Richard Jobson gave up his university degree course to join Watford in 1982, signing for £15k from Burton Albion, who at the time were in non-league. He spent three seasons at the club before joining Hull City in 1985, although he did return briefly on loan in 2000.

Now working for the PFA, Richard spoke to Watford Legends in 2018.

Thanks for talking to Watford Legends. Watford signed you from Burton Albion, while you were studying at Nottingham University. How did the move come about?

I’d been at university for a year full-time, and I went back home in the summer and started training with Burton Albion reserves. They were in the old Northern Premier which I think is the equivalent of the Conference North these days. I knew the manager from school, he was one of the school coaches locally.

I wasn’t due back at university until October. The previous year I’d been playing for the Nottingham university team and off the back of that had got into the English universities team so I’d done quite well at that level. So he said why don’t you come and do your pre-season training with us, keep yourself ticking over and get some football under your belt before you go back, which I did.

I started training with Burton Albion reserves around July time. The first team had one or two injuries, so I got drafted into the first team squad a couple of weeks before the season started, and managed to force myself into the team which wasn’t the intention. So I started to cement my place in the first team and started to generate a bit of interest. It’s what used to happen in those days, a lot of players used to come out of non-league football.

I think what happened is that Neil Warnock, who was right at the start of his managerial career, got in touch with a lot of his contacts he had in the professional game and said come down and have a look at this lad who’s playing for us, and one of those was Graham Taylor. I think they played with or against each other, they’re both Yorkshire people – Graham was Scunthorpe and Neil was Sheffield I think.

I think Graham and John Ward came to watch me separately over a period of a week and then put an offer in. It happened very quickly, I think I got a phone call in the morning towards the end of October of the 1982 season. Neil Warnock picked me up from Nottingham and drove me down. I think Watford were playing in a League Cup game that night and I signed after the game, about midnight, so it was all done and dusted in about 24 hours. It was all a bit of a whirlwind.

Has Neil Warnock changed much over the years?!

I don’t have a lot to do with him now. You see him on TV quite a bit. The job I’m in now I cover mainly Yorkshire clubs so I came across him at Leeds and Sheffield United a little bit, but I’ve not come across him for a number of years.

He doesn’t look he’s changed greatly (Laughs), no doubt he’s mellowed a bit in old age, but typical old school manager as they call it, but very successful at that. We always have a chat about old times when I come across him, I’ve got a lot to thank him for as he was the one that got me into the professional game, gave me my first opportunity, got me sorted out down at Watford. Thirty-six years later he’s still managing, doing extremely well and looks like he’s going to take Cardiff into the Premier League.

Was it a difficult decision to abandon your degree?

Not for me. I think my Dad had travelled down with us to Watford and was a little bit disappointed.

But having said that, Watford had an education officer. We had a chat about continuing my studies down there, at the North London polytechnic I think it was. It was very difficult in those days, there wasn’t online stuff, you actually had to go to college and it was difficult to continue the course I was doing part-time.

I had a look at Open University, that was the only way you could study from home, but you had to be 21 before you could do that and I was only 19 at the time, so the studies took a bit of a back seat.

I suppose in some way it’s a bit of a regret that I never did finish my degree, but in my footballing career I did various courses. I did a Business Studies course and I did an Accounting course, and when I went to Man City I did a Marketing course, but I never actually got a degree.

But of course, it wasn’t a big decision for me at all. From Northern Premier league football where I’d only been three months, I think I’d only played about 13 games for Burton Albion and then going straight to the old first division, and they (Watford) were doing really well at that time, finished second in that first season I was there and then Europe the following year.

How difficult was the transition from what was then non-league to the First Division?

Yeah that was tough. My fitness levels weren’t particularly good, I think we trained once a week when I went back to uni, and when I played for the university team we played Wednesday afternoon and Saturday afternoon and that was it.

I remember we had a couple of training sessions at Watford and I played half a game in the Reserves and then they put me on a three week pre-season blitz which didn’t go down to well with the other reserve team lads, because they’d done their pre-season training two or three months before and because of me they had to do it all again.

It got me up to speed fitness wise. It was a hell of a transition going from being a full-time student to a full-time footballer. Timescales were similar, training two or three hours a day, there was the additional work to do when you’re studying, but footballing wise you had quite a bit of time on your hands in the afternoon. It was a massive change. People like Ian Wright and Stuart Pearce came out of non-league football at the time and were coming out of full-time employment so they would have noticed a massive difference.

I think I’m right in saying your first Watford goal was against Luton. That was must have been a popular goal!

Yeah, I think we won 5-2. They were doing well in the first division as well, it was a local derby, and they had some good players.

The following season you were involved in the European games, what do you remember about those games?

I played in all six games we played.

We lost 3-1 away to Kaiserslautern which wasn’t a great result although the away goal made a difference. I certainly remember the game at home where we scored two goals really early on which was enough to put us through with the away goal and then we got the extra goal which didn’t really kill the tie. I remember the atmosphere, a packed Vicarage Road under lights, and with us scoring early on the crowd were really behind us.

It was probably one of the highlights of my career at Watford. We weren’t expected to get through having lost the first leg 3-1. They were a good, strong German team at the time.

The second round was against the Bulgarian team in Sofia. We drew at home so we weren’t favourites in the second leg but we managed to win away in extra time. The game over there I managed to give away two penalties. They scored one and missed one. That was a massive learning curve for me, because the two I gave away, there was absolutely no contact, I got conned completely by my opponent. He just went flying to the floor and the referee pointed to the penalty spot, but I think Nigel Callaghan scored the winning goal late on which was again, a fantastic result.

Then in the third round against Prague, we lost 3-2 in the home game, and I remember the away game, the pitch was rock solid, frozen, really passionate crowd making a lot of noise. The game shouldn’t have been played at all, the pitch was like concrete.

We lined up alongside the players before the game. We were wearing dimpled training shoes and they all had really long sharp studs on which were probably illegal. We were slipping all over the place and they knew exactly what they were doing as they were used to playing on frozen pitches. We were 4-0 down at half time, we got absolutely hammered. It was a disappointing way to go out but the conditions didn’t help us at all. I can’t understand how the game was allowed to be played, but it’s one of those things.

Those six games were obviously very memorable and one of the highlights of my time there.

You were involved in some of the games in the FA cup run, but not the final. Did you think there was a chance of at least being the substitute, and was is a disappointment when you were not included?

Yeah, in those days there was only one sub and you generally got on at some stage in the game. I think I was sub in the game against Birmingham and I don’t think I got on, and I was sub in the semi-final and came on for the last ten or fifteen minutes and so I thought I had a chance of being sub for the final. He put Paul Atkinson on the bench, probably because he was more of a utility player.

To be fair I was disappointed, but it’s just one of those things. I think he named the squad probably three or four days beforehand so I don’t think I even travelled with the squad. I think he narrowed the squad down to about fourteen. In a normal game we’d travel with a squad of thirteen, not like in these days where you have seven subs. So it was disappointing having been involved in the earlier rounds.

You’d come to Watford as a winger, then played a bit in midfield in and ended up at centre-half, where you played pretty much the rest of your career. Was it just circumstance, or did you see yourself playing in more defensive role later on.

For most of my schoolboy career I was a midfield player, right midfield. When I went to university, I remember going to trials for the university team and they split us into positions and there were no centre-halves, so I put my hand up and said I’ll have a go as I thought there’s a better chance of getting in the team if I say I’m a defender. I really enjoyed my year playing centre-half, never played there before in my life, go into the university team and the British universities team on the back of that.

At Burton I went back to midfield, so when I was signed by Watford I was a right midfielder and that’s where I played when I first went to Watford and then I think I made my debut on the left wing! We played 4-2-4 in those days, we were the original long ball, play through the channels sort of team, a lot of science went behind it.

I injured Luther Blissett in a tackle, the day after he scored a hat-trick for England, it was a complete accident, he couldn’t play on the Saturday because of that injury. I think John Barnes moved in from left wing to centre forward and I came in on the left wing. I’d never played there in the whole of my career. So I think it was six weeks after joining that I made my debut and I played another 13 games I think in that position, then the following season dropped back into midfield.

The two midfield positions were very crucial to the way we played. I think Graham Taylor bedded players in by sticking them out on the wing. If you made a mistake playing out on the wing it wasn’t crucial but if you made a mistake in midfield it had serious repercussions.

The season I left which was my third season, I was playing a lot of reserve team football and I was playing centre-half and that’s where I spent most of my career. In fact, Graham Taylor selected me for the England squad, five or six years after he released me from Watford as a centre-half.

Did you get close to getting any full caps?

When I went to Oldham we had three seasons in the Premier League. Myself and Earl Barrett were doing quite well at centre-half and we both got selected for the England squad. I think it was 1991 and I was in about six squads.

I don’t think I was ever close to making my debut for the first team. In those days we used to have a B team as well so I got a couple of B team caps. We used to travel together with maybe 25 or 26 players, we would play on the Tuesday and watch the full team play on the Wednesday. I didn’t even manage to get on the bench for the first team. But at least I got the two B team caps.

I appreciate Graham Taylor selecting me for those squads and for the experience. Oldham were doing well at that time under Joe Royle and quite a lot of the players were making a name for them internationally, it certainly was a good experience.

You left to join Hull in 1985. How did the move come about?

The last year at Watford I wasn’t playing any first team football at all. He put about half a dozen of the reserve team players on the list. There were a few tentative enquiries, nothing serious. The only option round about the February time was Hull, whose player-manager was Brian Horton. He was a close friend of Eric Steele.

Eric and Brian had played together at Brighton and Eric had been reserve team ‘keeper at Watford so I think he put in a good word for me. I went to Hull which was a bit of culture shock, I think they had been in administration, but they were doing well and that was my first taste of regular first team football and we got promoted at the end of that season and we had two or three decent years in the old second division.

Brian signed quite a few players from Watford and Luton, the likes of Frankie Bunn, Ray Daniel and Garry Parker from Luton and then Charlie Palmer, Steve Terry and Alex Dyer. It was a good time to be there, we were fairly successful. In the first season back in the second division we finished fifth or sixth, but they didn’t have play-offs in those days otherwise we possibly would have had a shot at getting into the top division.

In terms of going to Hull, there wasn’t really any other options. I think they only paid about forty grand for me. We didn’t have agents in those days so I didn’t know if any other clubs were interested in me. I remember I drove to Hull and signed on the same day.

You came back to Watford on loan for a couple of games in 2000. How did that come about?

Yeah it was the season after we got promoted to the Premier League with Manchester City, towards the end of my career, I was 36 or 37. I’d played the full season the promotion season the year before, but when we got to the Premier League under Joe Royle, he went out and bought quite a number of players including centre-halves so I didn’t really get a look in.

There was quite a number of clubs who came in for me on loan, Championship clubs, I think Stockport was one, which I turned down. But then Watford came in, it was probably more of a nostalgic thing. Watford were flying at the time, they’d just been relegated from the Premier League but were top of the table and unbeaten.

It was around November time and it was an opportunity to play some football. I think I was brought in to replace Darren Ward, he was going to be out for about four to six weeks. I only played two games and I think we lost both games, it was tough. Darren Ward made a quicker recovery so Graham said to me you’re not going to play any games so my loan period was cut short. It was good going back. I think Graham retired at the end of that season.

I think I’m right in saying you got an own goal in one of the games?

I did, on my debut. I didn’t know a lot about it. I think it deflected off my head and I didn’t realise till afterwards that it was an own goal.

It wasn’t as I hoped it would go, but there were a few old faces, Luther was on the coaching staff, Nigel Gibbs, Tom Walley was still there. Some of the office staff were still there from my time.

Did you have a plan for when you retired from the game?

It’s probably the question you get asked the most as you get towards the end of your career. You tend to only get one or two year contracts if you’re lucky so it’s difficult to plan.

I sort of fell into the PFA. I’d been delegate at Hull, Oldham and Man City for a number of years and for the final few years of my career I was on the management committee and chairman for the last few. Then I got offered a job when I finished playing fourteen years ago so I was quite fortunate, that a job became available which coincided with the end of my career.

You’re now working for the PFA. What does your job involve?

My title is Assistant Chief Executive. I do a whole variety of things.

I look after eighteen clubs, mainly in the area where I live which is in Yorkshire plus the North East and North West. Any issues to do with those clubs, with the players, I deal with those issues whether it’s a disciplinary issue or enquiries.

I’m just on my way back from Manchester United now, I’ve been doing a scholar induction there. I look after four Premier League teams, and the rest are EFL.

There’s a whole range of issues we get involved with. I assess Premier League referees a couple of games a month. I’m actually going to Liverpool v Watford on Saturday and assessing the referee there.

We do a lot with former players, medical issues, hardship issues, we’ve got a coaching department, we’re the first point of contact in our department. We get phone calls from current players, ex players, parents, agents. We try and deal with those enquiries as best we can or send them to the relevant people. I represent players in disciplinary hearings at the FA or at clubs, contract advice.

We’re involved in a lot of areas and it’s a really interesting job. I’m still involved in the game which is good.

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Quick Fire Round

Football

Favourite Ground (apart from the Vic)
Maine Road – I still get nostalgic when I drive past where the stadium used to be
Toughest Opponent
Ian Wright – when he was in his prime he was a real handful
Best Ever Player
Now - Lionel Messi. Previously - John Barnes
Team You Supported as a Boy
Derby County – I used to stand on the terraces in the 70s

Favourites

Favourite Food
Italian
Favourite Drink
Lager
First Car
Gold Ford Capri 1.3L
Car Now
BMW 5 Series (Company Car)
Favourite Music
Bit of everything but I like a bit of Coldplay and Oasis or U2 in their prime.
Favourite Holiday Destination
Australia
Favourite TV Show
Football on Sky – drives my wife mad, but I have the excuse it’s for my job!
Favourite Film
Shawshank Redemption
Desert Island Woman
Sharon Stone