David Howells – Unsung and Unappreciated

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Volume 2 Issue 36 – February 2004

With the current cry from Spurs fans to address the matter of the defensive midfielder role in the team, the mind tends to float back to a time not too many years ago, when such a player graced our team, but you would never have thought it from the comments from around the Lane. The tradition of Tottenham Hotspur is something that we always tend to fall back on in hard times and haven’t there been a lot of those over the last thirty years ?  So the flowing football associated with the great teams that have sprinkled Tottenham’s history and the great games are the ones that spring to mind.  Yes, the players like Danny Blanchflower, John White, Glenn Hoddle, Jimmy Greaves and Jurgen Klinsmann immediately spring to mind, but what was behind them ?  Like the great woman that is behind every great man, there were willing workers providing the legwork for these stars to strut their stuff.  Players like Dave Mackay, Stevie Perryman and David Howells. 

Yes, that’s right … David Howells.  Now Howellsy never got much credit for the work he put in, but then perhaps as Spurs fans we don’t give that sort of credit where it’s due.  We are more likely to give the kudos to those who are easy on the eye and those who steal the glory, not those who sweat blood and tears to provide the ball to them to do so.   

David Howells was a player who always gave 100%.  Although not a star in terms of one who was a dribbler in the Ginola class nor a pass master like Hoddle, his attributes of graft and a desire to do well for the team, rather than just himself, left him as a useful part of the side during his career with Spurs between 1985 and 1998.  Yes, his time at Tottenham outstayed a number of managers and other top players, so despite what the fans thought of him, he must have been doing something right !! 

Starting for Tottenham for the first time on 22nd February 1985 at a chilly Hillsborough, Howells made an immediate impact with a goal on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday, because in those days he was a striker.  Signed in July 1984 as a YTS trainee, he had a great run in the reserves and youth teams prior to that with goals galore, indicating he could be a striker of rich potential.  His bouffant hairstyle marked him out as the head boy and his determination to do well against bigger opponents showed that the grit in his game was as important as his technical abilities. 

And yes, David did have technical ability.  His passing was usually to a white shirt and he was able to pass the ball and move, an ability which some of our current players might like to find out about.  His dedication to Tottenham was never questioned.  The fact that he adapted to playing wherever Spurs needed him shows, like Steve Perryman before him, he put his own career second to where the team required him to play.  Being versatile might well have affected any chance he may have had breaking into the England set-up in the Paul Ince role and David nearly did get his opportunity, as he was mentioned as a possible in some of the squads that Graham Taylor/Venables were about to announce, but it never quite came off. 

But the main thing about his game was his willingness to cover for others.  In matches when Spurs were well out-played, he was the one who was always trying to get the ball back to build some moves that could get Tottenham a foothold in the match and the prime example was the FA Cup Final of 1991, when 0-1 down and with Gazza off the pitch, everyone raised their game, but Howells was the one who ran until things started going our way.  One game at Notts. Forest in 1989, Spurs were 0-1 down (if I remember correctly) and it was David Howells who scored the first Tottenham goal to equalise and then had a hand in the second that Samways stuck away to give Spurs an away win.  And his part in the vital win at Oldham in 1995, when Spurs needed to win to have a chance of staying in the Premier League should not be forgotten quickly.  He and Vinny came from the same background in the youth team and through the reserves before making it in the first team.  Both knew what it meant to Tottenham and what it meant to them and for them to score the two goals in the 2-0 win was fitting. 

In a match that saw his last Spurs goal, nearly 13 years to the day after his debut, it was not known by the fans until after the match that David was willing to turn out for Spurs at West Ham United in a 3-4 televised defeat, just a day after his father had died.  This meant that his place in Tottenham’s chequered history deserved more than the snide comments that used to circulate on the terraces.  His wife had battled with cancer, which has a great effect on those close to her and yet through it all his loyalty to THFC did not waver.  The Testimonial against Fiorentina wasn’t well attended (just 14,000) and he deserved better, but later that season his Spurs career was over.  Discarded as peremptorily as is Tottenham’s habit.   

Leaving Tottenham, David plumped for a move to Southampton, near to his birthplace of Guildford and he appeared to be set for a good end to his career at the Dell, but after 11 games, he sustained a knee injury that finished his top-flight days.  Playing for Hartley Whitney, Aldershot and now Havant and Waterlooville, the latter two clubs alongside his goalkeeper brother Gareth.  

There were few songs about David Howells sung at White Hart Lane and few fans praised the work he did for the team, but he should be remembered as a man who had Tottenham written right through him and one who might have made a bigger impact in another era.