The Enjoy the Game Interviews were conducted by Lionel Birnie in 2009

Ian Bolton was one of four players (the others being Ross Jenkins, Luther Blissett and Steve Sherwood) to play for Watford in all four divisions as they rose up through the Football League. As Graham Taylor’s second signing (by a matter of hours) he was clearly in the new manager’s mind before he took over and Bolton established himself as a ball-playing central defender and occasional midfielder, won the Player of the Season award in 1980 and was a key figure throughout the era.

We met in a pub in Abbots Langley one May afternoon and Bolton, who still watches Watford’s home games regularly, gave one of the most vivid descriptions of what it was like to be a player in a Graham Taylor side.

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He signed Sam Ellis at eight o’clock in the morning and myself at twelve o’clock. I was playing for Notts County in the Second Division but I wasn’t an out and out regular, so it wasn’t a huge shock to come down to the Fourth Division, if that doesn’t sound arrogant. I knew Graham because I had been on loan to Lincoln City. He wanted to take me to Lincoln but he couldn’t because of the money but when he moved to Watford he could afford to do it.

You don’t know these things at the time, but years later he said he wanted to sign a couple of ‘uglies’. Centre halves who would be the base of the team. Sam and I never actually played together as centre halves for one reason or another. I started in midfield, then Sam got injured and I went back to play with Alan Garner, which started a good partnership.

What did you make of Watford when you arrived?

The ground was a bit of a shock. The ground was a bit tired to say the least. It had the greyhound track.

But I went there because of Graham Taylor, not the ground. I knew enough about him to know he would put together a good team. He was starting to play the game the way he wanted to play, which was unique at that time. We got labelled a long ball team, which is absolute rubbish. We played to a set pattern of play, sure, which was for the wingers, [Bobby] Downes first, then Cally and Barnes, to get the crosses in. It was a game based on getting in the other team’s half because the longer the ball is in their half the better. You can score if you’re up there and they can’t.

Did you find Graham’s approach formulaic?

No. I found it effective. It was about stats, which was totally new to me, but they told you about the game. Two people can watch the same game and have two very different views but the stats tell you things you can’t dispute. On a Monday you’d sit down and listen to the stats. How many crosses, shots, how many second balls you won. You couldn’t argue with it because he’d have it all in front of him. It sounds boring but these were stats from a game of football. He could say, Luther you only had two shots, but then he’d look, how many crosses did you get in? How many times did we win the ball in the final third? It was new to us but it worked because we shot through the divisions rapidly. Had a bit of a stall in the Second Division but Graham changed quite a few players and we moved up again.

When you joined them in the Fourth Division surely you didn’t imagine you’d end up playing in the First Division?

I was a pro 16 years, but I never had a contract longer than a year until I got to Watford. So I was just trying to stay in the game, really. I knew that a wrong move, or an injury or a bad year could mean the end of it. When I got to Watford I felt like we were building something and I just wanted to stick around long enough to go as far as I could. Those 16 years went so quickly. You are always on your toes which is basically a good thing.

Were there any times when you thought you might be one of the ones Graham eased aside?

Not really. I remember Graham bought [Steve] Sims when I was in hospital. I had a back injury. When I was 21, I slipped a disc and it came up every now and then through the season. I was fortunate to get away with only missing a few games a season really. Graham knew about the injury and it was a gamble for him but he’d only paid £12,000, which is peanuts really, but it was still a gamble.

Anyway, I was in hospital and he signed Sims and I read it in the evening paper. Graham came in that evening to see me and I said, ‘Oh, cheers boss.’

I naturally thought it was to replace me, but I got back in and Steve and I had a good partnership. We were different players really. He was the number five, I was the number six. I could also go up into midfield if he needed me to.

You mentioned your transfer fee – Steve Sims cost quite a bit more than that. A record for a Third Division club.

It was, it was, but at that time we were just about to have the first million pound player so 175 grand wasn’t a lot. Okay, maybe for a Third Division club it was a lot but when you look at the players Watford bought, really they never spent much money. Sims was a record at the time, but the money spent to get to Division One was not that much.

What was it about Graham that made the team successful straight away?

He was a special manager and a special man. When I first went to Lincoln – and it sounds like hindsight, but I swear it is not – when I went there on loan, I sensed it. When you meet people, you just know. I thought to myself, if I can tag onto his coat tails and hang on as long as I can I might get to go somewhere. I never thought I’d go all the way to the First Division and Europe. To be honest, I thought he had bought a load of rejects in the Fourth Division that he could put to a certain plan. As he progressed through the divisions, and this is not meant to be disrespectful, but he did need to buy better quality, which he did. But he was looking for certain things – certain types of people and players. Would we fit in with what he wanted to do? Would we work hard, would we be disciplined?

Football is a simple game. It’s about scoring more in their net than they score in yours. There were some goals in our games.

Any that really stick in your mind?

The 7-3 at Forest [League Cup tie in 1982]. It was a fantastic game. All the supporters went away, but they never mentioned ‘oh, we got beat.’ After the game Brian Clough came in our dressing room, ‘You lot, I love you. Your attitude, your spirit.’

The thing is, people want to see goals. Yes, if you win 1-0 you’re happier than if you lose 4-3, but people want to be entertained. And if you can score a lot of goals you have a far better chance of winning don’t you. If you create 20 chances you’ve got a better hope of winning than if you create five chances.

A goal that goes in off the back of the head of a defender counts just as much as a 40-yarder so let’s get the ball in the box and see what happens. Create chances for our forwards, create a bit of panic in their defence. If you can force mistakes you can score goals. Our fans got to love the way we played. Our fans were brought up on action. Take it for granted that there was 100 per cent commitment, that was a given. We were about crosses, shots, giving the crowd a reason to jump up out of their seats, and get excited. We weren’t about 58 passes. People called it route one, but it was all about action, about giving value for money. The fans want to see effort of course, but they want to see shots, tackles. That was what Graham did and then he honed it as we progressed. We had the quality of Cally and Barnes but they still had to stick to a set pattern. They could do what they liked with the tricks in the right areas. There was no point beating six people and then putting the cross out of play and they knew that. Graham wanted delivery and he drilled it into us. Don’t hit the first man with your cross. Don’t put the cross behind for a goal kick. Barnes and Cally were both brilliant and finding the right cross.

You mentioned that he brought in players of increased quality as the team went up the divisions. Who sticks in your mind?

There were a lot of defenders who came in over the years and they all played their part. John Stirk, Micky Henderson, Pat Rice [right-backs who more or less replaced each other]. You can see the progression there.

Pat, to me, was the masterstroke. His calmness, his experience, and his experience of coping with the big situations. Nerves can be a terrible thing and they can stop you doing the things you’re good at and can cause you to make mistakes. Pat was coming towards the end of his career but he was such an influence on us. He could have come from Arsenal and thought, ‘This is a last few years, pick up my pay cheque and just do what I can,’ but he put everything into it. People said he would get murdered because of his lack of pace, but he never got taken to the cleaners, not once. Pat’s first five yards were in his head. He was always in the right position. He was absolutely superb. Pat was a masterstroke to get us into the First Division as our captain. And the fact he played a full season in the First Division when we got there shows how good he was.

On the other side, Wilf. What a player. Started as a winger and wasn’t really producing but when he went to left-back it was like having a record signing turn up halfway through the season.

Morale must’ve been amazing at times. The sense of self-belief that comes from winning, particularly for the few of you who’d been there from the start.

It was a great place to be, it really was. When I look back at my life I think how lucky I was to be a part of that. We had a laughy jokey dressing room with some strong characters. Gerry [Armstrong], Pat, Steve Sims, Steve Harrison. We never had a bad egg because Graham used to look into their backgrounds, what they were like, what they liked to do of an evening, everything.

A lot of times it was a bit like being in the army. A lot of it was regimented, You’ve got to be a bit tough and strict when you’re trying to be successful. We did loosen up every now and then but he wanted you to work hard.

We knew where the line was with the gaffer, or if we didn’t he soon reminded us. After winning Division Four and getting promotion, Graham had a promotion party round his house in Nascot Wood. Now Sam Ellis used to like a cigar and he put it out in Graham’s pot plant. Next day, Graham fined him £25. And that was his club captain!

We did like to socialise but we knew what was allowed and what wasn’t. If we weren’t playing midweek, we were allowed out Saturday to Wednesday but not Thursday or Friday. If you ever got caught out on a Thursday that was one of the biggest one. The punishment for that could be severe!

Did you doubt at any point that you’d make it?

I don’t think I was consciously thinking we were going to make it to the First Division, I think we were all just trying to do our best, trying to stay in the team. I do think the first season [in Division Two, 1979-80] he was working it out, working out what we needed to make that last step.

I remember when we made it, the Wrexham game [in 1982, that sealed promotion to Division One] the crowd all running on and I gave my shirt to a fan.

I think we got a feeling from the start of that season. It was a bit like having a car and changing the engine from a 1600 to a two-litre. You could feel that we had a team that could go on. We felt like we did a couple of years before and we were now ready to move up. It’s easy to say that in hindsight, at the time you’re too busy doing it but I did feel confident because of the players we had.

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What did you think of the long ball tag? After all, you were playing a lot of those long passes.

That’s the right phrase – long pass. I played the long passes up to Luther and Ross. I was one of the main culprits because I played the ball up. I think the crucial word is ‘pass’ as opposed to clearing it willy-nilly. I wasn’t just smashing it up the field aimlessly. We used to practice it in training. One player would pull short the other would then bend his run and take up the space behind him, so when I played it up I could either hit the man who’d come short or play it over the top for the man who’s made the run.

It’s got to be a good pass to go to that target otherwise they’re [the opposition] just going to head it clear.

Sometimes it would go up to Ross, who’d come short and Luther would then have space in behind, so Ross could lay it back to Les and he could play the ball into the space for Luther to run into.

The pressure that put on defences was immense. It really was. They didn’t know what to do. Do they come out with Ross and leave that gap for Luther? Or do they leave Ross to control the ball and have time to bring it down and then play it to the wingers.

We were relentless. If we lost the ball, we tried to win it back as quickly as possible and then we’d try the same things again  – either get it into the channels for Luther, or get it wide to the wingers. Attacking all the time. Often we got the breakthrough because the defenders just couldn’t cope with it.

I can always remember Martin Buchan for Man United saying he’d never come under so much pressure in all his life [in the FA Cup tie Watford won in 1982]. That was a plan we’d discussed. Graham would say, ‘You’ve read about these players being great players. But don’t assume it’s true until you’ve played against them. Don’t give them too much respect because if you do you will subconsciously step off them a bit.’

Buchan, a tremendous experienced player, but we hit balls at him and got the ball up to Luther and got Luther turning him and sprinting and sprinting. He had to turn and sprint and he’s facing the wrong way. And he couldn’t cope with it. Luther just ran him into the ground. Defenders absolutely hate facing their own goal because they’re at a disadvantage, so if you can get them turning and chasing a forward, dear me, it’s horrible, it really is. Graham would sometimes say to us, ‘What is it you don’t like as defenders?’ He would ask so we were reinforcing the message to the forward players. Well, we don’t like facing the wrong way. We don’t like an opponent behind us, we don’t like the ball behind us, and we really don’t like it when the opponent and the ball is behind us because then we’re relying on the goalkeeper and a bit of luck.

What used to annoy me was that people used to criticise us for closing down good players. What so you’re supposed to stand off Glenn Hoddle and let him have time and space to play his game are you? Let him hurt you with a pass, because he could, he was a fantastic player. Never in a million years. You’re in his face, every time he turns you’re there. We used to close him down as quickly as possible and stop him. Same with all the good players who could hurt you. Spurs played everything through midfield so we cut them off. Relatively speaking we didn’t go through midfield as much.

He would come out and criticise us because he didn’t enjoy the game. What? We were supposed to let him? Anyway, we didn’t have a Glenn Hoddle. We had good players but not of that quality in the midfield so we had to cut our cloth to suit and play to our strengths.

The flip side of that is that Glenn Hoddle didn’t track back and mark Les when he went forward and Les scored that goal at White Hart Lane [when Watford beat Tottenham 1-0 in 1982]. If that had been one of ours [midfielders] Graham would have been going spare. No matter how good you were, you had to play for the team and that meant doing your defensive work too. If you watched Luther and Ross, they were the first line of defence. They tried to pen a team in their half, they chased the ball down, they closed down defenders and that gave all of us time to get back into our positions and be ready to defend and try to win the ball back.

So I don’t mind anyone saying we were direct, or that we attacked teams without mercy because we were and we did. What I do mind is when people say it was aimless or easy, because it wasn’t either. It was planned out and it was bloody hard work. Rewarding work but hard.

Those midfielders had to do a lot of work and I guess you experienced that when you played in the centre?

They did. If it was Kenny [Jackett] and Les [Taylor] they had to do the work of three men, really, although Cally and Barnes did drop in and they did do the defensive work. But you had to be a certain type to play in that midfield. You needed to be fit and you needed to be strong. Think of Jan Lohman. Lohman was a loony. Absolute fruitcake. Being Dutch you can imagine the stick he got. He looked a bit like Hitler with his ’tache. He used to play up to it. But what a player. What an engine. He used to run, run, run. I’d have hated to play against him. And the thing people underestimated was that he had a great left foot.

Were you nervous about playing in the First Division? Was there a fear of being found out?

I think we were all wondering what it would be like. But the first day we beat Everton 2-0. It was a hot day. It was a big game against a very famous club. I don’t think Watford had ever played Everton before that day, even in a cup.

The thing was, we were very, very confident that we were not going to be beaten for fitness and effort. If Everton had that extra bit of quality, well, maybe we’d have a hard day but in terms of fitness we thought we were right up there.

That pre-season we went to Norway and that was the hardest trip I’ve ever been on. It was horrendous. It was like being in the army. It was like a boot camp. We went over there and the regime was fierce. We’d get up, train before breakfast, go back and have something to eat. We used to jog to training and back. Then we trained in the afternoon, running from the hotel. Train hard, then run back. Then we played a game in the evening. It was absolutely brutal. They were tiddly Norwegian teams and they were really up for it, and it was the middle of their season so they were in the swing of it, and we were on our third training session of the day. Graham said train like you play. But I used to hate friendlies. It didn’t get me going like a proper game. But those games we took as seriously as a Division One match. I don’t think we could have been any more prepared physically for Division One.

There were a few injury worries before that Everton game and you lined up alongside Kenny Jackett in defence.

Steve Terry was out, Sims was out. Kenny played alongside me and we were both number sixes so we had to work it out. Steve was more the attacking defender to go and attack the header. Kenny and I were similar but he was a natural left-sided player so the combination of left and right certainly didn’t work against us. We worked well together and we kept them pretty quiet.

You went to White Hart Lane and won, Highbury and won. Was there anything that did dent you at all that season?

I think the defeat at Anfield was one of the few where I thought they were on a different level to us. I can remember going to the ground on the coach and I was reading their match programme and I think you look at that and you see the names and you look at their list of honours in the front page of the programme and I can understand why a lot of teams were beaten before they got there. And I think perhaps we were as well.

After the game Graham said to us, ‘Right, that’s it. Guys, you are here by right. You’re not here as guests. From now on I don’t want you showing any respect to anyone.’

I can remember walking out on the pitch. People used to say, at 2.40 it’ll be empty when you go to warm up. By 3pm you walk out and it’s absolutely packed and the sound was incredible. The hairs on your neck stand up.

I was marking Kenny [Dalglish]. I thought I had a great game. There was one situation with the goal that [Ian] Rush scored. The ball is played up to Kenny and I am behind him. As the ball is played up, he lent to the left, so I went to the left but as it comes to him he takes it on his right and in one move he turns and plays it into Rush. It was a split second. Amazing players the pair of them.

The interesting thing was, when we had the stats from that game it showed they played more long balls than we did but we were the ones labelled with it.

That game was a turning point and I think we started to think of the season as a whole rather than just a good start. We enjoyed being up the top of the table but we then started to think we can stay up there.

Do you think it was a case of the First Division sides not quite knowing what to expect?

Some of them, maybe. I remember David Armstrong of Southampton said to us, ‘Playing like that you’ll shock a few.’

As a unit we were so strong, and we had so much pace in the side. It’s vital. No one could live with our pace of playing, pace of closing people down, and teams weren’t used to it. People chose not to look at the positive qualities and dismissed it.

We absolutely battered teams because of the chances we made. Sunderland, 8-0. We should have been 2-0 down in the first 10 minutes. You get days in your career when everything goes right and all 11 of us were on the top of our games. Everything fell into place. It was amazing. I only had those two days like that ever, Southampton [7-1 in the League Cup] and Sunderland.

Talking about people who hated the way we played, I think they were upset we weren’t conforming to the nice way they thought they were playing.

But then there were sides that weren’t that pretty on the eye that didn’t get criticised. QPR and Arsenal loved the offside trap. I used to play offside a bit and drop back deliberately and the forward would come up with me, then the keeper would kick it and I’d step up and catch him offside. I’d do it a bit but QPR took it to extremes. Doing that isn’t lazy, it’s about thinking and trying to catch your opponents out.

We knew QPR were had some good players but they were lightweights and when it was fast and physical they didn’t like it.

I suppose Graham and Terry Venables were opposites. Venables also had some support in the press I gather.

Venables and Taylor had totally different philosophies. [Jeff] Powell [of the Daily Mail] supported Venables. I can’t say I was really aware of it at the time. I saw the criticism but when you’re winning and you’re at the top of the league does it really matter what gets written in the paper? But I think it did go a bit far with some journalists. I mean, what was their problem really? If Watford are so poor then surely all the other sides can see them off, but that didn’t happen did it?

I know he [Taylor] met him [Powell] in a lift once at a hotel or something and he was so tempted to press the stop button and hit him one. Graham had a word with him and it did die down a bit but the criticism was ridiculous.

We beat teams fair and square and when they beat us we were big enough to think, ‘Well, they were a good side and they were better than us today.’ There were players I found hard to deal with. Garry Birtles [Nottingham Forest] was always a difficult opponent. He used to drop off, he was predominantly left-footed, so he was awkward. I could win the physical battles but I never really got the better of him. [Brian] Stein at Luton was difficult for me. Again, tricky, unpredictable. I never managed to get a good read on him.

But we never looked at players as untouchable. One of Graham’s famous sayings was, ‘Take the stadium away. We’re playing against Liverpool in a local park, take all the trimmings away, and it’s just a normal game against 11 other men.’

I think the saddest thing is that I’ve only in recent years started to appreciate what we did, what I did and the career I had. Those 16 years went like a flash. I wish, and I don’t know if it’s possible, I wish I had appreciated it more at the time.

What do you feel you didn’t appreciate?

I don’t know. I suppose that’s life isn’t it, you’re busy living it and even in the great times you’re not really savouring it or thinking about what it means.

I guess the memories are something to enjoy when it’s all over.

You’re probably right. It was a great time. I just think back and smile because we were laughing so much of the time. There really is nothing like a winning dressing room. The energy after a match, the sense of all being in it. Even the rows when things aren’t going well. That togetherness. I don’t think there are many walks of life where you can get that.

I met so many great people. Nigel Callaghan and I were room-mates on away trips. I was older and he was the young lad with so much energy. Nervous energy really. He was a fantastic lad but he’d drive me bonkers on a Friday night before a match. I would be trying to get to sleep and he’d be up at two or three in the morning and he’d have his video game plugged into the telly. All you could hear all night was the noise of his Space Invaders. Nigel was so enthusiastic and I was a bit older, so it was a good mix. I kept him on the straight and narrow. He kept me young. [Laughs]

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You were one of only four players who went on the whole journey – the others were Steve Sherwood, Luther and Ross, I think?

That’s right. When you put it like that, it was amazing, from being the second signing, getting to the First Division, playing in Europe. I chose to leave in the November before they got to the cup final. From a career point of view that was obviously a mistake. I was going through a bit of a messy divorce and it affected me. I know for a fact I would have played in that cup final, whether because I got my form back or because of the injuries. I wasn’t quite done at that level. Maybe Graham thinks otherwise but I think I was still playing well.

From a career point of view it was a mistake but from the life point of view my life was better after that. I met a new girl and had my daughter.

Although I thought I could have done it for Watford for another year or so, I also know now, looking back, that when I left Watford, I was finished. The fire had gone. At Brentford I was awful, you’d never recognise me as the player I was at Watford. I would have run through brick walls for Graham but when I left I was finished. I realise now just how much Watford made me perform to my very best. It was hard to match those highs somewhere else.

I was going through a very messy divorce. At the end of the season my head was all over the place. I was finding it tough mentally, I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t getting to sleep until it got light. I was going to bed but lying there. I was an absolute wreck to be honest. Graham made the decision to leave me out of a few games and I wouldn’t disagree with him.

He [Taylor] said to me recently, that Bob Paisley said to him, ‘Always get rid of a player one game before his legs go.’ Basically my legs had gone. I had reached that point. Everybody and everything has a sell-by date and I had reached it, for whatever reason.

They brought Maurice Johnston in and I think that showed me that I was done. I had a hard time against him in training games and I realised I was over the top. He was unbelievable. He was sharp, he made loads of little darting runs, which you have to stick with. He brought it home to me.

But those final few months I still thought I would come round.

What do you remember of the European games?

Sofia [Levski Spartak] was the most memorable one for me. There were fires on the terraces. The atmosphere was fierce, absolutely fierce, it was like walking into the gladiator’s arena. Graham played myself and Wilf in midfield together and we were out there to make sure we gave as good as we got. They were nasty and we were nastier. We were hacking and chopping them. We went for everything. How we stayed on that pitch that night, I don’t know. That sounds terrible but we had to fight fire with fire. Wilf was a great player but a real dogged little thing. Some of the challenges were awful. We were involved in a fight with them. I’ve never played in a game like it. He was fantastic to play with, Wilf, and a lovely fella, but on the pitch to have him against you he was like a bad rash. All elbows and knees he was.

So how did you find out you’d be leaving?

I was getting on the coach for a game. It could have been the Man United game, and Graham said, ‘Brentford have come in for you, do you want to go?’ I said, ‘Well am I playing here?’ ‘No.’

I made the decision as an attempt to save the marriage but that didn’t work.

The problem was I couldn’t separate my football from my private life. The stress and what was going on in my private life was overlapping. I wasn’t the most naturally fit player in the world, so I had to work hard to keep on top of my game. I had to be in perfect shape physically and mentally to cope and I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t sleeping for weeks at a time.

Graham was brilliant about it. He had put a fee on me before but he let me go for £5,000. Brentford offered me more money than I was on at Watford, they offered a two-and-a-half year contract, I mean it was crazy really. But six weeks later the manager who signed me got the sack and Frank McLintock came in. He’d been my hero as a youngster. He played at Leicester. He didn’t fancy me as a player, which was fair enough really because I was crap.

I kept to the Watford way of playing and that didn’t fit in with them. And the fire had gone. Come the end of the season he gave me a free and gave me a pay-off. I was 31 and although football was more or less over, I at least had a job to go to. I went to work for a Ford dealership. Graham helped get me to Barnet with Barry Fry and I played non-league for a few more years.

What was it like suddenly having to do a ‘normal’ job?

It was a shock. I was on quite a bit of money at Brentford, suddenly I was doing 40 hours a week, training twice a week [for Barnet] and I couldn’t do it.

When I left football it was like an overload of information. A mortgage, what’s that? I used to play football and my wife took care of that. Mortgage, job, woah, what’s this? But having been a normal person for the last 25 years I know what it was all about.

What did you feel on FA Cup final day, seeing your pals playing at Wembley having started the season with them?

Honestly, we had a great day Tina and myself. We had the barbecue on the patio, watched it on the telly. The next day we went to the town and watched the bus tour and we stood there and waved. Graham spotted us and they waved to us.

I’d have loved to have been there as a player. I could have got a ticket if I’d asked, I have no doubt, but I didn’t want to be there to be honest. To go there as a supporter to watch, I don’t know if I could have done it. My emotions about it all would have been up in the air. At that time, I’d rather have watched it on TV that day.

Watford remains a big part of your life, close to your heart?

Oh yes. I’m a Leicester boy but it’s my club. It gets into your blood. We weren’t just footballers we really were part of the club. We used to go out and do things in the community. The players had to be in the area, live within 25 miles or whatever, so they were contributing to the community, spending their money in the local shops, being seen in the town. The club built the family terrace, which was just an extension of the way the club was. It was all about people, community, family.

People rallied round you. Towards the end of my marriage I lived with Ann and Alan Swanson [who ran some of the club’s community initiatives and the Junior Hornets] for a few months. She was terrific. The family club was about getting the whole town involved in some way.

In summary, you were part of a team that finished second in the First Division, the highest position in the club’s history.

That feels very nice when you put it like that. You’re right, it’s a little bit of history. We did what we did. Graham always said we are putting that down our achievements as a footprint, challenging the next generations, ‘Can you beat it?’

To beat it, a Watford team would have to win the Premier League and I’d love them to do that but what’s been done is done and the fans love what we’ve done.

When did you stop calling Graham Taylor gaffer?

I haven’t, to be honest, to his face at least. It’s a respect thing. To the day I die I don’t think I’ll call him Graham to his face. It’s my respect and admiration, it’s not fear. He’s the gaffer.

The strength of those relationships was amazing. The Elton-Graham relationship was more son-father. I know Graham looked out for the chairman. I remember Elton coming in in all the lairy gear and Graham pulled him aside and said, ‘Right, we’re a football club here and we have standards, so let’s maintain them.’

To be backed by a wealthy, football-minded chairman was fantastic. Make no mistake, Elton knew his football. He really got the game and could talk about it. He wasn’t someone you thought, ‘Yeah, okay,’ when he was speaking. He was great. Behind the scenes when he came on tour we could call him Elton but we were always told that in public it was always ‘Mr Chairman.’

We sang the backing vocals on A Single Man and we all got a gold disc. We had to go to a recording studio and give it ‘ooh ahh’ and all that stuff. I wasn’t even there but we all got a gold disc for getting more than half a million sales, or whatever it was. It was an amazing time, really.