Former Tottenham ‘keeper doesn’t have any regrets
Chris Day looks back at his time at White Hart Lane and explains why he doesn’t regret leaving his boyhood club
THERE weren’t many players in the Stevenage dressing room more delighted than Chris Day when Tottenham Hotspur’s number was picked out of the hat after Boro’s during the FA Cup Fifth Round draw at Wembley last month.
The 36-year-old, who was born and raised a Spurs supporter in Walthamstow, East London, joined the Premier League club straight from school at the tender age of 15. It was an unbelievable time, according to the Boro stopper, who was all of a sudden playing alongside the icons of which he held in such high regard. It was a successful time, too, and it didn’t take long for him to catch the attention of England scouts and make his international debut for the U18s and then the U21s.
However, his dream of becoming the number one at White Hart Lane never materialised after Day himself made the decision to leave his boyhood club at the age of 20 – despite being offered the chance to stay. It was decision he doesn’t regret, but he admits there are still times when he wonders how his career would have panned out if he would have stayed in North London.
“I was brought up in Walthamstow and Spurs were my local team as the crow flies across Walthamstow reservoir,” explained the Stevenage stopper. “My mum grew up in Tottenham and she supports them too and that was bedded into me from an early age. I left school in 1992 – the year after Spurs won the FA Cup – and I was still 15 at the time. One minute I was at school and the next minute I was learning my trade with all the players I had posters of on my bedroom wall so it was a tough upbringing straight away from school.
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“In my second year there I managed to break into the [England] U18 squad then U21 squad. I managed to get a bit of recognition playing for Tottenham, and I think it came from playing for one of the bigger clubs with a very good youth set up so you used to get a few more national scouts come down to watch you. It was a great experience and I got to meet some fantastic footballers in my time [with England] who we’ve all seen go to bigger and better things at international level.
“Over the three years in the youth team at Tottenham we had the likes of Jamie Clapham, Stephen Carr, Sol Campbell, Nicky Barmby, Andy Turner – who went straight into the first team at 17 – Darren Caskey and loads more. I then went to Crystal Palace for a year, then Watford for four years and then QPR for four years so at that time I was doing the rounds around the M25. And obviously coming full circle I made the trip up the A1 but I’ve lived in Stevenage for 16 years.
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“It was my decision to leave Spurs,” he continued. “I got offered a new four-year deal. Back then there was money in the Premier League but the young players weren’t getting big money at all. One minute you’re on �35 quid a week as a YTS, and it didn’t jump up a great deal when you became a pro. So there was quite a few of us that didn’t get offered fantastic contracts but in those days you didn’t get opportunities as young players in the Carling Cup and players didn’t tend to go out on loan.
“I looked at it and thought I possibly wasn’t going to play for the next couple of seasons and I got a good offer to play at Crystal Palace and I was brought in at the time to replace Nigel Martyn, which was going to be no easy task.
“I was only 20 at the time so it was very tough learning curve for me and I would have loved to have stayed at Tottenham but it was a different dynamic back then. The wages that are offered to the young lads these days, the clubs tie them up in golden handcuffs and they aren’t expected to make their debuts until a little bit later. Whereas back then I was getting itchy feet by the age of 20 and looking back maybe it would have been better for me to have stayed, who knows, but I certainly went and learned a lot about myself in the years following Tottenham and I like to think what I learned through playing alongside the likes of Alec Chamberlain at Watford has stood me in good stead for the position I’m in now at Stevenage.”
A career spanning nearly two decades and almost 400 appearances for 10 clubs suggests he is right. And this Sunday, 15 years after leaving his boyhood club, Day will line up against Tottenham for a game he thought might never come along.
“Every year that the FA Cup comes around but you do just think whether you are running out of time to get a game like this,” he said. “These games that have got that little bit of added spice. This year it’s a big club coming down and it’s great to see the queues for tickets and the buzz in the town.”
Harry Redknapp’s team booked their place in Sunday’s tie with a rather fortunate 1-0 win over Watford at Vicarage Road. And when asked if he felt Spurs’ lacklustre display that night serves as an indication they may not be up for a trip to the Lamex Stadium, Day was quick to point out the quality of their Premier League opponents.
“They had a very strong team and I think what you have to do is give credit to Watford,” he added. “They got their game plan right, played with a good tempo and I was very impressed with them so credit to them for that. But it’s all well and good saying Watford were the better team, the result clearly says Watford nil Tottenham one. So it will be interesting because there are a few lads that need game time like Jermain Defoe and Louis Saha, so you’ve got full international players that will probably get starts at the weekend.
“The cup has always been a tradition for Tottenham down the years, and until Manchester United had their resurgence they were the record holders in the cup so it’s a competition that is always taken very seriously down there. We’re all aware of their players and their strengths and I’m sure whoever is playing will be right up for it because if they’re not a first team regular this is game-time for them, and Spurs have got a big month coming up.”
Despite the hysteria among Boro supporters before the match, Day insists he and his team-mates will not just turn up and hope for an upset to unfold. But instead they will go in with a gameplan clear in their minds of how to put pressure on Spurs – a blueprint that worked wonders last season when they conquered Newcastle United at the Third Round stage.
“Newcastle was a fantastic day last year in the third round of the cup,” he added. But this one – if we manage to get a result – we’re looking at the quarter finals. Dare we dream? Yes. But it’s not a matter of dreaming ‘if’ it happens, it’s a matter of dreaming ‘how’ we do it. So when I go to bed at night I’m going to be thinking what we need to do to give ourselves the best possible chance.”