For nine months or so, George Reilly’s partnership with Maurice Johnston was one of the most feared in the First Division. Perhaps only the Ian Rush-Kenny Dalglish double act at champions Liverpool was more potent. It was the classic combination between a big man who was good in the air and a quick striker with an eye for goal, although the Reilly-Johnston partnership was quite different to the Jenkins-Blissett one that had preceded it.
I’d heard stories that Reilly and Johnston were just as lively off the pitch as on it, which George confirmed when we met at the Spread Eagle pub in Corby on a warm late April afternoon. It was a nice day so we sat outside in the pub garden and talked about his career at Watford, which featured the run to the 1984 FA Cup final.
I was born in Belshill, Lanarkshire – same place as Matt Busby. Jock Stein was from nearby, so was Paddy Crerand. Bill Shankly was from about 20 miles away. It was a back yard for famous footballers. But I moved to Corby in Northamptonshire when I was three because my dad got a job at the steelworks. I played football and I joined Corby Town, who were in the Southern League.
Did any professional clubs take a look at you?
I can remember going down to Chelsea as a 12-year-old for a week, when Chelsea had just won the FA Cup in 1970. I went down there for a trial but they said I wasn’t good enough.
As a 17-year-old I moved from Corby Town to Northampton Town. They were in the Third Division and got relegated to the Fourth Division the first year I was there. [1976-77]. I scored 24 goals the following season and by the time I was 21 I was captain but playing centre half.
Then John Docherty of Cambridge United came in for me and I went there for £140,000. It was a record fee for a Fourth Division player at the time. Cambridge were in the Second Division at the time and he played me as centre forward.
I was playing in the Second Division and my mates sitting in the stand laying bricks for a living were earning more. I was on two eighty or three hundred a week basic wage. I was promised a wage rise to be on the same as Steve Sprigg and Steve Fallon, who were the experienced players. We were talking £320 – only another 20 quid a week. When it came to the new season, Docherty said, ‘We can’t afford it, you’ll have to wait.’
The thing was, this was the third time he’d said it to me, so I said, ‘Well, you’d better find yourself another centre forward.’
I think I am the first player to go on strike. I walked out. I did a bit of training on my own but I refused to go in.
When was this?
The summer I went to Watford. I’d been fobbed off, basically, and I’d had enough. After a couple of weeks there was interest from Arthur Cox at Newcastle. Next thing I knew, Graham Taylor wanted to talk to me and it all got done pretty quickly.
I had missed a bit of pre-season training because of my protest, so to go to a club like Watford, which was one of the fittest teams in the league was a shock and I took a few weeks to settle in. It probably didn’t help that I was in the footsteps of Ross Jenkins, who was a total hero at Watford. And I suppose because I was tall, like him, people expected me to be the same. So it was hard but Steve Sims said to me I was one of the most difficult opponents he faced because I could beat people in the air but also do it on the floor. It’s nice when players say things like that to you and even if Simsy was just saying it to help the new boy settle in I appreciated it.
We had a bit of a laugh because Simsy said to me, ‘Do you remember knocking my tooth out?’ It was an accident – just an elbow in the mouth, I think. The game was going on around us and we were on the floor looking for his tooth.
From what I know of Graham Taylor I am slightly surprised he signed a player who had gone on strike at his previous club.
Graham was a man of his word. He wouldn’t have promised a bit more money and then not delivered. I don’t mind being told, ‘No.’ What I was annoyed at was that they [Cambridge] kept promising me a bit more and then making excuses. I was the club’s PFA union rep at the time and even I couldn’t get a bit more money out of them. I’d been player of the year there and all I wanted was to be on the same money as the best paid players. We were talking about a very small amount of money but I was fed up of getting lied to.
The thing with Graham was he let you know who was in charge from day one. From minute one. I remember going in to see him in his office and he had this big chair up here and I was on this little chair down here, like a school chair, so I said ‘Can I have a proper chair? I’m not sitting down there.’ I knew the psychology of it. He smiled and I did get a proper chair.
You were joining a club that had just finished second in the top flight so presumably you got a wage rise?
I think it was £600 a week, which was double what I’d been on. But it wasn’t the money, it was the chance to play at the top level.
I knew Graham was a disciplinarian but my first away game, at Birmingham, was still a shock. I took a while to get into the pace of it and I wasn’t having my best game but then none of us were. At half-time there was a pot of tea there on the table and he waved his arm around and that went, the cups went, about three of the players got splashed with tea and Graham’s veins were going like that. [makes throbbing motion with his hand]. I thought, ‘What have I done here?’ To be honest, we did improve in the second half.
Did you know much about Graham’s preferred style of play or his methods?
We’d played Watford a few times and I always enjoyed playing them. They were strong, physical, quick, a real challenge. So I knew I’d fit in once I got the pace of it.
Graham had done his homework on me and I had had a good season the year before. I’d played against Watford and done well so I think he knew that I was going to fit into the way he wanted to play.
I think he did well on me because he bought me for £90,000 and 18 months later he doubled his money on me when I joined Newcastle.
You say he was a disciplinarian. Was that a struggle for you?
I did like to go out, have a drink with my mates, but I knew where the line was. Most of the time. [Laughs]. We never went out drinking on a Thursday or Friday, we wouldn’t do that. We’d go and play snooker in the afternoons but stay off the beers and go home early.
The thing about being a footballer is that you have got a lot of time on your hands. At Watford we did train at least two afternoons a week as well in the mornings – and that improved my fitness and improved me as a player – but there was still time to fill.
It was a slightly slow start for you in the sense that you were in and out of the team because you’d signed too late to play in the UEFA Cup matches. You’d missed the deadline.
That’s right. Also, I signed quite late before the season. I’d had the trouble at Cambridge, missed training and joined Watford. So I didn’t have a full pre-season. I signed on the Thursday and there was a full practice match at Vicarage Road on the Friday – first team against reserves. I went over on my ankle. I always had glass ankles. I went over on it and I knew it was a bad one. I went down and stayed down. Graham was sitting up in the stand and he had this loudspeaker and he shouted, ‘Reilly, get on with it, we don’t send the trainer on the field in practice matches at this club.’
My ankle was blown up and after a while he realised it was bad and he said, ‘Okay, you can come off.’ So I missed the first game of the season, against Coventry. I watched that one – we lost and Shirley [Steve Sherwood] passed it out and Pat Rice kicked it back and it went straight past Shirley into the net.
We had a Tuesday night game at home against Ipswich and on the Monday I had a cortisone injection. My ankle was still swollen but I couldn’t feel a thing because of the injection so I could play. My debut was against Terry Butcher, the England centre-half, and I’m playing on one dead ankle. After a while the cortisone wore off and it was really painful, but you just got on with it. You didn’t say anything about it.
I think it took me until December to really to settle in. Maurice Johnston came in, we hit it off and I scored a couple of goals at Wolves [in a 5-0 win]. Then I scored and got sent off against Notts Forest. They had a centre half called Chris Fairclough. We’d both been booked in the first half for a bit of argy-bargy. It was out on the left wing, near the benches, it was a wet pitch and he was about to play the ball up the line, so I slid in, but I was horribly late. It was a terrible challenge. I took him out and kept sliding, straight into the Forest bench, with Cloughie [Brian Clough] sat there. Their sponge man went nuts and he had me by the throat. Clough said to the ref ‘This young man should be sent off.’
It kicked off at the end and I got sent off and I think that won the fans over. I think they knew I was giving it my all.
Sims said that Maurice was a bad influence on the lads, but I said that these lads needed to get out. They were stuck in all the time. It was all football, football, and they had no life a lot of the time these young lads. Steve Terry, Kenny Jackett, Richard Jobson, Pricey [Neil Price], Barnesy [John Barnes]. They’d come out and they wouldn’t go mad and Graham wasn’t too pleased about that, I must admit.
We’d go to Baileys in Watford or the Middlesex and Herts club in Stanmore on a Saturday night. I got the feeling it was quite new for most of the lads because they had been afraid to go out.
Is it fair to say Maurice led you astray?
No. Maurice wouldn’t lead me astray because I always do what I want to do. I didn’t need him to persuade me to go out. The thing with Maurice was that I looked after him on the pitch and I looked after him off the pitch. The number of scrapes I got him and Charlie Nicholas [Arsenal’s Scottish striker] out of, I can’t count. They were OTT. They’d be sitting on the bar in leather trousers and the security would say ‘excuse me, can you get off the bar.’ Charlie would say ‘Do you know who I am?’ And Mo had a bit of that attitude too. They spoke out to the wrong sort of people and I suppose because of my size I was their minder a bit.
Going out as a team did gel us. We became mates. They were single lads – there not many married guys in the team. I think it did strengthen us up as a group going out together. People said Graham couldn’t handle Maurice in the end because there was no way Maurice was going to change. I actually think Graham could handle him but there came a point where enough was enough and he chose to let him go. He was ready.
Watford’s style of play must have suited you – a lot of crosses, a lot of chances to win the ball in the air.
I knew there’d be crosses coming in. Graham wanted us to have 20 attempts at goal in every game. The excitement was that we were getting forward. We’d catch teams on the break. We had pace and we got forward as a group. I wasn’t slow, but I looked slow because I was 6ft 4 but I was deceptive and I could cover the ground quickly. We were fit – every Tuesday we’d do a cross country run in the park. I was 14 stone 4 at the time so it wasn’t easy for me but I did it and it made the games feel easier.
It was just tricky to start with because I couldn’t play in the European games. I was cup-tied until the quarter-final but if they’d beaten Sparta Prague I could have played in the next round. Come the league games I was back on the team sheet. I was up there attacking but also back there heading out it. That’s what I’d said to Cambridge – never mind the pay rise, you should be paying me two wages, because I’m back there heading it out too.
Then Maurice arrived, larger than life. Highlights, pink jumper, leather trousers. He had this air of confidence about him. What a great little striker. You wouldn’t see him in a game, then he’d come up and get a goal. He’d be there in the right place when it mattered.
He was a character, no doubt about it. When he arrived, he was going out with Arthur Thompson’s daughter. Arthur Thompson was the biggest gangster in Glasgow. So Mo had those connections.
The partnership worked pretty much straight away. The second game we played together was at Wolves. We were really struggling in the league table but were playing better than the results suggested. We beat Wolves 5-0. Mo got three, I got two. I got taken off with 10 minutes to go and as I went off I said to Graham, ‘Why?’ He said: ‘I can’t have two players in my team scoring hat-tricks.’
I loved playing with Mo. We trained well, then we’d go to the snooker club. I was living in the flat above the club shop, £5 a week rent, then I bought a place in Hemel and Mo moved into the flat.
I was earning decent money and life was good. Then we started going well in the cup. The Luton game we drew 2-2, then won the replay. Then at Charlton Mike Flanagan hit the bar for them but we came through that one 2-0 and things were happening in the games that made us think maybe we were on for something.
In the quarter-final we had Birmingham. Never mind Wimbledon, they were the crazy gang. Noel Blake, Mick Harford, Tony Coton, Robert Hopkins. They were mad. They wanted to find you in matches and they’d hunt you down.
Then came the Plymouth game and suddenly we were favourites. I was playing against Lindsay Smith, who was a team-mate of mine at Cambridge. They maybe deserved a draw on the day because they played so well. I went back to centre half for the last ten or 15 minutes when Steve Terry had to go off and we held out. They had a chance with about five minutes to go and it went just wide.
No one can ever take away from you the fact that you scored the goal to take Watford to the FA Cup final. And you did it by throwing yourself at a cross and risking getting hurt.
I suppose you could say it was a brave header. The pace on the cross was fantastic and it happened to be perfect timing. It doesn’t always happen like that. I got across the defender and that was it. To me it didn’t matter how they went in as long as they crossed the line. I scored one against Forest off my arse.
What was the week leading up to the cup final like?
There was a different training venue. We used to train at Stanmore. There were lots of reporters about, so we trained somewhere different. Whether that’s why, I don’t know, but I remember we moved training grounds. On the Thursday before the cup final we trained at Wembley for an hour. There were a lot of interviews and a sense we were building up to something important.
What about the match?
The first goal went in quite close to half time and the heads did go down a bit. Graham said we’d been the best team in the first half. Then the second goal killed us.
That was Andy Gray’s. Was it a foul on the goalkeeper?
If I had scored it, I’d have claimed it. I played with Andy at West Brom and I said to him, ‘That was never a goal’ and he’d say to me ‘Read the papers, big man, did you read the papers. It said Andy Gray. Goal.’
Maybe Steve [Sherwood] should have just punched Andy Gray out of the way. As a striker, I’d have taken it so I can’t really complain. Andy is 5ft 10 and if he puts his arm up when he’s jumping he gets his arm across the defender or goalkeeper and gets away with it. Because I was 6ft 4, when I did that it was a free kick.
After the goal went in it felt like I didn’t touch the ball for about 10 or 15 minutes after that and I think we knew 2-0 was too much to come back from.
Being strong and giving as good as you got was a part of your game wasn’t it?
Because I was tall defenders would think they had to get on top in the physical battle earlier or else I’d be all over them. I could handle myself if I had to and there were some games where it got out of hand.
I’d had my front teeth knocked out at Bradford by Steve Baines when I was 18 at Northampton. I was looking for my teeth and the ref gave the free kick against me. I couldn’t believe it. Later on, I dropped him [Baines], I knocked him to the floor. I didn’t like doing that but I did it. That was the attention I brought on myself at times.
By the time I was at Watford I’d calmed down a bit but we still used to get kicked and elbowed by defenders. Mo would say to me, ‘Hey, big man, I’m getting kicked all over the place here,’ I’d we’d swap defenders for a while and I’d give the big defender a more even match for a while.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a violent game but in the 1980s it was physical. We were a hard but fair side. Graham didn’t like cheating but he wanted us to go in hard and win the battle. If all ten outfield players win the physical battle with their opponent you win the game nine times out of ten. You find out who wants to win more. Everyone talks about Liverpool being this great passing side, and they were, but they won the battle first, got 2-0 up and then passed you off the pitch. Having said that, I did well against Liverpool quite a few times.
We trained hard at Watford. I remember Jan Lohman, the little Dutch midfielder. He was a psycho in training. You couldn’t go near him. Next thing you know he’ll have you on the floor. Even in training, he’d follow you round trying to kick you.
We played West Brom in the League Cup [1984-85] and we absolutely hammered them in the end. It was 4-1. When we got 4-1 up we were taking the mickey out of them with back heels and stuff. It was terrible really because we kept the ball so well that we were even doing the ‘olés’ with each touch and that was really winding them up. There was a lot of verbal going on. We had taken the mickey out of them and at the end they didn’t want to shake hands with us and we were saying ‘oh boo hoo.’
A couple of weeks later we were playing them at their place in the league. Graham said he was leaving me out because he’d heard on the grapevine that Johnny Giles [the West Brom manager] had told his players to try to wind me up and get me to snap so I’d be sent off.
So I was on the bench. I went on at 1-1 and then David Cross scored for them. I was only on for about 15 minutes but they were trying to get me every time the ball came near me. Ali Robertson [WBA defender] came through me and I got out of the way. Sort of hurdled him. Martin Bennett tried to go over the top but I managed to avoid it.
It was getting a bit nasty. At the end of the game, as we went down the tunnel Ali Robertson came up to me and I said, ‘Okay, come on then, how many of you want it?’ I turned round and Barnesy and all our lads had disappeared into the dressing room. It was just me on my own. Ali pulled his arm back as he was about to punch me so I poked him in the eye. Then it all kicked off and the referee put it in his report.
I had to go and see the FA and Graham turned up looking like Petrocelli, the lawyer off the telly, in his best suit. He was representing me. So we get to the FA and Ali Robertson is there and he says, friendly as you like, ‘Alright big man, how are you doing?’
I went in first. The youngest man on the board must have been 85. There was a big Subbuteo table in there. I had one as a kid so I’m touching the men and Graham says, ‘Don’t touch the men, for goodness sake.’
So the FA fella is using the Subbuteo men to act out what happened. ‘Right, that’s you there, tell us what happened?’ I was on the verge of cracking up and Graham said to me, ‘Don’t you dare laugh.’
I said, right, well this is me, these are the four of them and I was surrounded. I mean, it was a joke really.
A few years later I joined West Brom and Ali Robertson and a few others were still there. I was a bit nervous how they’d welcome me so I took a pair of boxing gloves in with me on the first day of training. They were as good as gold with me.
You used to be able to have a crack with the referees in those days. They’d warn you or tell you they were keeping an eye on you but you could talk to them.
I’m not sure how I’d have got on if we’d played in Europe, though. We played Barcelona in a pre-season game  in Majorca. The centre half spat in my face, and it smelled of garlic, I swear. I dropped him one and the linesman hadn’t seen it. The crowd were booing me. Graham substituted me and said, ‘If you ever do that again you’ll never play for this club again.’ I said, right, so if I spit in your face now, what are you going to do? He said “What?’ I said, ‘Smell this. It’s garlic. He spat in my face.’ He didn’t fine me or drop me. He knew when the provocation was too much.
Did you get fined often for other things?
Once or twice [Laughs]. But I do feel like Graham gave us chances. He didn’t want to keep telling us off but the thing was it was very difficult to keep Maurice out of trouble off the pitch. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mo, and he was a good lad but he was 21, all energy. He could be very cutting to people at times and then he’d stand there as if he was going to kick off. But it’s always the big guy who gets it.
Maurice was always on the look-out for the ladies and some mornings I knew he’d been out all night and come in to training. But when you’re 21 you can do that and, honestly, I don’t remember a single time Mo couldn’t train or play at his best. But Graham knew not everyone could handle that so he didn’t want the others getting ideas.
We were given memberships at the Middlesex and Herts club and we were there a lot. Graham used to find out quite a lot of what we were doing, but not everything. We had some parties at my flat in Hemel and the chairman of the residents’ association wrote a letter to the football club complaining about the noise. One day in front of the whole squad he [Graham Taylor] said to me, ‘I’ve been your manager, I’ve been your lawyer, but I’m not going to be your social worker.’ I think that was when he knew he was going to have to move us on.
Anyway, as the little meeting broke up, Steve Harrison came over to me and said: ‘Hey, why didn’t we get an invite?’
Mo went to Celtic but the transfer dragged on a bit.
It did and for a while I thought I might go with him. Mo was in the Scotland squad and I had been on stand-by. When Mo said he was wanting to go he said to me we’d go as a partnership. But I didn’t follow up on it. I’d have walked up to Scotland to play for Celtic. That was my club. Why I didn’t say to Mo, ‘Well if you’re going, I’m going,’ I don’t know.
Mo had an agent and I didn’t. That might be one reason. Graham didn’t like agents and he couldn’t stand this guy – wouldn’t even let him in the office.
But there was no way Mo was going to stay. He’d gone beyond Watford and at that time Celtic were a big, big club to go to. They were in Europe, which English clubs weren’t, and the gap between the top divisions in England and Scotland was nothing like it is now.
Luther had come back, so Graham felt Mo could go. I stayed for another few months but Luther and me didn’t work as well as Mo and me. Luther was a great player but we didn’t click the way me and Mo did.
Are you in touch with Maurice these days?
No. I’ve not heard from him for years. He’s in America isn’t he? He can’t go back to Glasgow, can he?
Because he played for Celtic and Rangers?
Not just because he played for them. I think Rangers fans were fine with him. But when he came back from France [Nantes] he had a Celtic top on on the Wednesday and then on the Thursday Souness offered him five grand a week more to sign for Rangers, or whatever it was. And he wonders why he can’t go back to Glasgow!
But Maurice did what he wanted. Before the cup final we did a story with the News of the World, which was supposed to be £500 each. The guy from the paper sent a cheque for a grand to Maurice. So if you do speak to him, tell him I want my five hundred quid plus interest! [Laughs]
When we were at Watford we went on a pre-season tour to Scotland – played Morton and Dumbarton and these sides. My granny was in hospital and I said to Graham on the Sunday, can I shoot off after training to go and see her? Graham said fine but Mo came with me. His mate come and picked us up. We went to the East End of Glasgow and had three or four pints then went to see my granny – Celtic through and through. When he signed for Rangers, my granny said to me, ‘I hope you never speak to that boy again, son. What he done was unforgiveable.’ That’s how they felt about it on one side of Glasgow anyway but the thing was it was hard to get annoyed with Mo. He had this glint in his eye.
You moved to Newcastle United in January 1985. Were you sad to leave Watford?
I was but I needed to get away too. Go and see something different. Maybe the off-field antics were getting too much for the gaffer, I don’t know. I know that he was getting calls from people saying I was out on a Friday night when I really, really wasn’t. I swear some of the stuff he was told about us never happened but I think he thought that if half of it was true he was better of moving me on.
Newcastle came in and everyone did okay out of it. Watford doubled their money on me, I got more money. I left with no hard feelings whatsoever, certainly not my part. I have got a lot of respect for Graham Taylor and probably he was right to be strict with us.
When I arrived at Newcastle station there were fans at the station chanting, ‘One George Reilly.’ I scored the winner against Luton I flew back to Luton airport with David Pleat and all the Luton players.
One of my first games for Newcastle was against Watford at St James’ Park. That was a few weeks after I’d joined. I was up against Steve Terry and the boys. I would keep a count in my head how many headers I won. If I won 25 and lost three, I’d know. I kept saying to Steve Terry, ‘That’s 4-1 to me, Steve,’ ‘That’s 7-4 now.’ It was great fun.
At Newcastle I scored the winner against Liverpool and that was the big one.
I loved it at Newcastle, playing for those fans, but there wasn’t the craic I’d had at Watford. Playing with Peter Beardsley was great. He was a very good footballer. No real pace but he was so good with the ball at his feet.
When I joined, Peter invited me out for dinner. He didn’t drink, so we’re sat in a restaurant and he’s got his water. I knew what was coming. At the end of the meal, he said, ‘So, how much did you get then?’ He meant the wages. I guess he wanted to know that he was still the top boy.
I sat there casually and just doubled everything up. I told him I got 30 grand signing on when it was 15. I said I was on two grand a week when I was on one. His face went whiter and whiter.
A couple of days later after training, Jack Charlton [the manager] said, ‘Hey, big man, don’t wind Beardsley up. I’ve had him in my office twice asking why you’re on more money than him.’
Beardsley was a really good player but used to like to drop deep to get the ball, leaving me up front on my own. I played 31 games for Newcastle and scored 10 goals, which was good considering I was up there on my own most of the time.
What did you do after Newcastle United?
I did three years at West Brom, then went back to Cambridge United and then played in non-league for a while. Later on I was back on the building sites. As a youngster I’d been doing my bricklayers’ apprenticeship. I had a trial at Forest when I was a kid and Clough wanted me but I’d had it drilled into me to finish my apprenticeship so I stayed at Corby Town.
Years later there was a story in the papers about you getting attacked on a building site.
Yes, I was working on a building site near Corby and a guy from the Plymouth area was working with us. He was supposed to be stacking blocks but he was throwing them and that was making the walls of the trench we’d dug collapse. We said, ‘What are you doing?’
He was wired on something and he said he was going to fight me. He was only 23, 24, and I said ‘Look, it’s like me picking on an old man, get a grip of yourself.’
We knocked off and got back to work. It was all wet and there were puddles everywhere and I thought he’d seen sense. I had given this guy a pair of boots because when he turned up he didn’t have any boots. I said, ‘Well that’s a nice way to treat a guy who’s lent you a pair of boots.’ As I walked past him he hit me across the side of the head. We were grappling on the ground in the mud and I thought, ‘We’re going to get the sack here’.
I managed to push him off me but he’d bit into my ear and bit a piece of my ear off. As he got up he said with real venom: ‘Remember Plymouth.’
Mad really. Was he a Plymouth fan? I doubt it. He couldn’t have been old enough to remember the FA Cup semi-final anyway.
He wasn’t around in Corby very long after that because he got frightened off through my family. He got a warning and was sent on his way.
It puts into perspective any trouble you got into at Watford.
Yeah, that was totally different. Look, we never went looking for trouble but even then footballers were a target. The thing was, we went out to normal places so the local hard nut might see us and think he’d have a word and before you know it someone has said something to wind him up.
There was a lot of time to fill. Cally and Barnes would go to McDonalds. Mo and me would go and play snooker. We’d go out and have a few pints after training. Okay, sometimes six or seven pints. Looking back it maybe wasn’t the most professional way to be, but you’d train and you’d sweat it out in training. We’d drink lager – we’d stay right off the spirits. Six, seven, eight pints over six hours. It’s a lot but when you’re young and you’re training you can handle it. Once or twice we overdid it.
If Graham knew you’d been drinking, he’d make the sessions extra hard. You’d be up and down the terraces, you’d do the 12-minute run, you’d do the cross country. He knew and he made us work it off. And he tried to keep us from going out.
What are your fondest memories of being at Watford?
It was a great year and a half. You know we were successful. The cup run was special – something I will never, ever forget. And Graham got into me and made me a better player.
Not that long after I’d joined, we went to Israel to play their Olympic team. This was in the middle of the season – I have no idea what it was about – but we had this game. I was having a nightmare. These guys were army men, and they were kicking lumps out of me. At half-time Graham said, ‘This is not good enough, George. This is not what we want from you.’
He was so straight. He told you what he wanted and he told you when it wasn’t good enough. He told me he wanted me to hit the goalkeeper in the first ten minutes of the second half or else I would be taken off. They kept putting the crosses in and I kept attacking it.
So we did it in league games. Cally or Barnesy would hang the cross up and you had to hit the goalkeeper because it would make them think twice about coming out to collect the ball the next time. Win your battles.
It sounds aggressive.
You weren’t fouling the keeper. You were going up to win the ball with the keeper. He’s got the advantage because he can use his hands and reach for the ball.
Watford were never push-overs but they were never dirty. They could give as good as they got.
I remember playing for Northampton against Watford and they were in the away dressing room, screaming and shouting and banging on the walls. It sounded like a pack of dogs in there and our lads were like ‘Woah, what’s going on here?’ They created that doubt in your minds. When we were at Watford, we’d go past the opposition dressing room and bang on their door and shout ‘Come on, let’s have you.’