Richard Jobson was the only signing Watford made the season after winning promotion to the First Division in 1982. He joined from non-league Burton Albion in the October for an initial fee of £15,000. Prior to that he’d been at university.
He came into the side in the second half of the season, then played in Europe the following season before leaving for Hull City in early 1985. He enjoyed a long career – returning to Watford on loan in 2001 (again signed by Graham Taylor) and retired at the age of 40. When I spoke to him, he was working for the Professional Footballers’ Association.
It was a very exciting time and it came out of the blue a little bit. Well, a lot out of the blue. That summer I went back to university for my second year. During the off-season I did the pre-season with Burton because I knew the reserve team manager. Burton got a couple of injuries so I ended up in the first team and played the first five or six games.
Where were you at university?
I was at Nottingham.
What were you studying?
I was doing civil engineering.
So was it a choice between university and football?
More or less. I was due to go back for my second year at that time but the manager of Burton Albion, Neil Warnock, rang round a few managers that he knew. One of those was Graham Taylor.
John Ward came to watch me in one game, then GT came to see me play. Then I got a phone call out of the blue at my digs in Nottingham. It was the chairman of Burton and he said I was to travel down to watch a Watford game and speak to Bertie Mee.
Can you remember which game it was?
It was a League Cup tie against Bolton. It went to extra-time so it was just after midnight when the deal was finalised.
I suppose it was no contest – university or First Division football?
My dad had one or two reservations at the time because I was giving up university. But he was won over by Watford because they had appointed an education welfare officer. There was a chance I could do the course part-time at a university in London, but it wasn’t possible to train full-time and be a student. I tried to do the Open University for a couple of months but it was difficult to do that and concentrate on my football and after experiencing a bit of it I realised I wanted to be a professional footballer so I wanted to commit to that.
I can’t imagine there was much similarity between life as a student and life at Graham Taylor’s football club.
It was a bit of a culture shock, that’s for sure. I had been sharing a house with nine other students. It was a typical student lifestyle, walking to lectures, going out. All of a sudden into professional football with a First Division club.
I spent a week living with Steve Harrison, then I was in the YMCA in Watford, then I was in digs for seven or eight months, then I bought a house. I was living the dream, really. It was an amazing time.
You broke into the team quite soon.
I made my debut after about six weeks of being at the club. I played one reserve game when I first got to the club and they realised I wasn’t fit enough. The difference between part-time football and full-time football was huge. They gave me a week to 10 days of intense training, which the rest of the lads in the reserves weren’t too happy about because they had to do all the running as well.
Your first game was a Football League Trophy tie against Reading.
A few days after that I was on the bench against Liverpool at Anfield but I didn’t come on. We were 3-0 down at half-time and I was half-expecting to be thrown on at half-time. I didn’t get on, which was a bit disappointing.
In the midweek, Luther scored his hat-trick for England against Luxembourg and the following day in training I went in for a tackle with him and cut the top of his foot. He couldn’t play against Ipswich on the Saturday so I came into the team.
That’s one way to get into the team – injure the top scorer who’s just scored a hat-trick for England!
[Laughs] Yeah. It wasn’t deliberate, honestly. It was just one of those challenges. I was the new boy and I was training like I played because I wanted to impress. He was the returning hero, it was innocuous really, just a block tackle in a five-a-side.
Anyway, Graham put Barnes into the centre and I went on the left and we beat Ipswich 2-1.
How was the step up from non-league to the First Division?
I didn’t really think about it. If I had I think I’d have perhaps frozen, but as I said it all happened so quickly. The previous season I’d been playing in Division Two in the Burton and District Sunday League, then playing for the Burton reserves, I only played 13 first team games for them, then I joined Watford.
Was it different?
The fitness, the pace, of course, but I felt I could play at that level. I didn’t feel like I was out of my depth.
Was left wing your position?
No, it was a bit strange playing there. I came into the side more regularly when Ross [Jenkins] got injured. John went into the centre with Luther and I went on the left and I was in the side, more or less, until the end of the season.
We played a very rigid formation. We played 4-2-4 and I was expected to fit into that. I came as a right-sided midfield player from Burton but Kenny and Les were so established that I wasn’t going to get into the team there. Instead, I was right-footed player on the left wing. I started my career as a left-winger, but I played the majority of my career after that as a central defender.
So you were versatile?
I was but at that time I’d have played anywhere if it meant being in the team.
Do many of those games stick in your mind?
I remember playing Manchester United – I missed an open goal at Old Trafford. It was 0-0 at the time. The ball came across, I was eight yards out and I just had the keeper to beat and I blasted it over the bar. The highlights were on TV, I remember that. Gary Bailey, their goalkeeper, came diving at my feet, I leant back and it went over the bar.
You scored your first goal against Luton in the 5-2 win on Easter Monday.
I twisted my ankle scoring the goal against Luton and missed a couple of games.
What happened at the end of the season because there were two tours. Did you go on them?
We went to Jamaica first. Played the Jamaica team [actually a team billed as Team America]. Barnesy and Luther were heroes there. We came through Kingston and there were huge billboards with their pictures on and they were so well received.
Then we went to China, which was an experience. Elton came over with us and we played three games in about a week. It was amazing. The crowds weren’t allowed to cheer or clap. We got recognised wherever we went because the games were on TV. It was a massive event for China. No one recognised Elton, because I don’t think they had his music in China, but we were getting pestered for autographs. That’s what I remember anyway. He said it was probably the one place on the planet he didn’t get recognised.
Did those trips prepare you, in a way, for the European games the following season?
They did, I think. Travelling, being with your team-mates, living in a hotel, a lot of time waiting for the games. It was all new to me.
I did. There were quite a few injuries and the team kept changing week to week. It was a case of who was fit.
Against Kaiserslautern I was playing alongside Jan Lohman in midfield. Sometimes it was a two, sometimes a three, and I could play wherever he [Graham Taylor] asked.
What stands out from those games?
The crowds in Sofia and Prague were so hostile. In Prague we got there an hour and half before kick off and went onto the pitch and the stadium was packed already.
I remember in the Sofia game I gave away two penalties. I remember I just dangled a leg out. In those days there wasn’t any diving in the English game. We’d heard that foreign players dived but I’d not experienced this before – a player looking for the contact and going down. For both penalties they went over my leg and made a real meal about it and rolled around. I remember thinking that if they’d been in a game in England there’s no way it would have been a penalty. Any slight contact that was it, their legs collapsed under them, so you had to be careful. Fortunately, they missed the second penalty because if we’d gone two behind we’d have lost, I’m sure. I remember Cally [Callaghan] played particularly well that night and to win 3-1 in extra time was a superb result.
Anything else stick in your mind?
The experience of seeing European football was so interesting. Seeing how it was in West Germany, or Bulgaria, or Czechoslovakia. They were all different to England, and all different to each other.
I was a bit in awe of the facilities at Kaiserslautern. The stadium was in the middle of a pine forest. This massive stadium appeared from nowhere. It was probably only 30,000 but it was so impressive. Modern compared to English grounds at that time. They had a fantastic training ground next to the stadium where we trained on the morning of the game.
Bulgaria was not exactly a hovel, but it was all very grey. The food was pretty awful and the facilities in the hotel were not great.
Did you feel confident before the second leg of the Kaiserslautern tie?
I don’t think we thought we were out. The away goal we had definitely gave the manager the belief we could do it and he gave us that belief. We got 2-0 up quite early but 2-0 was a funny score because if we’d have conceded we’d have been out. It was very early in the game that we got the second so we had a lot of the game to see out. Even at 3-0, which you’d think is a comfortable advantage, if they had scored it would have meant extra time and, although we’d have fancied our chances of scoring again simply because of our fitness levels, there’s no way we wanted to find out.
You put the cross in for Ian Richardson’s second goal – the team’s third.
I did. That was what Graham Taylor was all about – getting forward, getting into wide areas and putting in good crosses for the forwards to attack. We knew that if you put the ball in the middle, they’d try to get something on the end of it.
I’ve got a picture at home of us going towards the Vicarage Road end, celebrating. Steve Terry had a great game. He was a colossus that night. It was a great team performance really.
Do you have any other mementoes?
Some photos and things. We didn’t swap shirts, that’s for sure. It wasn’t the done thing then. We’d have been buying the club a new shirt from the club shop if we’d done that.
The last game, away in Prague was really challenging. What do you remember?
The Sparta Prague pitch for the second leg was like an ice rink. We just couldn’t believe the game was being played. In the end we wore dimpled trainers most of us, like the ones we’d wear at Loftus Road on the astroturf. Lining up in the tunnel, stood alongside their players, I noticed they had almost spikes on their shoes. Old fashioned leather studs with three little spikes sticking out below.
After the European games, you lost your place in the side. Why was that? Was it because of the new signings who had come in?
Not really, I don’t think. I was warming up for a reserve game at Vicarage Road one day. We’d usually do something at about 10.30, 11 o’clock on a match day, just enough to loosen up, then go and have something to eat. The ball went over the wall. I put my foot up on the wall to climb over and go and get it and I slipped and I cut my shin and had to have it stitched up. I was out of the side after that and didn’t really get back in.
I came on for the last ten minutes of the cup semi-final [FA Cup, v Plymouth Argyle] and I was just concentrating on not making any mistakes because it was 1-0 and very close. So I was just sitting in there trying to keep the ball when I got it because I didn’t want to make a mistake and cost us the place at Wembley.
Were you ever in the running for the cup final squad? The place on the bench, perhaps?
That was probably my biggest disappointment – the fact I wasn’t involved. Paul Atkinson had been sub a bit towards the end of the season but I was quite versatile so thought I might have a chance of being on the bench. There was only one sub then and it was probably between me and him. We trained as a squad of 15 or 16 and then on the Wednesday he [Taylor] narrowed it down. Then it was clear I wasn’t going to be the sub.
The following February you left to join Hull, without really getting back into the side.
I was still very young – 21 – and in football terms very inexperienced. I think probably I wasn’t consistent enough for Watford at that time.
GT put a few of us on the transfer list to test interest and there were a few clubs who asked about me. A couple were serious – Crystal Palace was one, Hull was the other. I was born in Hull but moved away when I was four, but it felt like a good move. I needed to go somewhere I could be playing regularly. Graham was going out to buy people rather than giving opportunities and I can see why he did that – partly because he could. So I had to drop down to get going again.
Brian Horton was the manager at Hull at that time. I’d played against him three or four times when he’d been at Luton. He was the player-manager at Hull and I thought it would be good to go there and learn from someone like him. He’d been very good friends with Eric Steele so Eric put in a word for me, and also suggested it would be a good move, so I went for it.