Gavin was the final signing of the Vialli era and after playing in various different positions, cemented a place in the centre of midfield, captaining the side to promotion via the play-offs in 2006. He went on to make nearly 200 appearances for the club, before joining QPR in 2008.
Now retired, Gavin spoke to Watford Legends while at QPR in 2008.
Hi Gavin. You were Gianluca Vialli’s final signing. How did it all come about?
I knew Ray Lewington through our time at Brentford. Vialli had told him that he needed a midfielder who would get around the pitch and organise things. Ray told me that Luca was watching me and to keep playing my game. Luca came to Griffin Park and I must have done okay because I was then asked if I would be interested in coming to the club.
Did you have any doubts about coming to the club?
Once Ray told me that Luca was watching me I pushed myself quite hard and always had in the back of my mind that he could be at that game, especially if Watford didn’t have a game themselves. As soon as I knew as Watford were interested I was ready to jump at the chance.
How did you enjoy playing for Vialli?
Yeah it was good. I know a lot of Watford fans don’t rate him as a manager because he spent a lot of money on players and didn’t get the results. When you look back we know that a lot of players didn’t do it for him, some well known players. As a guy I got on well with him and Ray Wilkins.
Most players that we have spoken to that played under Vialli have said the same thing, that he was a nice guy but it was the players that let him down.
I know Ray Lewington had that view as well. And Ray would always be keen to bring in players who were hungry for the challenge, rather than players who had already achieved things. I think that was why I was brought in. And maybe why I played 200 odd games.
Could you understand criticism of Vialli for bringing in players at the end of their careers on high salaries?
I think it’s a fine line. You can have foreign players who are wealthy and just want to pick up their money, and you can have foreign players at the end of their careers who still have the hunger to be successful, regardless of the level they are playing at.
I feel he did all the right things in training, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
As for Ray, a genuinely nice bloke. Is he a nice bloke to play football for?
Yes. I’ve played football for ten years now and he is one of the most genuine down to earth guys you could meet. He’s probably one of the best coaches I have ever played for. You’d do well to find anyone who would have a bad word to say about him.
Your third manager you played for at Watford was Aidy. How did you find that?
It was a bit strange as it was at a time when there were a lot of comings and goings. And at that time you wonder if you will be in the managers plans, so you don’t know where your future lies.
I think Aidy had watched a few Watford games beforehand, and I think he knew what type of player I was. He told me that he did not want me to move, and that I was in his plans. He told me that he wanted to take the club to the next level.
Tell us about the promotion season. Was it as much of a whirlwind experience on the pitch as it was for us fans off it?
I’ll never forget the meeting we had preseason after we had stayed up courtesy of that Heidar goal at Stoke. We came in and Aidy had lined up all the chairs in the formation of a bus. He sat in the ‘drivers’ chair and said ”This is my bus to the Premiership. Do you want to get on board?” We thought that it was a little strange as we had only just stayed up.
As the season progressed we kept our togetherness and the fans were behind us and we were getting more and more confident. Aidy wouldn’t let anything get in the way.
How long did it take you to realise that the idea of promotion was a realistic one?
It was from the start of the season. We do six game cycles of how we think we’ll do. And our cycles were achieving all the results we were expecting and breaking our points expectations. I think after the first six to eight games we started to believe we could do it. We just needed to maintain it consistently as a team.
It seemed to click well within the team, with yourself and Springy, Hendo and Marlon, and other players that made the team gel.
Yes I think we did well to get goals throughout the team aswell. We were also lucky that we were okay with injuries. We also had match winners for when we didn’t play well, like Ashley, Marlon and Springy.
Aidy was known for being a good motivator to that side. How was he at dishing out the rollockings?
Yes, fine. You know as a footballer that you will get them, and sometimes you need the rocket.
Aidy’s big thing was the togetherness, and we would have meetings in a big circle with the entire squad. Aidy would make us all speak, but nobody would fall out, we would be constructive with each other.
We heard that Aidy’s preparations were very thorough.
Yes, off the pitch I’ve never known anyone so dedicated to getting everything right. Our diets were checked, we were weighed, and our urine was tested to make sure we were correctly hydrated. Aidy liked to be so organized, and I suppose that this is how the generation of new managers are.
One of our favourite memories from Cardiff was beating Leeds in the tunnel beforehand. They didn’t know what had hit them. What was it like?
Aidy wanted a siege mentality. He wanted us to take over any ground we went to. He wanted us to be stood tall as we get off the coach, go out to warm up together, come in together and so on. It was all part of that togetherness.
At the Millenium Stadium you could see that the Leeds players were quiet when we were in the tunnel. It was also when I saw that Paul Butler was playing I knew we had a good chance because, and no disrespect to him, he had been injured for the month before and I knew he wouldn’t be fully match fit.
A lot of players have said since, as has Aidy, that we beat Leeds in the tunnel, and it was great to be in front of them all with the noise they made behind me.
Was that ‘tunnel technique’ something you did all season?
Yes, we did it quite a lot. The other thing was when other teams went in to a huddle, we lined up on the half way line. We were there in their faces when the huddle broke. I remember we did that home and away against Palace in the play offs.
And talking of the Palace games, did you get any good punches in during the home leg touchline battle?!
I remember Aidy talking before the game about how we all stick together, no sendings off and keeping our cool. And then he did that! He did apologise to us afterwards though.
I’m with Fitz Hall at QPR now, so we sometimes have a little laugh about that.
How did you enjoy the season in the Premiership?
Yeah it was good. I still don’t think that our team was that far from staying up. I read somewhere a statistic that if games had finished in the 82nd minute we would have finished 10th. I think Marlon missing was a big loss. But there’s a thin line between being good enough in that league, and I think we were just a little bit under it.
We remember your tap in against Portsmouth….
I remember Aidy had pulled me in at Christmas, as I had lost a bit of form after a good couple of years. And the fans were getting a bit frustrated. That goal did give me a boost. I don’t score many like that but I enjoy them when they come. It was too late to put it in for the voting for goal of the season though unfortunately!
Going back a bit to the semi finals against Liverpool. Did you enjoy those games?
Yes, I thought we played really well. I did well playing against Gerrard and was pleased with our overall performance.
We think that really overall the only difference was Steven Gerrard. Other than that, and particularly in the first leg, things were pretty even.
Yes, and how many times have we all seen Steven Gerrard do that for Liverpool? That’s why he’s one of the top players.
An on and off season really last season. It was also your last season, and the fans were getting frustrated. How was that for you?
Yeah it was tough, but as club captain you have to lead by example. I was playing with a style of football I was not really enjoying, and I wasn’t getting enough touches. As a midfielder you want to get on the ball and get the team playing. But at the same time quite often we were getting results, so you have to get on with it and stay focused.
But from my side, I signed for £250,000, played 200 plus games and left for about the same money. So not a bad return for Watford I hope.
We asked Aidy for a comment in advance of your interview and he said that he felt he let you and Matt Spring leave too soon. Did you want to stay or were you ready to move on anyway?
I said to Aidy that I wanted to stay, at least until the end of the season. I wanted to get a second promotion in three years on my cv. Aidy explained his reasons why, and I have no grudges with him for that.
He was looking to get a team that was ready for the Premiership, and told me that he would be looking to replace me. I thought it was a bit strange as it was only November. I asked if I could go in January and Aidy let me go. Whilst I was out of the team I gave 100% even though I wasn’t playing.
I remember signing my contract for QPR on the Saturday in the media room near the changing rooms, and I could hear the players getting ready. I thought to myself that it should be me getting the players ready to go out.
Then my next game I played in was for QPR against Chelsea in the FA Cup. It’s strange but that’s how football works.
How are you enjoying life at QPR?
Yeah its good. I’ve had three different managers all with different ideas. But we have a good squad, and if we had a bit more belief in front of goal we could be right up there.
Are you planning on staying at QPR for a few years?
Yes I think so. I’ve got next season left to go and I get on well with the owners. I’m liked as a player and a leader, and I think QPR want me to do my badges. I’m getting old now so I need to think about the future. And when you look at the likes of Dychey and Malky, you don’t know when that chance will come.
And what do you plan to do long term?
I’d definitely like to be a coach. I’ve always had good coaches – Graham Taylor, Aidy, Ray and so on, so I’d like to look at that.
You got a good reception from the Watford fans when you came back to The Vic with QPR.
Yes I did. I think hard core Watford fans appreciated what I did for the club, and as I’ve said before, I did play a lot of games over quite a few years, and captained the side. I’ve had some great nights at The Vic.
Well thanks for playing for us Gavin, all the best at QPR.
Quick Fire Round
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