‘If Kane beats my record I will hate it’
Clive Allen believes the Tottenham striker is the man to pass his 49-goal mark, he tells Jim White
Here’s a pub quiz question: which are the only two London league clubs that have had no association with the Allen family? Between the senior member of the clan: Les, his sons Clive and Bradley and nephews Paul and Martin, only Leyton Orient and Fulham have escaped representation. Clive alone played for seven sides in the capital over a career that spanned QPR, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham and Millwall.
If there was any justice, when he hung up his boots in 1995 he should have been presented with a silver travelcard. But for all his peripatetic footballing life, Allen is most remembered for his annus mirabilis at
White Hart Lane. In the 1986-87 season he scored a remarkable
49 goals in 54 appearances. It was a Messi-like return which has not been bettered at any English top-flight club since. Though Allen, these days busy as a pundit and co-commentator, believes it is only a matter of time before his record goes.
“Harry Kane could do it,” he says, speaking at the launch of his autobiography. “The year I broke the record that Jimmy Greaves held, Jimmy said to me, ‘If you do it, you’ll deserve it’. I’ll say that about Harry. He’ll deserve it. If he does it, in all honesty, I’ll hate it; it’s a record I’m proud of. But I’ll be the first to shake his hand.”
And if Kane does overtake him on the Tottenham leader board, there will be a certain irony. Because Allen was a coach at Spurs when Kane was first emerging. He was deputed to help the youngster with his finishing.
“You can’t teach instinct, and scoring is instinct,” he says of his assignment. “Harry had that, no doubt. He possessed a real knack of being in the right place at the right time. But he also had the mentality to improve; all I could do was ask the question of him. And he had answers. I have nothing but admiration for him. He worked tirelessly on everything he knew he could improve.”
Not that, even with Kane’s relentless drive, Allen believes his record will fall easily. “It will be much harder for Harry because of squad rotation,” he says.
“Didn’t happen in our day. Though I remember I got left out of our last league game of that season when David Pleat [then Spurs manager] said, ‘I’m going to rest you ahead of the FA Cup final’. I was furious. I could have had 52.”
That was the thing about Allen: scoring was his raison d’etre. He was going to title his book, with tongue firmly in cheek, Clive Allen: He Only Scores Goals. Because that was the standard assessment of him in his time: he doesn’t head the ball, he doesn’t hold up play, he doesn’t run; all he does is score.
“Scoring is the hardest thing to do in the game, yet it was belittled,” he recalls. “I’d say if you score one every two games [as he did in his career], that is some contribution. One of the things my dad always said to me was, ‘score goals and someone will take a chance on you’. Every team needs goals.” And yet he was continually moved on, playing from Carlisle to Bordeaux, with most of London in between. No more so than at his start when, aged 19, Arsenal made him the first million-pound teenager when they signed him from QPR. He was a Gunner for just over a month, never played a game at Highbury, and was moved on to Crystal Palace as a makeweight for defender Kenny Sansom.
“It was bizarre,” he says of that deal. “People who hear about it now can’t comprehend it. If someone paid what would be the equivalent these days of £50million for a teenage striker, they wouldn’t be moving them on without even playing them.”
Fortunately, despite such a traumatic beginning, his career picked up steam. And, as an inveterate Spurs supporter, he was not entirely unhappy with the idea of leaving Arsenal. Indeed, his affiliations were often in evidence during his eight-year coaching career at Spurs. There was barely a north London derby in those days when he didn’t clash with Arsene Wenger, and he once chased him down the tunnel after the Arsenal manager refused to shake his hand at the end of a Tottenham victory.
“I haven’t seen Arsene for a long time,” he smiles, when asked if the pair have reconciled. “But I have nothing but admiration for him as a football manager. Arsenal were unfortunately very good under him. We clashed because we both wanted to win at all costs.”
The pair’s disputes were not untypical: Allen says his desire to win has barely dulled. Now 58, he finds it hard playing his two adult sons at golf because these days they invariably beat him. “My wife laughs at me when I’m watching the match on the telly. I’ll be up screaming, ‘that should have been a goal’. And she’s going, ‘it’s nothing to do with you’. I don’t care – it should have been a goal!”
For Clive Allen, goals have always been everything. He reckons he has a photographic memory of every one he scored. Including the last, playing for West Ham. “That was some goal, possibly one of the best I scored,” he says. “Sadly, no one will remember it. It was one of two goals I got in the Premier League. Yeah, I’m that old I predate the Premier League.”
Though there is one thing about his career that still frustrates him: he never scored for England. As a predator, he knew his chances were limited as he was behind Gary Lineker. “I was on the bench in an international in Spain, was in good form and thought, if I get on, I’ll score,” he recalls. “He scored four. The one time I did put it in the net for England was against Turkey, and it was ruled out. Who’s standing offside? Gary Lineker.”
But he insists it was not ill fortune that precluded him from scoring for his country.
“I wasn’t unlucky, no. I’ve always said when given opportunity, take your chance. I did on [my] debut for QPR, my first game for Spurs, first game for West Ham. For England I didn’t. I had five caps and didn’t score when the chance presented itself. As a finisher, your career is determined by taking your chances.” As Harry Kane knows all too well.
Up Front, by Clive Allen, is published today by decoubertin Books.
Master striker: Clive Allen scored 49 goals for Spurs in the 1986-87 season – including in the FA Cup final (bottom left)