(Sir) Luther Blissett, Part One
We met Luther in Berkhamsted, where he now lives.
Firstly Luther, can you tell us how you came to be a Watford player?
Well at the time I would have been 15 I think. There was a guy at my school called Paul Kitson, and when we started the next term at school he had just completed his first year at Watford. He was a bit older than me. I was sitting talking to him in the common room and I was asking him all about it, and he told me that the club was actually holding an open trial session at RAF Stanmore. About eight or nine of us from the school team went down there on the Thursday.
We got the train down there and walked into the place excited as anything. It was a bit of an eye opener as none of us had ever done any proper training before. All we had ever done was play football in the street, which we done almost every day. Our skills were honed by nothing more than playing football at lunchtime, after school in a field and in the early evenings in the street. That is where it all started from. Wally Fieldings and Roy Clare, who are both sadly no longer with us, were the first people from the club we met and it was them that took the training session.
About two weeks after that session, they picked I think four of us to go down and play in a trial game. It was an under 17's game played at Hatch End against Southend. We won 3-1 and I scored twice. Seems like a long time ago now!
What can you remember about your debut?
It was against Swansea I think. Whoever it was against, I was crap. I was rubbish, absolutely awful! It was difficult because I was only told about it on the Friday night, and at that point I hadn't done a lot of work with the first team. I had watched them, but watching them is one thing and doing it is quite another. Like with any team there are little cliques within it and they sometimes play between themselves almost. I remember the goal I scored though. We won 2-1 and I scored up at the Vicarage Road end. The ball was played into my feet from out on the right. I took one touch and nudged it out to my left, spun and hit it into the top corner from the edge of the box. Apart from that moment, I was crap in that game. I only touched the ball about a dozen times throughout the game.
Mike Keen had actually made noises about getting rid of me, and it was being discussed by all sorts of people at the club. Tom Walley, who was still a player but had involvement in the youth team, said to Graham Taylor that he should keep me and give me a chance. Thankfully Graham listened to that advice.
At the end of the season Graham arranged a meeting with everyone, and wanted to meet every single player on an individual basis. We had about 15 minutes each with him. I got called in and he told me to sit down. He was in this great big chair and I was on a little stool, so he was really looking down on me. I was only 17 so I was as nervous as anything. With a new manager coming in you don't know whatís going to happen, and everything seems in slow motion. He had a piece of paper in his hands and he was reading that as we sat in silence. He then looked straight at me and said my full name 3 times with a couple of seconds pause in between each time. After the third time of saying it, he then said 'well son with a name like that you are going to have to be a star aren't you!'
He then told me that the previous manager was going to let me go but Tom Walley said I was worth giving a chance so that was what they were going to do. The rest is history!
That then gave you your first stint at Watford which included plenty of goals and also international recognition.
Yes I played a bit in the under 21's. I think my first game was away at Wales. That was Bryan Robson's last game at under 21 level as he was so good including scoring the winner in that game, that he got taken up to the full England squad after that game. It was no surprise though; he was a class act with unbelievable amounts of energy.
How did you find playing for England?
I found it a bit difficult at first, especially in training. The squad was and is even now made up of players from only a few teams. Back then the squad was mainly players from Arsenal, Spurs or United, so when you get players like me and Mark Chamberlain coming from Watford and Stoke you get the impression that the other players don't really take you seriously. You feel like they are of the impression that instead of being there on merit and having the quality, that you are just there to see if you are good enough. Itís almost like you had to prove yourself to the others in training.
Make no mistake though; there is nothing better than playing for England. The very best bit is getting the phone call telling you that you have been selected to represent your country. That is amazing. After that call though I took my mindset back to what it always had been - I was just going to play football. It was another door open for me but at the end of the day put simply I was just going to play football.
England at the time was in this stage where they thought they were a lot better than what they actually were. If you remember at the time the England games were awful to watch. There was always a lot of the ball but without much else. We never ran at the opposition with the ball. It would just be passing it from one side to the other through your midfield four and keep doing that until we gave the ball away.
For the games like that that are all about possession but no end product, they are awful to watch from the fans point of view. What are they like to play in?
Awful. Horrible to play in. When you play for your club you have a system that you understand and also continually work on and try to improve at. When you then try and adapt that into the England set up it invariably doesn't work. You would make the runs you were used to making, at the times you were used to making them and most of the time the ball won't come.
Generally at club level for every ten runs you make, you expect the ball to come over three or maybe four times. In England games that wouldn't happen. All you would get is a midfielder giving it to you to feet and wanting it straight back. It was frustrating. You need to get in behind the opposition and start pulling them about. When you do that they will start to panic.
Back at Watford, what was it like steamrolling your way through the divisions?
What Graham Taylor brought in to Watford was straight forward, simple thinking. We played to our strengths. It was as simple as that. Any successful organisation or team is successful because they play and work to their strengths. The strength of our team was the forwards. Our centre forwards and wingers. Goals win games, and scoring goals is what strikers did. So the remit of the team was to get the ball into areas where we could score goals from. It sounds too simple but that is what we did!
Every game was exciting to watch and to play in because every game we played, we went out to win it. We never went out looking for a draw. The opposition always knew that they would have to be on their game if they were going to survive the day. Most teams couldn't handle it. We were making defenders have to really concentrate on defending and we found that most of them couldn't do it. As we went through the divisions we really gained a reputation as being this supposed long ball team. We then started to come up against the teams that play football supposedly the way it is meant to be played - what a load of bollocks that is. They always wanted to show that they played football the right way and were a lot better than long ball Watford.
So we were quite happy to drop off them and let them tip tap it around to each other, and then all of a sudden as soon as they lost it we would hit them hard and fast and score a goal. Then go through the same thing of let them tap it about, lose it, we score...they always fell into the same trap. Every time. They were all brain washed into believing that we would hit it long and chase it.
Because they didn't fully understand what we did, they didn't know how to stop it. However we knew when the ball was going to be put in the box and where in the box it would be. We knew that as soon as our central midfield got the ball we should be ready up front, because the midfielders would knock it to a winger and they in turn would put it normally at the back stick where either me or big Ross would be to either nod it in or nod it back across goal to the 2nd striker. It was that simple.
Controversial question, who gave you the best service from the wing? Cally or Barnes?
Very difficult. Very, very difficult! They both had different strengths!
Barnesy could cross the ball with no space at all which was a special talent, where as Cally could bend the ball around his man to exactly where you wanted it. They both had different but very special strengths. The only way I could answer that question would be to find out who created most of my goals! Individually Barnesy was the most talented, but Cally had some great strengths in his game. Barnesy was the better overall player though.
A few of the other players from that team of the early 80's have said that they believe Cally should have done better with the talent that he had. Would you agree with that?
Yes. Cally had an arrogance about him with the way he played, but he also never understood or knew just how good a player he really was or what the real strengths of his game were. Cally was always keen to prove to people how good a player he was. When players do that they fall into a trap of doing much more than they need to and that is exactly what he was doing. He would beat his man and then wait for them to catch him just so he could beat them again.
For me when you beat a man you should leave them in your wake so next time you take them on they really shit themselves, where as if you give them that second chance and you lose the ball or they get a nick on it then it gives them that little bit of confidence. Barnesy had it right. Once he beat his man that was it, you didn't have a chance of getting the ball back.
And then came the end of the first era and you moved on to AC Milan. 25 years on, how do you feel about that move? If you had your time again would you make the same move?
No problem at all. I would do the same move again. One of the reasons I went to Milan was that I had just had a fantastic season at Watford, one where I got the opportunity to represent my country as well as being the top scorer in English football. So that was the perfect time to do it. At the time the opportunity came along, everything said to me that I should go. If you are going to leave a club that has been very successful for a move abroad, there are only a handful of teams you would go to such as Madrid, Barcelona or AC Milan.
Although it was certainly the right time to do it, it was still a tough decision. It was very late in the evening when I decided that I was going to go for it. Graham was very good about it. He told me that they had agreed a deal between the clubs and that if I wanted to go then he would wish me well, but if I turned it down and decided to stay then great. That was great because it meant there was no pressure and it was also entirely my decision. I have very few regrets in my life because I like to have all the facts about everything I do before I make a decision. That goes for anything I do in life. Therefore if I do make any errors then they are completely down to me and nobody else. I like to prepare and get things right because I hate looking back on decisions and wishing I had done things differently.
What is your take on your time out there? You scored 5 goals in 34 games which is below your ratio for the rest of your career.
It is similar to the England situation really. If you don't create chances, you won't score goals. Simple as that. They had no big names out there at the time either. The only one was Franco Baresi and he was only 18 or 19 at the time. The other big players had left when they got relegated for the match fixing scandal. They had just got back to the top division but didn't have the money to go and attract big name players from other top European clubs.
The recruitment of me was simply looking to see who had scored the most goals in England, saw it was me so signed me. But if they don't have creative players to set up goals for me then it was always going to be difficult. Going over there I was confident that if I had chances then I would put them away. In pre-season we played five games and I scored nine goals. That whet my appetite and I couldn't wait for the season to start, I was very excited.
But the moment the league season started the emphasis went on keeping the ball. It was ridiculous. I would get the ball to my feet and have a defender get touch tight on me, which for me was brilliant because I knew I could lay it off then spin off and get in behind the defender ready to be put through on goal. But I would lay the ball off, make my run and the ball wouldn't come because it had been played back to the sweeper!
Whilst you were out in Milan, Watford made it to Wembley. Does that stick in your throat at all?
I was and still am gutted about it. I was at the club all told from about '74 or '75. I had helped the club get to Europe but then never played a part, and then watched them get to Wembley and wasn't there for it. Two of the biggest things to ever happen to the club and I wasn't there for either, it was gutting.
Check Out Part Two Here