Goalkeeper Espen Baardsen joined the club from Tottenham Hotspur in 2000 for £1.25 million, shortly after the club had been relegated from the Premiership. He went on to make 41 appearances over two seasons, but was released due to the cost cutting after the ITV Digital collapse.
He went on to make only one further career appearance before retiring at the age of 25 having decided against a career in football. He spoke to Watford Legends in 2008.
Hi Espen, thanks for talking to Watford Legends. The last time I saw you you were injuring yourself on TV….
Yes, I was playing in the Premier League Allstars on Sky and I managed to cut myself just above my left eye. These days I only play a couple of times a year!
How did your move to Watford come about?
I was looking to find a club that would give me the opportunity to play first team football. I was not playing under George Graham and when Graham Taylor enquired, Watford seemed like a natural move. It also allowed me to stay in the London area.
Did you enjoy working for Graham Taylor?
Yes – he’s an interesting character and has a lot to say. I only have positive things to say about him.
And then Vialli came to Watford…
Yeah, he really changed the team around and spent crazy amounts of money, and sort of destabilised the club. I don’t think he was experienced enough to run a smaller club, especially coming from a club like Chelsea.
We spoke to Gavin Mahon about the Vialli era and he told us he felt that Vialli bought the right players, but the squad failed to perform. Would you agree with that?
I think it was a bit of both. I don’t think that Vialli was suited to managing in the Championship. I think he was used to dealing with world class players and would have been better at working with players like that in a higher division. He got exposed. I think the club got excited and spent a ton of money. But then everything changed when the ITV Digital deal exploded.
Do any particular Watford games stand out as a personal favourite?
Not a particular game as such but when I first joined we went on a great run under Graham that was great to be a part of.
What made you leave Watford?
At the time everything was blowing up financially and I think the club wanted me to leave as I was one of the better paid players, and it became an awkward situation. I can understand though that they needed to get everybody on lower wages. That was the nature of the period.
How do you feel about the club now?
Yeah fine. I’ve been amazed at what Aidy Boothroyd has done in the last few years.
Do you feel bitterness towards Watford FC.
No. It was the nature of the game at the time, and it was one of those things. How can I be bitter with the club? Who is the club? The people who were there then are not there now.
How did you get on with the fans?
I got on well with the fans; they always gave me a good reception.
And dropping down from the Premiership?
I thought that working with world class players at Spurs would make it easier, and then Pat Jennings said it would actually be harder. And it was.
And from Watford to Everton….
I had very much tired of football by that stage, and by the time I joined Everton, I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to be in the game much longer.
It’s quite rare for a player to leave football on their own terms. Normally it’s a player who can’t stay in the game who leaves.
Sure, but I think that I have a much higher standard of living now. Both financially and in my quality of life. I can go on holiday when I want, and do what I want. In football you see your friends going away for the weekend and you can’t go. I believe from that standpoint the quality of life is pretty miserable.
So was it an instant decision to leave football?
It was a gradual thing. I love the excitement of playing football, making a great save, banter in the dressing room. That was always fun. But there were too many other things that were not great – coaches, personalities, and a lack of intellectual stimulation.
Are you pleased to have been a player?
Oh, very pleased. It gave me a great head start in life. Not just financially, but in terms of maturity as well. I wouldn’t be in the same position otherwise. It’s exciting to think back, but doesn’t play a big part in my life now.
Do you have any mementoes?
I have my medal from the league cup win in 1999, Goalkeeper of the Tournament in the U21 Euro 98, and I was part of the Norwegian squad from the World Cup.
And now you work for an asset management company.
Yes I work on Asset Management and Hedge Funds for a firm in London.
Do you live in London?
Yes I live near Covent Garden. It’s great because everything I could need is on my doorstep, yet it’s nice and quiet.
I have a girlfriend, Hillary, who works in fashion. She spends half her time in LA, so I do get some peace!
And what do you think of the modern game now?
It’s not changed much since I left it. I go to a few Spurs games each year, although sadly I haven’t been to Watford for a while. I just go as a fan with friends.
Are you still friendly with anyone from your football days?
I’m still friendly with Heidar Helguson, and speak with him from time to time.
So overall, happy with your time at Watford, time in football, and happy now?
Yes, definitely, although things could have gone differently for me in my football career. I’m more pleased I have found something now I can do until I’m old and grey that I find challenging. I didn’t want to go in to coaching, or leave football at 40 with no future plans.
Espen, thanks for taking the time to talk with Watford legends.
No problem. All the best.