As a football writer and lifelong Spurs supporter I often get asked, who is my favourite player of all time for Tottenham Hotspur. The trouble is there have been so many good players at White Hart Lane over the years that it is not an easy choice to make. Some I have had the pleasure of seeing and some unfortunately I have not.
So if I keep to the obvious ones Danny Blanchflower, Jimmy Greaves, Gary Mabutt, Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Ricky Villa, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, David Ginola, Gary Lineker, Teddy Sheringham, Jurgen Klinsman, Ray Clemence, Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane, with most of these names being players I have seen play over the years for Tottenham.
Sorry if I have missed anyone out or included anyone you think not worthy, but as I say Spurs have had the privilege of some fantastic players putting on the white shirt at the North London club over the years. However, my all-time favourite Tottenham player is not on the list above either. Nor do I think that he would make the list of any fly-by-night Spurs fan, for the player that has stuck in my mind since I had the complete and utter privilege of watching him play for Tottenham, as I was a young teenager in the 80’s is one Graham Roberts.
Now Roberts might not have been blessed with the skill of most of the players on the list above, for this was a defender, who did not know how to give 100% because he always gave more, much more. Roberts, was the type of player that if you were picking teams in the school playground, you would pick him first and simply for the reason that you would rather have him on your side than have to play against him. For Roberts was the type of player that if he were to die trying to score a goal or prevent one then he would have felt that his life was worthwhile.
Roberts arrived at White Hart Lane in 1980 from Weymouth aged 21 and a relative unknown, which raised questions of the then Tottenham manager Keith Burkinshaw. Now during this period at Spurs, Burkinshaw already had flair players like Hoddle along with 1978 World Cup winners Villa and Ardiles at The Lane, with most of the plaudits for the two FA Cups wins in 1981 & 1982 along with the UEFA Cup win in 1984 going to this trio, although Villa had left before the UEFA Cup triumph to earn a final payday in the United States, with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
You see I don’t think Spurs would have won anything without Roberts in this period. His never say die attitude and his willingness to give his all until the 90 minutes was up inspired those around him and most definitely inspired me. For Roberts would have carried on if a match, was 900 minutes long giving more than 100%. He simply did not know any other way.
But Roberts was more than a defender who gave his all. He scored goals to and vital ones and had he chosen to play upfront at an early age would have scored even more. For to get between Roberts and the ball, was taking your life in your own hands, because Roberts simply wanted to get to the ball more than any opponent he ever faced.
So why is he my favourite player? Simple Roberts gave me my three best moments as a Spurs fan, better than Gazza’s free kick against Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final at the old Wembley, better than Villa’s wonder goal against Manchester City in the FA Cup final replay in 1981 and better than Hoddle’s 35-yard volley past Peter Shilton in his prime against Nottingham Forest. Even better than the 40-yard goal that the Argos Beckham scored against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium recently.
The first incident was in the same game as the Villa wonder-goal, Roberts was involved in a collision and as a result had three of his teeth knocked out. Against doctor’s advice he remained on the pitch completed the full 90 minutes and Spurs won the FA Cup. Would that happen nowadays? Of course not, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba knocked out Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidić's teeth out in a match recently and the Serbian defender was duly stretchered off the pitch not to return. Medical fact that you can't walk if your teeth fall out and Vidić is considered tough by modern standards, but wouldn't have lasted five minutes against Roberts.
The second incident was in the second leg of the UEFA Cup final in 1984 against Belgian side Anderlecht, with Tottenham 1-0 down from the first leg in Belgium and only 5 minutes left on the clock at White Hart Lane, Roberts popped up to score the equaliser and take the game into extra-time, which Spurs eventually won on penalties.
The third incident like the first was all what Roberts was about. Arsenal had signed Charlie Nicholas from Celtic, whose playboy image off the pitch had earned him the nickname ‘Champagne Charlie’. Nicholas was the complete opposite of Roberts in fact they were worlds apart in how they played the game. Roberts was never one for fancy dans or reputations as Nicholas found out in a North London derby, when a crunching tackle from Roberts put the Scot into the stands and became a true hero in my eyes. The White Hart Lane faithful even started a chant about this incident, such was the glee of seeing ‘Champagne Charlie’ climb back over the advertising hoardings looking a little shaken to say the least.
So that is why Roberts is my favourite Tottenham player of all time, because he gave his all, was a true hardman in every sense of the word and inspired others around him, while being perfectly happy to not be in the limelight and just be playing the game he loved.
Graham Roberts I salute you.
For some reason Roberts was only capped for England 6 times and when he left Spurs enjoyed success, with both Glasgow Rangers and Chelsea before finishing his professional career at West Bromwich Albion.