Kenny came through the youth ranks and played for Watford between 1980 and 1990 before retiring with a knee injury. He then held various coaching roles at the club, including managing the first team for one season, 1996-7. He left the club after the arrival of Luca Vialli and has since gone on to manage several league clubs.
Currently manager at Portsmouth, Kenny spoke to Watford Legends shortly after achieving promotion with Millwall in 2010.
Hi Kenny, thanks for talking to Watford Legends.
It’s certainly a wide ranging website lads. I’ve enjoyed looking at it myself.
Thanks very much. You are a Watford boy, so no surprise that you became a Hornet?!
No not really. I grew up on the Holywell estate and could see the floodlights from my bedroom window. My mum still lives there. I played for Bushey Rangers and Dave Butler, who was a physio/coach invited me to train with the club when I was twelve years old.
After that trial I was invited to stay and when I was 14, Tom Walley took it over, and Graham Taylor came in to the club and put a lot in to the youth policy. It was a good time for me to be at the club, as there was a great emphasis on the youth policy. The coaching was great. For me at 14/15 years old it was a great time for me to be there.
So you were at Watford at the right time and at the best time in the clubs history.
I was and with Graham as the manager and Elton at the top we had a real chance. The club didn’t have a lot of young apprentices, so when they started to do that again I was in the first wave with Steve Terry, and Nigel Callaghan not far behind.
What do you remember of your debut?
I remember it well. We were up at Sunderland at the end of the season. Sunderland were trying to finalise their promotion and Graham gave Steve Terry and myself a run out. We were 18 and 17 at the time. The club had had two promotions and were having something of a consolidation period in what is now the Championship.
It was something like the last but one game of the season. We were three nil down and then he put me on for the last period of the game. From Grahams point of view that was very brave and it was fantastic for me.
As a youngster at the time what did you make of GT as the boss?
He was very enthusiastic and dedicated, and had a great team with names such as John Ward, Tom Walley, Dennis Booth, Sam Ellis and Steve Harrison. They were all in their early thirties and they didn’t muck about. They wanted it done right, they wanted it done quickly and they wanted it done well.
By the time we got through to the First Division a first team vs. reserve game was a very good game. We had a very good squad that was covered in each position.
You had a few positions in the team. Did you have a preferred position to play in?
I think maybe I could have settled down in to the left full back position. I played left centre half and I played quite a bit in midfield. I think when I look back that I would have been better to settle in one position. The flip side of that was that at times being versatile kept me in the team, so there are two sides to that.
Do you have one particular game that stands out as a personal favourite?
For me it would be the Sunderland and Southampton games. Playing against Southampton and Kevin Keegan for me was great as a youngster, even though Keegan was coming towards the end of his career.
Before the Southampton game Graham said to us firstly, do ourselves justice, secondly, do it with some fight, and thirdly to remember – you never know.
We were capable of scoring goals early on and exactly what he said happened. One ball went over my foot and Mick Channon put it over the bar. If he hadn’t done that it could have been a very different story to the evening!
And of course there was the FA Cup Final.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but to go to Wembley and lose was not particularly enjoyable. It was fantastic that the club had got that far. It was at the time something of a celebration of how far the club had come. Everton were a top side at the time and were very ambitious. To be competing with them was a fantastic achievement with the young lads we had.
You had to retire through injury at 28. Was that an outright ‘injury’ or something that progressively got worse?
I had a knee injury. I had an operation when I was 21. I got back pretty quickly. Maybe a bit too quickly. I got to 26 and my knee broke down again. I had a series of operations and two years trying to get it right, but at 28 it got the better of me. But even still, I got in a good amount of games in my career, and that was helped by the fact that I got in to the side when I was 18. I achieved a lot in that time so it’s ok.
You’ve been a manager for as long as you were a player. Do you see yourself as a better player or manager?
I liked playing and I thought that it was a great time to be at Watford. We grew up together, we were good friends and we had a lot of success with the promotions, finishing second, FA Cup and Europe. So they were fantastic times and I wouldn’t swap them. But you can’t go on forever and you have to do something else.
I’d always been interested in coaching and we are a very football orientated family – my father played for Watford and my brother was an apprentice with L*t*n Town before playing at a very good standard in the non-league. By the time I retired I had all my coaching qualifications.
How did you enjoy your time as Watford manager in 1997?
Yes it was good, but it was a difficult situation because Graham was still the General Manager and I was managing the team. So it would be the case that the players would say “Hello boss” to Graham, and “Hello Ken” to me. So it was a tough. But I learned a lot at that time and after a while we adjusted the roles.
Graham came back on the training field and it game me a good opportunity to step back and analyse my year. It also game me a chance to work with Graham – and to be coaching with the man who had done it all so successfully was a good education for me.
I would be sitting on the bench and Graham would make a decision that nobody else wouldn’t even have thought of, and to see that in action was fantastic. I have to say I learned a lot.
And or course that was when we went on to do so well in our second fast-track to the top flight.
It was a great time for me, in my early thirties, to be coaching. It allowed me to develop as a coach and gave me ideas on how I would want to manage in the future. They were two terrific years and we were very hard to stop. Even in the Bolton final against the likes of Gudjohnsen.
How do you feel now about the infamous Vialli era?
I had no divine right to stay at Watford forever. Since I was 26 I’d been coaching with the club and for five years I had been involved at the senior level with Graham. When you are involved in the first team you are them more susceptible to be moved on when a new regime takes over. Vialli wanted to bring in his own staff and myself, Luther and Tom Walley knew that as ‘old Watford’ that us leaving would be inevitable. The club were very good with us and I couldn’t ask for more than that.
We asked Ray Lewington and would like to ask you – do you prefer being an Assistant Manager or Manager.
I prefer to be the manager and I enjoy coaching with the freedom to do that. If I am an assistant I am adaptable enough to be able to do that as well, but without doubt I prefer to be the number one.
Congratulations on your promotion with Millwall. How are you feeling about the upcoming Championship season?
We’re really looking forward to it. It was a big achievement to get up to the Championship and we’re looking forward to taking it on. The Championship is a big division now and it’s great to me working in the fourth most popular league in Europe. I think to some degree it’s quite an even division – anybody can beat anybody.
Are you looking forward to bringing Millwall to The Vic?
Yes, I can’t wait. I’ll have a lot of family and friends there that day. For me to bring my side to Watford is a personal achievement.
Well good luck with Millwall, but not on that day!
Cheers guys, all the best.
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