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  Ross Jenkins - Part One

 

Ross now lives in Spain with wife Yvonne. He has a son Ross, who lives in Dover and two grandchildren, Max, 6 and Chloe, 2.

 

Hi Ross. How did your move to Watford come about?
 
It came about because I opened my mouth at a conference! I was at Palace as a youngster, and we played Liverpool at home losing the game 1-0. On the Monday we had a review of the game, which you should never do because you should never look backwards in my opinion. Tommy Smith, or Chopper Smith as he was known in those days, saw they broke from the back and was involved in the goal. I asked what the rest of the players were doing as I had gone across to cover a throw in. That comment resulted in me being moved out of the club, but George Kirby had had a good look at me before and had seen me score quite a few goals for the reserves before having a good run of games in the 1st team.

 

George made an official move for me and it was all accepted. I was young then and didnít have any real guidance and before I knew it I had signed and was a Watford player.
 
Quite a big fee you moved for, £30,000, a club record at the time. Did that put any extra pressure on you?
 
No the fee didnít worry me at all. The fee became more of an issue for the newspapers, and the local observer hammered it. Watford were struggling though. They had had a good spell and gone up as far as the second division then but were heading downwards at the time and I came and found myself in a place that didnít have much structure.

 

At Palace I had come through the ranks where we had a format to play to, and we understood each others games and knew each others movements. At Watford it was literally a case of when you get the ball, do what you do with it then give it to someone else! There was a lack of team understanding. If a team struggles it does generally tend to be the forwards who get the blame.
 
It seems like it took you a couple of seasons to get into your goal scoring stride?
 
True, I didnít get into my stride early on at the club at all. There was a number of players coming and going, and also back then there was only a limited number of players a club could have because the finances were not there like they are now. You would generally have 13 or 14 senior pros then the rest would be made up of youngsters coming through. If a senior player got injured it would always be a youngster that would come in and deputise for them. So yes it was difficult.
 
It almost seemed that when you scored your first couple of goals for Watford you got sarcastic applause from some of the Watford fans..
 
Yes there was. It was tough, on and off the pitch. I didn't feel I was getting good service, and also I was trying to settle my family and my wife wasn't well. I also had a young baby at that time. I was like a fish out of water and it took me a long time to settle. At the time there seemed a lack of pattern that we were playing our game to. Because I was the tall striker, I was the target man in those days. So I relied on service and team play rather than trying to play as an individual. I wasnít the type of player to beat three defenders then crack it in. I was better at trying to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Our wingers at the time though were not great at putting a ball on my head, most of the time they would knock it too deep. There were quite a few inter player problems as well which were not beneficial to the team.
 
Such as?
 
There were a few personality clashes, which meant that some players didn't want other players doing well. That meant that the service and team spirit were no where near as good as they could have been. The whole club was in a state of not performing.
 
After a couple of years the goals started to come more regularly. Did you begin to feel more at home then?
 
What happened was Keeny took over after Kirby and we had more pattern to our play. Keeny also brought some very good footballers to the club. I say we had more pattern to our play, but in my view it still wasn't enough so performances were better, but not what they could have been. The real change came about when Graham Taylor came to the club.
 
How big a change was it?
 
It was a change for everyone at the club. He was a young manager who had been making a name for himself up at Lincoln. He came in with a clean slate, knowledge of all the players and also a rigid structure of how he wanted us to play. Every player had a question mark over whether they would be involved, but he basically told us that everyone would have a chance and explained to us exactly what he wanted to do.

 

Training was immediately much harder and much longer, with a lot more work done on team play and formations. And of course he wanted to get back to having out and out wingers. In my opinion, you cannot win games unless you have wingers even today. You still see it though, teams playing with one up front and no real wingers to put the balls in the box. You even see it in the Premier League.
 
At one point you had the opportunity to leave Watford and join Huddersfield. Looking back, is that a decision you would still stand by?
 
There are a lot of decisions you can look back on in life. Going to Watford wasn't beneficial to me career wise. I thought Palace made a mistake letting me go. A lot of the young lads I played with at Palace were coming through and going up and up. If I hadnít gone to Watford then who knows for me? The Huddersfield situation was...well the club was fed up with me. The fans were coming round to me though because I always gave 100% for the club. Yes sometimes things didnít work for me but everyone has bad days. Mike Keen was still in charge when Huddersfield came in.

 

 I went up to Huddersfield and saw the manager, whose name I can't remember now. He was really keen to get me on board and offered me everything I wanted including good money, certainly a lot more than I was on at Watford. He even drove me around a few estates to show me some nice houses. I remember it being a nice sunny day which always helps whenever you go north of Watford! So we had to put some thought into it. Yvonne was all for it, and I stayed up all night thinking about it. In the morning I phoned them and told them I was going to stay at Watford and sort things out. It gave me a bit more enthusiasm to mention ideas and formations for the team and made me more determined to make a go of it at Watford. Things didnít work out for Keany, but then Graham came in and was someone that wanted to grab the team by the scruff of the neck and get them performing.
 
You were then part of that whole fairytale rise from fourth division to runners up in the first. Was there any particular division that you enjoyed playing in the most?
 
It would be the first division, because it effectively took me ten years to get back to where I originally was. In my ten years at Watford, at first nobody at first had me down as a player that could compete at that level. But I always had my beliefs about how football could and should be played and so I had confidence that I could compete and perform at that level. I was taken out of the top league at 21, and got back at 32. We started very well and were beating these so called big teams. We were more than holding our own and we certainly weren't just accommodating teams.

 

We were effectively going out and saying 'we play like this, if you want to beat us you are going to have to play us the way that we are good at'. We were not going to change or adapt for anyone.

 

The only time I saw us change at all in that era was a couple of years after I left when we played in the semi final of the cup at Villa Park and I saw us actually doing some man-to-man marking and players playing slightly out of position to do it. We didn't look good or perform well that day.
 
During your time at Watford was there a particular favourite game that you were involved in?

 
I donít know about one particular game because you always prepare to go out and do your thing. You have to be in the mindset that you are going to make it work and get your game together early on. We had good players at the club that all clicked together. Taylor got players to play to there strengths and improved there strengths. You work on your strengths, not your weaknesses.

 

Certainly one memorable game was the Southampton game, especially as I was dropped for the first game. I remember Graham calling me over on the Friday lunchtime and asking for a quick word. When you are asked for a 'quick word' on Friday lunchtime you know what is coming! There was no problem though; me and Graham had a very good relationship. He would tell me he was resting me, and I would tell him he was wrong to but that would be it, no fall outs. I still strongly believed that the team was better with me in it, that was the belief I had. I felt it functioned better and allowed the other players to be more creative. I was the sticking point for the ball, the man that held it up and allowed other players to move across the line. I still donít see movement like we had even now.
 
How did you enjoy playing alongside Luther Blissett?
 
Luther was the up and coming boy through Mike Keen's time, and then when Taylor came in he inherited this young talent that was coming through. We quickly slotted into this partnership because he was so quick and he matured very fast. He was a strong lad, very muscly. He came on to the scene and could run and bounce like nobodyís business! He had a terrific shot on him and also was a great header of the ball as he proved away at Old Trafford. You think back to nights like that Southampton game, and it was just a magical night and really helped our partnership. That set the standard and showed that as a team we could go up against good teams and beat them. We were still being labeled long ball but I think that was just a reporterís thing. A cross from the wing is a long ball, but that is surely what a winger is supposed to do?
 
Other players from your era have said that they also thought it was lazy journalism, and that a lot of the so called long balls were in fact perfectly placed long passes forward. Would you agree?
 
Yes. Also, there was the fact that Elton was at the club so we got much bigger headlines and attention from the national press. The press seemed to have a downer on us. Graham was great with the press, but I think they were disappointed because they wanted to see the razzmatazz of lots of little passes, and I suppose in a way we were a bit of a controversy. We didn't mind, but we did feel it was a little unjust. 

 

A long pass up to someone or a long pass into space because you knew that someone would run into that space is a fabulous thing. We used to work on getting the ball into the box at all opportunities but getting it in well. It worked for us. We were getting better, we were beating plenty of teams, the crowds were getting bigger and the enthusiasm was building all round the club as we went through.
 
We then had the season where we finished second to Liverpool in 82/83. Another good season and then you left?
 
It wasn't a good season for me because I got injured! I was still in the team though. I got injured away at Spurs, a stomach injury. I came back and we had a big tie against Forest I think it was, in the league cup. I went and played in that and made my injury worse. I ended up developing a chronic injury which was miss-diagnosed at first. I had a hernia problem. By trying to recover quicker and avoid injury it turned it into a chronic injury. That was bad because it meant I couldn't get myself to the fitness levels that my game needed.

 

It was frustrating because we were finally back where I wanted to be and we were churning out some good results, and I found myself physically unable to play and that didn't help with the structure of the team.

 

 

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Ross Jenkins