As bassplayer and lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers, Nicky Wire has been at the top of the British charts for 18 years, but his biggest passion is for Spurs
Nicky Wire has seen his fair share of memorable nights. There was the time the Manic Street Preachers bade farewell to the 20th Century in front of 54,000 rabid fans at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Or how about the night in 1994 when the band stole the show at Glastonbury with a career-defining assault of mascara-heavy rock'n'roll? And then there was the time the Manics became the first Westem rock group ever to play Cuba, followed by a personal audience with Fidel Castro, who declared the band's gig to be louder than war".
All of them unforgettable. For Nicky, however, none quite ranks with Spurs' UEFA Cup triumph of 1984. "That was one of the best nights of my life," he beams. "I'll never forget it. Anderlecht were a really good side in those days too. I remember sitting at home watching it, and every time a goal went in the camera would shake. The atmosphere at White Hart Lane looked amazing. And Tony Parks - what a hero!"
Today Nicky is sitting backstage at the London Astoria and the mood is mellow. Having just completed a month long sell-out UK tour on the back of their top five smash Your Love Alone Is Not Enough', the pop pendulum appears to have swung back in the Manics' direction.
Better still, new album Send Away The Tigers sees the band reinvigorated, tapping into the same reservoir of strident stadium-rock as their greatest album Everything Must Go. it's just one of those things," shrugs Nicky as succinct as a well-placed Hoddle through ball. "People got sick of us for while and maybe we took our eye off the ball for a bit too. It happens to everybody. You could say we're the Spurs of rock!"
For a band who are respected as much for their intelligence as their musical output. it's a welcome return to the vertigo-inducing end of the charts. Today, however, Wire has weightier matters to consider than global warming or the latest goings on at the White House. Enthusiastic about everyone from Maurice Norman ("My dad always rated him") to the White Hart Lane turf (1 love the fact that it's always immaculate"), a spot of idle Spurs chit-chat soon threatens to turn into an entire afternoon spent down memory lane. As soundcheck time looms, however, it's time to get to the bottom of his all-consuming Spurs obsession...
Have you always been a football fanatic?
"Of course. I'm not one of these people who started liking football when Nick Hornby started going on about it - heaven forbid! I've loved the game for as long as I can remember. "My dad played in the Welsh League, which was a pretty good standard at the time, so it was in the blood. I was pretty good at football at school. I was quite handy. I thought of myself as a kind of Franz Beckenbauer figure. You know the sort of thing- a stylish defender who can slip into the midfield if needed."
Were you quite serious about a career in football?
"For a while, yeah, I was. I was captain of the school and the county, and I played for Wales youth. There were a few little trials here and there, but I knew deep down that the best I'd get to play at was maybe Conference League level. I actually did get a trial with Arsenal, but was a real mummy's boy at the time so I didn't go. It was a long way to go from South wales. Obviously I now look back on that incident with pride! At 16 I knackered my knee. which pretty much put paid to my footballing ambitions. And anyway, music came along. By then I'd discovered Morrissey."
What made an ardent Welshman such as you become a Spurs fan?
"I'd always loved the idea of Tottenham. My dad supported Leeds but he would always talk about Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay and the 'touch and go' philosophy of Bill Nicholson. When I was a kid I remember watching a programme on the Double-winning team. It was a drama on BBC2 and Danny Blanchflower had a cameo in it, I believe, so that got me realty interested in the club. This was when I was about nine or ten. But it was the season we came back up after being relegated for the first time that I really became hooked. The Ardiles and Villa season. After that I started leaming the history, and finding out about the League Cup triumphs of 1971 and 1973, the UEFA Cup, the genius of Martin Chivers..."
Are people ever surprised that you're a Tottenham fan?
"I dunno. I think people associate me with Spurs - my silky skills!!"
Was there one factor you can put it down to?
"Yeah - Glenn Hoddle. When I saw Glenn, that was it. I loved those other brilliant number 10s of the Seventies, Tony Currie and Stan Bowles, but Glenn had something else. He'd stand there with his hands on his hips in that immaculate white shirt - perfection! He was so nonchalant on the field, he seemed to sum up the whole Spurs aesthetic. This was around the time IN started showing live matches. in the 1983-84 season. It had only ever been FA Cup games live up until then. The first live game on IN was Tottenham against Forest. I think we won 2-1. I was hooked. I loved Steve Archibald too. He seemed like such a miserable sod, all he seemed to care about was goals. He wouldn't even smile when he scored. Or maybe it was just the skimpy shorts."
Is there one defining game which made you love Spurs?
"There isn't one defining game, no. I was more into the fact that Spurs had a load of great individual players. Tony Galvin was unbelievable. Left wing, right wing, he could play anywhere."
Did you used to get the Spurs kit?
"Oh yeah, I've got loads. I've got loads of those horrible yellow ones with the Holsten logo. I've kept them all. My favourite is the home kit from 1979-80. My daughter has been wearing it lately while she's playing in the garden."
What's your greatest Spurs goal?
"Hoddle's free-kick against Manchester United in the FA Cup replay. People don't realise how difficult that was to score. The way he flicked the ball into the air before volleying it - he was about five feet in the air and he still managed to smash it into the net! I think that goal alone is the reason I jump around on stage so much. It was even more exciting because I first saw it on Sportsnight. That was so exciting as a kid because it was a late night where you were allowed to stay up. The one against Watford away was superb, but the volley was the one for me."
What is your halcyon era for Spurs?
"My halcyon era was between 1980 and 1987. That was my golden period. From Keith Burkinshaw onwards. Personally, I think he is by far the most under-rated manager Tottenham have ever had. No one has ever explained to me, to this day, why he went. He got us promotion, two FA Cups. the UEFA Cup. I think the break up of that great David Pleat side was a real tragedy too. Spurs seemed to lose their way just a bit after then."
Is there one particular season you look back on most fondly?
"I absolutely love the season when Clive Allen was knocking them in like nobody's business - 49 goals, can you believe it? I think a lot of it was down to Tony Galvin. Genius player. Was he left-footed, was he right-footed? I don't know to this day. I don't think I've ever seen anyone with that level of skill. If he'd have been Brazilian, they would still be talking about him. But what a team we had then. Graham Roberts - what a hero. I just remember that team so vividly. In all honesty I think Ricky Villa was pretty over-rated, but Ossie was out of this world. Micky Hazard was good too, although he was a bit of a Glenn Hoddle clone."
Did you enjoy Gazza's period at Spurs?
"How could you not? I enjoyed Terry Venables' time in charge, but it always felt like it wouldn't last. There was so much uncertainty around the club. We did well to get the FA Cup win out of it, mind."
As a team who play attractive football do you think Tottenham sometimes become a victim of their own reputation?
"Yes. The trouble with Tottenham is that sometimes we start playing up to our reputation a little too much. Klinsmann was great but there was a slight lack of seriousness about Spurs at the time which I didn't like. It almost became silly football - like Fulham when they had Best and Marsh. "For me the Tottenham tradition is about so much more than that. It's never been about just strolling around with your socks around your ankles having a laugh, like Chelsea in the Seventies. That's the same attitude as those people who say they want Brazil to win the World Cup. That's ridiculous! You should want your own country to win! "That's why I could never really get excited about Ginola either. For me, it was Spurs living up to this perception of style over substance. Danny Blanchflower would turn in his grave if he thought that was what Tottenham were about. There was always a discipline to the great Spurs sides and that's what I love about the club. Graham Roberts - that guy was pure Spurs!"
When did you first go to White Hart Lane?
"I didn't get up to the ground for years, I must admit. I'm a proper armchair fan. I think the first time I went to White Hart Lane was in 1998, around about the time of Everything Must Go. It was amazing- everything I'd hoped for and more. If they could add another 6,000 on the capacity it would be perfect."
Being on tour so much, how do you keep up to date with what's going on?
"I always try to watch Match Of The Day wherever I am. I'm not particularly computer literate, so I still rely on Ceefax and Teletext for updates. To this day the first thing I do on checking into a hotel is go on Ceefax and check up on Spurs."
What has been your biggest disappointment as a Spurs fan?
"Probably the FA Cup final against Coventry. When I was growing up, the FA Cup was the only thing that mattered. The whole event of FA Cup final day was incredible. The coverage started at eight o'clock in the morning! My dad would pull the curtains, get me and my brother a shandy and we'd watch everything -meeting the wives, Cup Final Question Of Sport, travelling to Wembley on the team coach. I loved it, still do. "Consequently I was gutted when we lost that day. It was a brilliant game, mind. The goals were incredible - near-post headers, volleys, the lot. I felt sorry for Clive Allen. He'd done so much for us that season, he deserved a winner's medal. It seemed odd that he left soon afterwards. But I'm really glad he's back with us coaching now."
Have you ever met any of the players?
"Me and Richey [Edwards, former Manics member] were always into the idea of never meeting your heroes. I remember Muhammad Ali being at the Brits one year and everyone surrounding him and it all felt a bit undignified. Having said that, around the time of Everything Must Go, Tim Sherwood started to come to loads of gigs. He was great - a proper Tottenham boy and he loved the club. I thought he had two really good seasons at Spurs."
What is your least favourite period?
"The worst period for me was when Gerry Francis was manager. We would start the season and get up to fourth, but it was such a desperate form of football. For me it was a betrayal of the Tottenham Hotspur ethic. He was obsessed with fitness, wasn't he?"
Have you got any funny memories involving Spurs?
"I remember the first time the Manics ever had a tour bus with a video, I was really excited. I thought I'd be able to watch Tottenham Hotspur videos all day on the way to gigs! I distinctly recall getting a Glenn Hoddle video and it was the biggest disappointment ever. I thought it would have everything - the volley, the Watford goal, the side-footed goal for England against Bulgaria on his debut - and it didn't show a single goal. It was just him talking about his 'God Squad'. A total waste of time!"
Has a Manics tune ever been converted into a football chant?
"Someone told me they used to sing 'Motown Junk' at the Vetch Feld in Swansea back in the day. My greatest memory along those lines is the night we played on the pitch before the Wales v Italy qualifier at the Millennium Stadium. We did three songs and then afterwards sat next to Mark Hughes's mother in the Royal Box. And of course we won. For a Welshman, it doesn't get any better than that."
Would you have mixed emotions if Aaron Lennon scored a dazzling goal for England against Wales in a crucial qualifier?
"Well, you know what it's like - all bets are off when it comes to international matches Though I think a part of me would still be proud of him."
Have you ever been to a Spurs-Arsenal game?
"I've never been, no. To be honest I don't like the idea of going to big games - I'm happier watching on TV. There is nothing I like better than sitting at home watching Spurs in a big UEFA Cup game. I was gutted at losing to Sevilla - we would have won it with a bit more luck."
What are your thoughts on the current side?
"I've got a lot of faith in Martin Jol. My only worry is when I see we've got hundreds of midfielders, but I think he's sorting that out now. It was a shame to lose Carrick, but with Lennon, Berbatov and Keane all fit next season I think we're only going to improve. It's a young team, full of English players. It's a team in the great Spurs tradition."
What would you be happy with next season?
"I'm a romantic. If you said to me, 'Would you rather get fourth place and a place in the Champions League or win the FA Cup?', I'd rather win the FA Cup, every time. For me that's what Tottenham is about. If we win the league, it's just going to be serendipity, everything coming together in one miraculous season. I don't think we'll ever be the sort of team that could consistently win leagues. We're a cup team. If we win the UEFA Cup again next year I think they should let us keep it, because it'll be the third time we'll have won it!"
You mentioned earlier that there's a Spurs aesthetic. Could you expand on that?
"There's just something about Spurs. We're flash, but not in an obvious way like Chelsea. There's something more refined about Tottenham. It's hard to explain. Outside of London you don't come across many people who hate Spurs, there's a respect there. In a funny way I think we're the Liverpool of London. We epitomise the glory game. I actually think we invented modem football. Arsenal can say what they like, but they didn't invent it. We did."
Finally, as an avowed fan of Hoddle and Waddle, what did you make of 'Diamond Lights'?
"Ha, ha. What can you say? In the long-term I think it did a lot of good, because it was so bad it has stopped footballers from making records ever since."
NICKY WIRE'S DREAM TEAM
"It's a 4-5-1 formation, in the great David Pleat tradition."
Goalkeeper: Milija Aleksic An incredible goalkeeper, deeply under-rated. He never let us down."
Right-back: Steve Perryman "True Spurs. He was the sort of player who mold play anywhere, do anything for the team. He should have played for England a lot more than he did."
Left-back: Cyril Knowles "A legend, just a class act from start to finish. Great song too."
Centre-back: Richard Gough "Really under-rated. He came from Dundee United, put in an incredible couple of seasons then went back up there to Rangers and won everything."
Centre-back: Graham Roberts "He was brilliant in midfield too, but I'm going to have to play Graham at centre-back. Rock solid with a terrifying tackle."
Left-midfield: Chris Waddle "Genius. An absolutely amazing player. Silky skills, really graceful and with incredible acceleration."
Centre-midfield: Danny Blanchflower "He stands for everything that is g'eat about Spurs - he has to be there."
Centre-midfield: Dave Mackay A legend. You'd just need to look at him to know you'd never get Past him "
Right-midfield: Glenn Hoddle "Born is the King Of White Hart Lane."
Roving role: Cliff Jones "Another Spurs legend - you just can't leave him out."
Centre-forward: Jimmy Greaves "The greatest natural goalscorer England has ever seen.'