Central defender Steve joined the club in 1978 for £175,000 from Leicester City. He went on to make more than 150 appearances for the club and was voted Player of the Season in 1980-1. He played for the club in European competition in 1983 but missed out on the cup final through injury. He joined Notts County later that year, but rejoined the club for a season in 1986-7 before following Graham Taylor to Aston Villa.
Now working for the Premier League, Steve spoke to Watford Legends in 2008.
Hi Steve. First question. How did you become a Watford player?
I knew Graham Taylor through our connections with Lincoln– he was the manager and I was from the area. He would ask if I would sign for him there but I was already on schoolboy forms at Leicester.
I didn’t know how Graham was going to do, and Leicester were a top side. I kept in touch-ish with Graham over the years to come. I was sold by the club to Derby but the deal fell through, and a few weeks later Graham came in and brought me to Watford.
Watford were then in the Third Division, but I needed to go. I needed to go somewhere so I could sort myself out.
It was quite a big fee at the time (£175,000)…
Yes it was a record for a Third Division club at the time.
Did the fee put extra pressure on you?
Not really, the only pressure was that it was a completely different style of playing. Leicester were a team that played close passing football, and Watford was a contrast to that. I played 13 games and then I got dropped, as I was struggling to adjust to it all.
I remember I was in a taxi and was talking a bit of football, and the taxi driver didn’t know who I was, and the taxi driver said that Graham Taylor was doing alright and would be doing even better if it wasn’t for that crap player Sims!
But I did struggle that season, but that was due to the football rather than any external pressures like money. We had the summer break and when I got back I settled well and got to the level that was expected of me at Watford.
An enjoyable time with the club?
Yes it was a lovely club to be at, with great people. I think that if you speak to any of the ex pros they would agree. There was a feel about the place and everybody was in it together. We worked together and went out together. This meant we had a good discipline in the dressing room.
The only down side was that because we were Watford all we heard was about how we were a long ball side. People didn’t appreciate what we were about. And it held a few players back from getting the recognition they deserved. Kenny Jackett was one. He would have been regarded as more of a great player if he’s played for Arsenal or Spurs.
A big down side for you was when you broke your ankle.
Yes, when we were playing against Leicester. That was the cup final season. It was a massive blow as it was a once in a career moment. With myself and Wilf missing out it meant we had to play in the cup final with quite a young side. I would have loved to have been there.
That first season was success upon success so it was great.
How do you think you got on with the Watford fans?
I think I won them over. Initially in my first season I don’t think they were too sure, but that was fair enough as I didn’t play enough. But in time, and with the help of my long throw, I think I got on well with them. I think the Watford fans are and were magnificent. Even when we went out they were great to us.
But then you moved to Notts County.
I was just coming back from my ankle injury and I was just starting to get one or two little niggles with my right knee. Steve Terry was coming through at the time and I think Graham Taylor wanted people who could train 100% all the time.
I went to Notts County, and I did well there. It was a bit of a breath of fresh air. It was a total contrast to how Watford was. It was very ill disciplined and badly organised. Then Dick Bate came in and brought a lot of young lads, and it became very enjoyable. Then it became a bit like Watford – we were suddenly surrounded by good people. I think I was enjoying it the most when Graham Taylor called me to go back to Watford!
Tell us how that came about.
It was in 1986 and John Ward had gone to watch a centre forward who was playing against me, and I played great. I felt fit and really on my game. I went to see Watford at Nottingham Forest a few weeks later and I saw all the lads in the dressing room. Graham asked if I wanted to go back and I said yes, I’ll have a bit of that!
Two or three weeks later it all materialised Graham said there were no guarantees, but I was focused and was interested in learning the coaching side.
How did you enjoy playing alongside John McClelland?
Brilliant. Our partnership was like a hand in to a glove. I could do the gritty stuff and John could clean up around me.
John said the same, he enjoyed the partnership.
I would have like to have played with him for longer. It was a different side when I went back, and I still felt we had a good side.
And then you got another bad injury at Villa Park.
I dislocated my elbow. I was playing as well as I had ever played. Really enjoying it. Just before half time I went in for a tackle, looked down and saw that my arm was pointing the wrong way.
Sounds like it might have stung a bit!
I tell you what, I was in shock and didn’t feel a thing. I went to the hospital straight away, and they told me that I was lucky I didn’t lose my arm. It was my last game for the club.
At the time it seemed like something of a foregone conclusion that you would follow Graham Taylor to Aston Villa.
I knew Graham was going to Villa, and was happy to stay at Watford. We had John Ward, Steve Harrison, Tom Walley and Pat Rice at the club, which was giving me a great education in coaching. I was astonished when they brought in Dave Bassett. I didn’t think it was right. I appreciate that Dave wanted to put his stamp on the team, but it wasn’t right. He told me before we had even met that I could go if I wanted.
It was fairly amicable, and Graham put off any competition for me to go to Villa. I had gone back to Watford because of the Watford people, and now they were all gone. It wasn’t the Watford I had gone back to.
Do you have any stand out games in a Watford shirt?
The obvious one is the 7-1 against Southampton.
Even though you scored an own goal?!
I just wanted to make the game more exciting! Coming back from 4-0 down is unheard of. Also beating Spurs in our first game against them in the top flight was great, as they were making a lot of comments about how they would turn us over.
Anybody you’re still in touch with?
I keep in touch a bit with Steve Harrison and Steve Sherwood. Shirley and I were room mates. But with football, things slip a bit. But it’s good to say hello to people when I bump in to them. I wish Watford had something where ex pro’s could get together, they have it at other clubs.
What are you up to now?
I am a monitor for the Premier League. I go round the academies and check that they are all doing things by the book. Such as monitoring the standard of football and making sure the coaches are doing the right things with the youth players. It’s a part time position that suits me down to the ground.
I was previously working for Leicester for a good few years on the coaching side which was great..
If you were 25 now and playing in the Premier League, how do you feel you would get on?
No problem! I would have loved it, It’s a lot quicker than it was in my day but I would have adjusted to it. I like to think that I would have been able to cope with it.
We agree. Thanks for your time Steve.
No problem lads.
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