The Enjoy the Game Interviews were conducted by Lionel Birnie in 2009
I called Pat Rice and he invited me to Arsenal’s training ground in London Colney and we sat in the café area there and looked out over the incredibly manicured training pitches. Rice was still Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager at the time and so, of all the people I interviewed during the process of researching Enjoy the Game, the one who was still operating at the highest level in the game.
A one-club man until he joined Watford, Rice was a bona fide Arsenal legend, having played in the Double-winning side in 1971, and racking up more than 400 first team appearances before joining Watford, where he was reunited with his old Gunners manager Bertie Mee.
Rice captained Watford to promotion and during their first season in the top flight and he also scored a goal in the club’s first game in the top flight (sort of). Anyway, I began by asking what it was that persuaded him to carry on playing when he could have made his own way into management.
I wanted to keep on playing. I had been offered the Millwall job as player-manager. On the day I got a call from Bertie Mee, I’d been to meet the chairman of Millwall. The thing was, I knew I wanted to carry on playing. Bertie rang and asked if I’d signed for Millwall and I said no. He said Graham Taylor would like to meet me. When I spoke to Graham he said he needed experience because he had a young side. He wanted me to come and he wanted me to be his captain.
I came home and talked to my wife. They were offering me a five-year contract. I was 30 now so it’d take me to retirement. That’s the main reason I signed, but also because of Graham’s reputation as a really really good young manager.
Did you know much about Watford?
At that time, no. All I really knew, to be truthful, was when they beat Manchester United [in the League Cup] and Luther scored those two goals. The God’s honest truth is that when you’re playing in the First Division you’re not really paying too much attention to the teams in the lower divisions.
As soon as they beat Man United, at Man United, everyone started to take interest. We [Arsenal] also played there [at Vicarage Road] in the FA Cup [sixth round in 1980] and that was a tough game but I didn’t know a lot about them at all.
I didn’t know anything about the style of play. That was a complete and utter surprise to me. Playing with the teams I’d played with you were used to bending little balls into the box, playing it out wide, passing it inside. At Watford my pass was up to the centre forward.
When we got into the First Division, Graham did a comparison between us and the other teams in the division. We played the most long balls but Liverpool were second.
The thing was, we had this reputation but we weren’t just booting it and running after it. Every time you hit the ball over that full back’s head you knew Ross Jenkins or Luther were running onto the end of it.
Coming from a big ‘city’ club, what did you make of Graham’s work in the community?
I’ll be honest, at the start, it was a complete surprise to me. I went along with it because it was what the gaffer wanted but I’d not done that sort of thing before. We went up to the town one day at Easter and joined in the egg and spoon race and the three-legged races and we couldn’t believe it but the players were getting prizes!
Ann and Alan Swanson were doing a great job with the family enclosure. As everyone knows, Watford’s was the best in England by far; by far.
It felt like being with your family, coming in to work. You knew the groundsman, the people who worked in the kitchens, the tea lady. They were only too willing to help you, either with encouragement or whatever.
If I needed to do a bit of work in my garden Les [Simmons, the groundsman] would lend me a fork or shears and say, ‘Bring it back tomorrow.’
I settled in well because I didn’t have to move house. Bertie Mee lived just down the road from me and he showed me the route to the training ground at Stanmore, and the route to the ground and the quickest way home.
Your relationship with Bertie went back a long way.
It did, and that was part of the reason I came. If Bertie rated and respected the gaffer [Graham Taylor] than he must have been a top man because Bertie didn’t dish out the praise easily.
When I was coming towards the end of my career a few years later, I was going to move to America to play in their league and the first person I spoke to was Bertie. I asked him what he thought. He asked me what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay in football so he told me not to leave the country.
But you didn’t know a great deal about Watford at first?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a clue where the team was when I joined. I didn’t look at the league table. For me, I wanted security. Graham offered me that security of a long contract. Five years, and with the intention of going onto the coaching side in my fourth and fifth years, even if it was with the schoolboys.
It wasn’t until I signed that I looked in the paper and saw we were in the bottom third of the table. But after the first training session I thought the players we had were too good to be down there. We went on a run where we beat everybody and we finished ninth that year.
Did you notice the difference between top players and Second Division players?
I did but, you know, when there’s room for improvement sometimes that makes it easier. When you’ve been captain of The Arsenal for 10 years, especially being a right back, you’ve seen everything. I’d played in hundreds of games, with the whole team ahead of me, and I’d seen pretty much everything. Every mistake you can make, every good thing a player can do. So I could pass on a bit where I could. You’d be pushing people up, encouraging people. ‘Hey, have you thought about just dropping in here, instead of pushing on?’ Or, ‘If you play that ball early and then move…’ or whatever it is.
Almost like a coach on the pitch?
Maybe that’s what the gaffer wanted? Help these young lads a bit here and there and be with them through the 90 minutes, because he can’t. The closest he can be is on the bench. He’d say, ‘Eh, Pat, remind them.’ I’d train all week, I’d be hearing what he wanted from me but also what he wanted from everyone in the team so I could just remind them. Sometimes players need that reminding because in a match you can forget it because you get sucked into the match, do you see what I mean?
Some people have told me you were the making of Nigel Callaghan as a winger.
Nigel was brilliant. What a good lad. Oh, what a player he should have been. Well he was, but he should have gone all the way. England. Everything. We all remember John Barnes but together they were unbelievable. I was a full-back and I used to think, ‘Thank God I don’t have to play against them!’ That’s probably the best thing about being in that Watford team was that they were on my side. They could finish a career for an old boy like me!
But you did have to keep Nigel in line. You had to keep reminding him.
Ann Swanson, who ran the Junior Hornets and the family enclosure and all that, said to me after about three months that since I’d been playing right-back they’d had more complaints about foul and abusive language ever! It was me shouting at Nigel. ‘Where the fuck are you going? Get back on that wing!’
Nigel, on the run, crossing the ball first time was brilliant. The only other player I’ve seen like him was George Armstrong. Right foot or left he could drive it in, or float it across or curl it in. He had feet like little golf clubs and more often than not he picked the right club for the cross. The reason I’d have a go at Nigel was you’d do an overlap and he’d look like he was going to play you in and then he’d blank you. So you’d make a 40-yard run to get past him and try to overload the full-back and then he’d cut inside or cross it and I used to have a go at him for that because at my age I wasn’t too keen on making 40-yard runs for nothing.
And then Barnesy on the other side. They used to swap over so the opposition full-backs had no chance. If one thought they were doing okay against Barnesy, they’d swap and then he’d have to deal with Cally. Nightmare. It was a nightmare for them, even in the First Division.
They could score goals too – they were always in double figures. But it was their crosses. How many assists did they have? How many times did they put it on the heads of Jenkins, Luther or George Reilly later?
You talk about players who could have played for anyone – they could have done. Well, Barnesy did, he went to Liverpool.
Nigel was quite a cocky lad. Quite sure of himself, even more so off the field. Everyone knew him because he was the local DJ and he would go out and about.
You couldn’t intimidate him, or Barnesy. They all knew that they had players in the team who’d look after them. If someone started kicking Nigel, they’d get a kick from me. Older players would try to intimidate them by saying, ‘You beat me and I’ll break your legs,’ but they could handle themselves.
I remember years back there was a lad at Notts County who was trying to intimidate us and I said, ‘Oi, you! Keep your mouth shut. If you want to try that, come over to my area of the pitch and then we’ll see who comes out on top.’
If you’re a dirty player, someone will, through fear, break your leg because they are worried that the bad challenge is going to come. Be a hard player by all means, but don’t be a dirty player.
The style of play didn’t concern you? My impression is that Arsenal was a passing club.
I will admit for the first six months, whenever the goalkeeper was taking the goal kick you had to get up to the halfway line quickly because he was going to kick it long. You were knackered by the time you got to the halfway line, pushing them up trying to pin them in. It wasn’t what I was used to but I did get used to it.
Did you feel like the elder statesman in the dressing room?
There were responsible people there. I knew Gerry [Armstrong] from Northern Ireland before I arrived. There were responsible people like Bolton, Sims, Rostron – who I knew as a kid at Arsenal. Some of the younger ones were sensible guys. There was Poskett, Patching. They were young but they were mature.
Graham wasn’t much older than you?
No, but he held himself a certain way. He conducted himself like the manager and you respected him. He could lay down the law but he never, ever bullshitted you. Players know if someone is giving them a load of old flannel.
We had a meeting after that Coventry game in the League Cup when we lost 5-0. Graham’s meetings were legendary. He did all the talking and you did all the listening! But he pointed out a few facts and a few home truths after that game. Sometimes everyone thinks they’re playing okay when they’re not and you need someone to say ‘Actually, you were crap.’ I think there maybe was a feeling that because they’d beaten all these teams from the First Division in cup matches for a couple of years that it was going to happen again but maybe we weren’t on it that night and Graham reminded us that if you’re complacent you get beaten badly, We knew we were a good side, but we took our foot off the pedal. Mark Hateley was brilliant that night. We needed to be told.
Did you think promotion was on the cards in 1981-82?
The thing was, the year before [1980-81], from Christmas we beat everyone, so we knew going into the next season we’d beaten all the big teams the year before, so we said the most important thing was to have a good start in the first half a dozen games to make sure we were in there at the top of the table. Once you’re at the top of the table, it can be easier to stay there than it is to get there, so get there early on in the season and it makes you focus.
Did you feel confident then?
The challenge was put in front of us. Can you get this club to the First Division. I’d been there for many years so maybe there was pressure on me to show I could still do it. I was confident but I was also scared. I played for Northern Ireland with George Best. He used to be sat there in his clothes at ten to three and we’d say ‘we’re going out there in a minute’ and he’d quickly get changed, touch his toes and go out there and be the best on the pitch and go, whereas I had that little bit of fear – will I play okay, will we win today?
The thing was, I was 32, 33 but I was still learning things. Kenny, Nigel and Barnesy used to flick the ball to each other with the backs of their heads. It was a little triangle with them flicking the ball off the backs of their heads. I’d never seen it before. It was brilliant how they did it.
We had these free-kick routines, corner routines and we worked on them so long so we could do them automatically. Then when Graham thought other teams knew what we were going to do he’d introduce something new. He never stood still. Remember the free-kick routine where we’d have a little wall of Watford players stood in front of the opposition’s wall so their keeper couldn’t get a read on the ball? Clever. I don’t think Graham invented that – I’m sure someone else had done it before – but he was always trying things like that.
Corner routines where three or four players did little decoy runs. Free-kicks where two players would make a run to draw defenders and then the space would open up. He was always thinking. I am not saying no one else thought like that but he knew you could score goals from set-pieces.
But it wasn’t just about the set-piece routines. We got a reputation for being good at them and other teams were desperate not to give away corners or free-kicks because they knew we could punish them. In trying not to give away a set-piece they’d make other mistakes and we’d exploit them. So it was clever on two fronts – make the opposition overthink everything.
Were you one of the strongest voices in the dressing room?
I think others would say I was, yes. I would say my piece. I’ve told the truth to people my whole life and sometimes it can be scathing. But I’d say it to their face. Everyone knew they’d get the truth as I saw it. And if I was wrong, I’d apologise. There’s nothing wrong with apologising to someone.
Was that what made you a good captain?
When I was at Arsenal, if you didn’t talk [on the pitch] they were on your back.
When that ball is on the other side, they wanted to know what was going on behind them, so if you didn’t talk they hammered you, McLintock and co. I took a bit of that to Watford. I wanted to hear from Simsy and Wilf. From Kenny and Nigel. Talk to me, tell me what you see.
I didn’t know this till later but Graham had sent Sam Ellis to watch us [Arsenal] play at QPR. He was sent to watch someone else – either one of ours or one of QPR’s. Anyway, he was talking to Graham afterwards and Graham said, ‘So, what was he like? Have you found me a player?’ meaning the other lad. And Sam said, ‘No, no, I haven’t found you a player but I have found you a captain.’
The atmosphere at Watford was similar to at Arsenal in the fact that we were winners. We wanted to win badly. At Arsenal we had some bust-ups but we’d try to put it right on the pitch. We’d have a right bollocking on the pitch to sort it out. I’ve seen McLintock and Storey almost fighting each other but on the pitch they’d die for each other.
It was the same at Watford. If we weren’t playing well we wanted to sort it out on the pitch otherwise we knew what would be coming when we got in the dressing room.
I probably only saw him throw the tea cups a couple of times and he’d have to be really annoyed to do it but he could do it.
We were coming back on the train from an away game once and we had a team meeting at Watford Junction. On the platform! Chelsea must have been away because as we got off the train, there were a load of Chelsea fans on the platform. Graham called this team meeting under one of the lights on the platform and the Chelsea fans were saying. ‘Go on Graham, give them some stick. Lay into them.’ And he did give us some stick.
Did you not find that hard to take? After all, you’d played in the First Division, won the title, won cups. Graham hadn’t.
Yes, I’d played in Division One but he was the manager. I had not been a manager. I would never have disagreed with him in a team meeting in front of the lads. If I wanted to go and see him and have a word, I could. He was willing to see you and listen. He would listen to your point of view and then he’d put his point of view and usually he was right. Very occasionally he was wrong but usually he was right.
By the time we got to the First Division, he had been a manager for nearly ten years. Being a manager is a different ball game. All I had to do was concern myself with me. I had to get myself fit, I had to play my game as well as I could. He ran the whole club from top to bottom. Top to bottom, bar nothing.
So I knew if he was telling me something he had the big picture. I didn’t. Some of the younger lads might say to me, ‘Why’s he making us do this, Pat?’ or ‘Did you do this at Arsenal?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know, but he’ll have a reason and it’s our job to do it, so let’s get on, shall we?’ Then I’d go to him and say, ‘Why are you making us do this?’ [Laughs] And he’d say, ‘Because I’m the manager!’ [Laughs]
What was it like to get back to Division One?
That night [against Wrexham] was special. We knew it would be a hard match but Vicarage Road was not an easy place to come, especially at night, so we knew we’d get a break somewhere.
You scored the second goal in the first Division One match, against Everton.
It was a lucky one! We’d been doing this thing whereby we were driving balls in at head high so there was pace on the ball for people to attack. I remember hitting this one and I mis-hit it. I sliced it totally. I turned away and I was looking up in the stand thinking, ‘You prat!’ Next thing I hear the cheers and the ref is pointing to the centre spot having given a goal. Neville’s [Southall, the Everton goalkeeper] caught it and stepped back over the line as he landed. Never in a million years did I mean it.
Did you have the feeling that teams in the First Division were not ready for Watford?
I remember away at Tottenham hearing Glenn Hoddle saying, ‘Don’t worry, they’ll blow up, they’ll blow up.’ But we didn’t blow up. We had real runners. We never let anyone settle.
I think we caught the First Division off guard, but the second year people were ready for us.
What was your relationship with Graham like?
Good. I still speak to him every now and then. He was straight with you.
I can remember in a team meeting when I joined, Graham said to them, ‘This is Pat Rice, he’s going to be the captain but because of his age he will have days off.’ I never had a day off, no chance. I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway, but it was hard work at times but he knew when to ease up.
We came in one day and he said, ‘We’re not training today, we’re going to have breakfast at the hotel.’
Another time, he said, ‘I’ll meet you in the car park,’ and we all walked up to the old folks’ home and went in there and had fish and chips for lunch with them all. I was speaking to an old boy who’d been in two world wars and I was listening to him and it was brilliant. I had a great couple of hours chatting to these old fellas. I wasn’t thinking about football, but I was hearing about someone else’s life and it was so good. I don’t think everyone does that but that was the sort of thing Graham would do. You’re so busy thinking about yourself as a footballer that it doesn’t do any harm to hear about someone else’s life once in a while.
He used to do these things once in a while. I remember the 8-0 against Sunderland – we were about four up at half-time and he wouldn’t let us sit down. We were jogging on the spot. He sent us out again and scored another load.
What was it like going back to Highbury and beating your old club 4-2?
Going back there was a lot of press talk about it. People were saying, did I have to prove anything to them? I had spent 15 wonderful years at Arsenal, and I would never throw anything at the Arsenal. I had moved on because it was time. I didn’t have a single bad feeling about the club, but did I want to beat them that day? You bet I did. Barnesy was on a tricky day that day and they couldn’t hold him. It was a great day to go back there and win but the Arsenal fans were great to me, even though they didn’t like the result.
To be truthful, I thought if we could survive in Division One, I thought that would have been a good achievement but I never thought in a million years we could finish second. By the time we beat Arsenal I did think we’d be okay, but to finish second, no. But we just kept going. When you’ve got players who are that confident you don’t want to give them any reason to start doubting themselves or worrying.
Did you help them when you were going to places like Highbury, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford or Anfield?
I tried to say as little as possible. I didn’t want them thinking about it. If they asked me what Anfield was like, I’d say, ‘It’s just a football ground.’ Let them find out for themselves. I didn’t want to say, ‘Well, it’s big and it can be noisy.’ No point. It’s sink or swim and although we got beat in a few places they did well. We weren’t well beaten really. Even at Liverpool [lost 1-3] we were in the game for long spells.
Did you have a feeling your time was coming to an end at the end of that season [1982-83]?
When I signed, Graham said he was more concerned about my fourth and fifth years and that’s what happened. If someone is quicker than you and you’re having to push up and then get back and the ball’s coming over your head, all of a sudden it’s a problem. The Watford Way is a very unforgiving way to play if your legs have gone.
I didn’t want to accept it but time was catching up with me.
I think there’s a chance Graham knew he’d get two-and-a-half good years out of me but because of my stature at the time he offered me five years with the offer of coaching opportunities to convince me to come.
At 30 you still want to win but you’re also thinking about your future security. You know you’ve reached a peak and you’re on the way down. You think, ‘If I can get five years here that’ll do me.’
You wanted to stay at the club, though?
It had become ‘my’ club. When I joined Watford, I had no idea what I’d find but when the ball starts rolling and you’re all fighting together on the pitch, then socialising together, all of a sudden you’re off again and you want to win games and you want to do well. And you feel part of it. I was part of a new club. After 15 years at Arsenal if you’d said to me I’d have that feeling again, I’d not have believed you but I did at Watford and I’m so lucky.
I got to training and I’d never worked so hard in my life. Running, the discipline. If you were injured you had to come in at 9am – even earlier than the rest. If you were two minutes late you bought lunch for everyone. If there were only two players injured that wasn’t so bad but if there were six or seven injured, that could get costly, so you weren’t late too often. And you wouldn’t leave the club till after 4.30. Never. You did a full day at the club either with some rehabilitation work, or just being around the place.
Any thoughts that I was winding down to retirement were out of the window. What you thought might be a jolly-up was really hard graft.
At the start of the 1983-84 season, I started to do a bit of coaching with the kids now and again, or the reserves. I remember he got us all a month’s holiday at a villa. He took a week, then he sent Tom Walley and Tom said ‘I can’t go, I can’t go’ and GT said ‘look, you’re going, I’ll look after your kids.’ Wardy went. When they were away, I filled in for them. Gradually doing the kids’ training sessions on a Monday night.
When I was going over to the coaching side Tom Walley was brilliant. When I left to go to Arsenal he gave me some invaluable advice. He said, ‘Boyo, you fucking go in there and you hit them hard. If you go in there soft, when you try to be hard they’ll know you’ll always go back to being soft. But if you go in hard, when you ease off them and give them a breather they always know how hard you’ve been and how hard you can become.’
Was it hard to accept the playing days were at an end?
While my spirit was willing, my body was weak. You have got to be realistic. I didn’t expect any favours. I’d given them the service and they had looked after me. I don’t think I can say I should have been playing that season. That was Graham’s decision. If you are a good pro, you don’t like to be left out but you accept it.
Was it different when the new players came in?
It was certainly different when Mo [Johnston] came in. He was a whirlwind. He and George hit it off straight away. We’d played against George at Cambridge and he was a hard player.
It was classic Graham, wasn’t it. Big goalkeeper, big centre backs, big centre forward. That was the way to get out of the lower divisions but it worked in the top division too, especially if you had wingers and a striker like Luther or Mo.
With Mo he scored goals almost as often as he went to nightclubs.
Reilly – we called him the Ace of Spies because there was a TV show on at that time called Ace of Spies and there was a character called Reilly in it. But maybe Graham was the Ace of Spies because he always knew what George and Mo were doing, where they’d been out.
When Wilf Rostron was suspended for the cup final, did you think there was a chance you might play at Wembley?
I know he was thinking about it. He played me about three times in two weeks – for the reserves and the first team. A week or so leading up to the cup final, Graham was talking to all the players. He called me into the office and he said, ‘Pat, I’m in a dilemma.’
He said, ‘I know the influence you have got in the team, but I don’t know whether to play you or not.’
I said, ‘Gaffer, to be truthful. I have been fortunate. I have played in five [cup finals]. If you want me to make a decision about it I am not going to deprive a younger player of playing in a cup final. If you choose to pick me I will be delighted to play, but I am not going to make that decision for you.
‘And if we play badly and I play, they’ll slaughter you. Why pick an old git like me instead of a youngster?’
Graham made the decision and he played [David] Bardsley and [Neil] Price. I thought I might be on the bench but realistically again, on the bench I’m taking away a spot from a youngster who may come on and score you a goal.
Would you have been happy to fill in at left-back?
I’d have had a go at left back. I’d played for Ireland once or twice at left-back, although I can’t remember playing left-back at Arsenal. I’d have done what the gaffer asked me to do. But I wasn’t going to make his decision for him.
I would never say Graham made a mistake, no chance. He’d have been on a hiding to nothing playing me at Wembley. It didn’t work, did it, but that wasn’t because he didn’t pick me.
It must have been nice to have played the final league game of the 1983-84 season against Arsenal. You couldn’t have asked for a better send-off than to play against your old club.
It wasn’t just a nice farewell, it was a chance for me to say thank you to the fans and the club as well. I still thank him that Graham prolonged my career and for giving me the chance to do some coaching, the chance to learn from Sam Ellis, Wardy, Harrison, Walley and Graham himself. If I’d gone to another club at 30 it might have gone a totally different way. I could have been out of the game after a year if I’d chosen the wrong one, so I am so grateful to Graham and Watford because I might not be here now [coaching at Arsenal] if I’d not been given that chance at Watford.
Before the game Graham came on the mic and thanked the crowd for buying the cup final tickets and he told the Arsenal fans, ‘We’re even rolling out old Ricey for you.’
Paul Davis was playing and they played a ball through the middle. He was through. I lunged and to be truthful I meant to take Paul out. I never meant to get the ball. I knew I couldn’t catch Paul, but I knew I had to stop him. But with the lunge I got the ball and they said, ‘Great tackle, one of the best tackles we’ve ever seen here.’ I was so late, I was early. [Laughs]
What do you remember about the cup final?
I sat on the bench. I was part of the day. I tried to give the lads a bit of help here and there. I remember going round all the boys afterwards saying, ‘Now you know what it’s like to lose in a cup final. Remember how much this hurts and come back and win it.’
What else stands out from your time at Watford.
I remember I played against Barnes in a practice match. He was left wing, I was left back. I was giving Bertie a lift home and he said, ‘What do you think of him?’ I said, ‘He can play in the first team now.’ John gave me a hard time. His balance was terrific and he was comfortable on the ball. He was clever. Just give him the ball and let him get on with it. That was the goal for the whole team. Get the ball to the wingers. Sometimes they’d put two men on Barnesy but that just meant Cally was free and he could hurt them just as much. That made it easy for us.
Was it obvious just from looking at Barnes that he was going to be a talent?
He was an athlete. You could tell from looking at his dad [Ken Barnes] that he was an athlete. You look at the parents, are they fat, is the lad going to put on weight?
Were there any other players who impressed you?
I remember one of the greatest protégés was Rod Thomas, but Rod Thomas never made it. When he was a lad, every club was after Rod. He was going to be the best player in England and with the ball he was terrific but he didn’t grow. He’d get bullied out of games by bigger players who didn’t have his talent.
That’s why Cally was so good. Cally had a solid base. You couldn’t knock him off the ball easily. He could withstand the impact of being hit by a player. Barnes could ride the tackles too. Cally’s crossing was like one of those tennis machines where every ball came out the same as the last. He was equally as good as Beckham.
I used to give Cally unmerciful stick. Ann Swanson used to be on my case about the language.
You don’t have to be physical all the time but you have to show you are not going to be bullied. Shortly after I arrived, I remember Big Sam Ellis saying to me, ‘I thought you were a big tough guy.’
I said, ‘What are you on about?’
‘Well, I thought you were a hard man, but all you do is run alongside wingers. I’ve not seen you put a tackle in yet.’
Well the next game I thought, ‘I’ll fucking show you,’ and I hit everyone hard, I kicked anything that moved. Sometimes you need someone to pull you up a bit and say, ‘You’re not as good as you think you are.’
Lastly, tell me a bit more about Bertie Mee. It’s always interested me that he had been one of the top managers in the First Division for years but was able to work for Graham as an assistant in the Fourth Division.
He wasn’t a meddler. Bertie said his piece and that was it. He wouldn’t go on and on. I’d speak to him quite a lot because we travelled in together but he never said anything – anything – to undermine the gaffer. I was the captain but Graham was the gaffer and Bertie knew who did what and where everyone stood.
He was disciplined. He was a military man. At Arsenal they’ll tell you Bertie was no coach but he was second to none at man management and organisation. He’d know how to speak to the individual. He’d know who he had to be hard with and who he could jolly along, or he’d know when to say ‘right, this is what we’re doing.’
That’s probably what made him perfect for Graham. If Graham asked him something, Bertie would be straight with him. If Graham didn’t ask, Bertie would stand back and wait until he was asked. He wasn’t trying to be a second manager, he was working for Graham.
I remember when I’d been in the first team at Arsenal for seven or eight years. I was arguing about a £10 appearance fee. I said, ‘I’ve never had appearance money, but just put it on my basic.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t know, I’ll have to go and talk to the chairman.’ Now, looking back later on in life, I don’t think for a minute that he went to the chairman but when he came back and said, ‘Okay, we’ve agreed to that extra ten pounds,’ it felt like he’d been in to fight my corner. It felt like he was backing me and that made me feel fantastic.
I said to the Watford players, if you go in there and negotiate your contract and come out quite happy remember you were happy. If I go in and come out having negotiated £10 more than you, don’t get the arsehole with me, don’t get the arsehole with the club, because you were happy when you came out of there.
It must have been quite tricky bringing in players who expected to earn a bit more than some of the Watford players were getting.
That’s football. Everyone doesn’t all get paid the same, and players talk, and the manager and the club has to keep everyone together even though some may be on more than others.