Manager 1912-1927 and 1938-1942
Born on 21st September 1879 in Inverness, Scotland.
Peter McWilliam was a pivotal figure in Tottenham’s history who doesn’t get the full praise that he deserves for changing the fortunes of the club and introducing “The Tottenham Way” style of play that brought the club success. An outstanding player in his day, his tactical innovations made him one of the best managers of his era, which brought a lasting to Spurs, where he served two periods as manager, both broken up by the outbreak of World Wars. Stretching far and wide, his beliefs were to spread across Europe and irrevocably shape many of the big clubs of today.
Peter travelled from Inverness by train to Newcastle to have a trial at Sunderland and to seek a job as a shorthand copyist in the City. However, he never made it into that job, as Newcastle staff met him at the station and whisked him away to join the Magpies, where he was to become known as ‘Peter The Great’.
A creative midfielder, he struggled to hold down a first team place, but once the directors had been persuaded to give him his chance, he grabbed it and Newcastle went on to win the old First Division title in his first full season.
5’9” tall and a left half and known as Pat, he possessed a notable body swerve and was feted as the finest half back in Britain and had a “natural command of the ball”. Not a tackler, it was his accurate passing that moved Newcastle forward and in his seven seasons at St, James’ Park, he won three titles and reached four FA Cup finals, until a knee ligament injury halted his playing career. The injury came at Ninian Park, where he was captaining Scotland against Wales and he gashed his knee on the rough pitch, which still contained rubbish from it’s previous use as a tip.
Moving into management, he started his career at Tottenham on 1st January 1913 (having been appointed on 21st December 1912), with his focus on quick attacking football, passing and movement, with some saying this was the first example of the “Tottenham Way”. Spurs had only been in the league four years when he joined in 1912, but the settling in period was lengthened by the break for the First World War. Finishing bottom of the First Division in 1914-15 wasn’t an auspicious start, but, when football resumed, he was ready to move the club upwards and Spurs won the Second Division title in 1920 scoring over 100 goals to take the team into the top flight and the following season won the FA Cup beating Wolves at Stamford Bridge. in doing so, he became the first man to win the FA Cup as a player and a manager.
In those days, managers were more secretary-managers than modern day coaches, but McWilliam was a bright thinker and keen tactician, making Spurs a force in the league making them runners-up in 1921-22. Unfortunately, the following five seasons saw Spurs sinking to mid-table and Middlesbrough tempted him away in 1927 as his star had been in the ascendancy, commanding a salary of £1,500 a year, more than double what he earned at White Hart Lane (£800 a year). If Tottenham had paid him an extra £200 he would have stayed, but the board would not sanction the raise in pay. Billy Minter took over from him, as McWilliam took the Teesside club into the First Division twice before scouting for Arsenal in 1934 (after turning down the opportunity to manage them) ahead of his return to Tottenham in 1938.
Peter was challenged with the task of re-building an aging side and his first signing was Arthur Rowe as a schoolboy and he promoted many younger players from the Northfleet nursery side, including Bill Nicholson. once more, war intervened in his managerial career at White Hart Lane and he moved back to the North-East in 1942. When the peacetime returned, McWilliam felt he was too old to continue as manager and retired.
When his protégée Rowe became Spurs manager, he credited McWilliam as the founder of the quick passing style that he fashioned into the Championship winning “Push and Run” side. The tactic had been developed in Scotland in the 19th Century and had been taken on into a possession based style by Newcastle United manager Robert Smyth McColl, under who the Scot had achieved such success as a player. Another of his acolytes at Tottenham was Vic Buckingham, who played under McWilliam before going on to coach at Ajax and Barcelona, where his implementation of this style is widely acknowledged to be the start of “Total Football”.
Honours as a player
8 full caps; 0 goals
Under-21 caps; goals
First Division Championship winners medal 1904-05, 1906-07, 1908-09
FA Cup winners medal 1909-10
FA Cup runners-up medal 1904-05, 1905-06, 1907-08, 1910-11
FA Charity Shield winners medal 1909
Honours as a manager
Second Division Championship 1919-20
FA Cup Winners 1920-21
First Division Runners-up 1921-22
What they said about Peter McWilliam …
… on his service to THFC 16.10.1951 (THFC programme)
“It is sufficient to say here that Mr. McWilliam’s high ideals of the craft and science of football, based on a profound knowledge of the game, found reflection in the team-work and methods of the players under his control. The idealism always remained with him. In his encouragement of youth, and support of the policy of bringing forward junior talent, he was a forerunner of the modern trend in which the emphasis on youth is so pronounced.”
What Peter McWilliam said about …
… Arthur Grimsdell at the club dinner following the 1921 FA Cup win …
“One of the finest captains I’ve ever known”