Striker Danny joined the Hornets originally on loan from Manchester United in 2002. He then made a permanent move in 2003, and spent nearly two seasons at the club, moving to Sheffield United in 2005.
Now retired after finishing his career with Salford City, he spoke to Watford Legends while at Portsmouth in 2010.
Hi Danny. You came from Manchester United following a loan at Port Vale. How did you become a Watford player permanently?
I enjoyed the first team football. I had a point to prove when I got there after a not very productive spell at Port Vale. With Watford being in a higher division than Port Vale I had a point to prove to myself as much as anything that I could play at a higher level. I just enjoyed everything about Watford. I enjoyed playing at Vicarage Road and I enjoyed playing for the fans.
When you signed permanently for Watford was there maybe a feeling of frustration that you didn’t get more of a chance at United?
Yes because as a kid it was something that I always aspired to. I had always said to my Dad though that by the time I was 21, if I wasn’t getting a good number of games in the first team then I would have to move on. I was offered a contract to stay but to me it was more important to play first team football and I was grateful that Watford offered me that.
Was it a big upheaval for you being a Manchester lad moving down to the London area?
No it was exciting more than anything! It’s only a couple of hours in the car or on a train if I really missed home and needed to go back but I’m not that sort of character anyway. A lot of my family always come and watch my games as well so it was never a problem. I was totally focussed and excited about moving.
When the move was put to you about making it permanent was there any doubt about doing it? Were there any other clubs in for you?
There were other clubs in. I had been to speak to Forest only a couple of days earlier and they offered me a contract – it was when Paul Hart was the manager. I had been speaking to Terry Byrne about it because Ray Lewington had said that he wanted to take me there. Terry kept in contact with me and told me they definitely wanted to get it done but they just needed to get the funds in place. As soon as I knew for certain it was going to happen with Watford it all just fell into place nicely.
Are there any games for you that stand out as a particular favourite during your time at the club?
The one that springs to mind is the Coventry game at Vicarage Road when I was still on loan. I don’t think there had been a high scoring game like that at Vicarage Road for a while. I really enjoyed the game. I remember Tommy Smith scored, as did I, and the final score was 5-2. I came off feeling that I could have played for another two or three hours as I was enjoying it so much.
You started one season on fire.
Yes that was the beginning of the season that I left. I got nine in my first seven games and was really enjoying my football until we played away at Gillingham and I dislocated my shoulder which kept me out for a few months.
Does an injury like that take away the confidence you had built up at the start?
I was still confident that I could come back and score goals again. I remember when I came back I scored a penalty against Leicester and that helped. I knew I could still do it but I also knew I needed to get my match fitness back. That time was probably when I was playing my best football for the club.
You were obviously upset by the death of Jimmy Davis.
Yes very much so. I was the first out of the lads to find out about it. Ray and Terry had both called me on the morning of the game and told me to get down to the ground. When I got to the ground there were a few police cars and in the car park were two more police cars, Ray’s car and Terry’s car. I still didn’t know at this point as all I had been told was that I needed to get there earlier to sign some papers. I didn’t think anything of it and I was there within about half an hour. When I pulled in and saw the police cars I had a horrible feeling in my stomach. At first I thought I had done something wrong! In the end I was told and everyone was just so upset.
It was just a really horrible time. I don’t think I realised until the end of the season just how much of a weight on my shoulders it had been. Everyone was always asking me if I was alright and I kept saying that I was fine, and to be fair I felt okay as well. It was only when the season finished and I stopped living in the bubble of being in Watford by going back home with my friends and my family as well as enjoying a holiday that I really felt it lift off my shoulders. It was then that I realised how much it had been affecting me.
And was Jimmy only a team mate or had you been pals for years before coming to Watford?
In football you obviously spend a lot of time with your team mates but he was someone I spent a lot of time with outside of the game as well. He was excited about coming to Watford and getting to play with me as we had come through the ranks together and played at every level together. So he wasn’t just a team mate, he was a very good friend as well.
Did it have any effect on your desire to play?
No, in fact if anything it made me try even harder. Probably at times I tried too hard to do what came naturally. His parents had said to me at the time that they were watching me now and that they wanted me to live the career they dreamed Jimmy would have had. It was a nice gesture but at the time it probably did make me try too hard.
You left Watford under a bit of a cloud, going to Sheffield United on a loan swap deal for Danny Cullip.
That’s right yes. At the time I was really enjoying playing for the club. I didn’t see me leaving coming at all. I remember we were playing Preston at home and as I was walking in the ground alongside the pitch as normal, one of the Preston lads came up to me and said ‘I hear you are going to Sheffield United’. I just laughed and told him that I wasn’t, not as far as I knew anyway! Nobody said anything else before the game and everything was normal.
After the game the gaffer pulled me in and told me that he didn’t want to let me go and that he was saying it with a heavy heart, but the investors wanted to get their money back as they were the ones that had bought me. I hadn’t had a great first season but was doing well the next so they wanted to cash in. It wasn’t a personal thing and I didn’t take it that way but I was enjoying playing and was beginning to start a good partnership with H.
Was H your favourite strike partner?
I loved playing with H but I really enjoyed playing with Tommy Smith as well. We clicked and had a good understanding when we played together. Tommy and I are quite similar in that we don’t rely on our height or physical presence but with Heidar you could live off the back of his presence and knockdowns.
Were there any Watford players you knocked about with more than others during your time?
There were different ones at different times. When I first arrived there was Micah Hyde, Paolo Vernazza and Jamie Hand. And then later on there was Chambers, Youngy and a few others.
You ended up playing quite a few games for Sheffield United and even committed the sin of coming back to score at the Vic. How did you feel when that one went in?
I remember as I scored I got clattered at the same time! I have scored a couple of times against Watford now and to be honest as a professional footballer and a striker you are just pleased to have scored a goal. I loved my time at Watford and nothing will change that, not even scoring against them. I was happy to have scored but not happy that it was to the detriment of Watford.
How did you enjoy your time at Sheffield United?
I enjoyed the first season and a half. After that it wasn’t as enjoyable. When I was playing I was told to play wide right or wide left and I wasn’t enjoying my football. It hindered me as much as anything if I’m being honest. The style of football Kevin Blackwell played didn’t suit me either.
You left Sheffield United and seemed to take a while to get a club before signing for Pompey.
I had agreed a deal with Middlesbrough and I was chuffed with it. It would have meant being able to live closer to my daughter who lives near Leeds so there were a few factors why it was good to me. The deal was agreed but I just had to wait until they had got some other players out of the club and off the wage bill before I could make it official. Then they said that there had been a change and that they couldn’t bring any new players in which left me without a club.
I had stopped listening to other offers as I was set on going there. But then a few days later out of the blue Portsmouth made an approach for me and I was delighted with it. To get a contract for a couple of years at a Premier League club is fantastic for me and I’m hoping I can do well down here.
Must be difficult doing the trek up to Leeds though?
It’s better from here! Last week I drove from Manchester to Leeds and it took me over three hours, but the Portsmouth training ground is near an airport and it takes 45 minutes to fly to Leeds-Bradford airport and the cost of it is less than a tank of petrol, so it is better from here as silly as it sounds!
So all in all this has been a great move for me. There were a couple of other offers before Middlesbrough but they weren’t right for me seeing my daughter. Obviously I’m not with the mum and I don’t want to be having a five hour drive to see my daughter.
Pompey’s money problems have been well documented with players not getting paid.
Yes that’s true but you just get on with it and play your football. So long as you know you are going to get paid then it doesn’t matter too much if it is a day or two late and it doesn’t happen too often. I’m committed to this club now. I’ve moved down here and I’ve settled in well, so everything is great.
Thanks for your time Danny. All the best.
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