Midfielder Stephen was one of Luca Vialli’s signings, joining from Newcastle United on a free transfer in 2001. He went on to play for the club for two seasons, and scored a memorable goal in the FA Cup quarter-final win over Burnley in 2003. After leaving Watford, he signed for Hibernian.
Since retiring he has worked as Assistant Manager at Shamrock Rovers, and it was shortly after this he spoke to Watford Legends in 2012.
Hi Stephen. Thanks for talking to Watford Legends. How did the move from Newcastle down to Watford come about?
I was keen to get playing first team football is the main reason I looked to move, quite simply. I played 50 odd games in three years at Newcastle but I’d had a bit of an injury problem with my knee that disrupted some of that. I wasn’t getting loads of playing time under Bobby Robson towards the end but when I did play I felt I played well and my goals record was pretty decent – in fact it was probably my best goals to game ratio I’ve had at any of my clubs. I was disappointed I wasn’t playing as much as I’d have liked. I did have the opportunity to stay there and I just felt like I was ready to play more regularly. I was 25 at the time so needed to be playing.
My agent told me Watford were interested so we came down and had a chat with Luca Vialli and Tim Shaw. I liked what I saw and then my agent sorted out a deal with the club and that was it really. The way they were talking they were going to make some good additions to the squad that was already there and try to go up. It was a good move that I fancied and my wife fancied living in London as well. I know strictly speaking it’s not in London but for a Scottish boy its close enough! We both fancied it so we went for it and I’m glad we did.
Were there any other clubs in for you at the time?
My agent was speaking to Liverpool at the time but it never came to anything, there was no offer in place and I actually wanted to go to a place where I was going to play football anyway. The plan was to be competing at the top level of the Championship and that was fine by me in return for playing regular football. There were a couple of other Championship offers as well but I was happy with where I was going.
I lived in Northwood when I moved to the club. I had really enjoyed living in Newcastle where everyone knows everything about you but it was a bit more private in Watford and that was no bad thing for me and my wife. It was totally different in all honesty.
I remember Warren Barton used to tell me at Newcastle how cold it was up north, but as I am from Aberdeen it was like being in the Bahamas for me! I thought Warren was just being a wind up but and then I moved to Northwood and it was so much hotter, we certainly didn’t move for the weather but it was an added bonus. In all seriousness it was a good place to live, it was great being able to jump on the train and be in the city on no time, that gave my wife the freedom to go and do different things and enjoy her life, and also our family enjoyed visiting.
How did you find working with Luca Vialli?
I thought it was excellent, very professional. Having come from the Premier League with Newcastle I was used to being in a professional environment and it was no different at Watford. It was very demanding with the fitness coach, very demanding with the quality required with Ray Wilkins. He brought in some good staff including the physios, Terry Byrne and Kevin Hitchcock.
I think the places those people have gone on to since shows you what a good quality set of staff he put together and it was a good quality set of playing staff as well. A lot of those boys had good careers and played for some top clubs. For me he was a very good manager but he wasn’t given the time he should have had to implement what he wanted to. He was on a three year deal and sacked one year in. The first year didn’t go as well as the board wanted or what the players or even fans expected but with a bit of time it would have come good.
There were some players signed on big money, much bigger than what the current players were earning. That runs the risk of causing a split in the camp – did you see any sign of that?
I don’t know about seeing signs of it – it’s probably something you see when you are away from it all and then maybe see that it’s a situation that could cause an issue. I was one of the players that was brought in from a big club and I’m not saying what money I was on but I think the perception is always that if you come from a big club then you will be on big money. I think for some players that were given big contracts it may have caused some resentment but for me I never had any sort of problems with anyone when I was there. Quite the opposite in fact, I thought it was a very good group of lads. I’ve looked through some of your other interviews on your website before this chat tonight and I’ve seen a few of the other lads that were there at that time and there is no sign of any resentment from them. It’s easy sometimes to generalise things.
There are often one or two bad eggs in any camp and they are sometimes the ones on big money. But if they are the wrong character to have around the place then they are the wrong character regardless of whether they are on £50 or £50,000. I think that may have been the case, some of the ones that didn’t produce the goods may have been the ones on the bigger money. The finger gets pointed at the manager for bringing in players on bigger money unfortunately.
Are you still in touch with any of the players from your time at Watford?
I still speak to Robbo now and again. You do move clubs and I’ve moved country a couple of times since then as well. I still speak to Marcus Gayle as well from time to time.
When I first arrived I was in a hotel with Stephen Hughes but he was living a different life from me at that moment as he was a single man whereas I was already married. So while I was friendly with him we weren’t living the same life.
I got on well with Vernazza as well. Robbo was the main one though mainly because we both played on the left! Oh and also Richard Johnson, I stayed with him for a week or so when I left the hotel but waited to move into my house. Again to go back to your previous point about resentment from the old boys, someone like Johnno who had been there for ages was great to me even though I had been signed from a big club.
Are there any games that stand out for you from your time at Watford, other than the cup quarter final against Burnley?
The semi-final was a massive game for us and we actually got what we probably considered to be a fairly favourable draw at that time but we never really produced the goods on the day. The support the club took up shows what is there. It’s happened a few times since with the play offs as well, there is a great backing at the club. It’s a bit disappointing that they haven’t had any real prolonged success like they deserve as it us such a good family club, it has a great feel good factor around the place when things are going well.
I’m struggling to remember any other games! The game up at Burnley where we won 7-4 stands out but I remember little about it if I’m honest. Any time there is a crazy score on the telly I always think about that game. I also remember my first game at home to Wimbledon where we won 3-0 and put in a good performance. You mainly remember the ones you score in especially if you don’t score many so I remember the quarter final well and that would be the main one given the circumstances before the game.
How much do you remember of the goal?
I remember it well. I’ve seen photos online but never seen a replay of the goal since then, just the pictures. I just remember it for being the week that me and some of the other lads were told there would be no contracts for us there the following year and it was almost seen as a big thing that you were still doing your best for the club which I found strange to be honest. I would always do my best for my club even if I was out the door the next day, you should always try your best for yourself and the people who pay the wages – and also to remember that you are representing yourself and your family regardless of the situation.
Was it a surprise to hear during that week that there would be no contract?
It wasn’t a surprise, no. Some of the other lads brought in at the same time as me had moved and some were already sorting stuff out and so had removed any emotion from it.
The fact I was still in the team and still playing said a lot for me in that I was trying to remain professional. Ray Lewington let me know that due to the money situation there would be no contract for me the following year. I understood and told him it was no problem – I don’t think anyone was being offered new contracts at that time so it was the same for everyone. The fact he kept playing me I was happy with. He was always very fair with me. I had a spell out of the team when I got dropped under him but I pushed myself in training and worked my way back into the team, and he was always very fair and honest with me.
We’ve asked how you found playing under Vialli, when he left it was Ray Lewington who took over. How did you find working for him?
It was very good. It would be easy for me to say I never got in with him at the start but it was never even that, he was almost looking in from the outside having been the reserve coach. Maybe he saw that a lot of the players that had been brought in didn’t work out and everyone may have been grouped together, but when you are in every day with someone then you get the chance to prove yourself and prove that you are a good pro and have some ability and fight as well as the desire to do your best for the club, and I think that is why Ray put me in the team.
He was a good coach, a good motivator and he was popular with the lads. He was a good manager and I enjoyed playing under him.
You sound like you enjoyed your time at Watford, is it fair to say you were sad to leave the club when you heard your contract wasn’t being renewed?
Yes I was. I would easily have stayed at the club as I really enjoyed playing there and I think I was reasonable successful there and done alright during my time. Maybe I did get grouped in with the other new players that arrived in some instances but I managed to stay until the end of my contract which I was pleased with.
I enjoyed my time there, enjoyed playing for the club and also in some ways doing my bit to help the club. I know some of the other boys mentioned in their interviews with you about the 12% wage deferral. I think Coxy may have mentioned it when you spoke to him, and we were all part of that which was something that gives you a real feeling of being part of the club and so you want it to get back on its feet and do well again and the club has now done that which I am really pleased to see.
You had a good relationship with the fans whilst you were at the club.
Yes I did. Obviously I was never a big favourite; I think players like Tommy and Robbo were always going to take that mantle being local lads. Actually I think big Marcus Gayle was a favourite towards the end as well after a spell getting a bit of stick.
I was never one of the players who got stick and I think by and large people were appreciative of what I was doing for the team so there was never any bother with that. I think people saw me as a decent pro who done alright for the club and that was exactly what I was trying to do and if you can do that everywhere you go then you’ll be alright. If you can have the respect of the people who really own the club, the fans, then that goes a long way.
You hung up your boots about a year ago, what have you been doing with yourself since then?
I finished last October so just over a year ago and I was over in America. I finished up and then got offered an assistants role in the second league but I just felt it wasn’t right over there at that point so I came home to have a look for something.
I was then offered the assistants job at Shamrock Rovers in Ireland. I went over there in January and stayed until October just gone. I enjoyed my work there as assistant. I took over for a short spell when the manager got sacked as well and again I got kept on until the end of my contract. It’s easy for the assistant to get pushed out with the manager as well, even more so as I hadn’t been there for that long. If you’ve been somewhere for ten years its maybe a bit different but I hadn’t even been there a year but the people at the club saw fit to keep me on which again is probably an endorsement of the work I was doing and the professionalism in what I do.
I finished the contract up and I am now in the same position I was last year – back home and looking for some work to come up. I am a year better off than I was last year which is a big thing and I have more experience as an assistant and a hands on coach. I have started my Pro license now as well which is a step forward.
If you could have any job starting from fresh next August, what would it be?
I don’t know actually. That’s something I discussed with my wife recently and I have no set goals of saying ‘I want to go there and do that’ at this stage of my career. I want to enjoy my work, that’s what I really want to do. I want to be successful and hopefully I will get the opportunity to do that.
You’ve travelled a lot with your career moves; Scotland, Newcastle, Ireland, America, Watford. What is that life like? Is it as nomadic as people may expect?
I have enjoyed everywhere I have been, that’s the most important thing for me to say firstly. Looking back, if I could have had a career where I could have stayed in one place for the duration of it then yes it would have been better for family life as you can put don some real roots. Its actually harder on your family more than anything. People have kids and have to sort out schools but that in itself then sorts out a pool of friends for the kids instantly. The players go into a training ground and have a pool of friends instantly. My wife has been on her own a lot and hasn’t had that luxury.
So in terms of family life, if I could have had five or six years in one place it would have been better for family life but it’s just the nature of the job that its worked out how it has. You know what you are going into when you become a professional and you have to accept it, you bring some of it on yourself but if you are successful then people want you to go and play for their football club. It’s all circumstance. There is an answer to your question in there somewhere!
Are you looking to stay in the Edinburgh area when you find your next job then or will you happily be on the move again?
I am happy to move again. In Ireland last year I enjoyed the job hugely, what I didn’t enjoy so much was the travelling and the time being spent there as it was tough on my wife. We are trying to live a life together when I am travelling a lot and that was really tough to do, so I think the next move I make will be 100% right for us before we go and do it and we will make it work. It could be in America, Scotland, England…who knows? I just have to wait for the offer. You can’t pick and choose where you are going to work.
Thanks for talking to us and good luck with the next move.
No problem, cheers fellas.
Quick Fire Round
|Favourite Ground (apart from the Vic)|
|St James Park|
|Best Ever Player|
|Team you supported as a boy|
|Favourite Holiday Destination|
|Favourite TV Show|
|An Idiot Abroad|
|Never happier than when|
|...I know my family or happy and healthy|
|If I hadn't been a footballer|
|I'd have been a PE teacher|
|Desert Island Woman|
|I'll stick with my wife!|