The highest praise Steve Perryman gives is to describe something as “proper”. It means doing something not only in the best way, but the right way. This is a proper book by a proper human being and a proper club legend, eschewing the bland anecdotes and lack of insight or original thought that too often mark out footballer’s autobiographies.
For Spurs fans it’s essential reading, for football fans everywhere it’s an engaging and thought-provoking read from a football man whose quality and contribution is still not properly recognised. In times like these it is a welcome addition to the body of literature on the game, and credit must go to my long-time friend and writing colleague Adam Powley for getting Steve’s voice into print so accurately. Having been lucky enough to meet Steve, my boyhood hero and the first player I ever got an autograph from (after Bristol City home, 1979) I can vouch for the authenticity of what you read. This is undoubtedly Steve telling his story in his way.
The opening chapters detail Steve’s early life in west London, and he paints a warm, vivid picture of the circumstances in which he grew up, his family and the values that were central to the community he came from. It sets the tone for the rest of the tale, with Steve’s humanity and honesty shining through. There’s no false modesty – Steve is well aware of his abilities – but no self-aggrandisement either. He strives for the best and respects those he works with because it’s the right thing to do, and he expects the same of everyone else. Proper.
What comes through clearly in this section is the connection Steve felt with Tottenham Hotspur from the beginning, a connection that firmly embedded his affection for the club and why – as the title says – he considers himself A Spur Forever. He provides a fascinating inside view through the eyes of a teenager who came into the Club as Bill Nicholson was building his second great side, who reached the heights of success and who went through the years of decline and rebirth to lead that great team of the early 1980s that I grew up watching.
There’s lots of fascinating inside perspective, some great – and funny – stories and plenty of honest assessment. One of the things that won’t be familiar to many is just how forward-thinking the Burkinshaw regime was, and this is one of the book’s most enjoyable parts. Steve also drops in, throughout the book, many a small observation about a particular aspect of the game – how to tackle, track a run, anticipate a second ball – that underline how seriously he takes his craft. It’s fascinating stuff.
Less comfortable reading is the tale of how Steve’s playing career with the club ended, and of his return as assistant to his great friend Ossie Ardiles when the Argentine legend was appointed manager. Steve’s honest enough to admit that, after 866 games for Spurs – a club record that will surely never be surpassed – he wasn’t able to deliver what was needed on the pitch. But his departure could and should have been handled better. This was the start of the Irving Scholar and Paul Bobroff era, football was changing, and the attitude and values Steve treasured were being cast aside.
There’s a thoughtful and informative chapter on Steve’s career as player, player-manager and then manager at Oxford United, Brentford and Watford before attention is turned to what he describes as one of the worst decisions he ever made – coming back to Spurs.
When Spurs and Ossie came calling, Steve felt he couldn’t refuse the offer, despite starting to achieve things at Watford and having a very good relationship with the club’s chairman, Jack Petchey. He rapidly discovered values within the club he loved had changed, and this chapter makes painful reading. It details why, as Steve says, he ended up falling out of love with Spurs and with football. No line sums up the damage wrought by the regime of Alan Sugar and Claude Littner more clearly than when Steve says of the club’s approach: “Word of this kind of behaviour spread like wildfire in football. ‘Tottenham have gone. They are not to be dealt with. Tottenham don’t give and take.’” Steve’s point is that the way you do business affects the business you do – a message this writer feels still needs to be made – and when he parted company with the club it was in unedifying circumstances. He says: “I could see the club’s reputation sliding out of the door” and confesses “it got so bad I didn’t want to see Spurs win a game while he [Sugar] was in charge.” As he says ruefully: “For Steve Perryman to think that… grim times”.
Steve got his mojo back in Japan, and his account of his time there provide a real lift after the gloom of the previous chapter. He clearly has a huge amount of respect for the country, the people and the game. There are some telling insights there, the one that struck me particularly was that full-time club doctors were considered essential in Japan at a time when – and let’s not forget we are talking about the late 1990s here – only three top-flight clubs in England had them.
The account concludes with a warm account of Steve’s time at Exeter City – which includes some telling observations on the value and the limits of supporter involvement in football clubs – and a moving exposition of the heart attack that nearly finished him off. What’s particularly pleasing is hearing of how Steve has also made his peace with his club, thanks to the efforts of the current board to bring him back into the fold. Credit where it’s due, the Levy regime has got plenty right as well as wrong, and it’s clear how much being back on good terms means to Steve.
This book is a lovely piece of work, and absolutely recommended if you like your reading proper.