Teddy Zabiela tells of his days with the Spurs

11th August 2015
Spurs program 1948, Priaulx Library collection

From the Star, July 11 1944 & July 13 1944. By 'Linesman.' The beginnings of Guernsey's link with Tottenham Hotspur. The 1948 match program is from the Library's collection. Ted Zabiela ran the White Hart Hotel (which he must have named after White Hart Lane); his 'proudest moment was in 1946 when he procured for the Spurs the signature of Len Duquemin, the centre-forward who was to bring such honour to the island by his brilliant record both as a player and as a sportsman of the highest order (Guernsey Evening Press, February 5 1960).' Islander Len Duquemin was Spurs' leading goalscorer that year.

Glimpses of the famous in the world of sport

It will be generally agreed that one of the island's leading promoters of sport is Mr E H Zabiela, but 'Teddy' has never been a publicity seeker, although he has probably a more comprehensive experience of soccer, both here and on the mainland, than anyone else on the island.

When I called on him the other day at the Swan Inn, St Julian's Avenue, to glean some reminiscences, he seemed somewhat reluctant, but, by a little gentle persuasion, I was successful in extracting a most interesting story from him.

'My brother Tom and I,' said Mr Zabiela, 'began kicking a ball around when we were so young that father had to have special boots made us. But our actual playing days began at the Intermediate School where we were in the First Eleven. Upon leaving school, we signed for the Rangers, and were in that club's team which won the Junior League for the first time. Eventually we went up to the second and first teams and were in the club's Jackson and Jeremie cup-winning sides, but never had the good fortune to win the Priaulx.

Although I was not a 'star' footballer like Tom, I was just good enough to win the honour which so many island footballers covet—to play in the Muratti. This was in 1911 and I played at centre-half.

Cycle racing

Football was not the only sphere of sport in which my brother and I figured. We were particularly successful at cycle racing at the Track in both senior and junior divisions. In fact, we won almost every important event that it was possible to win, and I completed my run of success by taking the championship belt. My brother rode in the final of the South of England junior contest, against a Portsmouth boy, at Portsmouth, winning one and losing one. Consequently the final had to be re-raced over here, and Tom managed to pull it off.

'I hear you were a sailor for a considerable period. How about your nautical experiences?' I asked. 'That's right,' said Teddy. 'I have been a sailor. I made up my mind to get away and see the world at someone else's expense and I left the island on a Monday for Southampton. On the Tuesday I went down to the docks in quest of employment, and my ambition was realised when I was offered a stewardship on the Royal Mail liner Araquis, which was due to sail the next day for Buenos Aires, in the Argentine.

Unluckily for the second officer steward, but luckily for me, he was indisposed and could not sail, so I was given his job. And that was how I began my long association with Tottenham Hotspur.

Ever since I was a kid, my favourite side had been the Spurs. Imagine my feelings when I discovered that they were on the same ship as I was. They were going with Everton on a playing tour to Buenos Aires. They were guests daily in the officers' mess and there I met Mr Roberts, the Chairman, Billy Minter, and all the other players. Thus was forged the first link of my connection with the Spurs.

On arrival at Buenos Aires, I went to see them play Everton, and they drew, two each, and then the Spurs triumphed over the Argentinas to the tune of 1-0. While at Buenos Aires I played for the ship's team, but as time passed, and after a couple of trips there, I felt I wanted a change. After prowling around, I managed to obtain a post in the White Star liner Adriatic, and shortly afterwards set sail for New York. We had not been at sea more than two days when the steward came to me and asked, 'I believe you played outside left for Guernsey?'

In New York

Actually, of course, he was referring to my brother Tommy, but I took a chance and said, 'Yes.' 'Then would you like a try-out for the ship's team at right wing when we reach New York?' was the next query. Eager for new experience, and to play my favourite game, I again answered in the affirmative. Came the trial, and what a success it was! I was playing alongside George Butt, of Southampton, who 'made' me in this game. Our side was good except for one weakness—the centre-forward. I was asked if I could find a good man to replace him, and said I knew a good player back in Guernsey whom I would approach on my return and try to persuade him to come back with me.

This player to whom I refer was 'Ratter' Cleale, the Northerners' star centre-forward. He agreed and returned with me to New York to play his first match against the Lusitania team, but was dead off form. However, on the next trip, we had to play against the Mauretania for the Western Ocean Cup. We won 2-1, and 'Ratter' played a great game, scoring our two goals, which compensated for his earlier failure.

When we got back to Southampton, we played another final at the Dell, the famous football ground, against the Teutonic's team for the New York K O Cup, and we won 2-1, 'Ratter' again being conspicuous by scoring the winning goal. So we did very well by winning both cups in the one season. Then 'Ratter' and I were selected to play for New York City against New Jersey at Long Island, and great was our surprise when we were lined out on the field, to see the opposing centre-forward was none other than another Northerner's star, Jimmy Leadbeater. We got beaten 2-1.

The Star, July 13 1944

Guernseyman a guest at Cup Final Banquet

Continuing his reminiscences, which I began to record in The Star on Tuesday, Mr Ted Zabiela confirmed that during his career at sea he had a fortuitous escape from a grave in the Atlantic Ocean. 'I believe that you almost sailed on the ill-fated Titanic on that tragic maiden voyage in April 1912,' I observed.

'Quite true,' said Mr Zabiela. 'I was on her sister ship, the Olympic, at the time but she had no football team. When the Titanic was completed and ready to sail, all the crew were transferred to the new ship. Luckily fate decided that I should not sail, I came over to Guernsey at the time of the disaster to see a Muratti, and I did not return to sea again.

On the outbreak of war, I volunteered in the RASC and went to Egypt. Here I was selected to play in a representative side of the RASC against the 31st Division of Infantry, and then I was transferred to the Tank Corps and had the additional honour of playing in their representative side at Bovington Camp, England. At the end of hostilities, I returned home and, with the help of that grand sportsman, Mr Frank Mourant, revived inter-insular rivalry by taking a Guernsey team to play Jersey at Westmount. The side we took down was composed almost entirely of Muratti stars and was as follows: Lanyon; Purdy and Beach; Spiller, Brown and West; Zabiela, Cumber, Marriette, Chapell and Courts. I think if any of this team were asked which was the best holiday they ever spent in Jersey they would say this was. We had a wonderful time and won 3-0.

A pal of ours

And now for my connection with English football. 'My' team, the Spurs, were playing a cup-tie against Cardiff City, at Cardiff. I could not get a ticket at any price for this game, so I mentioned it to Jimmy Blessington, the Scottish international, who was the manager of the Victoria Hotel in High Street. He said, 'If you want to take a chance, go to Cardiff and hand my card to Tom Clay of the Spurs, and English international back.' So off I went.

At Cardiff I produced the card to Clay, who said, 'If you are a pal of Jimmy Blessington you are a pal of ours,' so up I climbed into the charabanc and drove with the team into the ground. The match was drawn and replayed in London on the following Wednesday afternoon. I was there, and after the match I was taken into the dressing-room, and ever since I have been one of the happy family of the Spurs at White Hart Lane.

But I have also had some very good times at Villa Park, Birmingham. Cyril Spiers and Billy Walker, of Aston Villa, being friends of mine. Walker was an international and captain of the Villa, while Spiers was a goalkeeper. Bolton Wanderers also gave me a most cordial reception and a good time. Billy Butler, who had played for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in Guernsey, was outside-right for the Wanderers. He was a great favourite with the spectators and officials of the club. On this club's invitation I went on a week's tour with them during Easter. We went to Newcastle, Sunderland, Everton, and Birmingham.

My wife and I were also the guests of Bolton when they won the Cup Final against Manchester City. We attended the victory banquet at the Russell Hotel and had the honour of drinking champagne out of the F A Cup. All the Football Association officials were present, as well as about 150 guests.

On another occasion I travelled with the Arsenal as their guest to West Bromwich and made the acquaintance of such famous stars as Alec James, David Jack, Tom Parker, Joe Hulme, Bastin, and the great Herbert Chapman.

From Herbert Chapman I found out all I wanted to know about football. I had the promise from him that he would bring an Arsenal team to Guernsey, but unfortunately he was unable to fulfil it. Reading and Crystal Palace have also given me grand times, but there was none like my first love, The Spurs.

I had the greatest honour of all when I was allowed to bring over the Spurs First Eleven, to play at the Track. After their first visit to Guernsey they became greatly attached to the island, so much so that when the prospect of coming here a second time arose, they cancelled a Continental tour which was then in the offing.

Treasured gift

At the behest of the Spurs, after they had made their first visit to the island, I went up to London for a presentation made by them. I received a replica of the Spurs' badge so familiarly known to all—the cock superimposed on a football—which was moulded in solid silver. During my visits to London I have also been guest of the Secretary of the F A, Mr S F Rous, and his wife. Because of my connection with the Spurs, I have met quite a number of notabilities. Those I bring to mind include Tom Webster, Jack Hobbs, Len Harvey, Jack Peterson, and many others.

In a long football career, including every international match played in London, the best game I ever saw was that between England and Germany. For cleanliness and sportsmanship, I do not think it has ever been equalled.

There are, however, few sports in which I am not interested, particularly racing and boxing. I have seen practically all the leading events on the Turf and in the ring during recent years, but oddly enough have never attended the Grand National.'

Asked what his post-war football plans were, Teddy responded: 'I'm looking forward to getting going again by bringing the best possible footballers to Guernsey, as I have done in the past. I think the standard of play will be better after the war, and I am looking forward to seeing some good games here.'


The photograph, one of two from the Zabiela Family File, shows the 2nd X1 and officials of the Guernsey Rovers Athletic Club 1942-43. L-R: W J Chick, D Dyke, S Collins, E Snelling, E H Zabiela (Hon. Fin. Sec.) (Committee) (Vice-President), W Wellington (Committee), E R Chick (Committee)/L J Robilliard, G Langlois, W Guille, R C Vidamour, D Vidamour (Capt.) H Duquemin, K de la Mare, R J Le Huray (Coach)/R Tostevin, C Blondel, H Savident, L Guille, W Jehan.

Edward Henry Zabiela (1886-1960), proprietor of the White Hart Hotel, St Peter Port; Henry T Zabiela (1888-1954), President Guernsey Referees' Assoc. See Zabiela Family File in the Library; Guernsey Evening Press April 24 1915.


See Skuse, Graham, The Guernsey Football Association: One Hundred Years and Onwards 1893/4-1993/4Guernsey: GFA, 1996.