When I first watched Watford, Nigel Callaghan was one of my favourite players, perhaps because he played on the right-wing – which was my position for the school team. Later on, when I interviewed Graham Taylor, he compared Callaghan’s ability to cross the ball as being the equal of David Beckham, and he did so without a hint of exaggeration. Callaghan really could put the ball on the proverbial six pence, and yet, like a lot of talented, creative players, he could be exasperating. Perhaps his loping running style didn’t help – it gave the impression that he was not putting everything he had into it.
Callaghan retired from football early – too early for a man of his talent – and switched to his other passion, DJing. When he popped up on a Sky programme about night life on the Mediterranean islands in the late 1990s I was shocked to see how much weight he had gained. He had drifted away from football and was, at that time, tricky to track down but when I did he was more than happy to invite me to meet him at his mother’s house in Stafford where we chatted while the horse racing was on the television, with the sound down, in the corner of the room.
I was at Watford as a schoolboy. My dad took me down to trials. There was an ad in the paper saying any young footballers could come down to a training session at Watford. Dave Butler, who was physio for the first team, was in charge of the youth training set-up at that time. Very shortly after that Elton bought the club and eventually brought in Graham Taylor. I was only 11 when I first went to Watford but when Graham came in and they appointed Tom Walley to take charge of the whole youth set-up and things really started to pick up from then.
So you know what it was like before Graham and Tom came in?
Yes, it wasn’t much really but when Graham Taylor came in it was obvious that his long-term plan was to get the youth set-up running to produce good players who could play for the first team one day.
I was at school at St Michael’s in Garston. I was captain of my district side, captain of the county. When I started training with Tom at Woodside on a Tuesday and a Thursday I would go home to tell my dad, ‘We’ve got this Welsh guy who scares the life out of me when he shouts at us.’
But Tom Walley was one of the best things to ever happen down there and we’re still in touch to this day.
Did you feel you had enough talent to become a professional footballer?
I thought I was a good player. You have some self-belief but in those days the schools had a lot of pull. They nearly stopped me getting a football career because they expected me to play for them on Saturday mornings when I wanted to be playing for Watford. When I got to the age of 15 and Watford were signing apprentices, they wanted to have a look at me playing against better players, but the school wouldn’t let me go to the match because they wanted me in their team. It’s amazing isn’t it? In the end they had to thrash out a deal with Tom Walley and the school said, ‘Okay we’ll let you have him every other week.’
You obviously did well enough?
I did but at the time I was only eight stone. I had good strong legs but no upper body, so physically coming up against Arsenal and Tottenham who had second year apprentices who’d been on the weights for two years was difficult. Walley said he had to pick and choose when he could play me because he thought I wouldn’t get a look-in in some games. So some weeks I was turning up to the South East Counties [youth team] games and I wasn’t getting on.
But they took you on?
Not at first. When it came to choosing apprentices, they phoned my dad up and said, ‘We’re really sorry we haven’t had a chance to look at him much this year. We’re going to release him.’
My dad said he’d take me to some other clubs. Three days after that I was playing in a county cup final between Herts and Essex. There were loads of scouts there. Bertie Mee, Graham Taylor and Tom Walley were there. We won the game, I was in central midfield, and I played well. Next day I was in training at Watford and Tom said, ‘Callaghan, I think you’ve changed their minds after yesterday’s performance.’
They told me dad that because of my size I may not get a chance in the reserves and I’d have to take time to build up some strength but as it was I played every game in the reserves and I made my debut [for the first team] at the end of the season [1979-80, in Division Two]. Tom said he [Taylor] would have played me earlier but they were in a bit of relegation trouble so they wanted to wait until they were safe.
Who else was in your group of apprentices?
Out of the five apprentices, there was myself and Charlie Palmer who were borderline and we were the ones who played in the first team. There was Lukas [Louka], Steve Morris and Mark Fordham who were the three guys that were offered apprenticeships, but they never really made it.
I was only told on the morning of the match I was playing. I never had any nerves. It was great. Next morning I was on the coach going to the south-east counties to play at Southend.
You had signed as a professional by then. Did it feel like you had made it?
I don’t know about ‘made it’ but I had never had any doubt I would be a footballer. I’d not given any thought to what I’d do if I wasn’t a footballer. The only time it hit me I might not make it was when they said they weren’t signing me. But my whole childhood was about sports and PE. If there was no sports involved at school it was the worst day of my life. Just lessons all day!
You were born in Singapore, why was that?
My dad was in the RAF. I don’t remember Singapore at all. I was a year old when we moved. My mum’s Portuguese and my dad met her over there, then went to Singapore. Then we moved to Tenby in Wales, then Abbots Langley and then Coates Way in Garston. My dad was Watford through and through. So was my mum. They came to all the games. My dad had a great relationship with Tom Walley and his wife Pauline.
What do you think it was about your game that caught the eye?
I was a good striker of the ball. I played out wide because of my size. I could hit a ball, cross a ball, so I played in the reserves on the right. Billy Hails [the physio] used to say I had the biggest calves. I used to ride my racer bike everywhere – I’d cycle to the club, then cycle back. I was on my bike everywhere, just cycling. When I was building myself up I took some weights home with me. I did weights during the ad breaks when I was watching telly.
When I could I used to go to the first team games and I’d sit in the Shrodells stand [where the Graham Taylor stand is now] with my mum and dad. I was a Watford supporter too.
There was a great batch of young players who all came through at the same time.
Myself, Steve Terry and Kenny Jackett were the first ones to break in and I think it was important for them to know that the lads coming through could do a job.
Did you feel there was pressure on you at all?
Not really because he put us in gradually and he made sure we didn’t get carried away with it all. If you started to think you’d made it he’d put you in the reserves for a week or put you on the bench just to make a point.
What was your relationship with Graham like?
It was good most of the time. The thing was, you didn’t step out of line because GT would knock you back into line. You knew your standards. There was a time when about five of us got fined for being one minute late for training. We were in the training ground early but we were having a cup of tea so we were a minute late coming out. He fined us and we said, ‘Gaffer, we were only one minute late.’ And he said, ‘Be one minute early.’ You can’t say anything to that can you. He said, ‘Normal working people have to get up 7.30 to be at work for 9 o’clock. You start at half past ten, so why not get here early, have your cup of tea and be out early so you’re ready to start at 10.30, not 10.35.’
It was very strict. I suppose it had to be like that. The only thing with Graham was he was very over-powering in those days. I don’t think as players you were allowed to have an opinion. You just thought he was never going to agree with you if you had a difference of opinion. Sometimes you’d go in to speak to him and go in there at 5ft 8 and come out feeling 4ft 6. He ruled the place. That’s the way it was. He was running the whole club, he wasn’t just managing the football team.
He could coach though. He could make you a better player. He’d have you back in the afternoon and he’d train you and coach you and put time into you. The only afternoon you were guaranteed to have off was a Friday afternoon. If you wanted a game of golf or to take the wife shopping, you couldn’t make plans because you’d be back in for the afternoon for another session to work on something.
But he worked on our game, he was patient with me. We’d practice crosses. The midfielders would get the ball wide to me, one touch, get the ball out of your feet, and cross it to Luther and they’d put it into the empty net. The defenders would be off working with Steve Harrison and we’d be going through crosses. He wanted me to work on the delivery. Whip them in or put them in flat, or float it but make sure you beat the defenders and put it in the area where Luther and Ross were going to be attacking it.
We’d work on things to get better at them. We definitely worked harder than the majority of clubs I’m sure. I doubt there’d have been another club that worked harder.
What sort of winger were you?
I wasn’t a John Barnes. I had a few tricks but John sucked people in and he had quick feet and could get past them. But for me, if you can get the ball in without beating a player, what’s the point of beating a player? Get the crosses into the box, as many as possible. The reason you beat a player is because you need to. If the player stands off you and you can get a cross in, do it. It just looks better to the crowd to beat a player.
Some wingers with pace haven’t got brains. But then the full back stands off you to give himself a head start, he knows the winger is going to push the ball past and run. But if he backs off me I can whip the ball across him into the box. I don’t need to go past him.
It was a game to me. I used to try to get them [defenders] thinking. Make them think you’re going to take them on, then cross it early instead. Or whip it in early a couple of times and then the third time take a touch down the outside and beat them. Never do the same thing three times in a row so they are always guessing.
Is it fair to say that Graham sometimes wanted more from you when the team didn’t have the ball?
Attackers are the worst defenders. We don’t want to be back in our own half. So sometimes you ball watch, sometimes you are lazy. I was taught to track back but you can get pulled back too far. When Pat Rice came in he taught me a lot in a very short time. I used to get sucked in and then I was no use as a winger. I’d be up against Kenny Sansom [of Arsenal] and I’d end up at right back because he pushed forward so much. In the end, Pat Rice said ‘leave him to me, you get up there.’ So that would leave me free and further up the pitch and when their move breaks down, and their full back is out of position it turns the tables on them because they are all pulled out of position. The centre half has to come across to cover where the full back should be, that opens space in the centre as well and it causes all sorts of problems. So we were clever about counter-attacking.
If you can let the full-back go up the pitch and get out of position you can hit them. It only has to happen once and you’ve put a seed of doubt in the full back’s mind. He doesn’t want to be up the pitch leaving me in space, so all of a sudden you’ve got the upper hand and you’re pushing them back instead of them going at you. Like I said, it’s a game and you make your moves and get on top.
What did you make of your team-mates when you first got in the side?
As I said, Pat was excellent. He was experienced and he really helped me out. Defensively I didn’t have to do too much when he was playing at right-back.
Les [Taylor] had a great engine but he could play as well. People said we were a kick and rush side but we could play, we could pass the ball. The midfielders won their battles and they fed me and Barnsey. Les and Kenny [Jackett] could play but their job was to keep it steady, win the tackles, win their battles.
Was there a point where you felt you’d broken into the team to stay?
The Southampton game [7-1 in the League Cup] really put me in the spotlight. I came on as sub and scored. I was 13th man for the first leg against Southampton and I was gutted. By then I was expecting to be in the first team. I sat in the stands there and we got hammered 4-0.
I remember the club being disappointed because when the draw was made they were expecting a big crowd with a First Division club coming down but we’d lost the first leg 4-0 and weren’t expecting such a big crowd.
In the second match we went 1-0, then 2-0. So there was that self-belief at half-time. When they got the one goal back we wondered if we’d blown it but we scored again and then forced extra-time. I remember them opening the gates at the Vicarage Road end to let people out and people were actually coming in. I remember seeing a double decker bus at the Vicarage Road end – from the pitch you could see over the top of the wall behind the terrace – and it was parked up there for ages and the people were looking out of the top deck.
Ray Train went down with a clash of heads as we’d won a corner and Taylor said: ‘Get warmed up, you’re going on.’ We won the corner as Ray was coming off. I ran on and stood on the edge of the box. We had the corner and the ball got cleared and fell to me. I hit it first time and it flew in to put us 6-1 up. That’s what you’re dreaming about. One touch, one goal.
To score at Newcastle on the opening day [1981-82] was fantastic. I scored goals like that every day in training [a thunderbolt of a shot from distance] – never really had any tap-ins. I remember Luther got sent off that day. To be honest, if we’d have come away with a draw we’d have been happy because they murdered us in the last 30 minutes. After the game I came out, I was 18, scored the winning goal. This Geordie guy came up to me and said, ‘Sign wor programme.’ I started to put, ‘best wishes, Nigel Callaghan,’ and he said, ‘just put fuck’n wanker.’ I looked at him and he said,‘Nah mate, I’m just kidding, great goal.’
Did you feel that promotion was on the cards?
There was a belief at the club. Everything seemed to be happening for the right reasons. All the players who came in fitted in with the club and we all knew our jobs. We were a well organised team, we weren’t kick and rush. The reserves played in the same style so they knew their jobs. If Les Taylor was injured, Richard Jobson came in and he would know what he was doing.
If the ball went behind the defenders, we pushed up as a unit and closed them down. Secretly we all thought we’d go up that year.
Until the game when we were up we were just hoping we’d be able to get over the line. Then, when we made it, I took a bit of a deep breath and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve done it.’ For me, I just loved playing the games. If we had a game cancelled, I was the worst person to be around. I just loved playing. I thought ‘We’re going to win today.’ We were up the top end all season so of course we thought we had a chance.
But it never went to our heads. No one in the team thought they were big time Charlies. There were a lot of young lads in the side and he [Taylor] kept installing the positives in us. Graham’s philosophy was on this 20 shots thing. He had games analysed. On average if you added up all the shots you had and divided that by the number of goals you scored and it’d come out that you scored a goal every 10 shots. So if you had 20 shots in a game you’d score a couple of goals. Okay, so it might not work out exactly game by game. One game you might score five and only have ten shots, but over the course of a season it’d average out. The top sides averaged about eight shots per goal, the teams at the bottom averaged about 12 or 13 shots per goal because they weren’t as good.
Did you pay attention to all that analysis?
We had to. He’d tell us how many shots and crosses did I’d got in? That was what all my game about anyway.
If you think about it, it’s quite hard to have 20 shots on goal in a 90-minute game. It wasn’t easy to do that.
It was quite a young squad, so did that help?
We had so many young players who weren’t married so there was a social side. If there was a party, Graham would know where it was though. He’d find out about everything in Watford. Trevor How was the best one, he used to like Baileys. He didn’t realise that if he signed the book to get in free, Graham would go down there to take a look at it. Graham knew the manager there and he’d have a look at the book, see what night Trevor went out.
I was always into my music and I started DJing with the kids’ disco. I met a guy who ran a nightclub in Leighton Buzzard. He said, ‘We get a few of the Luton [Town] lads in, why don’t you come in and do a bit of Dj-ing.’ I started going over there and DJ-ing because it was out of Watford and there was less chance of Graham finding out. Then I discovered that one of the directors lived over in Leighton Buzzard so I couldn’t really get away with it.
There was a guy called Chris Britain, who was resident DJ at Baileys [the nightclub in Watford]. He said they did an under-18s disco at High Wycombe and asked if I could go over there and do a bit. I thought it was brilliant. There was nothing in Watford to cater for the under-18s so I got Cally’s Disco together. I put posters up in a few schools, told everyone it would be well supervised so parents could be sure their kids would be okay. I booked the community hall at Woodside. It could hold 150 people at a squeeze. First one we got about 80 kids there. Then we did the second one and had a few more. Then we moved it to a bigger place. Then we got 180 people. Then it was going through the roof. We had about 250 for the sixth disco but it was becoming a bit much for me to do. It was nice to do something like that to see if you would get a response.
What were you playing then?
Pop music. Disco. Stuff like David Christie. Tunes you couldn’t play now but it was what people wanted then. The thing was there was nothing for kids under 18 to go out to back then, so it was popular. Graham was happy with me doing it as long as I didn’t do a disco on a Thursday or Friday night. At the end of the day it was about getting the younger generation involved. Then I started DJ-ing over in Leighton Buzzard at a proper club for adults. He [Taylor] knew about that but he knew I wasn’t doing anything on a night when I shouldn’t so eventually he let me do it. I think he realised that if I was DJing on a Saturday night I was there to play music and not out having loads to drink. I didn’t drink in those days, just a couple of lager shandies and that was me. I loved it and I wanted to see how far up the ladder I could get. I wanted to see if people respected me for the music I was playing rather than just because I was a footballer so I started doing stuff without really letting on it was me.
Footballer, DJ, it sounds like the dream lifestyle!
They were good days but we were not paid anything like what footballers get now. You can be non-league now earning better than we got. But yes, football, DJing, cars. I loved my cars in those days.
Didn’t all footballers love their cars? What were you driving?
First car I had was a Ford Capri 1600 GT that I bought for £250. I bought a Sanyo radio cassette to put in it. My cousin’s boyfriend worked for Sanyo and he got me a discount. It had huge speakers and I remember it ate my car battery up. I stopped at the lights and it stalled and I couldn’t start it again.
Then the car caught fire in Occupation Road. It’d back-fired and something had gone wrong. I was looking at the bonnet and the paint was bubbling on it. I ran into the office for a fire extinguisher. The club was right next to the petrol station so about three fire engines came down to make sure it didn’t get out of hand.
We used to have some races up to Stanmore. I probably shouldn’t say that but we’d go from Watford to Stanmore, where the training ground was and see who could get there first. There was some over-taking that definitely shouldn’t have been happening. I remember Kenny Jackett had a Datsun. Steve Terry had an Austin Maxi.
I got myself an Alsatian puppy and I took it to work with me instead of leave him at home. I left him in the car while I was training and then Steve Terry came running into the dressing room and said, ‘Cally, your dog is chewing your car up!’ He’d chewed half my seat. It was foam and it was torn to bits so I only had half a seat to sit on. The dog used to bark whenever anyone went near the car and as soon as I approached he’d go mad. He was fine when I opened the door. [Laughs]
Do you remember much about getting promoted to the First Division?
That Wrexham game was a hard game. We needed one win to get up and there were a couple of games left after it but on paper this was supposed to be the easiest one but it was hard. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game to watch and we ground out a win. There was a great atmosphere afterwards. We came out into the directors box and the crowd had rushed the pitch at the death and the were all there on the pitch waving and cheering. They came on a bit early hearing a whistle for a foul and thinking it was the final whistle but it wasn’t.
What did you make of the First Division?
There wasn’t time to worry about it. I suppose we were a bit in awe but we also had that bit of arrogance and cockiness. I’d look at the fixtures and go, ‘Oh, we’ve got Man United next week, right.’ It’s amazing how quickly it becomes normal.
Were the defenders tougher to play against?
Some were but some didn’t know how to handle us. I had some right battles with Frank Lampard at West Ham. That’s the current Frank Lampard’s dad. He was coming to the end of his career and I was a young lad and at that stage that was the last thing he’d want – some young lad taking the mickey out of him.
I think I played in every game except Man United away. I was suspended for that one. When we were doing well defenders used to try to stop us any way they could but we gave as good as we got. Tom Walley taught us how to look after ourselves. Those full backs used to kick me, but they’d get a kick back now and then.
What was it like being a First Division footballer? Did it feel different?
In them days, not really. We were on Match of the Day a bit more and people around Watford knew us a bit more but we were still just normal people. We certainly didn’t get anything like the money they get now.
I bought my first house in Redbourn after we got in the First Division but it didn’t last long. I sold it after a year because it was too far away from everyone and everything I knew and I wasn’t the best person to live on my own.
I remember after we’d played in the FA Cup final our bonuses were terrible. I remember Pat [Rice] saying, ‘They’re offering us the same incentive scheme as we had last year. We need to stand our ground and go for better bonuses.’
All through pre-season Taylor wasn’t happy because someone had questioned him and there was too much talk about money. By the time we came to the first game of the season away at Man United GT was saying, ‘This was the worst pre-season we’ve ever had. If you’re not absolutely on your game they’re going to murder you, and it’s on TV and we’re going to look stupid.’ He wasn’t happy at all. But we drew 1-1. I got the goal in the last minute. We murdered United for most of the match, we were the best side that day and a draw was the least we deserved. We were on Match of the Day that night.
Pretty soon after that all the bonuses got sorted and it settled down.
It was a strange period that wasn’t it, because Luther Blissett had come back but you still had Maurice Johnston and George Reilly.
That’s right. I remember in a few games early that season there were points when we had five forwards on the pitch.
Everything was competitive, but it was healthy competition. You always wanted to be better than the next person and you had to be to stay in the team.
I think before that Ross [Jenkins] might have been more like the typical older player who didn’t like the young ’uns coming through in case they took his place. Once he realized that me and Barnesy were there for him he loved us. ‘Get on the end of that, Ross.’ We were a centre forward’s dream.
When I was at Villa I played a reserve match and Andy Gray was playing on the other side. I said to him, ‘I’d have loved to have had a season playing with you,’ because his runs were brilliant.
I definitely got the same satisfaction from putting the ball in the middle as I did from scoring a goal.
Did you worry that people made up their minds pretty much straight away that you were a kick-and-rush side?
We knew we weren’t kick and rush but if you could get there directly, why do you need five passes in between? We were a direct side, we were an attacking side. We played 4-2-4. When we were playing well that’s how it was, but the importance of Taylor and Jackett in midfield is overlooked. They were the lynchpins and they did the work of three people in there some days.
[Graham] Taylor used to say that in the last five minutes when a team is losing, they’ll hit the ball long and try to be direct. So if they think that’s the best way to score a goal in the last five minutes, why don’t they do it from the first five minutes?
I remember when we absolutely destroyed Sunderland. Eight-nil! There’s one goal were Ian Bolton has hit a 40-yard ball down the line and it’s inch perfect for me to run onto. There was nothing kick and rush about it, he played that ball and it fell into my stride. I’ve crossed it first time without even touching the ball first and Luther puts it in the net. Three touches and a goal. When you can do that, why make it any more complicated?
My game was all about shots and crosses. The worst thing for a centre forward to say is, ‘I never got the service, gaffer.’ My job was to put the ball in the box, put them under pressure. The earlier I got the ball at my feet and had a chance to take on the full back the better. Then you could see if you could take them to the cleaners. We never used to worry about the other teams too much. They worried more about us because of this myth about us being a kick and rush team.
Did you ever think that you’d tail off?
I was never worried about that because that season every week seemed to go perfectly. Graham used to send people out to do match reports on us and on the opposition so we knew what we were doing. And we were fit.
Our home record was what got us second place but looking back now, we’d probably be disappointed we didn’t win the league, because we lost some stupid away games. That was the difference between Liverpool and us. We needed to get results against the lower teams away from home. Liverpool just got results even when they were at their best. When we were at our best we could beat anyone, but we did have some off days.
A lot of teams may have under-estimated us that year. A lot of teams changed their approach to the game because of what they believed was our game and they probably got that wrong. If they’d concentrated more on themselves they’d possibly have done better against us.
When we went to Arsenal and Spurs we had no respect for them at all. We didn’t just respect them because of their names. Graham Roberts [Tottenham defender] who are you? Prove you are better than us. He used to hate playing against Luther. Paul Miller [another Tottenham defender] who was he? Some of the teams used to change the way they played and it ended up suiting us better.
Yes, I went to stay there for four or five days. I don’t know why, to be honest but I knew I couldn’t say no in case he dropped me. But he had his philosophy on it and that was that. He wanted me to stay with him and he was going to make sure I got up on time and ate the right things or whatever.
When was this? When you were in the First Division?
The year before, I think. It was strange. That particular week I wasn’t allowed to use my car. I had to find my own way to the training ground and then come back. We played West Ham in the cup on the Saturday and we won and I scored.
He said he wanted me to stay for a few more days and I said. ‘I’ve stayed here for the week, I’ve done what you asked,” but I didn’t want to stay any longer. I didn’t see why I should.
The next game, he dropped me. We played Derby after that and he dropped me to the bench. I couldn’t believe it. How can you drop me after I played like that against West Ham? But that was the other side of Graham.
Why do you think he did it?
He saw it as taking me under his wing, showing me how to be organised and stuff but I don’t think he realised the other side of it. I was getting awful stick [in the dressing room]. “Oh you’re trying to shag the gaffer’s daughter.’ I don’t think he realised he wasn’t being fair. I was getting a lot of stick for being the teacher’s pet.
There’s a lot of banter that goes on in football and I am sure Graham was trying to do the best but it didn’t do me any favours. I got on well with Joanne [Graham’s older daughter], she was a really nice person, but I didn’t want to go out with her. It made life pretty difficult. I don’t think he meant to, but it did.
Do you feel he singled you out then?
In a certain way I do. I got fed up with being made scapegoat. We had a massive fall out. I don’t care what he says but there was one set of rules for me and one set of rules for John Barnes. John was the golden boy and I was always in trouble.
Ask Pat Rice. Taylor didn’t normally like us wearing long sleeve shirts but he wanted us all in either long or short sleeves. He didn’t like it if there was long and short. At this one game, as it turned out, me and Barnsey were the only two to play in long sleeve shirts. We came in at half-time and we weren’t doing too well. Anyway, Graham threw this short-sleeve shirt at me and said, ‘Fucking put that on.’ That was the way it was. Barnsey could do no wrong, and I was the scapegoat. That annoyed me. He used to be over harsh on me. He was harder on me than others. Treat me equal, that’s all I wanted.
Would you accept that he wanted you to make the best of your talent?
Sure, but not everyone got treated the same. Maurice [Johnston] and George [Reilly] came in and they used to go out. But if I did anything I was in trouble for it. I think it was because I was one of the boys who’d come through the youth team and he felt he could keep me as this young boy for ever. Eventually I’d sort of had enough of it.
He dropped me for a game and then I put in a transfer request on the morning of a Luton match [November 1985], which they lost. That probably wasn’t the best timing. [Laughs].
I played in the reserves after that, I played the last ever game at Eastville [Bristol Rovers’ old ground, before they moved].
He put me on the transfer list. I came back, got totally ignored. Then I was told I wasn’t in the plans. I started scoring goals, played centre forward for the reserves and was doing well.
All that summer  I knew I wasn’t in his good books but he wasn’t letting me go. Or he wasn’t telling me if anyone had come in for me.
Before Oxford game [on the opening day of the 1986-87 season], he said, ‘Barnes has got a knock. If he’s not fit, you’ll play.’ I thought, ‘Bloody hell, he’s spoken to me!’ As it was, Barnes was fit and I was on the bench. We were leading 3-0 and he put me on with two minutes to go. I thought, ‘Is he having a laugh.’ So I said something.
He turned to me and said, ‘Charlton have come in for you so this can be your way to say goodbye to the crowd.’ I was like, ‘What?!’
He was being funny with me. I went to have a chat with Lennie Lawrence at Charlton. The offer wasn’t that good so I came back and said to Taylor, ‘I’ve turned him down, I don’t want to go there. If there’s nothing else around, I’ll stay and fight for my place.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not seeing things right here. You’re not going to play for me again. There is no fighting for your place.’
I then went back and talked to Lennie again and I was supposed to go. It got delayed and delayed. Lennie rang up and said, ‘You do want to sign don’t you.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’
After a couple of weeks, GT took me aside and said, ‘Sorry about how this has all turned out. I won’t be doing business with Charlton again. Why don’t you come and play at Norwich.’
I didn’t know what was going on. Did he want me or did he want to sell me? Were Charlton mucking about or had he turned them down?
Anyway, I started at centre forward at Norwich and finished up the game on the wing. I never came out of the side until I went to join Derby.
Did it affect your relationship with the fans?
Before I went on the transfer list I don’t think I was getting the respect off the Watford crowd I deserved anyway. They used to give me a bit of stick because I didn’t do what Barnesy did on the other side. I’d get three crosses in and nothing, then I would hit one too long or hit the defender and they’d all groan. But after I came off the transfer list they were the best they’d ever been with me. Every time I went to take a corner, they were clapping me.
Within a week of coming off the transfer list he called me in and said, ‘Arthur Cox has come in for you.’ GT was suggesting I should go and talk to him. He said Derby are a bigger club and it might be time to go.
I knew Arthur because he tapped me up when I was playing for the [England] under-21s up at Newcastle. I had a bit of a moan, said I was being the scapegoat. Me, being naïve, I didn’t realise then that I needed to put in a transfer request to get a move. I didn’t realise what Cox was saying to me, which was basically, ‘Put in a transfer request and we’ll take you.’ He said to me, ‘Are you happy?’ ‘Yes Mr Cox.’ ‘Well, just remember, if you’re not happy, we’ll always have you.’ Newcastle had [Chris] Waddle and [Peter] Beardsley up front at the time and I’d probably have loved it but I didn’t realise how it all worked. I’d come in through the youth and didn’t realise all the games about transfers. If I’d put in a request they’d have probably come in and made a bid.
So it was actually a bit of a surprise to leave despite having been on the transfer list for quite a while before?
It was because I played well against Chelsea [in the FA Cup]. Everything was going well. My relationship with Graham had improved. The crowd were right behind me. They respected me, even though I’d been on the transfer list. People were saying to me ‘you’re mad leaving.’
Derby wanted me to be a right-footed left winger. He [Arthur Cox] said he believed in me. I went up on a Wednesday night. By 5pm on Thursday I’d signed.
Once I’d signed, Colin West rang me up. He’d been with us at Watford a year before and he said, ‘My gaffer has been asking about you all week.’ That was Graeme Souness at Rangers.
My dad hated that I’d left Watford to go to Derby. He more or less disowned me for a while! A few days I was in the dog house! When I went to pick up my boots at Vicarage Road it was surreal. I’d been going there since I was 11 and all of a sudden I’m leaving. I didn’t know anything else.
My dad did come to the game [his Derby debut] in the end and Derby took to me straight away.
I’d had a love-hate relationship with Graham and although I certainly don’t bear any grudges it was different at Derby because I could talk to Arthur Cox.
No player thought he could go into Graham Taylor’s office and win an argument. You could go in and ask, ‘Why am I not in the first team?’ and he’d say ‘Because your name is not in one of those spots marked one to eleven.’
I gather Elton was not happy he’d sold me to Derby so cheap. It was £140,000. Then Graham left Watford to go to Villa and Dave Bassett came in for me to take me back to Watford. They offered £250,000 for me. Apparently Elton had said, ‘I want Callaghan back.’ At that time Derby turned it down. Arthur Cox said: ‘It’s not our fault you sold him too cheap. We want 400 thousand.’
It all got really complicated because at that time, if you remember, Robert Maxwell was fishing around looking to buy Watford even though he already owned Derby and Oxford United – or his sons did. They cooked up this bogus transfer deal with Oxford. I went there to talk to them but it was the biggest farce going. They were prepared to pay 400 thousand to Derby, apparently. But it was nonsense. You know the money would go from one Maxwell account to another. They were just doing this because they wanted Watford to pay more.
I thought they were taking the piss out of me. I told Arthur what I thought because they were all playing silly buggers.
In the end you went to Aston Villa, for £500,000. It surprises me you went there because Graham was the manager at the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike Graham Taylor at all but he was a hard man to work for. For me, anyway. All the messing about at Derby settled down but a year or so later Villa came in and I sort of went to Villa almost out of spite, more than 100 per cent wanting to go there.
Let’s go back to your Watford days. What do you remember about the European matches?
It was a bit of a culture shock away from home but the atmosphere at all the games, home and away, was brilliant.
Against Levski, in the first game, I missed a penalty. My penalty record wasn’t good. I would score one and mis one. We drew it 1-1 and I thought, ‘We don’t want to go to Levski Spartak without a lead.’
We had a training session the night before and there must have been 20,000 people in there watching. It was intimidating and it was only a third full. The night of the match was something else. We went 0-1 down early on. I am pretty sure they missed a penalty too. I hit a great goal – top corner – and then it went into extra time. We worked a lot on set pieces so we were getting forward, winning corners. I was taking a corner and someone chucked a bottle from the stand and it smashed at my feet. So I whipped it in as quick as I could, it got flicked on and then Wilf dives in at the far post and scores.
We got diverted to Manchester on the way home because it was foggy. Then we were on the same coaches as the air stewardesses, who had to go back to Luton as well, and we had a drink on the way back.
Then came Sparta Prague.
Elton John came to that one. We had a training session and there was a thin layer of snow. We had these pimply boots on and it was okay. The next day, well, they’d rolled the pitch so it was rock hard, like an ice rink and they mullered us.
Was the foreign travel something that excited you?
We’d been on tours before. We went on a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia just after we got promoted from the Second Division. Taylor wanted us to take the games seriously but it was the end of the season and he was a little bit too hard on us, in my opinion. Dos [receptions, parties] had been organised for us after the games but he didn’t want us to go to them because we were travelling the next day, or whatever.
It was good, but there were bits when you thought ‘I wish I was at home.’ We were one of the only football teams to play in the All Black rugby team’s stadium in Wellington. It was sacred. They’d never normally allow soccer on that pitch but because New Zealand had got to the  World Cup finals they allowed it.
The Thailand trip a couple of years later was quite good. China when Elton came was great. I fell out with Taylor over there. He had a go at me about missing an open goal. I snapped back ‘You don’t think I meant it do you?’ He said, ‘If we miss open goals in Europe next season we’ll be out.’ Yeah, I knew that, and yeah I was trying but I don’t think he got that players switch it up another notch in important games. No matter how much you’re taking a friendly against a team in China seriously it’s not the same intensity and it’s hard to treat it the same. He was coming down hard on me, but I didn’t see him coming down hard on George Reilly or Luther for missing chances.
There was a trip to Jamaica was good ’cos Taylor never came with us, so we had Bertie Mee and Tom [Walley]. Barnsey’s dad organised that trip and it was good fun. I liked Tom because he was like another dad to me. He was hard as well at times but he used to be nice too. ‘Come on, Cally boy, show us what you can do.’
Taylor ran the club. I can’t knock him because he wanted the best for me but sometimes his methods were not what I wanted and I needed a bit of space.
Like that China trip. There was nothing at stake, it was a PR job. It should have been fun. I got dropped for the last game and that wasn’t fun, it put a dampener on things because it felt like I was being dropped rather than, ‘You sit and watch Cally, have a nice time, I’m going to give someone else a go.’ We had a few drinks on the last day so it all ended up okay.
What about the FA Cup run in 1984? What do you remember?
Once we’d beaten Luton [in the third round] I thought we might get to the final because we’d hardly ever beaten them.
If you look at the league table that year I think Everton were about ninth [they were seventh] and we were 11th and there was only about five points between us. They’d had a bad first half of the season, as we did, and really picked up after Christmas. I don’t think people realised just how good a side Everton were or how good they were going to be. If English clubs hadn’t been banned from Europe they’d have won the European Cup with more or less the same side two years later. I have no doubt about it. They were class.
What was cup final day like?
The whole week was good and there are some moments that I’ll never forget. We had Saint and Greavsie [TV’s Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves] come down and it was great fun. But on the day itself, I have got my routine on matchdays and it got messed with. I don’t have breakfast on matchdays, I just have the pre-match meal around lunchtime because I don’t like to eat too much. I was rooming with Dave Bardsley and we had a knock on the door saying we had to go down for breakfast. I said I didn’t want to but they said I had to. As we’re coming down Michael Barrymore and a TV crew are following me in, walking behind me. He’s pulling all these faces. It was not for me, all that.
The greatest thing about being on the coach on the way to the ground is coming down Wembley Way. Going through the crowd was unbelievable. I’ll never forget that. The dressing rooms weren’t plush, they were ordinary, but you sat in there and thought, they’ve had the World Cup final here, every cup final going back to the 1920s, all those England players have sat in here.
What about the game itself?
I don’t remember much about it to be honest.
Have you ever watched a tape of it?
No. We lost! I know that much!
When you have lost the game, you just want to get out of the place. People might think, ‘You’re Watford, just getting to the cup final must be great,’ and yes it was great but no matter what sort of footballer you are, you want to win that game. Just being at the cup final is not enough. Even now, you’re asking me about the cup final, and I’m thinking, ‘All great, but we didn’t win it.’ I just wanted to get my medal and get off the pitch.
That whole week came down to 90 minutes. The pre-match talk was just the same as any pre-match talk we’d have. We stayed at the Watford Hilton. It would have been easier to take us somewhere different. The build-up was the same as any other match and I can see why that was but when you lose you think, ‘Should we have done something different?’ The bottom line is I don’t think we were in the game enough to win it.
We had a party at John Reid’s house afterwards. God if we’d have won, we’d have still been there on Monday partying.
Do you feel the cup final was a turning point for you personally? The following season was when things with the manager started to get worse?
I think the game at Wembley cost me my place in the England squad. I was in the shadow squad for the England squad that was going off to South America. If anyone dropped out I’d have been there with Barnsey in Brazil, where he scored that goal. I didn’t have the best game but Trevor Steven, who had a good game for Everton, leapfrogged me and I Bobby Robson decided he preferred him.
That summer you played for the Under-21s and won the European Championships against Spain.
I went to Sheffield United for the second leg of the UEFA final. I had a good game. I put the ball on Mark Hateley’s head for the winner but Bobby Robson virtually ignored me afterwards. One game, the FA Cup final, and he decided I was not good enough.
After finishing runners-up in the league and the FA Cup, did you think Watford could actually win a trophy?
I think we could have won a cup if we’d had a bit of luck here and there but I don’t think Watford were going to challenge top five again. I don’t think the profile would have dragged the top, top players there instead of going to Man United, Liverpool or Arsenal. They could get players even if they were below us in the league. Even if we offered the same wages they’d still go to Man United. Even if Arsenal finished 12th they’d sign good players.
What did you think of the right-wingers that Graham tried to replace you with?
No disrespect to Worrell Sterling but he wasn’t as good as me. I used to get dropped for one game here and there because I think he [Taylor] thought I needed a kick up the arse but I didn’t need a kick up the arse. He did that in training every day anyway.
If there was a meeting before training, well, you never had a meeting before training to tell you how well you’d done. So we’d be up there in the room at Stanmore and he’d say, ‘Right then Callaghan, well, if there’s a bollocking to be given, you’re normally in it.’ He’d always start with me! It became almost comical. Even he made a bit of a joke of it in the end.
Graham did have a soft spot for me, I think, and he tried to guide me. I was the scapegoat. Barnesy hated the cold weather. He’s have a bad game in the cold but Taylor wouldn’t say anything to him. But my hands feel the cold as much as John’s do! Worrell wouldn’t say boo to a goose so he never got a bollocking. If you said anything to him his eyebrows would go right up!
It can’t have been all bad though?
Of course not. When you’re older you remember the good and the bad. You don’t remember the ordinary do you. So I remember the good times and the bad. Maybe I took it harder than some others but that was me. If Taylor pushed me into voicing my opinion I would but you knew if you said something, he’d have something to come back with immediately. He was always thinking one step ahead and had something to say no matter what your answer was.
When I put in the transfer request it was simply that I was getting fed up with being treated like that. I was not a teenager any more. I was not happy at the time. In a reserve game, just after I’d been dropped, against Charlton, I did Steve Gritt. I went straight over the ball at him. He was a difficult player and he’d kicked me and I lashed out. I could look after myself but that was not me.
Do you remember going in goal at Highbury once?
Yeah! That was when Coton got sent off at Arsenal. Thing was, I liked going in goal. I used to go in goal for a laugh in training. Taylor said to me, “You had a better game in goal than you did on pitch!’ [Laughs] I didn’t do too bad. I couldn’t sleep that night because I should have saved the penalty. I went the right way and got a hand to it. Martin Hayes took it and I should have saved it. I saved three one-on-ones with Perry Groves. First corner they had, Wilf said to me, ‘Cally, don’t you even think of coming for it.’ And I came out for it and caught it!
So the move from Derby to Villa, and signing for Graham Taylor again, seems a strange move given everything you’ve told me.
Half of me went to Villa in spite.
Spite at what?
Getting mucked about. Clubs were coming in and every time a new club came in the price went up. Arthur Cox said if Spurs made an offer they’d have to pay for £700,000. Venables said he was going to put in an offer but not at that price.
So Derby wanted more money depending on which club was asking?
Yeah. Maybe I could have gone to Spurs but the price was silly.
Then we were training one day, doing shooting practice and I hit one into the top corner past [Peter] Shilton [the Derby goalkeeper] and Arthur said, ‘Right, that’s it, I can’t sell you.’ So I didn’t know whether I was coming or going so when Villa came in I said I’d go, knowing they’d offer enough for Derby to accept but not as much as they wanted.
Two weeks later he said, ‘Villa have offered 550k and the directors are going to accept it.’
Was your relationship with Graham any different at Villa?
Taylor let me down at Villa. He could have given me more protection there really and he didn’t help me as much as he could when I got grief off the fans. They started on [Ian] Ormondroyd first and he dropped him. Then they started on me. Then he left to take over England so I was left there with fans who didn’t want me, the chairman didn’t like me, the manager [Josef Venglos] couldn’t speak English.
You came back to Watford briefly on loan when the team was struggling to avoid relegation back to the Third Division.
Steve Perryman was manager. He was a good football man but we weren’t fit enough. We’d play golf at Stanmore. We’d do five-a-side. I’d go over to train with the reserves to do a bit more work. He came over and said, ‘What are you doing? I’m trying to separate the bad apples from the good ones here.’ Basically the good apples were in the first team squad and the bad apples were in the reserves and he didn’t want them mixing.
I’ve had my fall-outs with GT but there is no doubting he made me into a better player. He coached people into better players no matter who you were. Ron Atkinson wasn’t going to make you into a better player.
What are your fondest memories?
I loved it a lot of the time, despite everything I’ve said. I was hanging out with Barnesy, Kenny Jackett and Steve Terry. I got on with Simsy, who was older. My room-mate for a long while was Ian Bolton, who was also older. We could never get to sleep till 1am. I’d bring my computer games with me to the hotel and we’d be up till on in the morning playing Dungeons and Dragons. He was a lot older than me but Webby [Ian Bolton’s nickname] liked the computer games and he had the latest video player. We’d go round his house to watch that.
There were loads of things I got to do that would never have happened if I wasn’t a footballer. I remember we got signed up to adopt an animal at London Zoo. We went round the zoo to meet all the animals and I went to adopt a camel! I did some coaching in the United States but a lot of the kids didn’t want to be there. They were only doing it because it was cheaper for the parents to send them to soccer camp for a week than to get a babysitter.
You finished in football relatively early and got into the DJing?
Yes, I went to Corfu, got a bit of a reputation as a DJ and I’ve moved back to Stafford. Most of my work has been in the north of England and if I want it I could work every night of the week. It’s a good living. I like it and I get a buzz out of it when I see people enjoying the music I’m playing. But it’s a normal person’s lifestyle. Football didn’t make me rich and I think a lot of people must assume it did. But I can’t go out and spend fifty quid on a bottle of Champagne. Sometimes I wish I’d played ten or fifteen years’ later!