Brighton move turned sour for Tottenham legend Phil Beal

1 Beal portrait

PHIL BEAL was a Tottenham Hotspur legend so it seemed like quite a coup when in 1975 Third Division Brighton signed a player who had played at the top level for over a decade.

However, in a fairly recent interview, Beal said signing for Brighton was “the worst thing I’ve ever done”. At the time he certainly had a different outlook. Shoot incorporating Goal began an article about him: “A gladiatorial display by Phil Beal for his new club Brighton against Rotherham was loudly acclaimed by the supporters who revelled in the strength and guile the ex-Spurs player had brought to their side.

“The immensely experienced Beal had wielded a pattern of play that sent the supporters home humming happily, relishing the 3-0 win and calculating the prospects of the new season.

Beal told the magazine: “It’s a great feeling to have a crowd behind you like that. Their reaction impressed me just like everything else did when I visited the club for the first time to meet manager Peter Taylor.

“I knew nothing at all about the club and, to be honest, I thought it might be a tin-shed type of place. What an eye opener it turned out to be.

“I had imagined the Third Division to be a big step down, not just in terms of football but in terms of everything else too. But I found they had new offices, new dressing rooms and medical rooms and when they travel they go first class, stay in first class hotels and even use the same coach company as Spurs.

“The set-up is easily as good as many First Division clubs. The pitch, for instance, is a nice size and allows you to make room to play. Some pitches are tight and cramped but not at the Goldstone Ground.

“When I saw how great things were off the field I felt they must want the same quality on it and that persuaded me. Like Tottenham, Brighton aim to play football….which is what I am all for. I don’t want to know about kick and rush…the big boot up the field, a challenge and then back it comes….that’s not for me.”

But let’s go back to where it all began. Born in Godstone, Surrey, Beal joined Spurs at 15 after impressing Bill Nicholson’s assistant manager, Harry Evans, while playing for Surrey Schoolboys v Kent at The Valley (Charlton) in 1960.

The website detailed his rise to the first team, saying he was “the first of the modern youth team to climb through the ranks of the trainees, juniors and reserves to claim a first team place.”
In those days apprentice footballers were responsible for cleaning the senior players’ boots as well as the balls, dressing rooms and gym. Beal said it was a great time to be involved at Spurs because they clinched that historic first double in 1961 and, as a 16-year-old, he felt part of it.

In a feature, Beal paid tribute to the great Dave Mackay’s influence on his fledgling career.
“The first team players involved the apprentices, and when they won the Cup to clinch the Double we were invited to all the functions afterwards,” he said. “I had my picture taken with Jimmy Greaves. Also, because I lived so far away, John White used to let me stay at his place in Southgate after we’d played youth or reserve matches.

“The player who has always stood out in my mind, however, on how to be a professional footballer and make it to the top, was Dave Mackay.

“When we used to train in the afternoons, Dave would always come and train with the youngsters. He’d train with the first team in the morning, have lunch and then come back.
“We’d have 5-a-sides and Dave was very competitive. He didn’t stand any messing around – you had to win. He’d encourage, but if you did something wrong he’d have a go.

“His dedication really opened my eyes to what it would take to make it and, looking at the Double team, I knew how hard it was going to be.”

Phil made a winning First Division debut at Aston Villa on 16 September 1963 when he deputised for the legendary Danny Blanchflower, who by then was 37. But it took a further two years before he earned the chance to establish himself at right back after Maurice Norman was seriously injured at the start of the 1965-66 season.

My main memories of him at Spurs were as a sweeper alongside Welsh international Mike England but he played in eight different positions for them during the earlier part of his career.

A broken arm sustained against Manchester City prevented him being part of the 1967 FA Cup winning team against Chelsea, ironically opening the door for future Brighton teammate Joe Kinnear to establish himself at right back.

It was on his return to the side that he stepped into that role alongside England, and where he enjoyed a lot of success.
Beal played in the League Cup winning teams of 1971 and 1973, the UEFA Cup winning team of 1972 and was on the losing side in the final of the same competition in 1974. He was awarded a testimonial against Bayern Munich in December 1973.

Recalling that 1972 European win in a recent interview with, Beal said: “We beat some good teams along the way and nothing was better than beating AC Milan in the semi-final. I remember walking out at the San Siro in front of 70,000 hostile people and an iron bar landed right by my foot.
“They had a midfielder called Bonetti who spat in my face. I hated that, so I chinned him. He laid down and Mike England said: ‘You’d better get down Bealy’. So I went down and held my ankle.
“The ref came over and booked us, but he put Steve Perryman’s number 10 down instead. I got booked later and didn’t get sent off! Because they got beat they were rocking our coach on the way out.”
The website said Beal was known “for his calm, safety-first approach in a Spurs defence that provided the platform for the flair players to perform in the opposition’s half”.

Spurs’ captain through much of that time, and future Brighton manager, Alan Mullery, spoke highly of Beal in his autobiography. “Phil Beal was very underrated. He had the tough task of taking over from Mackay when he went to Derby and I never thought Phil got the credit he deserved,” he said.

When Bill Nicholson resigned in 1974, it was to hasten his own departure from the club a year later. Together with Martin Peters he sought to persuade Nicholson to change his mind, but without success. “I liked him as a man. He respected us and used to listen to people,” said Beal.
New manager Terry Neill brought in Don McAllister to play at the heart of the back four and, at the end of the 1974-75 season, Beal was given a free transfer as part of a clear out of some of the experienced players. He had clocked up 479 appearances for Spurs plus four as a sub.

While the move to Brighton had initially all seemed positive, perhaps his view in hindsight relates to the fact Peter Taylor wasn’t afraid to shuffle the pack and bring in new people, and adding Dennis Burnett after the opening five games stymied Beal’s chances of lining up alongside Andy Rollings.

Ken Tiler was ensconced as the first choice right back, although fellow ex-Spur Kinnear, who’d signed for Brighton as well, took over the spot when injury kept Tiler sidelined in the final third of the season. Beal began in Albion’s midfield, but Ernie Machin, Peter O’Sullivan and Ian Mellor were preferred as the season progressed; Machin eventually being replaced by new signing Brian Horton in March.

These were the days, of course, of only one sub and, by the season’s end, Beal had played just nine games plus one as sub, and was a non-playing sub on another occasion.

Off the pitch, Beal had clearly taken heed of the way the old pros looked after the youngsters at Spurs and applied similar principles when he joined Brighton. He arrived on the south coast a fortnight after Peter Ward signed as a 20-year-old and Ward briefly shared a club house in Rottingdean with Beal and Neil Martin, and one or other of the senior pros would give Wardy a lift into training.

With Brighton narrowly missing out on promotion, the competition for places intensified for Beal and Kinnear when Taylor signed experienced defenders Graham Cross and Chris Cattlin before quitting to rejoin Clough at Forest.

However, when it was announced Taylor’s replacement was former Spur Mullery, they might have been forgiven for thinking their fortunes with Brighton were going to change. How wrong they would be.

Mullery was in a quandary. He had only just finished playing and he inherited a squad of 36 professionals, two of whom were his former teammates, and many who were much the same age as him. Any display of favouritism would not have gone down well amongst the group, and he consulted Nicholson for some advice. Nicholson told him that regardless of who they were, if Mullery didn’t think they were up to the job he would have to respond accordingly.

Kinnear never did play a game under Mullery having been told he wasn’t fit enough while Beal managed just two games at right back.

One of them came in the memorable 2-1 League Cup second round defeat of Bobby Robson’s First Division Ipswich Town, but Beal was stretchered off with an ankle injury – and never played for the Albion again.

Argus reporter John Vinicombe was full of praise for Beal who had been nursing an ankle injury ahead of the game.

“Beal would have been well within his rights in declaring himself unfit,” wrote Vinicombe. “Such selfless courage brought cruel reward when he went down and he was on his way to hospital when Cross muscled through for the winner.” An x-ray later revealed Beal had suffered deep bruising of his right ankle.

By the time Mullery steered the side to promotion at the season’s end, Beal had left the club. In early February 1977, together with Burnett, he reached a financial settlement with the club and played non league with Ilford for the remainder of the season before heading to the United States to play for Los Angeles Aztecs alongside George Best, Ron Davies, Terry Mancini and Charlie Cooke.

The following season he played for Memphis Rogues, coached by former Chelsea full back Eddie McCreadie, where, amongst his teammates, was Neil Smillie, later to join Albion from Crystal Palace, and the former Everton and Luton Town striker, Jimmy Husband. The goalkeeper was Tony Burns, who’d played for Brighton in the mid 1960s, and the team also included Arsenal cup winner Eddie Kelly and the colourful Alan Birchenall.

Back in England for the 1979-80 season, Beal turned out four times for lowly Crewe Alexandra, but when the legendary Bobby Moore took over as manager of non-league Oxford City in December 1979, Beal was one of a flurry of new signings the former England captain made, and he appeared 12 times before finally hanging up his boots.

Beal dropped out of football once his playing days were over and moved with his family to Cornwall. But he returned to Spurs as a corporate hospitality host on matchdays, working alongside Pat Jennings.
“I enjoy my work at Spurs because I’m Tottenham through and through and enjoy going back,” he said. “I’ve no regrets. I played over 400 games for Tottenham and enjoyed every minute of it. If I had my time again I would do exactly the same.”

Further reading:


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