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Paul Miller On Spurs, Keith Burkinshaw And Domestic And European Success

Paul Miller On Spurs, Keith Burkinshaw And Domestic And European Success

An interview with Paul Miller, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You came through the youth system at Tottenham Hotspur before going on to represent the first team at the club on over 200 occasions. How special was that for you and for your family?

“It was truly special because I joined the club at the age of 13 and worked my way through the ranks to the first team which was a dream come true. 

“I actually made my debut for the first team against Arsenal which was an unbelievable way to arrive in the first team. Those games are always special given the rivalry and the passion of the fans to make sure that we win those games at all costs.”

You spent some time on loan at a Norwegian club, Skeid Fotball, as a young player. How useful was that loan experience in your development?

“The club were playing in the second division as I was approaching an age that I could be realistically considered for the first team and I wanted to play games.

“I was probably driving our manager Keith Burkinshaw mad by asking him if I could get an opportunity in the team. 

“A few of my other teammates such as Alan Brazil went on loan to the USA. Alan joined a team called Detroit Express and I also had an opportunity to go on loan to the USA.

“However, when I spoke to Steve Perryman for some advice about where I should go on loan from the options that I had, he advised me to go to Norway. 

“He said that I could fully focus on my football out there free from any distractions whereas, in the States, that could be more challenging. 

“So, I went off to Norway and my team finished 3rd in the league which was a good season for us. 

“I also won the foreign player of the year award too so it was a successful loan that helped me develop and grow in stature as a player and as a person.

“Following that loan, I came back to Tottenham and established myself in the first team and the rest is history.”

You became an established first-team player for Tottenham Hotspur when World Cup winners Ricky Villa and Osvaldo Ardiles were at the club. What was it like to play alongside players of that stature? 

“Both of those players changed the trajectory of Tottenham immensely for the better at that time.

“We would normally have half a dozen journalists at the club looking for answers to questions previewing our upcoming games.

“However, when Ricky and Ossie arrived, thirty or forty journalists from all over the world would be around the club. Their impact was enormous.

“Keith Burkinshaw received a lot of stick from the UK press for signing them as foreign players were not the norm in our game at that time but he was proven right to sign players of their quality. 

“They brought a whole new approach to football and strengthened our team and the players that we already had. 

“The fans could see and appreciate their talent and to have two World Cup winners in our side was amazing for all of us.”

You won two FA Cups at Tottenham Hotspur – in 1981 against Manchester City and in 1982 against QPR. What was the build-up to the FA Cup final like in that era?

“Playing on occasions such as the FA Cup final are the reason that you become a footballer. 

“You want to play in the biggest games and compete for the biggest honours which the FA Cup was particularly in that era.

“The FA Cup final was one of the rare live TV games in the early part of my career because football on TV did not become widespread until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It was a monumental game to play in for that reason and many more.

“The whole atmosphere leading up to cup final day great too. We recorded an FA Cup record and appeared on shows such as Top of the Pops and Blue Peter to promote it. We got to number 3 in the U.K. charts which is not bad at all (laughs).”

What are your memories of your first FA Cup success against Manchester City in the ‘81 final?

“The overwhelming memory of the first final in 1981 against Manchester City was how a tough game it was.

“We drew 1-1 which meant that the final would go to a replay that would also be played at Wembley. 

“It was the first time that a replay of a final would be played at Wembley. 

“In the replay, we had even more fans supporting us, probably two-thirds of the crowd were Tottenham fans which made it even more special. 

“We won 3-2 against Manchester City and many people remember the game for the brilliance of Ricky Villa who scored two superb goals to help us on our way to victory. 

“Lifting the cup for the first time was a wonderful moment and to be able to succeed in such a game in front of my family was emotional. 

“It made me think back to being a kid who dreamed of such times when they seemed like a dream whereas now it was a reality.

“It was a wonderful occasion and one of the best days that I had in football.”

How did retaining the cup in 1982 against QPR compare to your first success?

“The second final against QPR was similar in the sense that it also went to a replay after a 1-1 draw in the first game. What are the chances of that?

“Younger football fans are used to extra time and penalties deciding finals now but going a replay was the norm in those days if a final ended in a draw. 

“As players, going to a replay did not faze us because we had been there before and we were excited to play at Wembley again.

“There is no better feeling as a player than to know that you are playing at Wembley so there was no negativity in our minds approaching either replay.

“Similarly, in the QPR replay, we had two-thirds of the support with us that night too which spurred us on to victory with a Glenn Hoddle penalty deciding the game 1-0 in our favour.

“It was great to be able to win the cup in back-to-back years. It was a big thing to retain the cup. 

“It is rare for teams to retain any major cup trophy so that further emphasised just how strong a side we were.”

I have to ask you about Glenn Hoddle. He is one of the most gifted players in English football history. What was he like as a teammate?

“Glenn is two years older than me and I have known him since I was 13 years old

“He was my also roommate so I knew him very well and he remains a close friend of mine to this day.

“From a young age, he was an extraordinary footballer. There was no doubt that he would have a world-class career in the game because his talent was incredible.

“It was like he had a set of golf clubs on his feet because he could pick out any pass – short or long – that was required with ease. He was always in control of the ball and did whatever he set out to do with it.

“When he retired and managed England, he could still do things in training that none of the England players could do then and that was him retired. 

“He could hit free kicks with both feet and was comfortable at receiving the ball in any position. He scored great goals and made many great goals too. He was a dream to play alongside. He was a footballing genius. 

“We had three truly world-class players in our team during that era: Hoddle, Ardiles and Clemence. Not many teams have three players of that calibre in their team.”

As well as winning domestic trophies, under Keith Burkinshaw, you also won the UEFA cup in 1984 defeating Anderlecht in the final. How did playing in European football compared with domestic football? 

“Playing in Europe was different due to games being over two legs. That led to the tactical setup changing for games. 

“We were unlucky a few years before the UEFA cup success of 1984 when we got to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup winners cup in 1982. 

“We faced Barcelona in the semi-finals and they literally kicked us out of the competition. They physically smashed us to pieces with challenges that would have seen the game abandoned if it were played today. 

“The referee let them away with murder and they eliminated us. 

“That gave us more motivation for the UEFA cup in 1984 and that was such a tough tournament to win back then because only the champions qualified for the European Cup which allowed the other top sides to compete in the European cup.

“That meant that we had to face top sides throughout our UEFA cup campaign. 

“We beat Feyenoord and Bayern Munich on the route to the final which was a two-legged final in which we faced Anderlecht.

“I scored in the first leg of the final which was a proud moment for me. We drew 1-1 Belgium and also drew 1-1 at White Hart Lane in the return leg which meant the final would be decided on penalties.

“We won the shootout 4-3 which was an incredible feeling because the UEFA cup was such a tough tournament to win and such a prestigious tournament in that era too.”

You worked under Keith Burkinshaw for over a decade at Spurs. What was his approach like as a manager?

“Keith Burkinshaw was a Yorkshireman just as the legendary Bill Nicolson was. 

“He was a straight talker and he loved to see us play attractive football.

“An example of that for me is when he would sometimes shout at me and Graham Roberts for kicking our opponents during games (laughs). 

“We won two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup under him so he did a good job overall but unfortunately, he was sacked after our European success by our new chairman Irving Scholar. 

“The reason Keith left was due to Irving wanting a say in the players that came in and went out of the football club which Keith refused.”

Following a decade in the first team at Spurs, you played for clubs such as Charlton, Watford and Bournemouth. How would you sum up your career post-Tottenham?

“David Pleat took over towards the end of my time at the club. He was a good manager at Luton Town but Tottenham was too big a jump for him in my opinion. It was like moving from managing a corner shop to managing Harrods.

“He was out of his depth and many players including myself were moved on which led to me joining Charlton. 

“When I joined Charlton, we were in a relegation battle with ten games to go and we managed to stay up which was a success. 

“I then reached a playoff final with Watford a few years later which was another good achievement before I had issues with my knees.

“I went to Bournemouth to work under Harry Redknapp which I enjoyed but in the end, I retired at the age of 32 because I knew that it was the right time for me given my knee issues.”

You mentioned your close friend Alan Brazil earlier. Many readers will know him solely as a broadcaster, what was he like as a footballer?

“Alan was a superb footballer. I first played against him when he was a youth player at Ipswich and I was a youth player at Tottenham. 

“Then, he joined Tottenham after he had broken into the first team at Ipswich and from there, we became great friends. 

“Football teams socialised a lot together back then and Alan fitted into our social group straight away. 

“He was such a strong and quick footballer with a great left foot. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious back injury in his mid-twenties which never allowed him to have the longevity that his talent merited. 

“Now, as you say, he is a great broadcaster and believe it or not, I did his first ever radio show on Talksport with him. I actually negotiated his first broadcasting contract too and he has went on to become a radio legend.”

Finally Paul, as a defender, which forward players were the toughest that you faced?

“Strike partnerships were big when I played so faced up against some great pairings.

“Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush would be number one. Both incredibly intelligent footballers. 

“Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp were a formidable pairing too as were Gary Thomas and Cyril Regis of West Brom. 

“Peter Withe and Gary Shaw at Aston Villa and Tony Woodcock and Trevor Francis at Nottingham Forest were tough too. Both of those pairs were European cup winning strike forces such was the depth of talent back then. 

“Earlier in my career, I also faced Joe Jordan and Lou Macari who were never easy to play against.

“Overall, I have great memories of my career and I am fortunate to have made friends for life through the game too.”


  • comment-avatar
    Clive Lever 1 year ago

    Great article from a great player in a successful team with fantastic team spirit. I wonder how many of today’s Spurs squad will form the lasting friendships and comraderie that 80s squad formed with each other.