Spurs and Northfleet (now Ebbsfleet)

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Ebbsfleet are on the brink of extinction and are pleading for help (http://fleet-trust.co.uk/donate-now.php )

However, did you realise that in their former life as Northfleet, they were our "nursery" club?

I dug this up as a potted history of those days, for whoever may be interested.

Tottenham’s relationship with Northfleet appears to have been initiated by the junior club in March 1922
when they attempted to recruit reserve full back Jimmy Ross from White Hart Lane as their manager.
Northfleet offered terms of £8 per week, suggesting that £1 of this might be paid by Spurs in return for
their having first call on any players over a three-year period. The offer was rejected, but in May of that
year a formal agreement was made between the two clubs, unfortunately the Tottenham board minutes
provide no further information on the nature of this deal. However, the Northfleet club were experiencing
financial problems and in February of 1923 the situation reached crisis point. “Northfleet are passing
through one of the worst seasons from a financial standpoint, that has fallen to them so far in their
history,” noted the Gravesend & Dartford Reporter. (3 February 1924) This was something of an
understatement, however, for the club was in grave danger of folding with expenses well adrift of the
income from gate receipts. The reasons given were familiar: high local unemployment and a run of poor
results were keeping the fans away and drastic surgery was needed. Manager Bert Lipsham was sacked,
star player ‘Jerry’ Barnett was sold to Spurs with W Pilcher moving from White Hart Lane to Northfleet.
The club now adopted a policy of playing a team of promising youngsters rather than experienced
professionals, thus reducing their expenses considerably, and this appears to represent the start of a more
formal relationship with Spurs. From the summer of 1923 up to half-a-dozen youngsters were placed at
Northfleet, the first intake including Harry Skitt and Bill Lane. The former Falkirk player Billy Houston
also arrived at the same time, apparently to take on the role of senior professional. Northfleet held an
annual pre-season trial match behind closed doors at White Hart Lane under the watching eye of the
Spurs’ management, but otherwise there was rarely any public recognition of the relationship between the
two clubs. Spurs were still farming out players elsewhere and the evidence suggests that the transition to
full nursery status did not take place until the summer of 1931. It is from this point that Spurs installed
Jimmy Anderson as trainer, from when the two clubs effectively shared staff, and also when the Spurs’
handbook officially acknowledges the existence of the relationship.

How did the nurseries operate in practise? The former Spurs player Ron Burgess provides a detailed
account of life at Northfleet in his autobiography:
Each Saturday those members of the ground-staff who were registered playing members of the
Northfleet club, would meet at the Tottenham ground to board a coach for London Bridge. There we
caught a train for Northfleet, or wherever we were playing in Kent, for we were members of the Kent
Senior League. ... We were a young side at Northfleet, for the average age of the lads, with the
exception of our skipper and centre-half, Jack Coxford, could not have been more than 19 years. Jack
was the “old head” amongst that bunch of sprightly youth, and what he didn’t know about the game
wasn’t worth knowing! He did his best to impart some of his knowledge and experience to us by his
grand example and influence. ... The football played in the Kent Senior League was far better than
anything I had encountered up to that time. It was hard and the opposition was robust, but it did us no
harm, for it taught us the value of all-out effort for the whole of the ninety minutes of each game.
(Ron Burgess, Football: My Life, London, 1952, pp 27-29)

The Spurs players trained at White Hart Lane during the week under Jimmy Anderson and only
travelled to Kent on match days. This was in contrast to the situation at Margate, where the Woolwich
youngsters lived and trained locally. Both, however operated on similar principles, with a manager
employed by the parent club and an experienced professional or two to guide a team essentially
comprising teenagers. Clapton Orient, who had a nursery arrangement with Ashford Town during the
1934-35 season, similarly appointed their own manager, Tommy Lucas, to run the team.

Tottenham seem to have done much better in the long term from their nursery arrangement than the
Gunners. Certainly the arrangement was much more stable - Woolwich faced a number of administration
problems in the early days of their relationship with Margate, firstly over their wish to play the
strongest team in the Southern League (they were eventually forced to give precedence to Kent League
fixtures for 1934-35) and secondly when they were eliminated from the FA Cup over player
registration discrepancies. A total of 37 players appeared in the Football League for Spurs after
developing at Northfleet, nine of whom went on to gain full international honours. Margate, which
served as a nursery for only four years, was not so productive, many of the youngsters only managing
just a handful of appearances for the Gooners, although often featuring for other clubs later in their
careers. The Isle of Thanet Gazette of 4 September 1937 listed a total of 20 players who had previously
been associated with the Margate nursery and had moved on. Only one of these, Reg Lewis, proved a
significant figure at Highbury, and although most of the others played in the Football League only one,
Mal Griffiths, went on to appear at international level. Reference to Jeff Harris’s Woolwich Who’s Who
suggests that only 13 players in total progressed from Margate to make a senior appearance for the
Gunners, two of whom, Griffiths and Horace Cumner won full international caps, while a third,
George Marks, appeared for England during the war. It should be noted, however, that Woolwich were
one of the country’s top clubs in the late 1930s, with a side packed full of stars, whereas Spurs were a
Second Division club. Woolwich must have regarded the venture as a success for when the agreement
with Margate fell through at the end of 1937-38 they set up an ‘A’ team which played in the Southern
League during the following season operating from Enfield’s ground.
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