Ray Lewington - Part One
Ray Lives in Surren with his wife Anne. He has two grown up sons, Dean and Craig
Hi Ray. How did you come to be Watford boss?
It was almost like I stumbled into it. When Luca Vialli became Watford manager I was at Brentford. I had fallen out with the Brentford chairman, Ron Noades. He was also the manager before me. Ron and I had been friends for a long, long time so it was very sad. We got to the position where I was locked in a contract but wanted to get out of it, but he wouldnít do anything about it even though he wanted me to go as well. Ray Wilkins, who was assistant manager under Luca and has been my close friend since we were 10 years old, phoned me and said do you want to come over and be reserve team manager. I managed to get it sorted and I went.
At the end of the year when Luca and a few others left, Tim Shaw approached me and asked if I wanted to apply for the job. I asked him if it was worth me applying, i.e. did I have a real chance of getting it. He then told me I had a couple of friends on the board who would like to see me get it so give it a try. So I applied and as you know now I got the job. To be honest, I wouldnít have applied if I hadnít been invited to. I was expecting the sack if anything. Although I was caretaker over the summer after Luca went I was doing that thinking that I was just holding the fort until someone else came in to do the managers job. It all turned out quite nice for me.
I remember Oli Phillips telling me there had been a poll in the Watford observer and I got 1%, so I think I was a popular choice!
You had up and down times whilst Watford manager, do you have any particular period that you would say was your favourite?
I really did enjoy all of it. When I got the job I was told of the circumstances, though I donít think I was told 100%. Later on in the season when we had to take wage deferrals that wasnít expected at all. I was aware though that a wage bill of £14 million had to be reduced to £3 million in three years. But I went into it with my eyes wide open, and aware that that was what I had to do whilst trying to keep us at the level we were in the championship. I think it is safe to say things were worse than they were described to me. To be told after a few months that we had to take these wage deferrals or we would be going into administration wasnít nice. In a strange way that was one of the best periods.
I remember we went away to Sheffield United and got a win, and that was one of the games that definitely brings a smile to your face. That was nice. Then in the second year we had the cup semi final which was good even though we didnít really perform on the day, and then the year after that we had the league cup semi final. I canít say any one period was particularly better than any other. It was always enjoyable for me. I never came home too frustrated, it was an enjoyable job.
Which of the two cup runs to the semis were you most proud of, and do you think we could have been more positive against Liverpool at home in the second leg of the league cup?
Thatís a fair question, and a dilemma that goes through any managerís mind. The equation was, after performing so well at Anfield and losing 1-0, do we really go for it from the very first minute? When you do that against the big clubs like Liverpool you leave yourselves very open and if they score then you have to score at least three so effectively you are out. So we thought we would keep it nice and tight first half and then really go for it in the second half. We changed the system for the second half to do that, but in the first half there was a little bit of caution because one goal would kill us off.
If we were playing against a team of equal strength then we would have obviously gone into the game with a 4-4-2. but playing against the likes of Liverpool, who you know if you open up too early they will pick you off, we just wanted to keep it tight and hope we won the toss and were kicking towards the rookery second half and open up and really have a go then. Unfortunately it didnít happen. I can understand the question though. In hindsight maybe it would have been better to have been more brave and just go for it.
What were your first impressions of Ashley young, and did you expect him to be the success he has been so far?
He is was and still is a very slight lad. I remember David Dodds telling me that he would play for England and he was proved right. What I was worried about was that I think we created a monster over McNamee. We went completely over the top with the boy. We were saying that he was going to be a wonder player and I think we actually spoilt McNamee. It was all too much too soon; he went of the rails and never really recovered. You can end up labeling these players and they canít handle it. When Macca first came in he caught the publicís imagination. Such a young, small lad with such big talent. It weighed too heavily on him. But with Ashley when he came in we didnít want to make the same mistake.
Nigel Gibbs was a big fan of his and backed Doddsy's judegement. But we decided that whatever we do with ash, we play it down and not label him as this superstar. The plan was always to bring him in then take him out, bring him back in and take him out again. None of us expected him to go on so quickly apart from Doddsy. There was certainly recognition of his talent though. It was unusual to have such a gifted and two footed player. He was also very bright as a footballer; there were not many things we had to tell him twice. We also wanted to take care of him because of his size as well, but we definitely knew we had a very good player on our hands.
It was impossible to tell just how god he would be though at such a young age. To see how he has gone on though is brilliant because he is a lovely lad, and his parents are wonderful people. He was one of the few people that didnít have an agent. When we were sorting his deal out he came in with his parents and we looked after him when we signed him pro. They never made any demands about money; they just basically said 'so long as you give him a fair wage and look after him then we trust you'. I'm really glad he has gone on to have the career he is having at the moment.
It is well documented that things were tight for the club financially, but are there any players in particular that you would have liked to have brought or loaned in when things were getting tight at the bottom?
Loads! I canít name too many names for obvious reasons. We had quite a strange occurrence at one point though. A friend of mine who is very wealthy made an offer to us. He knew we were tight financially so he made an offer to buy us some players. Whoever we wanted to buy, within reason, he would buy. He would then get a share of any profit made on those players. He wouldnít decide when they would be sold, or how much for. There were two players I wanted to bring in. a young Jobi Mcanuff was one, and Nigel Reo-Coker as the other. We could have got them both for about £150,000 each. My friend was happy with it and was happy to buy them for the club. But then the club wanted him to pay there wages as well. He wasnít happy with that, as he was correctly of the stance that it was the club that would be using them and benefitting from them, and the club would also be getting 50% of any profit despite not having to buy them in the first place. When you think that Reo-Coker went for £8 million in the end, we missed out. There were a few others he would have bought for me if the club would take on the responsibility of paying them. At the time Reo-Coker was probably on no more than £100,000 a year so we wouldnít have been breaking the bank. But the chairman wouldnít do it and the opportunity was missed.
There were a lot we missed out on. The other one that springs to mind is Paul Jones, the Wolves keeper. The club didnít want us to take him even though we were desperate and about to play in a semi final. They didnít want to pay any of his wages. It was such backward thinking it was unbelievable. We had to go quite strongly to the board with that one, and say that if you donít do it then you are not backing us and we will have to seriously think about staying here. That is how strong we had to get to get a keeper in for a major cup semi final. They wanted us to play with a youth team keeper in goal.
After you left Aidy Boothroyd took over at the helm with a more realistic budget than you had, and had success in taking us to the premier league. Do you think that if you had that budget to play with you could have taken us up to the premier league?
Aidy has a different philosophy to me. The route to short term success is long ball, no doubt about it. I personally wouldnít have done that so the answer is no. I would have liked to have had the same budget as he had but that was never on the cards. I think he done the right thing, but I also think that is his philosophy anyway. He was the right man at the right time. If I was there though I would have still tried to play a little bit of football and that takes longer to establish. I donít know what his wage bill was but it was a couple of million more than what I had to play with. He bought well though; the players that he bought in were good types. I would have liked the opportunity to do it. I was a bit miffed I got the wage bill to below the magic £3 million mark and then I was sacked only for the next man to get an increased budget. Good luck to Aidy though, no qualms with him.
Before you left terry Burton moved on to Cardiff, and in some people opinions the team preparation seemed to drop a bit after that. Was terry a big influence on team preparation and day to day involvement?
I think thatís unfair on Nigel Gibbs who came in and did fantastic. There is no doubt terry is a great coach. We shared the coaching roles though and all had a big input. However, as a manager sometimes you need to step back a bit and let someone else do it so I went and got the best man for the job. That man was terry Burton. Terry left because he wanted to and frankly the wages we were paying him were not very much. It took a while to persuade terry to come and I done it on the condition that if he ever really wanted to leave and had an offer that he couldnít turn down then he had my word I would let him go. Thatís what happened when he left to Cardiff - they trebled his wages.
Cardiff at the time had reputed financial troubles, so it seemed baffling that they could afford to offer a lot more to a clearly important member of the backroom staff, and also how they managed to get Neal Ardley.
There is skint, and then there is really skint. We were beyond really skint! We were in deep trouble and struggling to pay the wages. The board was just trying to cut everywhere. Terry Burton knew Sam Hammam and so Sam knew what he was getting. Because he knew that he was prepared to pay the money, and it was money that probably wouldnít have been bettered for that position at a premier league club.
It was the same with Neal Ardley; we just couldnít afford to re sign him. I know Neal wasnít everyoneís cup of tea but he was a good man and a good pro. When it came to renewing his contract we offered him a third of what he was previously on. It was a tough time. Like I said, there are different levels of skint and I was led to believe that we were truly skint but then when Aidy Boothroyd took over there miraculously became more money available which was disappointing.
You went on record whilst at Watford saying that when Graham Simpson sacks you he will be very nice about it. Did that turn out to be the case?
Yes, he was very nice about it, true to form. Graham was one of these who appeared naive but when you look back he wasnít as naive a he would appear. He came along to a number of supporters meetings and said he would never sack me which was a ridiculous thing to say. I told him it was a stupid thing to say but he maintained he would never sack me. Well in the end he sacked me! The only thing is I didnít see it coming. Normally you get the usual signs and you do see it coming. You would get the fans turning against you, the dreaded vote of confidence and then you know whatís coming.
The only thing I got was a phone call from a reporter the night before who told me he had been giving it on good authority that I was going to get sacked in the morning. I was shocked but he assured me he was pretty sure. I then got a phone call at about seven in the morning from the chairman asking to see me. I went to his house. He told me it was the hardest thing he had ever had to do, but he thought it best we go our separate ways. The only thing I really didnít like was that I wanted to go to the training ground and shake hands with all the boys and the staff. I was then given a letter telling me I was effectively banned from the training ground, from The Vic and also from making contact with anyone.
Why was that? Is that normal practice?
No, I donít know why it was done. My first instinct was 'sod you, I'm going' but it was still only half past eight in the morning so nobody was in yet. I phoned my wife and told her the news and she wanted me at home asap. I went home and we phoned the LMA and they told me to fax the letter through so they could check it out. The players contacted me the next day to say that they would like to say goodbye and we met up in a pub in London Colney by the training ground. It was nice to get to say goodbye but it wasnít the same as doing it on the day.
Part Two here
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