Alan Mullery's star was on the rise from a very young age when he starred in West London Schools football and was picked up by Fulham in 1957 with a professional deal signed within a year, at the age of 17. His talent was fast-tracked into the first XI and within two months, he had made his full debut and his talent kept him in the team amongst more experienced players such as England international forward Johnny Haynes. A talented right-half, his ability to win the ball to provide possession for other sin the team was a much prized asset for.
Raised in Notting Hill and attended St. John's School and played as an outside right or centre-forward when at school, but switched to right half when selected for West London Schools. Alan had been a member of the Rugby Boy's Club in Notting Hill when younger and boxed, played cricket and football for the club.
Moved to Tottenham in March 1964, when he had made the England Under-23 team and at White Hart Lane, he went on to win 35 full caps for his country. But things could have been so different, with Bill Nicholson identifying Mullery as a right back, rather than to play in his usual midfield position. He would have won caps for his country earlier, but Alan suffered a back spasm when shaving just before he was due to travel on England's South American summer tour in 1964.
He read in the paper that Tottenham were looking for a replacement for broken leg victim Dave Mackay, with Mullery and Bobby Moore their targets, Fulham's general manager was Frank Osborne, a former Spurs forward of the 1920s and when he called Mullery to see him the next day, the player recalls that he was told that it was “all paper talk, they want Mooro. I've got it on good information.” So, he didn't think any more about it … until three weeks later, when, on a Friday night at his Worcester Park home, preparing for a game against Liverpool, he was phoned by Osborne, who wanted him to make the 10 minute journey to Epsom.
Mullery found the general manager sitting in an armchair with his trilby on his head and his jacket on, with a glass of whisky in his hand. He offered Alan a sherry, but the player responded that he did not like sherry and had to be back in bed for tomorrow's game, so demanded to know what he had called him over for. “I remember when you first came to Fulham as a 15 year old and used to clean my Sunbeam Rapier. I was never happy with the way you cleaned it and it came to signing your contract, you wanted this and you wanted that. I nearly had a heart attack.”
When Mullery asked why he was there, he was told “Bill Nicholson is coming over. He wants to sign you for Tottenham.” The player did not want to leave, but the chairman had agreed a fee and was expecting him to go. Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily arrived and Bill asked if Mullery could play full-back. They had another midfielder lined up to further strengthen the side if Mullery could play in defence. “I'm not interested. I don't want to come. I'm being forced out of Fulham by (chairman) Tommy Trinder and the board. Take me as a midfielder or don't take me at all.”
Bill wanted Mullers to play for Fulham the following day against Liverpool and beat them, so it would help Tottenham's cause. He swore Alan to secrecy (apart from his wife) and would return at 7:00 p.m. to get the forms signed. Mullery failed to get any sleep and turned up at the ground, keeping his secret to himself, until at half time, with Fulham beating the Reds 1-0, Johnny Haynes asked the midfielder what he was doing after the game. “Going to Tottenham,” Mullery replied.
“Is there a dance ?” asked his skipper.
“No. I'm being transferred. I'm signing straight after the game.”
Haynes went mad and went to see team manager Bedford Jezzard to ask him if he knew Mullery was joining Spurs. Jezzard then went to confront Trinder and Osborne and when he had his answer, he walked out of the ground and didn't go back. However, Fulham hung on for the 1-0 win without a manager and Alan Mullery left after the game to sign for Tottenham.
Bought by Nicholson to start his re-building after the break up of the Double team, Mullery was the man to take over Danny Blanchflower's mantle. Big boots to fill, Alan found it tough to win over the Spurs crowd and his first year was a battle to persuade them that his dynamic, hard-working style was suited to the way football had developed. He replaced another Double hero, in Dave Mackay, as captain when the Scot left in 1968 for Derby County.
His move to White Hart Lane had brought him to the attention of the FA selectors and he made the England team, getting sent off against Yugoslavia in the European Championship finals in 1968 and becoming the first England player to do so in the process. However, he recovered his good graces with the men in blazers and was among the squad picked to defend the World Cup in Mexico in 1970, where he scored in the 2-3 quarter-final defeat to West Germany. Later still, he captained England on one occasion.
With Tottenham re-establishing themselves as a cup side, he was in the side that beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the League Cup final in 1971, lifting the trophy after struggling to overcome the Third Division side.
Mullery had been suffering with a deep-seated pelvic condition after the World Cup and had missed a fair chunk of the season, even being loaned to Fulham to get him playing again, although it was only on Mullery's insistence after Bill Nick wouldn't play him because he felt he wasn't fit. A month's loan was agreed with Bill Dodgin, the Fulham boss and four games later, with Mullery proving his fitness, the Easter programme of fixtures was looming. A phone call from Bill Nicholson enquired about how he was doing. “OK,” said Mullery, but the Spurs manager knew this already as he had scout Charlie Faulkner watching every game and he had noted Mullery was the best player in the team.
“On Monday morning, get your boots and get back over here. John Pratt's broken his nose, Phil Beal's injured and we are playing AC Milan,” Nicholson told him.
He felt a bit of an outsider, having not trained with the first team for three months, but he was given the captaincy back in his first game and with Spurs contesting four competitions, he was recalled near the end of the season, with the team heading for a UEFA Cup semi-final against AC Milan. Mullery also scored a cracking volley at Highbury in a win over Arsenal as the team went 11 games unbeaten at the end of the season.
His 25 yarder that hit the net in the San Siro earned a draw on the night and an aggregate victory to see Spurs through to the final against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Not the most exotic of opposition, but a beatable one and having won away in the first leg, the game at the Lane was set alight when Mullery threw himself head-long at the ball in the six yard box and was injured in the process of scoring what became a vital goal, with Wolves equalising eleven minutes later. Both goals were important and when Mullery was lifted off the pitch shoulder high by Spurs fans after collecting the huge trophy, little did many of them know that this was to be his last appearance for the club.
Having completed pre-season training without a problem with his groin injury, he felt fit and ready to go, but Bill Nicholson took him aside and told him that Spurs were looking for another midfielder.
“It wasn't a surprise. You were never assured of your place. You accepted Bill for what he was. There was no grandeur about him, but he was one of the great, great managers.”
Spurs did not want to let the midfielder go, but it was his “emphatic wish” to leave the club, preferring to leave while at the top. Fulham were pleased to have Mullery back in June 1972 and spent a further four years at Craven Cottage, including a run to the 1975 FA Cup final, where the Cottagers lost to West Ham United. He played with George Best and Rodney Marsh as Fulham attracted some skilful players and become great entertainers.Mullery retired in May 1976, having played 374 games for Spurs hitting 30 goals and Alan also played 364 matches for Fulham and scored 37 goals.
Awarded a MBE and became manager of Brighton and Hove Albion (July 1976 - June 1981 and 1986 - January 1987), Charlton Athletic (July 1981), Crystal Palace (June 1982-May 1984) and QPR (July - December 1984), before taking up a part-time position as a football pundit on radio and TV.