I met Gerry Armstrong at a hotel near Heathrow Airport. He had travelled over from Spain to London to commentate for Sky on their Spanish football and we met a couple of hours before he was due to head in to the studio.
Armstrong had the stereotypical Irish gift of the gab and was a great storyteller, injecting each anecdote with humour and mimicking the accents of whoever was speaking.
I could see why Graham Taylor had spoken so highly of Armstrong, saying that he was the ideal squad player because even when he was not in the starting eleven he remained positive and enthusiastic.
That’s right. Pat and I joined the same week [in November 1980]. Les Taylor joined the week before, from Oxford United. I think he probably played more games for Watford than me and Pat put together. He was a great little player, Les. But yeah, I think for Graham to go and buy First Division players, and particularly Pat, who had captained Arsenal, won the league, won the FA Cup, said a lot about where Watford were trying to go.
At that time, though Watford were towards the bottom of the table but having a good run. It was a good move for me, a chance to play regularly and I was really happy to come down.
Did you and Pat talk before you signed? Did you know he was joining too?
Pat had just stopped playing internationals [for Northern Ireland], so I hadn’t seen much of him just before that but I knew Pat was coming too. Or I knew Graham was talking to him too.
Graham had tried to sign me a few times before. One time he came into the dressing room at Tottenham when he was at Lincoln. He tried to sign me on loan but I didn’t want to go on loan.
So he’d been aware of you for a while?
Yes, I think he like what he saw from the start, even though I was raw. I only started playing soccer at 17. I’d played Gaelic football and hurling. I got suspended for an altercation in Gaelic. It’s an amazing game but fights used to break out all over the pitch. It was fun, I loved it but it was a very confrontational game. There was an incident where I broke a guy’s jaw in several places and got suspended. I didn’t mean to break it but I caught him one.
I’d been playing that from a boy and I only played soccer in the street.
Gradually I played a bit more soccer. I played a couple of [football] games for a club team and then joined Bangor in the Irish League. I trained Monday and Wednesday for Gaelic, Tuesday and Thursday for soccer. Played for Bangor on Saturday, played Gaelic on Sunday.
I made my debut for Bangor, came on as a sub with 20 minutes to go, got sent off with 10 minutes to go for whacking the centre- half. I went past him and put the ball in the net to make it 2-1 and he said, ‘Next time you do that I’m going to do you.’
In Gaelic, stuff would happen up the pitch there between two guys and you wouldn’t stand and watch that because you’d have to keep your eyes on the opponent nearest you because if it broke out it was the cue to fight everywhere.
So I was just programmed, so when he said he was going to do me, I decided to do him first and I whacked him.
The manager, Bertie Neill, gave me a bollocking. He chewed a couple of strips off me and I learned that soccer wasn’t a fighting game. [Laughs]
Then what happened?
Within three years I’d signed for Spurs. A load of clubs came to watch me but no one took me on because I was very inconsistent, still learning about the game, really didn’t get to grips with the offside.
We [Bangor] won the Ulster Shield, we started to win the County Amateur shield regularly. I scored the winning goal at Glentoran, at the Oval, their ground. Because I was still playing Gaelic, on a huge pitch which required loads of stamina, loads of strength, I could last a game but soccer was making me sharper.
After six months at Spurs I broke into the first team. Terry Neill’s [the Tottenham manager] family had seen me in Bangor. Arsenal’s scout had seen me. At one point I thought I was going to sign for Arsenal but Tottenham were the ones to invite me for a trial. I’d had a trial at Spurs, went over for five days training. I thought it went well but didn’t hear anything so I thought, that was that. Then they came back and said they wanted me.
I’d never been to London before. Only been on a plane once. It was difficult leaving Ireland but it was the excitement of it all so I just got on with it. I settled down quite quickly, bought a house in Enfield and continue to improve.
At Spurs I was looking to play as many games as possible. Trying to learn but it was becoming easier to put me on the subs bench. Keith Burkinshaw [who took over from Terry Neill] had played me at centre-half in a pre-season tournament and I played really well. He wanted me to play there because I was quick, strong, good in the air. It was nice in one sense but I didn’t want to play at centre half, I wanted to be up front where the action is. I remember going to West Brom and he told me specifically to mark Cyrille Regis, who was strong and lightning quick. We won 1-0 and Keith was convinced then I was a centre half. Then I played at right-back, in midfield, wide on the right, I was becoming a utility player. I became very versatile, which at first I thought was good, but after three or four years of that I wanted to play up front.
Were you playing for Northern Ireland as a striker?
I was. I played a friendly match against West Germany, did okay in the first half, had a shocker in the second and missed a sitter, but the plus point was making my debut with George Best.
Then I played against Belgium in a World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park and I started.
Spurs were in the Second Division at the time but we were right up the top of the table. We were up against Stoke, who were up the top with us, and they were a tough, tough side. John Duncan had got injured and so I was playing up front with Ian Moores. I was up against Denis Smith and we beat the crap out of each other. Elbows, kicked lumps out of each other, I put my knee through his back, landed on him, I jumped for a corner and he punched me in the balls. It was a real confrontation. That was the days when you could tackle from behind. It was brutal.
I scored a tap-in, then got a second. We won the game 2-1. A few days later I made my home debut against Belgium, beat them 3-0, and I scored twice. First one was a cracker. I came back to Spurs on the Thursday and Keith Burkinshaw said, ‘Well, you’ve had some week.’ Peter Shreeves was the reserve team manager. The teams went up on the board and I wasn’t in the first team, wasn’t on the bench. Shreeves said to me, ‘I’m just doing as I’m told, you’re with me at Bristol City in the reserves.’ I looked at the reserve team and I was there, playing centre-half. I said, ‘You’re having a laugh. Four goals in a week and I’m at centre half?’ Keith had this notion I was a defender and I didn’t want to be one.
But you were back up front by the time you joined Watford?
Yes. Graham had been trying to buy me on a number of occasions, first for Lincoln, then for Watford. It wasn’t until I said, ‘Enough is enough, I don’t want to play centre half,’ that I could get myself a move.
You didn’t feel swapping Tottenham for Watford was a downward move?
No, because I said to Graham I wanted to play up front and he said, ‘Fine by me, that’s where I want to play you.’ I met Graham in a car park somewhere. He’d been given permission to speak to me. A 250 grand fee agreed, which was a record sale for Spurs, and a record buy for Watford.
Steve Harrison told me you made the mistake of calling the gaffer ‘Graham’ at first.
[Laughs] Oh yes. I called him Graham all through the first week of training and the lads were cringing. I don’t think anyone tipped me off and I didn’t realise because at Spurs we’d always called the manager Keith.
I don’t think Graham knew what to make of me at first. He and I had a bit of a banter and then it got worse. Then he said, ‘I know that at Tottenham you called the manager Keith but here everybody calls me boss, or gaffer, okay?’
‘That’s okay with me Graham.’ [Laughs]
Harry and the lads were trying not to laugh. Graham lost it, big time. We had a bit of a screaming match at each other. He put me in my place and by the end I knew he was the boss. And he was the boss, he was a very good boss.
I remember another time, a bit later on, we were doing man for man marking stuff. I was marking Barnsey. He was in the yellow team, I was in the blue team. There were four goals around the pitch and you were only allowed to tackle the person you were marking but you could score in any goal. It was a fun game.
Barnsey is clever, he’d made a run, the goal is open. Simsy is marking Luther and the ball was across. Instinctively I slid in on Luther and nicked the ball away.
Graham blew his whistle and shouted ‘Stop!! He’s not your man.’
‘I know Graham, I know. It was just instinctive.’
I was always competitive. I wanted to win every race. One pre-season, Pat Rice was joking and saying, ‘Oh you black lads think they’re quick but see my man here, the Paddy, he’s going to beat you all.’ It was winding them up a bit, so Luther, Barnsey, Charlie Palmer and Worrell Sterling were going for it. Ricey said, ‘Come on Gerry, show em what us Paddies can do.’
So there was a race round this 400-metre track. 200 yards in I hit the turbo. It was great fun. Everyone was laughing. We’d do chipping and running games and the winning team got a Mars bar. The training was hard work but it was fun and Graham varied it. We probably all remember the hours and hours of team play we did but he was clever, he pushed us hard but he’d change it before we got bored and switched off.
There was a hunger at Watford. At Spurs there was a bit of a swagger, because they were established, but at Watford we felt like we had to prove ourselves every time we went on the pitch.
I remember at Spurs, I had to come in and work on my skills with the youth team. You had to chip the ball up to a circle painted about seven or eight feet up on the wall, then you had to control it on the chest and volley it on the rebound into one of two goals off to the side.
It was tough for me but I was loving it because I was improving. One day Peter Shreeves said, ‘Okay, Glenn Hoddle give us a demonstration.’
‘Which foot do you want me to hit it with,’ Hoddle said.
‘Whatever you want.’
‘Okay well I’ll chip it in with my right foot, then volley with my left.’
There was an elegance about Glenn. He chipped it into the middle of the circle, adjusted his body, cushioned it on the chest then volleyed it into the net with his other foot. There was a balance and poise about him, he made it look so easy.
‘Holy shit,’ I thought, ‘How am I going to follow that? And he’s three years younger than me.’
I had pressure because I’d come to soccer relatively late and I felt like I was always catching up but I was getting fitter, stronger. I didn’t realise I had the strength and stamina from Gaelic. I had a great attitude, I was as brave as a lion but I didn’t realise I had these things. There were a lot of things I didn’t realise were an attribute but managers looked at me and they saw something in me. I would never hide.
When you joined Watford, did you think you would have to break up the Luther Blissett-Ross Jenkins partnership?
I knew all about the Luther and Ross combination but Graham sold me the club and told me he wanted me to play. He wanted to play with two wide players, he wanted to attack and that’s what I wanted. I thought, ‘I love this guy’.
I wanted crosses from right and left. At Spurs we’d play with one winger at home, sometimes none away and Spurs were one of the more attractive sides. At Watford it was all about crosses. If a cross came in from the right from Cally he expected Barnes to be at the far post.
GT taught me so much about movement and he took my level of fitness up another notch. I was fit and strong but I hadn’t tapped into all my resources. The two years at Watford prior are one of the reasons I had such a good World Cup [in 1982].
I thought it was a step back to go from Spurs to Watford but I felt I had to take that step back in order to go forward. It was an opportunity for me to work with GT because he was recognised as the most promising young manager at the time.
You were an established international at that time. What was it like going away for Northern Ireland games?
Graham knew what he was signing and he wanted me to play internationals even though he wasn’t Irish. He thought it reflected well on the club to have international players and when Barnesy and Luther got their England caps I think he [GT] was even prouder than they were. He saw it as a reflection of what the club was doing.
But he didn’t let me have it easy, that’s for sure. I’d go away with the Northern Ireland team on a Sunday, be away, play on the Wednesday, come back on the Thursday morning. At Spurs I’d come in on Thursday but not train, and I’d do a very light session on Friday. At Watford I had to be at Stanborough Park at 9.30 on Thursday morning. Sometimes Roy Clare would pick me up in a van and take me straight from the airport to the training ground.
The Irish lads had a bit of a reputation and I would lead the partying and the singing after games and sometimes I wouldn’t get to bed until four, five, six in the morning. I remember at the Culloden Hotel in Belfast after we’d beaten Portugal in a World Cup qualifier [April 1981]. I’d scored the winning goal. It was six in the morning and a taxi came. ‘Gerry there’s a taxi for you.’ No sleep. Go to the airport, get picked up, get to training and Ricey would get this big pot of tea on for us.
At Spurs there were two or three cliques but at Watford we were all together. I’d be wrecked and probably had a few beers but Graham would have no sympathy at all. He did say to me, ‘Look I haven’t seen you since Saturday, I need you to train here now, because we’ve got a game on Saturday.’ There was no special treatment that’s for sure. I’d put my stint in but I’d be a bit ratty. I remember clattering Simsy [Steve Sims] once. Then I’d go home and try to get a couple of hours sleep.
You got in the side when you arrived and played mostly with Luther, I think.
I did. We weren’t the same as Ross and Luther. They had a partnership and understanding but it took time for Luther and I. I wasn’t as tall as Ross, he’d win everything in the air. I was 6ft and I’d win most of them but I wasn’t the same sort of player. But I was strong and fit and more mobile but Luther and I were more similar to each other than Ross and Luther were. I remember doing crossovers, timing the runs, working on the movement and it began to develop.
The first game was away from home to Newcastle. We beat them 1-0. I got booked after 10 minutes. I was so wound up and raring to go. I’d trained hard, got myself really fit. We’d talked about what we could achieve. We wanted up. We believed we were fitter than anyone and we thought we could win the league. We finished second and went up.
A lot of games we won in the last 15 or 20 minutes through fitness and belief. We scored late goals because other teams tired and we could keep going. When the manager tells you week after week that if you keep going the other team will tire and the chances will come, and it keeps happening you believe it and it drives you on. If a game was tight we would just keep going until we created the chances and broke them, really.
What did you make of the training and the analysis of the games?
I liked it. Think about it, everyone does it on a computer now but then it was all written down. Every eight weeks, you’d see a sheet. Number of free kicks, shots on target, off target. He’d have it on a graph. If we had 18 shots in a game the law of averages was we’d hit the target eight or nine times and that’d get us two goals.
He wanted us to hit these targets because he knew that more often than not it would win us the games. There were exceptions though.
Anything stick in the mind?
We lost away to Preston in 80-81 and we went by train. We dominated the game, absolutely murdered them but lost 2-1. Went by train on the day from Watford Junction on the Saturday morning and we came back on Saturday night.
On the way back there were fans from other teams on the train and they were winding us up about being beaten. Graham got really pissed off about it. We got off the train at Watford and Graham said, ‘Right, I’ll see everyone at the training ground tomorrow, nine o’clock, full training kit. That was not acceptable.’
Big Sam Ellis phoned me and said, ‘He was always going to do this at some point.’ We ran about six miles the next day. He did that on occasions to see how we’d react.
So this is on the Sunday. We’d murdered Preston but lost, and I thought ‘Jesus Christ’. They’d had three shots and scored two.
Did you not feel demoralised being punished for losing a game you should have won?
No. As Sam said, he was always going to do that. He would do it, just to keep us on our toes. He wasn’t trying to break us, but he was pushing us. He did it the right way. You’d think, ‘Oh come on gaffer, this is enough, surely,’ and then he’d do something to surprise you.
Remember when we beat Sunderland 8-0? I was on the bench that day but I remember it because my Northern Ireland team-mate Jimmy Nicholl played for Sunderland.
We’d played badly the previous game and lost and we were poor [at Nottingham Forest]. We trained Monday morning, afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday, morning and afternoon. Morning and afternoon three days in a row. It was unbelievable. There was nothing left in the tank. He hammered us. Usually the lads were all bubbly but everyone was quiet that Thursday morning. They were knackered and they were worried about what the day would hold for them. No one was talking. We were on the verge of cracking, just sitting round in the dressing room wondering what was coming.
So this is on the Thursday morning, after three hard, hard days. There’s the Sunderland match on the Saturday. The lads were all sitting down. No one moving. Graham came in and he was bouncing and bubbling. He was laughing. He said, ‘I was talking to Rita last night and she thought perhaps I was being a bit hard on you, and I agreed.
‘So we’re going to go up to the hotel and have a Champagne breakfast on me.’
So we all put our tracksuits on and we headed over to the hotel for sausage, bacon, egg, the full fry-up, little glass of bubbly. Martin Patching said to me, ‘I wonder if we could get a pint?’
‘You’re having a laugh, it’s 10.30 in the morning, he’ll chew our heads off.’
‘Go on Gerry, ask the boss.’
So I said, ‘Excuse me boss, is there any chance we could have a pint of lager?’
‘Good idea,’ he says ‘Let’s get some jugs of lager.’
Immediately the mood changed, everybody was up and smiling. It was a real party atmosphere. He left at 12, but we stuck around for another couple of hours having a chat. It was a bit of fun.
Then we went in on the Friday morning and it was a fun session. All just games, a bit of messing about. Penalty shoot-out, five-a-side all the stuff that players enjoy.
On the Saturday I was warming up and I warned Jimmy Nicholl before the kick-off. Our lads were absolutely bouncing. They had worked really hard for three days, then had two really fun days, so they felt fresh, relaxed and we absolutely annihilated them. Eight-nil. We murdered them.
Before the game I wasn’t wondering if we’d win, I was wondering how many we’d win by. It was our chance to make up for the performance the previous weekend and although it was all down to the players on the day, Graham had got the week spot on. He had read the signs with the players and he had got the absolute best out of them.
Was it not quite unpredictable then?
It was, but not in a bad way. He did keep us guessing, he did mix it up but it was done in the right way.
Graham used to wind me up to get the best out of me. First half in one game, I was playing against a couple of centre halves, big lads, didn’t think I’d had a bad game but at half-time he started on me. And he used to do that, he used to pick on people, not to make them feel bad but to press their buttons. Okay, maybe you did feel bad when he’s telling you you’ve not been good enough but he was the master motivator. If you were low, he would see that and he would encourage.
He would pick on Nigel [Callaghan] to get the best out of him, he’d be all over him, and he’d praise Barnesy, and he’d do that for five or six weeks and then switch it. At half time one game Cally had not had a particularly good game, but he’d worked hard, but he knew he hadn’t had a great game and he was trying to hide away in the corner of the dressing room and Graham said, ‘Nigel, where are you?’ ‘Here boss.’ ‘Well, done son, at least you’ve been trying. Barnesy, what’s up with you today, you lazy bastard?’
It was man management. It starts you thinking ‘maybe I haven’t been doing as well as I thought I was. Maybe I could do more.’ It’s simple psychology but Graham Taylor made you want to impress him. He didn’t praise people for nothing, you had to earn it and you wanted to earn it because if he praised you in front of the lads you felt fantastic.
He’d do the same with me. He’d say at half time, ‘Their two centre halves don’t even know we’ve got a centre forward out there today. Are you going to hit them today? Are you going to let them know you’re there?’
So second half, first ball over the top, against Bolton this was, 50-50 ball but their two centre halves were going towards the ball. I jumped and headed the ball and hit both centre halves, one with my body the other with my arm, and they went down. There was a roar from the crowd and I went through and had a shot, then I looked over at the bench. Sam Ellis was doing the mime of a fisherman reeling in his catch. I’d been had completely. Graham was laughing. That’s man-management, getting the best out of your players. I’d done that because Graham had wound me up.
He used to keep on top of Cally. Cally had a very short concentration span. He’d be wandering off. He’d keep on top of him to the extent that he even had him living in his house with him and Rita to show him what a proper professional should do. I mean, I thought it was hilarious, and the lads loved it. Only Graham would do something like that.
During the promotion season and in the First Division you found you were used as a substitute a lot.
I got injured in the promotion season and I was out for four weeks and Ross was going well. I was on the bench and he [Taylor] could unleash me as an impact player. I’d come on and put them [the opposition] under pressure and turn the screw. He [Taylor] told me towards the end of that season, ‘Look, I can’t pick you. We’re winning, Ross is doing well, Luther is doing well. It’s up to you to fight your way in.’
That was okay with me because he was being straight with me. He wasn’t promising me I’d get in the team and then putting me on the bench. He told me I was his substitute. I was fine with it. Obviously, I’d like to have started games but it meant that if he threw me on with 20 minutes to go he’d get the best out of me.
I think the rest I was getting by being a sub helped me as I was approaching the World Cup finals. I used to go and do four-mile runs in St Albans on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep my fitness levels up. I was timing myself. I was fit, sharp and fresh. I was full of energy so I was in peak condition by the time I got to Spain.
Towards the end of the season, I had made 35 consecutive appearances for Northern Ireland but we were playing Crystal Palace away on the Tuesday night and Graham didn’t want me to play for the national team against Scotland on the Wednesday. We needed the points in the league and the international was a friendly game. He told me he was going to pick me. I thought that’s fair enough. He unleashed me against Palace. I scored one and made one.
The one I set up was controversial. I chased it to the byline and crossed it and if I am totally honest, it went out of play and should have been a goal kick to them but the way I played was to keep going until I hear the whistle. There was no way the linesman was going to keep up with me, he was 10 yards behind me so he couldn’t see. I whipped the ball over and Luther scored.
Paul Barron was the keeper. I hit a 25 yarder past him and it moved everywhere and he was flapping at it. He said afterwards, ‘You’re a lucky bastard. That first one was moving all over the place.’
‘I put too much power on it for you?’
‘And that second one was over the line before you crossed it.’
‘It was at least a foot out of play.’
Well, it wasn’t a foot over the line but it was definitely six inches I have to say.
Graham said to me, ‘Well done. Now if you want to you can go and join up with Northern Ireland. I wasn’t going to tell you beforehand in case you held something back. So I did that, went to the Scotland game, although I was on the bench and I didn’t play.
I don’t suppose there was much time for you to celebrate the promotion because the World Cup was coming up.
Oh I had a few beers that night, don’t worry. [Laughs]. I was on the bench, again, for the game with Wrexham. Ross got the two goals. Magnificent. Couldn’t have happened to a better man. He’d been with them in the Fourth Division and he scored the two goals in the game that got us to the First Division. Brilliant.
I remember we went to the boardroom after the game and Elton phoned. All the players took turns to speak to him on the phone. He was so enthusiastic we’d got promoted.
What was it like going to the World Cup?
I was on a high. Like I said, I was fit, fresh, full of confidence because I had made an impact whenever I’d come into the side so I went to Spain for the World Cup feeling great.
Graham was always giving me a boost. He phoned me at the Northern Ireland hotel on a couple of occasions. We were written off, but he rang and said, ‘Keep running at them because they are absolutely petrified. You’ve scared the life out of them. Keep doing what you’re doing.’
Coming back on the plane, someone met me at the airport with my club suit and tie to go on TV to represent Watford. I got given three days’ extra holiday. That was it. [Laughs]
And you scored the goal – the club’s first goal in the top flight.
That was a nice one. When Graham went back, about eight years ago, he invited me back [to the club]. I went into the reception area there [at Vicarage Road] and there’s a big picture of me scoring the first goal.
The Everton game was special but we felt we deserved to be there. We had enough belief in ourselves because we were so fit and well organised.
I don’t remember an awful lot about the game other than Ross and I played up front and Luther was in midfield. He also tried me on the right side of midfield, and it worked but for that game I was up front.
The goal was a bit of a scramble but I felt great. My confidence was high, my touch was better because of the World Cup. Elton said to me afterwards, ‘You’re a different player, there’s an assuredness about you.’ Then Pat [Rice] scored the second one and to win the first game was a big, big boost. A few days later we went down to Southampton and hammered them 4-1. I scored in that and we were giving the likes of Peter Shilton, Mick Mills, Mick Channon and Alan Ball a real roasting. Barnesy and Nigel were brilliant that night and we created so many chances.
Then I broke my ankle playing for the reserves. Because of the World Cup I felt a bit tired – not so much physically but mentally. I just needed a day off and I asked the gaffer for a day off. He told me to play in the ressies and that I could have the next day off. It was against Reading. I jumped for a ball, headed it, landed awkwardly on one leg and my ankle was broken. I was back in 10 weeks, which was too quick really. I played in the reserves against Luton at the university ground in Bushey and Billy Hails couldn’t believe I was back. I felt good. I can remember running them ragged and I put us 1-0 up. Then I got hit from behind and after the game, Pat Rice, who was watching said that as soon as I got the kick, I limped the rest of the game. He was right. After the break I was frightened of breaking it again and I didn’t like the 50-50s.
How did the move to Real Mallorca happen?
I didn’t want to leave. It was a case of Mallorca coming in. They were interested in me after the World Cup and when they made an offer Graham told me they’d made an approach but said, ‘We want to keep you but it’s up to you.’ It was 200 grand so the club would get almost all their money back on me after three years, which was not a bad deal at all. I said I’d speak to them but I told Graham I didn’t want to go.
But when you go to talk to them and see the money they are going to offer and you realise the tax situation is very different there suddenly it is very attractive. You realise you can make in two years at Mallorca what you could make in six or seven years at Watford or any other English club likely to be interested and you take a different view.
The biggest thing holding me back was that we had qualified to play in Europe. I’d have loved to have played in Europe, but there was a challenge in Spain, playing in a different country, learning a different language and it did appeal to me in ways other than the money. I was 30, 31, so I thought I’d give it a go because I knew the opportunity would probably not come up again.
The UEFA Cup was one of the big factors of wanting to stay. I changed my mind a couple of times but everyone knew that 32 was when your earning potential goes, so I had two years left to make some money. I had just broken my leg so I was thinking about my future.
I went to speak with them. Eddie Plumley came with me and the witness for the signing was Deadly Doug [Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis]. He lived on the island and he happened to be there. So I signed for Mallorca.
I flew back and we had a party at Elton’s. That was my farewell. I wanted to say cheerio.
What did you make of playing in Spain?
I loved it. I still love Spanish football now. I learned the language, made some friends and it turned out to be a fantastic move for me.
A year or so later, Graham rang me and asked me about centre halves and I told him about John McClelland. He said they were already keen on him and I told Graham that John was the perfect pro. John McClelland was perfect for Graham in every way.
What about Watford’s trip to Majorca in 1984?
Ah yes. I organised that. John Ward came out to do the deal and I was the interpreter. We made sure the players were kept away from Magaluf. We got them in the Belvedere hotel in Palma.
When they arrived it turned out that Watford wouldn’t get paid by the organisers until after they’d played the first game. The club wanted to give the players some pesetas so they could have some spending money but because they weren’t getting paid until they’d played the game I got two million pesetas out of my bank, which was about 10 grand, and they paid it back when they got paid.
I remember on that trip he [Graham] was having problems with one or two players. He used me as a sounding board.
Was one of them Maurice Johnston?
Mo wanted to go to Celtic but he was going about it all the wrong way. Wilf had suggested Mo speak to me because Mo had got himself in a bit of trouble.
‘I’ve done a story for one of the papers, it’s coming out on Sunday,’ he said.
Graham hated his players talking to the press. So I said, ‘What sort of story is it? Is it a bad one?’
Mo said, ‘Well, I’ve had a bit of a go at Graham.’
‘Oh you haven’t. Well, you’re in trouble now. He’ll come back at you. If you want to leave, you have to play it his way and he’ll make it happen for you but he has to look out for the club’s interests so you have to do it his way. If I was you, I’d try to stop the story.’
‘I’ve tried but they won’t,’ Mo said.
‘Well, go and speak to Graham, he’ll at least appreciate being warned.’
Mo eventually got his move to Celtic.
He did, but I bet he did it Graham’s way in the end. That’s the thing about Graham – he’s got a heart of gold and he’d never stand in someone’s way if they had a chance to go from Watford to Celtic but you had to respect him and the club and do things the proper way otherwise he could make life very difficult.