Jonathan Obika’s fourth and final first team appearance for Tottenham Hotspur came under a 2-1 defeat to Leeds United in FA Cups in January 2013. Nine years after the appearance of this replacement, the 31-year-old is preparing to face his boys team in the same competition with Morecambe from League One.
Born in Enfield, a few short miles from White Hart Lane, Obika rose through the ranks of the same age group as Andros Townsend, Steven Caulker and current first-team assistant manager Ryan Mason, and played in front next door Harry Kane in the formative years of the English captain’s career. Like so many young people at the top Premier League clubs, however, Obika was caught in the incessant loan carousel sent around from one understaffed English football league club to the next.
By the time Obika was called up from the bench to join Gareth Bale in the attack on the ultimately failed rescue mission on Elland Road, he had already had eight separate incantations away from his parent club, which included four stints with Yeovil Town. When he left as a free agent at the age of 23 in 2014, the total number had risen to 11.
It signaled the end of Obika’s time as a permanent loan guard, although he still lived a somewhat nomadic life by jumping from Swindon Town to Oxford United to St Mirren before settling at the coastal town of Morecambe last summer.
Before his return to north London, Obika admits that he may have been better served by trying to establish himself in the Spurs instead of spending so much time away, but that as a young player he was eager to make an impact in senior football.
“I think I would have liked to have taken a few loans and then seen if I could handle the grade there [at Spurs], ”He told reporters via Zoom. “But when there is an opportunity to play first team football, I feel it was important for my development to go out there.
“As a youngster, you just like to play matches. When I went to the loan clubs, I enjoyed it because you play first-team football instead of in the reserves. When I traveled to go to Swindon on a permanent move, I thought ‘I should have borrowed’ so many times? ‘ and you can ask yourself those questions, but you just have to trust the process. ”
Obika’s four first-team appearances were spread over five seasons and three tournaments, but an opportunity in the Premier League escaped him. “My first team debut was against NEC Nijmegen, I came on the field with Ryan Mason in the last 10 minutes of an away game, and my full debut was against Shakhtar Donetsk,” he recalls. “I was sitting on the bench in a Premier League match for West Brom away under Harry Redknapp, so that was probably my closest option.”
Much has changed at Spurs since Obika was on the club’s payroll. Kane and Hugo Lloris are the only first-team players still in the club from the 2013-14 season, while Mason is now part of Antonio Conte’s backroom staff after being forced to retire in 2018. But Obika looks forward to bumping into some familiar faces when visiting Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first time.
“It was my childhood club from 10 to 23 years old and I still have good relationships in the club with some of the staff and the team, so I look forward to returning to the N17,” said Obika. “Ryan Mason is a close friend of mine. Most of the other players have gone like Andros Townsend and Danny Rose, who I’m still in touch with. Some of the staff there, the medical team, some academy leaders I still keep in touch so it will be good to see them. ”
About Kane, who was a partner in the Premier League’s previous U21 competition, he adds: “Harry was a fantastic strike partner at the youth level and U23s, and it’s great to see how well he has done. It will be good to share a pitch with him. ”
Obika is not the only one in Morecambe with Tottenham connections. Manager Stephen Robinson also came through the academy, where he played alongside Sol Campbell and Nick Barmby on the youth team before making two Premier League appearances in the 1993-94 season on a team with Darren Anderton and Teddy Sheringham.
“That’s obviously the tie I wanted,” Robinson admits. “You always want to go back to your former club. I was at Spurs from 11, going back and forth from Belfast all the time. I signed under Terry Venables and played a few games under Ossie [Ardiles]. At the time, I could not figure out how I did not get more than two games, however [Jurgen] Klinsmann, [Nick] Barmby and [Teddy] Sheringham was probably a little better than me!
“I look back on it with joy. Many good memories, lots of good people. For me personally, it will be back up memory lane. The club has progressed significantly since I was there in terms of stadium and location in world football.”
Calamitous as the Spurs were in their previous game against Chelsea in midweek they are expected to comfortably beat a club that is 56 places below them in the English Football League.
“They’re going to come with a full gun,” Obika admits. “They have been on a good run in the league, of course they had a crack against Chelsea, but it is up to us to be organized, make the fans proud and try to cause a disturbance.”
Obika will hope that if a traditional giant murder actually takes place, he will have played a role in it.