Striker Darius signed for Watford from Gillingham in the summer of 2005. He was part of the promotion winning season, scoring the final goal in the play-off final against Leeds. He remained at the club for three seasons, scoring 29 goals in just over 100 appearances before signing for Sheffield United.
Darius spoke with Watford Legends in 2012.
Hi Darius, thanks for talking to Watford Legends. How did your move from Gillingham to Watford come about?
During the summer break my agent got wind of the fact Watford were interested in signing me. Watford approached Gillingham and made it clear they wanted me and it went from there. The negotiations went on for a while, I think about a month in total, and it went on so long that at one point I thought it was going to all fall through and wouldn’t happen.
It was a move I really wanted though and so I put in a transfer request to try and make it happen. Watford offered good money for me when six months previously Gillingham had told me I could leave for Swindon on a free transfer. I was really keen on the move and fortunately they came to an agreement in the end which I am delighted about as I then went on to have the best three years of my career at Watford.
You got off the mark quickly, scoring on your debut at home to Preston.
Yes and that was a great feeling. I had only met the other players a couple of days before so it was a bit odd but to score on my debut stood me in good stead for the rest of the season. As a striker it’s great to get off the mark early on when you arrive at a new club. It was overshadowed at the time as we lost the game 2-1 but it was still great to score and we took a lot of positives from the game that helped us as we began the season.
Are there any games from that season that stand out for you, other than the play-off games?
It’s hard to pick one particular game out as that season was just so unbelievable. It’s a really difficult question as there were so many terrific games and highlights through the season. I suppose a really definitive game would be away at Cardiff. It was quite early on in the season but it was on Sky and we put in a really good performance and got a great win – I’m not sure but it may have been our first win of the season. That game really lifted us, kick started our season and from that moment onwards we gathered momentum and continued upwards.
You’ve lived every Hornets boyhood dream and scored against L*ton at their place.
Yes, that that was a good goal to score and one I enjoyed. In a derby game you are well aware of the rivalry between the fans with the clubs being quite close. I remember we were under pressure in that game as Youngy got sent off and so being down to ten men and away from home we really hand to grind it out. Like many games that season we found a formula that allowed us to grind out results when we needed to and with any successful team that wins promotion they will always look back at times through the season when they have had to win like that when not playing well.
You’re a northern lad and so not necessarily aware of the rivalry between the two clubs, how does it feel to a non-local like yourself when playing in that type of game?
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you play that game for the fans and you win it. You are totally aware of what it means to everyone and it does add a bit of spice compared to a normal league game. It’s an entirely different atmosphere but at the end of the day we are there to entertain the fans whatever the game is. To win is great, but to give the fans a win against their rivals and give them the bragging rights is brilliant.
It was your penalty that wrapped things up in the play-off final.
Yes that was a huge feeling. Not many people are aware of this but Leeds released me when I was 16, and ever since that very day they released me I have always had the drive to go on and prove them wrong so it was a great feeling to prove my point to them. The whole day though was memorable, just a terrific day all round and to score as well topped it off perfectly. I was mentally exhausted after the game though, it was incredibly draining and very emotional.
Did we win it in the tunnel?
No we didn’t win it there but we played out that situation in our minds beforehand so we knew exactly what we were doing and it gave us the upper hand. The Leeds lads thought we were crazy and had lost our marbles but it was all play acting and something that was totally planned. The plan was simply to make as much noise as possible to show how focused we were on the game and how up for it we were. It was very intense in the tunnel before the game but a good feeling to be there and be involved and to walk out in front of friends and family and such a massive crowd was a brilliant feeling.
You had a tough time of it in front of goal in the Premiership but the fans stuck with you.
Yes they did and that is why I will always love the Watford fans, without a doubt. I remember being on the bench away at Fulham and by that point we were quite far through the season and I still hadn’t scored. I was working hard for the team and desperately trying to score but if anything I was probably too desperate and needed to be a bit more relaxed.
So I was on the bench for the game at Fulham and I went to warm up and as I did I heard the ‘Henderson’ chant being sung by the Watford fans and that was a massive thing for me. That was a huge turning point for me mentally to go out and do it, it picked me up massively and to get acknowledgement from the fans when I wasn’t scoring was a huge boost to me – it’s great they could see I was still working hard. Then we played at West Ham and to get the goal was huge for me, a massive goal and a huge weight off my shoulders.
Was it difficult for you when Ellington arrived and he and King were the first choice front two? I remember you scoring against Southampton at home from the bench having been dropped for Ellington.
I have the mentality that I like to think I am in control of my own future. If I am not in the team then I have to get me back in team, nobody else can do it for me. As a forward, the best thing I can do to change that is to score goals when I get on the pitch. I remember the Southampton game, I came on and scored twice which got us the win and that was a big game for us. It was pleasing not only to prove the gaffer wrong but more so to win the game to back up the hard work we put in. It’s always a great feeling to win but even better when you have been 2-1 down quite late on in the game.
What made you take the decision to leave when you did?
The summer previously the club accepted a £1.3m bid from Preston for me. I went to see them but at the time it wasn’t right for me so I decided to stay at the club and fight for my place. I didn’t want to leave even though I was told early on in the season that I was down the pecking order but I had a will to win and wanted to fight for my place. Even though the club was showing me the door I got my head down and worked hard, and then when we were away in Germany and I was told the club then wanted to keep me.
The summer after that we were away in Austria and the gaffer pulled me to one side and said the club had agreed a fee with Sheffield United and he recommended I go and have a chat with them to see what they have to say. I asked the gaffer openly if he wanted me to go and he said he didn’t, I told him I was happy at Watford and so if the move didn’t happy then I was more than happy to stay – but that I would take his advice and at least speak to them. To be honest if the club is prepared to sell you then you need to keep your options open and see what the interested club has to say. I went to see Kevin Blackwell and he told me of the clubs aspirations and ambitions. Sheffield United is a massive club and it was a great opportunity for me so I went for it.
You have been back a few times now with other clubs and always had a good reception from the fans.
Yes I always get a warm welcome at Vicarage Road even though I never seem to have much luck there! When I played this season I picked up an injury, I’ve been sent off before, missed a penalty, and even when I have scored I have never played very well so maybe I should sit it out next season!
In fact, I know I said earlier that the Leeds play-off game was my most memorable game, but the second most memorable game of my career was actually against Watford when I played for Sheff Utd and I scored – yet both sets of fans ended up singing my name. That put a real lump in my throat and for that reason alone Vicarage Road will always be a very special place for me.
Quick Fire Round
|Favourite Ground (apart from the Vic)|
|White Hart Lane|
|Best Ever Player|
|Team you supported as a boy|
|Chicken Stir Fry|
|Fiesta Finesse 1.3L|
|R&B or Hip Hop|
|Favourite Holiday Destination|
|Las Vegas with the lads, Dubai with the kids|
|Favourite TV Show|
|The Shawshank Redemption|
|Never happier than when|
|I'm on holiday with the kids|
|If I hadn't been a footballer|
|I'd have been a marine or rugby player|
|Desert Island Woman|