The summer of 1987 was bewildering enough at the time but the destruction of a team that had just finished ninth still sticks in the memory. Dave Bassett’s assertion in his own Enjoy the Game interview that many of Graham Taylor’s final team were over the hill is highly debatable, although a new manager has to be entitled to make his own changes. Bassett didn’t rate Mark Falco, which is a shame because Falco went to Glasgow Rangers and scored a goal every other game and then did well at QPR. His replacement was Trevor Senior – on paper a good signing given his goalscoring record at Reading over a number of seasons.
I was not surprised when Trevor told me that he did not have a great deal of appetite to dredge his memory banks to recall his time at Vicarage Road so I was very grateful that he spared some time to speak to me on the phone. I felt the stories from players like Senior were important, not least because they put the previous decade’s success into a context. So much had gone right over ten years that it was perhaps easy to take it all for granted.
Senior’s goals dried up at Watford, he quickly became a target for the boos from the terraces and even when he was playing well luck deserted him. I found him to be quite sensitive and self-deprecating but still bruised by the experience and so I was glad that he went to Middlesbrough and then back to Reading and got his career on track because, as he explains, his eight months at Watford were a nightmare for him.
We’d gone away with Reading to Germany on a pre-season tour and we were away for a week. While I was there, I called my wife and she said Reading had agreed a fee with Watford so will you go and have talks straight away. Bassett was flying back from Sweden where Watford were on tour to meet me.
I’d heard through the grapevine that Dave Bassett may have been going to Man City and they may have been interested in me going there. Nothing materialised from that, but Dave Bassett was interested in me so it didn’t come completely out of the blue. But with Mark Falco being there I didn’t think he’d be looking for me. Then Falco left [to join Glasgow Rangers] so I went up to Watford and had talks. I’d had my medical by the time Bassett came over from Sweden. We thrashed out a deal and the next day I was flying back out to Sweden with Dave Bassett.
What did you make of Dave Bassett and Watford in general?
It was a complete contrast. With Reading we went on a coach down to Dover and across on the ferry, then we got on a sort of army bus the other side and went to an army camp four hours away. The next week I was flying first-class out from Heathrow to Sweden and staying in a nice hotel. It was an eye-opener.
What was the Sweden trip like?
The day after I got there was my first game. He threw me in without training with the lads. I didn’t score. I remember we won the next game 5-1 and I scored all five. I thought, ‘well that couldn’t have gone any better.’
How would you describe your style of play?
I didn’t have any style. [Laughs]. My strength was with my head. I wouldn’t say I was slow, but I wasn’t lightning quick.
At Reading we were very much route one football and that’s what Dave Bassett had done at Wimbledon. From what I knew, the plan was to get myself and Alan McInally or John Fashanu, with Glyn Hodges on the left and he was trying to get Nigel Callaghan back to make four up front. I think if it had been Hodges, Callaghan, me and either McInally or Fashanu that would have been a great front four. Those two to get the crosses in and two of us in the middle. [John] Barnes had gone to Liverpool, but in the end he only got two of us, and it took a few months to get Hodges because he went to Newcastle. So really we were short of a winger and a centre forward.
My way of playing at Reading was to get the ball forward to me, then get it wide, get the ball in the box and I’d finish it off. I’d say 75 per cent of my goals came from crosses, and I’d say 75 per cent of them were one-touch finishes.
At lower levels you can get away with that, but when you try to play that type of football in the top league it didn’t work.
Did you feel that the step up might be too much?
I remember a pre-season game at Bournemouth and I got a couple in that as well, near my home town with a few of my friends watching. But friendlies are friendlies. They’re for fitness, but when the real games started it was a different kettle of fish and I did realise that Division One was another level to what I was used to.
Every game I played – I don’t think I played many full games – but I had chances in every game but not as many as I’d been used to. Whereas in the lower divisions chances would go in, in the top flight there were better quality goalkeepers.
I remember in the first game against Wimbledon. I had two or three chances and they were top corner, I was almost celebrating, but Dave Beasant clawed them over the bar. I remember at Everton having chances and thinking ‘it’s in’ but Neville Southall saved them.
What was the training like?
It was similar, really. We did a lot of pattern of play at Reading and the same at Watford. The biggest problem we had was that Watford used to play that kind of game more before with Ross Jenkins and George Reilly, I’m maybe speaking out of turn here, but in the last couple of years Graham Taylor had modified it a little bit. I wasn’t there so I didn’t witness it but that was my impression. It was not as direct as it had been in the past but Bassett was taking it back that way. I know but when I came in the dressing room was split.
Was it hard to maintain your morale?
I would say the eight months or so at Watford was the lowest point of my career.
The dressing room was split from day one really. We weren’t pulling together. A lot of them didn’t want to play the way Dave wanted us to play. It’s hard enough when you’ve got a unified dressing room but when you’ve got two different ideas about what we should be doing it’s very hard.
It was a hard environment to come into. I look quite a serious bloke, but I’ve got a good sense of humour and I’m a big believer in team spirit, but you had all of Dave Bassett’s new signings on their own really. You had two or three younger lads who were caught between the two. And then the old Watford players, who weren’t too sure about the changes.
It took a while to work out though. I’m a fairly good judge of character. There used to be [Mark] Morris, [Glyn] Hodges, [Gary] Chivers and myself and we were on our own. Then there was [Tony] Agana and [Mel] Rees and [Peter] Hetherston who were a little younger. We never really got the chance to show what we could do.
The other Watford players – the ones who’d been there before – were all good lads and they were perfectly pleasant but I could tell they were thinking they didn’t want to do what Bassett was doing. It did make it hard. Whether they looked at me and thought, ‘He’s not good enough for us,’ I don’t know. I was stepping up and I perhaps needed a bit of time to adjust to it all.
There were some good young players. I wasn’t surprised to see [Tim] Sherwood, [Malcolm] Allen and [Iwan] Roberts go on and do more. They were younger lads and they didn’t get sucked into either side. Sherwood particularly was a very good player. You could see at the time he had a great touch and awareness of the game around him. He was confident too. David James was a bit younger, I played a few games with him in the reserves, but these lads were confident in their ability. Nothing fazed them, in particular Tim. He was confident in himself as a person. I think there was the makings of a really good side there but they were perhaps a bit too young to throw in, particularly when we were struggling.
Did you feel you were under pressure early on?
I did. There was a lot of pressure. The pressure was on results right from the start. Dave had done well with Wimbledon but it wasn’t getting off to the start people wanted. Obviously the chairman was in the news as well at the time and the club was not as together as it had seemed from the outside looking in.
I was only there eight months, but it was a long eight months. You learn from that. If you can go through that you can survive anything. I probably improved as a result of that experience but at the time it was tough. I got loads of stick, probably deservedly so. I’m man enough to hold my hands up and say I wasn’t good enough at that level of football but I felt like it wasn’t my fault they signed me. The money [£325,000] was something but it wasn’t a ridiculous fee so I didn’t feel under more pressure because of that.
But right from day one I wanted to play at the highest level I possibly could and I believed I could do a job in the First Division. To get to the First Division I was very pleased, but I didn’t score the goals and if you don’t score the goals they move you on.
What were the differences?
In the lower leagues, I’d pick up the programme and look at the centre backs and there’d often be an older player and a younger lad. Now, no disrespect to them but I used to think I could beat the young lad for experience, and I may be quicker than the older lad.
But when you picked up the programme in the top division there were no weak links. Alan Hansen and Gary Gillespie. Dave Watson and Kevin Ratcliffe. Paul McGrath and Kevin Moran. They were all internationals.
From a personal point of view, I got to play at the First Division grounds. Okay, so I didn’t play too well at them but I am glad I got to have that experience. It’s better than wondering whether I could have done it.
Were you happy to move when Middlesbrough came in for you in March 1988?
I needed to be playing well and scoring wherever I was and Steve Harrison had come in to replace Bassett and it was fair enough that he wanted to try someone else and get some money back on me. I couldn’t exactly point to my goals and say, ‘Give me a chance.’
When I left the club, I had to ring regarding a payment I was due. I was at Middlesbrough but I rang and spoke to Eddie Plumley and we sorted out the details about the payment over the phone. The chairman was in the office. Eddie said, ‘The chairman would like to speak to you.’
Elton came on the phone and his words were, ‘I want to wish you all the best.’ He then said, ‘I wouldn’t want a dog to go through what you went through. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.’
That’s always stuck in my mind. He didn’t have to do that. It was no skin off his nose but that meant a lot to me. I presume he’d heard what they were saying about me in the stands.
Do you have any fond memories?
It’s a struggle to think of many, if I am honest. Dave Bassett always jokes and says, ‘You cost me my job.’
At Sheffield Wednesday, where I scored the only goal I scored in the First Division, he came on the coach with a few armfuls of beers. He was almost relieved, I think.
I scored in the Coventry cup game. I came on at half-time and it was 0-0. I’d been getting a lot of stick from the fans but I scored the winning goal. People will say well, it was only an easy header, but that’s what strikers do. They get in the position to score the easy goals.
I remember at the end of the game they were all applauding me but I just ran straight down the tunnel because the stick they’d given me really got to me. I couldn’t even enjoy it as much as I should have done because I did hear what they shouted at me and instead of celebrating with them I just went down the tunnel. But on the bus afterwards I thought ‘Well, that goal has probably covered my transfer fee.’
I do look back and think I scored in every competition we were in, which is something, but to only get four, to only get one in the league, that wasn’t what I wanted at all.
Is there anything you can do to improve your morale when things aren’t going well?
It’s hard when you’re that low. You want to work harder and hope it clicks but it got to the point where I didn’t enjoy going in to training. It became a bit of a chore. I’ve always enjoyed football and the camaraderie but I was getting into training 10 minutes before we’d start. At Reading or Boro, I’d be in early, sit and have a bit of banter with the lads before training. But I was going in, doing my job and leaving. It was a really low time. Probably the lowest it got was Luton at home. I was meant to be marking Steve Foster and I got blocked off by another player and Foster got clear and scored, and that was down to me. I couldn’t even get it right in our own box! [Laughs]
On the Monday morning after that Luton game we had a practice match, reserves against first team. Bassett picked out the teams. He picked the reserve team to play against the first team. He gave out the bibs for the reserves and when I didn’t get one I thought ‘well, I’ve kept my place in the first team.’ Then the first team was picked and I wasn’t in that either. There were three of us left. Myself and two apprentices. Bassett handed me a different colour bib and a flag and said, ‘Can you run the line?’
Most of the experienced players would have said ‘stick the flag up your arse’ but I got on with it. It hurt at the time, but I could laugh about it later. It’s all part of the experience. I can make a joke of it now, but there I was, the 325 grand linesman. He even had the cheek to say ‘make sure you keep up with play.’ [Laughs]
I’ve got nothing against Dave. I remember the day he left, after he got the sack. We crossed in the corridor. Just the two of us. Tears in our eyes. Definitely tears in my eyes. It was emotional because it didn’t work out and I wanted to do the best for him and for the club.
You mentioned the criticism from the supporters. Did that hurt?
Yes, the stick from the fans hurt. Centre forwards are always going to get stick. Getting stick from the opposition fans is one thing. When you get stick from your own fans it does hurt. You get it now and again and you know that you have to score to get them back on side again. But as the games go by it gets harder and harder. It was difficult for my parents sat in the stand. No one likes to hear their son being shouted at like that.
What was the lowest point?
When they start booing you. That is really bad. When they start booing you before the match it can be hard to keep it together.
We played Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day. There were 12,000 people there. They announced the team, I was sub, and I got booed. We were 1-3 down when I came on and everything I did came off. Chested the ball off, laid it off didn’t give it away and there were ironic cheers and I thought ‘I’ve got to laugh about this or I’ll cry.’ It was doing my head in. The ironic cheers were worse than the boos.
I came back to defend a corner at the top end [Vicarage Road end], I headed it away and there were these ironic cheers and I stuck my thumb up behind me. I think that broke the ice a bit and they stopped doing it.
Results didn’t improve enough, though, did they?
No. When you’re down it really takes a lot to turn it round. But I always felt like if we could have one good performance it might get things going. Down at Portsmouth, he [Bassett] put all the young lads in. We went to Tunisia for a short break and it was almost like roles reversed. I remember we had a couple of meals and things were starting to get a bit better. All his [Bassett’s] signings were there after the meal chatting, while the other lads would go off to their room. But the next night they all came back and joined in and things were starting to improve a bit. I felt like maybe we were sorting it out a bit.
When Bassett went did you want to stay or go?
If I am honest, once he went, I thought ‘right, now I can go. The new manager won’t want me.’
We played up at Hull in the cup. [Steve] Harrison came into the dressing room so we had a chance to meet the new manager. He introduced himself and said, ‘I’m going to give everyone a chance.’
He pointed at me, picked me out. He said, ‘I know you, Trevor, have had a really bad time but if you want to work with me I’ll work with you and see if we can’t turn it around.’
At the back of mind I thought ‘no, I don’t want to.’ The honest truth is I didn’t want to but I thought I’ve got to give it a go. Things were a bit better, but then the stick started to come again.
I went to see him and said, ‘Look, this isn’t going to work, so can you put me on the transfer list.’
You went to Middlesbrough.
On deadline day, yes.
Were things better?
I settled in there to start with. Scored in my first game, went up through the play-offs, played about five games in the First Division, and it started to go badly again. But I did my job, got a few goals for them, helped them get promoted. Then I went back to Reading and scored goals like I’d never been away. Funny isn’t it?
Did you regret leaving Reading in the first place?
No because I had to test myself. I had to see if I could do it in the top division.
Things were changing at Watford when I went there. [John] Barnes left, super hero, super player. I wasn’t replacing him but when a club loses a player like that, it’s a difficult situation to come into.
I went there to do really well but it just didn’t work. It was hard to know who to trust, or who was friends with you and who wasn’t. I couldn’t say anyone specifically, but everyone was looking after themselves it seemed to me. There was a lot of uncertainty. I was packing my house up near Basingstoke to move up to Watford and I had a call from a national paper after the Luton game, on the Sunday, asking if I’d had a punch up with another player in the dressing room. It was totally wrong. I’d never punched anyone in my life but there were stories coming out that we weren’t a happy dressing room and I suppose we weren’t.
Then my house move fell through that day. It was just a nightmare from start to finish. My wife rang up and said the house had fallen through – we had a little baby, Chris, only a few months old. It was my wife and child who kept me going really because if it wasn’t for them, I could have packed in football really.
So it was the most unhappy time of your career?
It’s got to be. Watford was always classed as a family club but that’s not the way I would treat my family. That’s the way I look at it. I can understand people’s frustrations and people have a right to their opinion. I openly admit I wasn’t good enough for that level but if you get a chance to play there, you go for it and do your best. But the stick I got was really bad at times.
How do you feel about the club now?
Put it this way, I wouldn’t rush to go back to watch a game at Watford, to be perfectly honest. It wasn’t all bad. I met some lovely people there but I had a nightmare there and it brings back unhappy memories.
In football, and in life, you have to take the rough with the smooth. You can have a nightmare, and score the winning goal in the last minute you’re the hero. If you’re not scoring there are problems. You live or die by goals.
I went back to watch Reading after I’d retired. One chap came up to me as I was leaving the pub on my way to the game and an elderly chap came up to me and said, ‘Trevor, I just want to shake your hand and say thank you very much, you made many a good Saturday evening for me.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, I did, I suppose.’
I just wish I’d made a few more happy Saturday evenings for Watford supporters, but I didn’t have many myself.
In hindsight, was there anything you could have done to perhaps adjust better?
I think I was naïve. I come from Dorset, the back of beyond, and to come into the limelight like it was there, I was a bit green. I am not big headed. How naïve I was. Shortly after I joined I did an interview for one of the tabloids, they said you’ve scored at Reading, but it’ll be easier here at Watford. I tried to play it all down because I didn’t want to sound like I was going to score 25 goals and it would all be easy. I said: ‘I’ll readily admit, I’m not the most stylish of players, in fact sometimes I can look a bit of a donkey.’
Next day at training all the lads are showing me the paper. The headline read: Senior: I’m a donkey and I thought ‘what an idiot.’ But you learn quickly.
So, all in all, Watford is not something you spend a lot of time thinking about?
I think it was the wrong time for everyone. Ironically, Graham Taylor came to watch me a number of times. He came and stood on the terraces, looking at the possibility of signing me. Perhaps he didn’t see enough, I don’t know, but he saw me and thought there was something in me. Maybe if I’d joined when he was there it would all have been different.
When I signed I think the supporters were positive. They looked at my goal record at Reading and thought it was a good signing. It took me took me three games to prove the fans wrong! [Laughs].