The man that the Spurs crowd nicknamed "The Charmer" did so with good reason and although he was unlucky enough to play in the Spurs side that won little, his skilful play lit up many a dull afternoon. While slight in appearance and not more than nine stone when dripping wet, Tommy Harmer made the ball obey his every whim and the number of what are now called assists for others to score are too numerous to mention.
Tommy was a player who dedicated most of his footballing life to Tottenham and although he later went on to play for Chelsea and Watford, he will always be remembered for his years at White Hart Lane. Indeed when he married his wife Jean, they bought a house in Wood Green and still lived there until he died. His was a familiar face around Tottenham and he loved to return to the Lane to watch the current Spurs team play. He was always a welcome visitor.
Born and bred in the heartland of East London, Harmer soon progressed through the schools football system in Hackney, where many a famous footballer had learned their trade. It was here that he combined that with learning another trade - that of a apprentice warehouseman in a City printing company (Blades, East and Blades) - after he left London Fields LCC school at the age of 14.
Making his reputation on the pitch with Hackney Schools, Tottenham invited Tommy to sign amateur forms for the club in 1945 and he was a member of the Tottenham Juniors team that won three junior trophies in each of his first two seasons. Following his call-up for National Service, he played for his Army side in Bicester and for the British Army representative team.
Returning to the club, Harmer was promoted to the A team, with what amounted to a loan spell with Finchley to gain more first team experience before he signed on as a professional in August 1948. Being a member of the team that played the club's first game in the Eastern Counties League with the A team, he quickly progressed to playing for the Reserves in October 1948 and his performances and goal-scoring feats in the lower teams (30 goals in 100 games) impressed the management at the club, leading to him making his debut in a 2-1 home win over Bolton in 1951 just after Spurs had won the old First Division Championship. His popularity among the supporters meant he was well known before he made the first team and the fans applauded him off the pitch at the end of his first match for Tottenham. A fine entertainer with very good close skill and his diminutive size made him look easy to nudge off the ball, but he disproved that theory.
In September 1951, Harmermade a memorable debut for Tottenham Hotspur at home to Bolton Wanderers. The sturdily built Trotters players were made to look silly by his supreme ball control and cool command, much to the crowd’s delight. A shuffle, a quick wriggle of the hips, a mock kick at the ball, a back-heel volley and he’d escape.
The inside forward, playing alongside the strikers, made a reputation for his dribbling and set-up play, which earned him an England B cap in 1952 and a trial for the B squad against the British Olympic team later that season, but sadly he never made the breakthrough to the senior England team, which shows the attitude the selectors took at the time with skilful players and lead to the shocking 3-6 defeat by the talented Hungary side at Wembley that featured players who were all highly accomplished on the ball.
Tommy dedicated his career to helping Tottenham regain some of the former glories and when Bill Nicholson took over, he was a pivotal figure in the side and played a major part in the debut managerial win for Bill Nick; the 10-4 over Everton at White Hart Lane. Harmer scored once, but his impact on the game was much more involved, as he was a part of almost all the others goals, contributing to their creation.
The part played by Tommy Harmer in this period of restructuring by the club should not be under-estimated. A true Tottenham player with his skill, entertaining nature and the invention he brought to the game, Harmer's ability to better bigger and stronger opponents won him many plaudits and the fans loved him. Despite the best efforts to beef him up, Tommy remained a stick thin elusive presence on the field and that was the key to his success. His light-weight build allowed him to move with the ball like he was floating over the heavy pitches and to change direction with a drop of a shoulder or turn that left heavier opponents flat-footed. With his flicks and tricks, he evaded many a heavy tackle which might have caught slower dribblers. Unfortunately, Arthur Rowe did not share the opinion that Harmer would be that useful to the side when Eddie Baily was fit and the Charmer was pushed back down to the reserves.
Not given a regular place in the team, Tommy often asked for a transfer, but was not allowed to leave and it was only when Baily left to join Port Vale in 1956 that Harmer came into his own. His triumphant return to the first team saw him dictate the game against Doncaster Rovers in the FA Cup tie of 1956 sealed a regular starting position for the inside forward. However, even then, the new manager Jimmy Anderson doubted that Harmer would be as influential in the FA Cup semi-final that season and replaced him, with the team losing out, perhaps missing his innovative skill.
Learning from his mistake, Anderson made Harmer the mainstay of the side for the following four seasons and his performances were made more effective by the pairing of Danny Blanchflower behind him and Bobby Smith alongside him to help him with the supply and creation in the side. When Bill Nicholson took over, he used Harmer, but looked for a stronger runner and when Scotsman John White was signed, it was almost the beginning of the end for the will o' the wisp Harmer.
At the start of the 1960-61 season, the team went on their long unbeaten run and stuck in the second XI, Tommy once more asked to leave the club and Bill agreed, allowing him to link up with former team-mate Ron Burgess, who managed Watford. Two years there saw him enjoying his football again, then spending a short spell at the end of his top flight career with Chelsea, where he mixed his playing duties with coaching and scored the goal which got the Pensioners promoted to the top flight in 1963, before moving for a swansong season at Hastings United.
As he played most of his games in the reserves and junior sides, Tommy completed 232 games and scored 72 goals.