Tottenham's longest-serving skipper Steve Perryman compares English top flight football eras with Simon Kay.

He could have earned up to a hundred times more playing today but Tottenham Hotspur legend Steve Perryman is glad he played when he did.

Perryman holds the English Premier League club's appearance record, playing 866 football games during 1969-86, and was in New Zealand last week speaking to sold-out Tottenham Supporters' Club functions in Auckland and Wellington.

"There was a down-to-Earth genuineness about the era I played in," says Perryman. "Players were concerned about giving value for money and you couldn't get above yourself with what you were earning. Yes, it was good for the times and it weren't like you were destitute, but the money angle in the game has gone a bit too far.


"So today is just a different era — better or worse, I don't know, but I'm delighted I played in the era I did, albeit you don't have the wealth they have these days."

When Perryman signed his first professional contract as a 17-year-old having already played for the first team, he was paid £18 a week. The most he earned was £60,000 a year towards the end of his career — around £1150 a week.

TV cash has seen players' wages rise exponentially this century, with the game's biggest names in England paid up to £300,000 a week — a far cry from the days of football's maximum wage, which sat at £20 a week when abolished in 1961.

"Probably in my era, the clubs were too powerful in the contract situation, but now probably the pendulum's swung too far and the players are too strong."

The Professional Footballers' Association sends a publication to past and present players.

Winning the 1981 FA Cup was a pivotal moment in the career of Steve Perryman (centre). Photo / Getty Images
Winning the 1981 FA Cup was a pivotal moment in the career of Steve Perryman (centre). Photo / Getty Images

"It's a brightly-coloured magazine, and you open the front page, and you can buy a helicopter, or a yacht, or a penthouse. I sort of want to screw it up and I'm thinking more the older players who were on the £20 a week wage limit, who represented their countries and played in World Cups but don't quite have the comfortable life their abilities suggested they should. Money is a bit too plentiful in the game today and you gain it too easily before you've achieved anything. We probably had to do too much before we achieved it."

Perryman worked hard for his money, demonstrating astonishing durability through his career.

Of Tottenham's 504 league games during 1970-82, Perryman missed just 11. Over a 15-year stretch, there was only one season when he missed more than three league matches.

And this was in an era where players could get away with kicking each other up in the air, only one substitution was permitted and sports medicine didn't extend much beyond the magic sponge.


"I had no serious injuries. Some of that was luck, some was technique. I was clever enough to trust the right [medical] advice, so a 20 per cent injury never turned into an 80 per cent one."

In contrast to his club career, Perryman won just one senior England cap aged 30, playing 20 minutes as a substitute in a World Cup warm-up in 1982, the same season he was voted the Football Writers' Player of the Year.

"My family and friends said they knew I'd play for England one day but they didn't know it would be for one day.

Spurs legend Steve Perryman speaks to fans on a recent speaking tour Photo/ Supplied
Spurs legend Steve Perryman speaks to fans on a recent speaking tour Photo/ Supplied

"I lacked about two or three inches in height to be an international player, and half a yard of pace, and yet I know that because of my strong mentality, if I'd been picked [more] for England, I wouldn't have let anyone down."

This trip was Perryman's second to New Zealand. The first came as part of a Tottenham end-of-season world tour in 1976.

Spurs played in front of 10,000 people at Newmarket Park against an Auckland team that included Brian Turner, Keith Nelson, Earle Thomas, Ian Ormond, Adrian Elrick and Tony Sibley. Auckland led 3-2 but Tottenham scored three late goals to win 5-3.

Spurs then beat Wellington 3-2 at the Basin Reserve, watched by a crowd of 7500. Perryman was replaced in midfield by little-known 18-year-old Glenn Hoddle.

"Both games were difficult, definitely for the first hour at least, but then probably our superior fitness took over."

Perryman won six trophies: two Uefa Cups, two FA Cups and two League Cups. The one that stands out for him is the 1981 FA Cup. He won three of those cups early in his career, then went eight years without success, during which Spurs suffered the ignominy of relegation and a year in the second tier in 1977-78.

Spurs legend Steve Perryman poses with former team mate and former All White Bobby Almond on a recent speaking tour. Photo / Supplied
Spurs legend Steve Perryman poses with former team mate and former All White Bobby Almond on a recent speaking tour. Photo / Supplied

Lifting the 1981 FA Cup ushered in another era of success. Spurs beat Manchester City 3-2, with Ricky Villa weaving his way through the opposition defence to score one of the great Cup final goals.

Although foreigners have comprehensively outnumbered Englishmen in the Premier League for decades now, the signing of Villa and Ossie Ardiles after Argentina won the 1978 World Cup caused a sensation.

And Perryman, despite talking regularly with then-manager Keith Burkinshaw, knew nothing about it. He read the news one morning at home on the back page of his newspaper.

"I spent the next five hours on the phone doing interviews," says Perryman.

Today's Tottenham team are derided for their lack of trophies, although the club's revenue and wage bill are significantly less than their Big Six rivals, and Perryman says Spurs are punching above their weight just to consistently qualify for the Champions League.

He is hopeful that the new 62,000-capacity North London stadium, which replaced the 118-year-old White Hart Lane and hosted its first Premier League game on Thursday, will help the club better compete against their bigger-budget opponents.

He says there are other measures of success beyond trophies, such as developing home-grown players, with Harry Kane the best example.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is sometimes criticised for his unwillingness to spend money on players but Perryman says: "I don't think Mr Levy is doing a lot wrong."

Asked which of his team-mates he rated most highly, Perryman picked goalkeeper Pat Jennings — "one of the nicest men you will ever meet" — tough Scotsman Dave Mackay, Hoddle and Ardiles with their contrasting long and short passing games in midfield, and prolific striker Jimmy Greaves, whose 357 goals remain easily the most in English top flight history.

Perryman identified two Manchester United players from different eras as his toughest opponents: George Best and Bryan Robson.