A player who arrived from non-league into the world of professional football and made a lasting impression on the fans at White Hart Lane and many of those who played against him. Never a dirty player, Graham Roberts became feared for his tough tackling image, but his background inured him from the high-profile attention many of his contemporaries enjoyed and the fans took him to their hearts as a cult figure, who enjoyed every drop of success that came his way as if he was one of them.
Raised on the South Coast, he had done the rounds of the professional teams there, being rejected by Southampton, Portsmouth and AFC Bournemouth (where he was a regular goal-scoring striker in the reserves under Harry Redknapp). While in the Portsmouth youth team, Roberts had to help his Dad with his market stall - waking up at 03:00 a.m. before going on to play for the youth team later in the morning. It was while at Pompey that he scored 49 goals in his first season in the youth side and he got a senior team outing in a pre-season friendly. Shortly after, Graham broke his ankle and the contract that was on offer from Portsmouth was withdrawn although he was allowed to use their facilities to get fit again. When he regained full fitness, Roberts signed up with Dorchester Town - a part-time, non-league side while working in the oil industry as a fitter's mate, after initially signing on the dole - before he decided to take his football assets to Weymouth.
His route to Tottenham was one which was quite fortuitous. Bill Nicholson had to change trains at Swindon on his way to see a player during his spell scouting for Tottenham. While there, he was engaged in conversation by a football fan, who had seen Weymouth and was regaling Bill Nick about the club's best player - Graham Roberts - leaving the former Spurs manager so impressed, that he changed his plans to go and take in a Weymouth game and he advised the current manager Keith Burkinshaw that he had better move quickly for the player, as West Bromwich Albion were also sniffing around him. With the temptation of £20,000 cash and and Spurs playing a friendly at the non-league club's ground, it was enough to seal a deal worth around £35,000, which was a non-league transfer record at the time.
His transition into the team came quickly, with a few substitute appearances before his debut at Anfield in place of his long-term partner in defence Paul Miller, who was injured. That was in December 1980 and he was in place alongside Miller once the FA Cup campaign started and stayed there all the way to Wembley, despite a late scare at the Hawthorns in the immediate run-up to the final when he was knocked out cold by West Bromwich Albion striker Cyrille Regis. This was nothing to what happened in the final match itself, when he ducked low to head a ball clear, while fellow defender Chris Hughton went to clear it with his boot, only to dislodge two of Roberts' teeth (which were never found on the Wembley turf). Although the first leg ended in a drab draw, against Manchester City the victory in the replay, also at Wembley, wiped away any pain that Graham might have suffered in the collision and he was one of many in the Tottenham team who won the FA Cup in their first full season.
By the time the following season arrived, Roberts was moved into midfield to put his ball-winning skills to their best effect. It didn't quite work out for him and he was not in the team that faced Liverpool in the League Cup final of 1982, where he might have matched the tough midfield of Liverpool that stamped itself on the Spurs side. He regained his place in the side when Ossie Ardiles left to go to Argentina to prepare for the World Cup finals of 1982 and he showed that there was more to his game than just the 'hard man' image he had been labelled with. He hit a hat-trick against Southampton, one of the teams which failed to take him on and in the FA Cup Final replay against Queens Park Rangers, it was his run from the halfway line that left opponent's in his wake and saw Tony Currie bring him down to give Glenn Hoddle the job of scoring from the penalty spot to notch the only goal and win the trophy for the second season in succession.
With Wembley becoming a second home for Tottenham during this spell in their history, it was perhaps no surprise that it welcomed Graham Roberts in an England shirt too. He made his debut for the national side on 28th May 1983 against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast, but his first game at Wembley for his country was against Scotland on 1st June 1983.
At the start of the 1982-83 season, Graham missed out through injury, but he was soon back in tandem with Paul Miller, as the side pushed on. His football improved as his time at Tottenham went on, with his use of the ball getting better. He also showed leadership qualities which came to fruition in the 1984 UEFA Cup final, when he took the captain's armband in the second leg, with Steve Perryman banned from the match after picking up a yellow card in the first leg. It was not just the fact that he got to lift the trophy after Spurs won on penalties against Anderlecht with the final finishing 2-2 on aggregate, but that it was his goal which took the game to that shoot-out.
Trailing 0-1 on the night and 1-2 on aggregate, the ball failed to go in, with Ossie Ardiles crashing a shot against the crossbar. It was cleared to Micky Hazard, who played the ball in and Roberts forced himself to the ball first through a crowd of players, taking the ball on his chest and ramming it into the net to level the aggregate score amid manic scenes in the stands. It was six minutes before the end of the match and gave Tottenham a psychological advantage when the final went to spot-kicks and he took a captain's role in stepping forward to slam home the first of the penalties to leave Anderlecht always playing catch up.
With the team trying to make a mark on the domestic league scene, the UEFA Cup challenge of the following season ended at Real Madrid and there was a moment in the 1984-85 season when it looked as if the club might sneak into the top spot come the end of the season. The vital game was against Everton at White Hart Lane, with Roberts scoring for Spurs to bring it back to 1-2, but his inspiration could not galvanise the team to an equaliser and the chances of the title slipped away.
By 1986 Peter Shreeve had departed and David Pleat arrived to take the manager's job. From the outside, it appeared that the player and the manger did not see eye to eye and it was perhaps no surprise that Roberts was allowed to leave and join Glasgow Rangers for £450,000 in December 1986.
His time at Rangers came when there was an influx of English players at the club and he enjoyed success on the pitch, as well as some notoriety for his behaviour in derby matches with Celtic. He won a title and an FA Cup winners medal, but in 1988 returned to London with Chelsea, helping them out of the Second Division as champions in 1988-89, before moving onto West Bromwich Albion, where he finished his career.
Began playing non-league at a variety of clubs, before taking up the mantle of management at a number of clubs, finishing with an unhappy departure at Clyde, where he took the club to a Scottish FA Cup win over Celtic, but was dismissed after allegedly making racist remarks on a pre-season tour; something that was later not proven.
His sudden rise to fame made Spurs fans like him from the start and his presence in the midfield as an 'enforcer' saw the team have a real hard man there for perhaps the first time since Dave Mackay. Always a welcome commentator on the fortunes of the club, there appears to be a rift between him and THFC, as he was not among those who attended the 125th anniversary match against Aston Villa in 2007, even though the club claim he was sent an invitation.