Tommy Youlden: I have never played in front of better fans
I started my career with Arsenal after representing England Schoolboys and the London Football Association at left-back. It was when I had a trial for Middlesex schools that I was approached by Arsenal’s chief scout George Male, one of the Gunners’ most famous players from their pre-war days.
I started in out as an apprentice-professional before becoming fully professional and playing in the London Combination. Being substitute twice, for a couple of friendlies, was the closest I came to playing in the senior eleven but I was to sample regular first-team football after joining Pompey in 1968.
I might have moved to Fratton Park a year earlier than that. Pompey manager George Smith watched me play for the Gunners reserves against Tottenham Hotspur in the London Combination and asked Bertie Mee if he could sign me on loan.
The Arsenal boss wouldn’t loan me out and so Pompey signed George Ley from Exeter City instead. I did sign for Pompey a year later. The 1967-68 season, in which Pompey almost reached the first division was drawing to a close and I started in the team at the beginning of 1968-69. I played fairly regularly but suffered a broken leg at Sheffield United in October 1969 and had a bit of a lay-off then.
George Smith had his critics but I thought he was excellent both as a manager and a coach. Dave Sexton, one of my coaches at Arsenal, and who is rated as one of Britain’s best of all-time, has gone on record as saying he gained most of his knowledge from George Smith. I know we were playing a sweeper system at Pompey before anyone had thought of the idea. I loved it at Pompey. As there were no reserves, even if you weren’t in the team you were in the first-team squad because that’s all there was and you never felt left out.
The Pompey supporters were the best I ever played in front of. They were always behind the team unlike most other sets of fans who would turn on the players if things weren’t going well. The second division at that time was of very good standard and I’m not sure the Championship, as it is now called, is as good. I had two years under George then a further two years under Ron Tindall before leaving Fratton for Reading in 1972. I had five happy years at Elm Park and we won promotion from the fourth division in 1976 and our team included Ray Hiron who I’d known at Pompey.
My next club was Aldershot and I played against Pompey a few times while I was there. I well remember the Shots beating Pompey, who were going all out for promotion, 3-1 at Fratton Park on New Year’s Day 1980 in front of nearly 24,000 which was an unbelievable attendance for a fourth division fixture. I am very grateful that I had 18 years in the game. I feel that it was quite an achievement considering treatment and knowledge of injuries wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today. A cartilage operation in my day meant a player was out of action for about three months; now the op is normally routine and you are playing within three weeks.
Coaching and teaching are my game now
I played a bit of non-league but knew I had to do something more concrete. I was interested in coaching and received my A licence badge in 1975. I had played under some very good coaches in my career. I’ve mentioned George Smith and Dave Sexton but I also worked under Don Howe and Ernie Walley at Arsenal and Bobby Campbell and Gordon Neave at Pompey.
The thing that put me off going into it in a big way though was the fact that you had to rely on somebody you knew to give you a job. The problem with that was that if that person got the sack then you did as well. So I took myself off to university at Kingston and earned a degree in economics and business studies. I’ve been teaching at the University of London for 19 years and still coach and run the teams at the school.
I worked for Chelsea for three years, helping with their academy and one of my players was Carlton Cole. I also work for the FA and the London FA. I have friends who coach full time but I feel that by teaching as well as coaching I have the best of both worlds.