With many thanks to Espen Baardsen and the author of the article - Robert Papier
So Espen arrived in England in middle of June ready to start pre-season training with the Spurs youth team. As luck would have it Spurs were training at Chase Lodge in Mill Hill at the time which is only 6 miles from where I live so taking him to and from training was manageable. As I was at work my wife did most of the ferrying although whenever I could I went, particularly as know one seemed to mind me staying along to watch. I met quite a few of the staff at this time and undoubtedly the highlight for me was meeting Pat Jennings, a personal hero of mine, who was one of the goalkeeping coaches.
The summer went well and at the end of it Pat Holland said that he would be happy to have Espen back next year and that he would keep in touch. Pat was true to his word, writing to Espen and his parents throughout the year and the next summer Espen was once again my summer house guest attending training. Over the next four years the summer training continued with Espen getting plenty of support and encouragement from Pat Holland, Pat Jennings and Erik. Pat Holland was absolutely superb during this period and there is no doubt in my mind that it was his work in keeping in touch that was one of the key factors in Espen joining Spurs. Over the years he has been one of Spurs' unsung heroes working in the background with the youth teams, a great help to Espen and a really nice guy. It was a great shame that it did not work out for him at Orient. I also got to meet Erik quite a few times during this period, with him and his family coming to my house (as Espen's guest) and us going to his. He also was a tremendous help to Espen and he is a real gentleman.
Espen stayed at my house for four summers and during this period became, and still remains, a firm friend to my children, for whom he was a bigger (much bigger) brother. Unsurprisingly when my son started playing football he played in goal.
When Espen was 16 Spurs tried to sign him as an apprentice but he and his parents were adamant he should graduate from high school first. This created an issue for Spurs as he was by then becoming quite well known, he was a USA youth international and other clubs including Man Utd were beginning to show an interest. In the end Spurs did a deal in that he signed for Spurs at 17 but was not required to attend until he was 18 and finished school.
Espen joined Spurs in June 1996. His first ever game was a behind closed door friendly at Spurs Lodge against Orient who were then managed by Pat Holland. In the first minute of the game Espen went for a cross, shouting keepers ball, he got the ball but unfortunately landed on Gary Mabbutt, knocking him out so that he had to go to hospital, great start!!!
About this time Erik was forced to retire though injury and Espen, who had been signed as number 3 goalkeeper found himself the number 2 goalkeeper. The then manager, Gerry Francis, went on record saying that Espen had saved the club £1m as they would not need to go and sign a replacement keeper.
Espen was now playing for the reserves and was first team back up to Ian Walker. My children and I went to watch a few reserve games, sometimes standing with Bruce (Lewis) and his dad. It was fun. One of the emerging stars of the reserves at that time was Stephen Carr who became a regular in the first team during the second half of the season.
Espen made his debut coming on for the second half against Liverpool at Anfield when we were 0-1 down, the game was televised so I was of course watching it. He told me afterwards that he was a little nervous, which was nothing to how I felt. Friends who were watching the game with me tell me that I turned white. Never before was I so keen for us not to concede a goal. Espen kept a clean sheet and although we lost, for once I was not that bothered, just relieved that he had played well.
Espen's career now began to take off. He was promoted from the Norway U21 to the full squad and over the next 2 seasons made over 20 appearances for Spurs, contesting the spot with Ian Walker. He also went to the 1998 world cup being the youngest goalkeeper there.
Eventually Espen lost the battle for the keeper spot to Walker. GGG dropped him after an error against West Ham. The disappointment was that Espen never got another chance and this was why he had to leave Spurs. While Espen had no problem being dropped for the error, what did get to him was that from then on no matter how many errors Walker made, and there were a few, he was never dropped.
I was obviously very disappointed to see Espen leave. To have coached a youngster and then assisted him in coming through to the Premier League (though as mentioned my contribution was really quite small) is something that I am very proud of. For him to be playing for Spurs was really a dream come true for me.
Espen joined Watford and I started going to as many Watford games as possible, which was easy as they are my nearest football club. At Watford he was really unlucky, after a good start to the season he got injured and veteran Alex Chamberlain took over. Chamberlain did so well that he ended up winning the Watford Supporters player of the year award. After that Espen was caught up in Watford's financial problems, mostly caused by Vialli (He bought Vega!!!) and the club negotiated a settlement to his contract in order to reduce costs.
Espen spent some time with Everton on a short term contract as cover and played his last Premier League game for them against us. Unfortunately (though fortunately for us) he was carrying an injury that day and did not shine. In fact he played because he was the least injured of the Everton goalkeepers.
How good was he for Spurs, was he better than Walker?
I'm not really the best person to pass judgement here as I am definitely biased. What is beyond doubt is that he had potential, at 19 he was ranked number 1 in the world for his age group. In my opinion Spurs missed an opportunity and had he been treated with a little more fairness by GGG and allowed to develop he would have developed into a top keeper. I am old enough to remember when Pat Jennings started his Spurs career and in the early days when he was still learning the game he did make some fundamental errors. However Spurs stuck with him and look at the service they received, but then again what do I know and I am, I admit, very biased.
One thing that that I know for sure is that Espen had and still has a real affection for Spurs. After all he had been with us since he was 14 and through my unsubtle brain washing had an knowledge of Spurs from the age of 9. I can also tell you that he was genuinely touched by the reception that the crowd gave him in that final Everton game.
What the future holds for Espen, who knows. He is a very intelligent guy with the world at his feet (Espen continued his studies part time while living in England and has now graduated from University) and I can understand why he is looking at other things. What very few of us see is just how much youngsters have to sacrifice to reach the top in football, or any other sport for that matter. They basically give up their teen years, while Espen's friends were out partying he was practicing or playing 5 to 7 days each week.
I knew Espen as a youngster and as an adult he has become a good friend to me, my wife and my children. He is a real pleasure to be with, intelligent, interesting and a really nice guy. I wish him nothing but good luck for the future, whatever that may hold. He could even, if he wants, get back into football with the most likely route back being a Norwegian club.
In closing I will leave you with one thing that I found very amusing. My wife was trying to work out what she would buy Espen for his 21st birthday, after all finding a gift for someone who earns many thousands of pounds a week is not easy. She came up with the idea of buying both Espen and me time in the two seated Mclaren formula racing car, however when she got the brochure she found that neither of us would be allowed to do it. The reason, there is only so much seat adjustment in the car and because of this there was a maximum size of 6' 3" and a minimum size of 5' 6". Espen is 6' 5" and I am only 5' 3!! Oh well the best laid plans etc.
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