Right winger Nigel came through the youth team ranks to make his debut in 1980. He went on to score over 40 goals for the club, but assisted many others as arguably one of the finest crossers of the ball in the club’s history. He joined Derby County in 1987, but made a brief return to the club on loan from Aston Villa in 1991.
Now retired from football, Nigel spoke to Watford Legends in 2010.
Hi Nigel. Thanks for talking to Watford Legends. Before we talk football we hear you’ve not been too well. How are you getting on?
I’ve had an operation in January for bowel cancer. I was told that the operation went well but they did find traces of the cancer still in me, so two weeks ago I started a 6 month course of chemotherapy. I’ll only really know in six months if it’s all worked, and even then you still have to wait for a full five years to know if you have beaten it.
I’ve had a lot of messages from Derby and Watford fans and that’s been great. Everybody has been really supportive. It’s nice to know that people care!
And on to football, how did you become a Hornet?
It was when Dave Butler looked after the 12 – 16 year olds. I used to join in with the training and within a year Elton bought the club, and in came Tom Walley, and the youth set up became really established. It went from there.
Can you remember much from your debut?
It was towards the end of the season and we’d been playing well. Myself, Steve Terry and Kenny Jackett had been knocking on the door of the first team as we had been playing well in the reserves. Unfortunately though it was the season when Watford were at the wrong end of the table, and we weren’t fully safe from relegation. Steve and Kenny had broken through, and I was told that I would have made my debut earlier if we’d been higher up the table.
It was great to make my debut towards the end of the season, and was great to get out on the pitch in front of the big crowd. It just made me want more of it and I couldn’t wait for the next season, to try and become a first team regular.
You played over 200 times for the club. Was there a particular favourite game for you?
I think the Southampton game. I came on and got the sixth goal that pretty much put us through. The next day it was all over the national press. And that was the first game where I’d been involved in something big that had happened with the club.
It was also at the time when you only had one sub, so it was a big deal back then to be the 12th man. It was a great evening! I think after that I was considered to be a part of the first team squad.
I had some great games with Watford, and we had some high scorers, including the game at Notts County when I won Goal of the Month. I was chuffed to see it on one of those 101 Great Goals DVD’s!
Did you have anybody up front who was your preferred ‘point of service?’
Not really, but I would say Maurice Johnston was the most clinical finisher I played with. Luther always provided a great option as he would often get on the end of things. I have always thought that Ross Jenkins was a much underrated player; not by the Watford fans but by the press and so on. He was a very good player.
Do you have good memories of Cup Final day?
The whole day was nice but to be honest it wasn’t one of my best games. It was unusual in the run up to Cup Final day as you would have cameras at the training ground each day and so on. The whole thing is built up and built up and before you know it you are on the pitch and the 90 minutes is coming to a close. The Watford fans were brilliant. Even though we’d lost they treated us like we had won. And that showed in the reception we got in town the next day.
I look back now though and realise I was very lucky to have played in a cup final at Wembley. It is easy to forget that to do that is an unrealised dream for many, many players.
Did you have an opponent in the top flight that you didn’t look forward to seeing?!
The Everton left back, John Bailey, always gave me problems. As soon as we got Everton in the Cup Final I thought oh no! I could never quite put my finger on it. You do find with footballers though that there are some teams where they are your bogey team and some teams where you always have a good game.
How would you do in today’s Premiership?
I think I’d do alright. I had good vision and was a good passer of the ball. I think these days though it is more about fitness and performance than football. But if I was young again and in that environment I think I would adapt to that.
You dropped out of the top flight to then join Derby in the Second Division. Why did you make the move?
I’d been on the transfer list since the start of the season, as GT and I weren’t getting on very well. I was in the reserves in pre season and was told that Lennie Lawrence had come in to see if I could join him at Charlton. GT accepted the offer but I wasn’t too keen on going to Charlton, so I opted to stay and fight for my place. However GT told me that I wasn’t part of his plans.
I managed to get back in the side and did well, and as a result I kept my place. I remember we beat Chelsea in the FA Cup and after that game I asked to be taken off the transfer list, and I was off the list for a couple of weeks. Then GT told me that Derby had made an offer for me. He told me that he thought it would be good for me to have the chat with Arthur Cox. I think GT was really saying that it was a good time for me to make a change, although he was happy if I wanted to turn Derby down. The decision was mine, and maybe I just felt it was the right time to try a new venture.
Why did you and Graham Taylor fall out?
We had a real love/hate relationship at that time. He wanted to get the most out of me, and pushed me hard, but being young I wanted to be treated like all the other lads. I also put in a transfer request on the same day that Luton beat Watford. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea. I think Graham was spitting blood at the end of that day.
I wouldn’t be the first or last player to have fallen out with GT, and certainly not the first or last player to fall out with his manager.
How do you get on with Graham Taylor now?
Yeah we get on really well. I saw him last week. I have a lot of respect for him. Fall outs happen when you’re playing football. If you had a football club where there were no bollockings, and there was no passion for the club then there is something wrong. It just depends how you respond to that.
But then he took you from Derby to Aston Villa.
Yes he was my manager there as well. I think that going to Villa was probably the biggest mistake of my football career. I think that if I hadn’t gone to Villa I would still be involved in football in some capacity today, be it coaching or managing.
I felt I never got the backing of the managers or the crowd. At first they got on the back of Ian Ormondroyd, and when he got dropped they moved on to me. After GT went to be England Manager we had Jozef Venglos in as the new gaffer, and he didn’t speak any English. John Ward was doing all the coaching and interviews. I think Villa nearly went down that year.
Then Ron Atkinson came in and we fell out. By that time I was losing my passion for football, and I think by the time I left my passion had gone altogether. I think when you lose the passion it is probably time to give it up.
Was that the reason you went back to Derby and Watford on loan deals?
I went back to Watford when they had a manager [Steve Perryman] who dropped me because I wanted to train more. Yet the team was struggling and he wanted to go for a game of pitch and putt! I thought a struggling team would have been better off training to try to sort out the problems.
We’d finished training but the reserves were playing a five a side, and I wanted to join in, so he fell out with me over it.
My month on loan was up and I wasn’t playing but Steve wanted to keep me for another month, but I didn’t want to and I wanted to go back to Villa. He’d also made it clear I wasn’t going to be a regular in the first team. I didn’t want to stay in Watford to play for the reserves. If I was to play reserve football then I would have rather done that at a top flight club like Villa, where the standard of football was better because of the different leagues.
I think Steve Perryman thought that managing Watford would be easier than it is.
You finished at Villa when you were 30.
Yes you are supposed to be in your prime at that age aren’t you? Ron Atkinson wanted to fine me for coming back for pre season overweight. I was slightly overweight but I think that is the whole point of pre season – to burn the weight off and get ready. He wanted to fine me £1,000 but I wouldn’t pay it. The PFA agreed it was unfair.
From there I wasn’t allowed to train with the other lads and was made to come in and do a 4 ½ mile run before the other lads came in for training. I did this for about three months. You couldn’t do that in this day and age, the players would strike. Some of the other players thought it wasn’t on. In the end I was the fittest player at the club! I never got to play in the first team that season. It was nice to get letters from the Villa fans who would watch me in reserve games and see me do well, and they would be supporting me and hoping to see me in the first team again.
In then end I went to Huddersfield on loan. When I came back I was 13th man in the reserve side. I came on as sub at one nil down, made one and scored one and we won the game. The next day I was called in to Ron’s office where he told me he’d heard the excellent reports about me, but he didn’t like my attitude and I could either be suspended for the last three months of my contract or leave the club straight away. So I left Villa that day after being told by the manager how he’s heard that I was the best player on the pitch! I think Villa were annoyed that they couldn’t get some money from Huddersfield for a sale. To this day I am not sure if it was Doug Ellis or Ron Atkinson who made that decision.
I thought that it was as good a time as ever to do some of the things that I hadn’t been able to do for 16 years whilst I was playing football.
So what happened after football?
I played in South Africa for about three months and trained with Millwall as Tom Walley was there. Mick McCarthy was happy for me to train with them and by about January I was fully fit and playing a few reserve games. So I have a lot of time for Mick for letting me do that.
I have always been in to DJing, but people would see the footballer in me and never take me seriously. So I knew that I had to make a decision and go one way or the other. And that was how I ended up doing that.
So from leaving football to now, what’s been your history?
Well I’ve been abroad for much of the time working as a DJ. I suppose it’s still entertaining people but in a different way, which makes it all the more frustrating now because I can’t work at the moment because of my illness.
DJing, like any profession has a ladder and I’ve been trying to climb that ladder.
We saw you on the telly a few years ago on the Greece Uncovered programme.
Yes, because I’d been over there for a few years and was running the biggest club they wanted to film me. The ex-footballer part also made a nice angle for them. Unfortunately I didn’t get paid for it though! It was a good laugh. I get recognised more for that than being a footballer.
I came back to the UK as Europe is struggling with the recession, and the Euro is suffering. In recent times the holiday season has shortened considerably as the bars are not getting the business they were a few years ago.
I haven’t been abroad to DJ for a while now as I’ve been unwell but would like to get back to it soon!
Well in the meantime, thanks for talking to us, best of luck with your treatment and see you soon!
Quick Fire Round
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