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Who links Albion and Spurs?

We think of ourselves as separate entities, yet the nature of football’s transfer system means our favourite clubs often have far more in common than we care to admit. Journalist and author Spencer Vignes takes a look at some of the Albion players with close ties to Thursday night’s visitors Tottenham Hotspur.

Yves Bissouma spent four years with Albion.
Photo: By Paul Hazlewood
Yves Bissouma spent four years with Albion. Photo: By Paul Hazlewood

Gary Stevens was in a fix. Sold by the Albion to Spurs in the wake of the 1983 FA Cup Final (in which he’d scooped the BBC’s Man of the Match Award for his outstanding performances over the two games), Gary had gone straight into the first team and, with hindsight, stopped doing the things which had put him on Tottenham’s shopping list in the first place. While trying to impress, his game was starting to come undone. What’s more, sections of the White Hart Lane crowd were onto him.

“The boo-boys really went to town on me, justifiably perhaps,” Gary once told me. “I think I got a little bit ahead of my status, started to believe I was better than I was. I was taking liberties, trying to be too clever, and I was getting caught out.”

Why is this story relevant right here, right now, besides Gary having played for both the Albion and Spurs? Because it was another ex-Albion and Spurs ‘face’, a certain Mr Alan Mullery, who helped deliver him from the hole he found himself in.

‘Mullers’, it should be said, was the man who’d signed Gary to his first professional contract back in 1978 as manager of the Seagulls – he cared, in other words.

“He’d [Mullery] been to a Spurs match and he called me up the following day and just said, ‘Keep it simple. It looks like every time you get the ball you’re out to impress. Well don’t. Do the basic things well – head it away, tackle, pass it – and the rest will come.’ And of course he was right.”

Gary, it should be said, won a UEFA Cup winners’ medal at the end of the 1983/84 season, the equivalent of today’s Europa League, and went to the 1986 World Cup with England. Alan’s advice paid off, in other words.

We’re not exactly peas in a pod, the Albion and Spurs, but we do have more in common than you might think, as the above story goes to show. Just stop to consider some of the key personnel who’ve served on either ship.

We’re talking about the likes of Yves Bissouma, Bobby Zamora, Gerry Armstrong, Martin Chivers, Mel Hopkins, Joe Kinnear, Neil McNab, Gary O’Reilly and Guy Butters, names that may or may not mean much to you depending on which generation you hail from.

Then you’ve got key figures such as Chris Hughton, Peter Suddaby and the aforementioned Mullers, who managed or coached at either club. The ley lines might not be as defined as, say, between the Albion and Fulham (two clubs that share countless ex-personnel), but they’re most certainly there.

And yet, despite the pedigree of those guys, there’s one name which blasts all the others into oblivion in terms of newspaper column inches achieved – or at least it did back in the mid-1960s. Imagine if Harry Kane had signed for League Two Colchester United this summer instead of Bayern Munich. It just wouldn’t happen, right? Wrong. In 1964, Bobby Smith was one of the most admired centre-forwards in the country. An integral member of Tottenham’s 1961 double-winning side, the burly Yorkshireman was also an England regular whose partnership with Jimmy Greaves had yielded 31 international goals between them over the course of just 13 matches spanning 1962 and 1963.

As recently as November of the latter, Bobby had pulled on the famous white shirt for the first match ever to be played under floodlights at Wembley, he and Greaves sharing five goals against Northern Ireland. 

The man could have walked into virtually any side, yet when Tottenham made it clear he could leave, the 31-year-old chose to join the Albion, then in the old Fourth Division but looking to mount a promotion challenge having been relegated to the Football League’s bottom tier for the first time in our history in 1963. 

It was the biggest signing the Albion had ever made. Almost 60 years later, looking at all the evidence, I still don’t think we’ve made a bigger one in terms of shock value.

Where was the catch? Well, there wasn’t one. Bobby scored twice on his debut against Barrow at the Goldstone Ground and went on to notch a total of 20 goals in 33 appearances as Albion finished the 1964/65 season as Fourth Division champions.

If ever a player put the Albion on the map, albeit in the long-gone sepia era of the sixties, then it was Bobby Smith. Here’s to the Harry Kane of his time.

By Spencer Vignes

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