a shadow of a ghost

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Volume 2  Issue 48 - December 2005


The player famous for ghosting in unnoticed left the club in almost the same way.  For one so notable for his part in English football history, Justin Carrington feels he is not a player who was fondly taken to the hearts of Spurs fans.

A World Cup winner and scorer of a goal in the final, you would expect such a player to be exalted among Spurs fans, but despite all this Martin Peters has a strange relationship with the club. 

His arrival in March 1970 was one tinged with sadness.  As the player departing just happened to be scoring legend Jimmy Greaves, it was with some scepticism that Peters arrived with Spurs having paid a transfer record fee of £200,000 to bring him to White Hart Lane.  The fact that he arrived from West Ham United also did little to impress the Tottenham crowd, who had a love hate relationship with the Boleyners.  Scoring on his debut helped cement his reputation as an attacking midfielder in the Spurs tradition, but the match against Coventry City was lost 1-2. 

There was no doubting the ability of the man.  Feted as being ďten years ahead of his timeĒ by Sir Alf Ramsey, a man well known as being publicly reluctant to give praise to his players, Peters was a perceptive player.  Making blind side runs leaving his marker trailing in his wake became his trademark, with a great majority of these moves ending in goals as he drifted in behind the defence.  With Gilzean and Chivers in the side, they both benefited from his supply, both in squaring the ball back across the box from the far post or by heading back across goal for one of them to run in to knock the ball home. 

Peters was one of those players like Michael Carrick, of the current crop (who he has much been compared with), who make the game look easy.  Gliding across the turf, he hardly seemed to put effort into his game, but he covered a large amount of ground without seeming to, perhaps because much of his work was carried out off the ball.  The other comparison with Carrick comes from the amount of time he appears to have on the ball.  A shimmy here, a drop of the shoulder there, he made space for himself to play the pin-point passes for others to receive.  His passing was accurate and his movement off the ball shrewd to keep the other side on their toes, but mainly unable to keep up with him as he left them flat-footed. 

It wasnít that he didnít put the toil into the game, it just seemed like he didnít and when things didnít go right, he was one who got some stick as he didnít make the obvious runs that others did, usually into areas where the ball might be, but not being of much use to the side.  With players like Alan Mullery and Steve Perryman alongside him to do the tackling and tracking back, Peters might have been regarded as a luxury by some, but in this team, he might have been one they could afford to include. 

There are a number of pieces of video that show how he went about the game when he played for Spurs.  Floating in to meet crosses, Peters had the ability to hang in the air and many of his goals came from headers, but he also had a fierce shot on him, which he perhaps used too infrequently to test opposing keepers.  He scored 66 times in 260 games for the club in his five years at the Lane, which is a pretty respectable rate for a midfielder and some were quite important to the club, such as his 13 goals in 32 European games.  A goal in each leg of the 1972-73 League Cup semi-final helped Tottenham to get through to face Norwich City at Wembley, while many of his goals appeared to come in close games which either earned Spurs a point from a draw or both in a one goal win.  Having said that, I donít think it will be any time soon that anyone can match his four-goal haul in the 4-1 win at Old Trafford in October 1972. 

It was at Tottenham that he won all his domestic honours.  Two League Cup winnersí medals in 1971 and 1973, along with a UEFA Cup winners gong from the 1972 campaign that ended with the win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the final.  It was only the width of a crossbar that stopped Peters putting Spurs through to the 1973 final, when they went out to Liverpool on away goals. In 1973, his England career came to an end after winning 67 caps for his country. 

His sale to Norwich in March 1975 seemed to come at an odd time and although there was little rumour or news expose of the reasons behind his departure, a move to Norwich City looked a decidedly backward one to most fans.  £50,000 also seemed a cheap price to pay for someone of his quality, even at that stage of his career.  He went on to have some success with the Norfolk club as they got promoted and were beaten in the League Cup Final of 1975 (although he couldnít play as he was cup-tied).  The midfielder scored fifty goals in 232 appearances for the Canaries and was voted Player of the Year at the club on two occasions before he moved on to Sheffield United.  He took the player-manager role at the club and left within the season having played 24 games and scored three goals. 

Peters picked up an MBE in 1978 and retiring from the game in 1981, he went into the insurance business with former team-mate Geoff Hurst.  He is part of the after-dinner speaking circuit and also got voted onto the Spurs board in 1998 to give advice on footballing matters.  Having met the man myself, I found him rather impolite and aloof.  This is in stark contrast to others of his era and I have been told that he is reluctant to put his signature to photos of him in Spurs kit, while happy to do so if he is wearing the England strip.  I have also heard stories of his match-day hosting duties at Upton Park. 

While he played the game with great perception and success, he appears to have split his loyalties once finishing his playing days and planting a seed in the mind of this Tottenham supporter that his heart lay away from White Hart Lane.


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