent and talented players that played with style, courage and class. Graham Roberts was central to that side and its successes, and he kindly agreed to be interviewed for the our site; we spoke about that team, the reason he left Spurs, his playing days away from the Lane, his managerial career and of course the current Spurs set-up.
Roberts was signed from Weymouth in 1980 for a record figure for a non-league player, records show it was £35,000 but Roberts added that with the incentives in the deal Weymouth eventually received beyond a hundred grand. "Burkinshaw hadn't seen me play" he revealed, he was spotted by a scout, Bill Nicholson, not a bad judge of a footballer.
The same season Burkinshaw also bought Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald, building one of the greatest sides in the Club's famous history. "I played in the reserves. I earned the right to get in the team, and fought every game to be in it. Every game I played was a bonus" said roberts.
"When he bought Ossie and Ricky no one had really heard about them. What he did was build the team around those players. We needed an out-and-out goalscorer, a 20 goals a season striker. Archie and Crooksy were those sort of players".
It was a great team. "Every player was made for that team. You had Tony Galvin on the left. Ricky, Ossie, Glenn, what would they be worth now? Paul Miller and myself at the back, Stevie Perryman and Chrissy Hughton. It was a good blend. And you had players that could come in, Mark Falco, Garry Brooke and Mickey Hazard. They could all do a good job".
Two attacking full-backs who pushed on, a two-footed left winger and three flair players in midfield, what were Burkinshaw's tactical instructions like? "Keith never gave a team talk. Peter Shreeves would tell us who to watch at set-plays. We never ever went out to stop a player. We knew that if we played to the maximum of our ability we could beat anybody".
"The Captain was Stevie P and he ran things on the pitch. We were all good talkers. We never worried about other teams."
At the end of that 1980-81 season Spurs reached the FA Cup Final, which was to be their first of an amazing seven appearances at Wembley in sixteen months. Roberts famously lost his front teeth in the first match, when he received an accidental kick from his own team mate Chris Hughton.
"I remember going in at half-time with a face full of blood and the doctor said to the manager at "he can't go out, he's concussed", and slipping out the other door and playing. You play in a Cup Final, you're not going to give it up easily, and we were one-nil down at the time".
Spurs memorably won the 100th Cup Final in the replay with the winner the individual effort from Ricky Villa that was voted the greatest goal ever scored at Wembley; that summer Burkinshaw bought Ray Clemence from Liverpool, and players, including Hoddle, whose contracts were expiring, signed longer deals.
The FA Cup was retained, but it could have been a lot better. Spurs challenged on all four fronts, unfortunate to lose the 1982 League Final to Liverpool, going out in a dirty game at home to Barcelona in the semi-final second leg of the UEFA Cup (a 1-0 defeat that is the only European home defeat in their history), and coming close in the League.
"In 1982 we had a big backlog of games. We were playing four games a week. In the last two weeks we never trained. Just played and rested."
The Barcelona game came days after a defeat in the League at Old Trafford. After the European game Spurs played nine league games in nineteen days, including two matches against Liverpool, who went on to win the title. "We were two-nil up against Liverpool in the league, and they got back to 2-2". Spurs played 66 matches that season, losing just 13.
European success eventually came in 1984 when Roberts scored a dramatic equalizer in the dying minutes at home to Anderlect in the second-leg of the UEFA Cup Final. He also scored the first penalty kick in the shootout and went on to lift the Cup, as Captain in Steve Perryman's absence.
"That was the best night I have had in my life. I never went home. I was drunk out of my brains. I then went to Scotland to play for England. It was a good week. I will probably live for that for the rest of my life".
That European run was typical of Tottenham in that era, winning in the final with an under strength side, after some classy performances on route to the final. "After letting in a sloppy goal against Barcelona [in 1982] we were determined to win [a European trophy]. We were cruising against Feyenoord 4-0 up. We then let in two goals and got slaughtered in the press. We then went there and won 2-0."
That Feyenoord squad contained Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff; Cruyff had reportedly watched Spurs prior to the first-leg and was dismissive about his forthcoming opponents, although he changed his mind after those two performances.
Some fantastic achievements, but did that Spurs side of the early eighties really fulfil their potential?
"We probably should have won the European Cup Winners Cup [in 1982] and we should have won the league. Particularly in 1985, under Peter Sheeves."
Shreeves took over after the UEFA Cup Final when Burkinshaw left, famously looking back at the ground, and saying "there used to be a football club over there".
"The worst thing Spurs ever did was get rid of Keith Burkinshaw. They have never replaced him. Irving Scholar wanted to do the contracts. Burkinshaw wanted to run the football side, and leave the PLC to run the rest of the club, as it should be. They wanted someone just to coach".
Spurs came very close to winning the title again in Shreeves first year in charge, and again tiredness caught up with them; Everton, the eventual Champions, won 2-1 at the Lane in a critical game in April. Neville Southall made a famous save from Mark Falco that would have made the game 2-2, although he couldn't stop a Roberts "screamer from 35 yards". "We pummelled them second half".
Buy now Spurs had added Clive Allen and John Chiedozie and were to add Chris Waddle and Paul Allen before the next campaign. Shreeves stayed just one more season though. "Peter done a good job, Tottenham through and through. Maybe should have been given longer".
Shreeves' sacking in 1986 and the arrival of David Pleat led to Roberts' exit from Tottenham. "He rang me at home, and told me any offer he got for me he'd accept. I said okay and put the phone down. He rang me back and told me not to put the phone down on him".
"I worked very hard in pre-season and got back into the team in midfield, and he couldn't get me out. I never really wanted to leave - I would have stayed at Spurs all my life. I had two more years on my contract, and asked him for another year that would take me to ten years, and he said "you've got no chance, you'll never get a Testimonial from this Club".
"Rangers came in for me and he told me I wasn't going, which made my mind up I was going. When they eventually offered the right money, he rang me at five o'clock in the morning the day I was due to play against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. He said "you're going" and told me not to come to the match. When I came back from Scotland on the Monday to pick my boots up, my boots, my gear, were all chucked outside the gates. When people say to me "why don't you like him?" I think that speaks for itself".
Roberts' portrayal of the club now is one that has failed to teach it's staff the respect due to its former greats; he tells us to our disgust how two weeks ago Burkinshaw was refused entry in to the car park by an ignorant attendant and went home, how former players including himself have to pay for match tickets, how his wife is charged £58 to go to Legends, and of how someone on the commercial side of the Club told him - when he rang to offer his services for the Washington D.C. tribute match for old players earlier this season - he wasn't needed.
In contrast he is welcomed back at Glasgow Rangers, where he enjoyed his time and won the league under Graeme Souness, a manager "who never asked you to do anything he couldn't do". On visits back he has been given a box rather than paying for a single ticket, and at no charge.
"Every week Rangers have different former players come out at half-time. Spurs should have a couple a former players on the board, who know what the supporters want".
After he was released from Rangers he went to Chelsea, who bought him after they got relegated. Mickey Hazard was there at the time as well, and they won promotion with Roberts not missing a game.
A falling out with Ken Bates over a house deal that fell through and left him and his family homeless meant the player-coach role he was promised never materialised and prompted him to go to West Brom under his mate Brian Talbot. Talbot got sacked soon afterwards, and it's the only move he has regretted.
His managerial career started with Enfield where he took them to second in the League, and the FA Trophy semi-final. He was sacked four weeks after his mother died, and he was promised a future at the club.
He went to Yeovil, who after their promotion this season, he believes will now be the biggest club in the Third Division. During his time in charge in an effort to raise funds he invited Newcastle down, which led to his secretary writing and sending the infamous fax, wishing Newcastle luck and saying "we're not all arseholes in the Conference" that precipitated his departure.
He thinks he left Yeovil in a good state but would probably have left them at the end of that season because of the travelling. He was then asked to take over at Chesham who were bottom of the league, and they won 13 of their final 16 games when he took over to stay up.
After that came a spell at Hertford which he did as a favour for a friend, but he never got paid. And now he is at Carshalton Athletic, where he won the league last week after taking over when they were third from bottom of their division last season.
He must want the chance at a higher level? "I would like to go into professional management, but it's not what you know, it's who you know".
"I work hard. I work 80-90 hours a week in part-time football. I find young kids. I enjoy coaching and enjoy making them better players."
"My ambition is to go back to Spurs and Rangers in some capacity and give something back that they gave to me. I would run through brick walls for Spurs".
As for the current Spurs set-up, he believes Hoddle is right in releasing players like Freund and Sheringham before next season, even though he acknowledges the jobs they have done. He appreciated that Hoddle was trying to achieve a bit of short-term success by bringing in experienced players for his first two full years, and victory in the League Cup Final against Blackburn would have been justification of that policy.
But it took Alex Fergurson, a manager like Burkinshaw in terms of running the team, a few years to win a trophy; "Hoddle should go with the youngsters now and stick with them. Even if it doesn't go well, stick with them. But people have got to have the patience.'
'Hoddle should be given three years to bring youngsters through. Spurs haven't got the funds they need so success has to be achieved gradually. And he should get rid of anyone who doesn't want to play for the club and is not committed."
At the moment Roberts has written a letter that he is going to send to the Club to ask for help with a testimonial.
"I am willing to give some money to charity and some to the ex-Tottenham players if they want it. I have been in non-league for twenty years, and professional football for twelve years. I am an old git now".
Spurs, when they hopefully finish educating some of their low-paid staff about the tradition and history of the Club, as well as about Customer Service and Respect, should do one of their legends the honour he deserves, and grant him a testimonial at the Lane.