Steve Terry was another strong centre half who was not afraid to put his body on the line both in attack and defence. A number of cuts to his forehead meant he had to wear a strip of bandage to protect the scar tissue from bursting open. A member of the FA Cup final team, he shared the number five shirt with Steve Sims for much of his time at the club. Steve worked for the Press Association and was a frequent visitor to Vicarage Road, watching games from the press box. We met at the Old Mill in Berkhamsted and I began by asking him about his progression from the junior ranks to the first team.
So there was a batch of you all together, learning the ropes?
Yes, we all went through together and then John Barnes came in and he moved into digs with me. He was a raw lad. The first time he turned up he was wearing his dad’s smart jacket.
How did you come to be noticed by Watford?
I was training at Spurs briefly, then West Ham and never really got noticed. Then I was playing for a county side and Tom Walley came over after the game. I was a player who needed to be worked at one-to-one and I think they thought I had something they could work with. At the other clubs I had been put at right back, which I didn’t feel comfortable with.
What did you think of Tom’s coaching?
Tom could make or break you. If he liked you, he’d work hard with you and give you everything he had. He was so passionate about the game and he wanted you to do well. When I joined Watford, myself and Kenny were playing in the reserves at 15, which was good because we were playing with seasoned pros and learning what the men’s game was all about. Sam Ellis had finished playing and he ran the reserves. He liked me because he had been a centre half. He was quite hard on you too. There wasn’t any messing about with Tom or Sam.
There was only a small squad of young players so we trained with the first team quite a lot and you learned quickly.
I’ve been told the life of an apprentice wasn’t always glamorous.
We did everything. We had to clean the toilets. We didn’t have to clean the dog poo off the greyhound track but that was about the only job we didn’t have to do. They used to race whippets at Vicarage Road but Graham Taylor stopped all that and kicked out the dog club.
You made your debut in a 5-0 defeat at Sunderland at the end of the 1979-80 season. That must’ve been quite a debut.
We went up to Sunderland on the train. I travelled with the squad and then he just told me I was playing. That was the sort of thing he’d do, to see how you coped. You go to Roker Park in front of 35,000 people, against a team that was going for promotion and get hammered.
I didn’t play that well, but that game marked the end for some of the other players. Dennis Booth, particularly. Kenny came on as sub at Sunderland and then against Burnley on the last day of the season, Kenny, Cally and I all started and it felt like we were going to be the future.
Even though he was going to pick me against Sunderland, I still had to carry the basket of kit off the train.
I remember Roker Park was loud, especially when they kept scoring and as the goals went in I was thinking, ‘Will that be it? Will he think it’s my fault?’ I was only 17 and something like that can make or break you but I think Graham thought some of the older players had gone as far as they were going to go and it was time to see if we could cope.
In the Burnley game, the centre forward I was marking was Bryan Hamilton, the Northern Ireland international. That was a good one because we won 4-0. I remember training for the next season thinking I wanted to be involved in things like that more often.
What are your memories of the training?
We used to run some teams into the ground. They may well have been better sides but we were fitter. We’d just keep going, especially at home. We felt invincible at home. Early in games centre forwards used to try and run me, drag me out of position and tire me out but after ten minutes they’d be breathing hard and I’d be okay.
But it was hard and for a young player it was a lot of work. I think I reached a point where I was generally tired. Certainly in the promotion season [1981-82] I tired myself out a bit. The thing was, he had me and Simsy [Steve Sims] and he could put one of us in and then the other. If I hadn’t been there, Sims would have played 450 games for Watford and vice-versa.
I could be out of the team for a while and you knew that it would take a drop in form by Simsy to get back in. It was a bit annoying at times. I know clubs came in for me but I was too valuable to let go, so I stayed. Howard Wilkinson from Sheffield Wednesday came in a few times. I was happy at Watford, but playing in the reserves was hard. In a way, sometimes I didn’t want Simsy to play well because I wanted to play. Kenny, Cally and John would all be playing and I’d be the one left out.
Was there no way you could partner Steve Sims?
I don’t think so because we were both number fives. The number five marked their big number nine and the number six would usually take the quicker player. I would attack the headers. Simsy and I were just too similar. We both weren’t the quickest but we were strong and we could read the game.
Being in the reserves while your mates are in the first team must’ve been hard.
Playing in the reserves, you have to play well, you can’t sulk because you want to get into the first team and there’s no way that’ll happen if your attitude is wrong. But it doesn’t mean the same as playing for the first team.
Graham Taylor used to tell me, ‘You’re 19, 20, you’re young. You’ve got time and you’re going to have a career but there will be times when I think you’re just off the peak of your game and someone else will come in.’ I knew I’d get dropped every now and then and it was annoying but I also knew he wasn’t going to sell me because Simsy had a knee that would flare up every now and then and the manager knew he could drop me straight back into the team and I’d do okay.
People may remember you for the distinctive headband you wore to protect an old wound. What happened?
The first blow on the head was from Justin Fashanu against Norwich. I remember going off and the doctor sewed me up and I went back on again. Then I headed the ball and it opened up again. I had 18 stitches in it in the end. Straight away I wore a band in training to protect it from splitting open again. Then I wore it in games. I didn’t have the full band like Steve Foster [the Brighton player]. He had one that went right round his head. I had just a strip of padding. If I didn’t wear it, the scar tissue would cut again.
You’d play on even with a head injury?
Yes, they used to strap you up or stitch you up and send you back on. There was one game where I played centre forward against Coventry City on the opening day of the season [1983-84]. There were so many injuries he played me up front. We went up for a header and Jobbo [Richard Jobson] caught me with his elbow and I got a bad cut across my eye. I enjoyed it up front though because I knew exactly what centre halves didn’t like.
There were so many changes to the team early that season, with the injuries and especially with the European games.
That was an incredible season. We must’ve played about 60 games with all the cup matches. [It was 57]. I was injured and out of the side for quite a bit in the middle and I must’ve played with about five different people at the back.
Lee Sinnott arrived and he came into digs with me and we ended up playing together at Wembley in the cup final. He would play anywhere. He wasn’t a typical centre half. He was tall, he was quick, but he wasn’t powerful. He’d play the sweeper role but he could play full back, even on the wing. We knew each other quite well because we were living in digs in Garston with a landlady.
I played every game from round three to the cup final. By then we had this partnership up front – Maurice [Johnston] and George [Reilly]. To be honest, I don’t think it would have lasted much longer, not because of how they played but what they got up to off the pitch. The gaffer only had so much patience. But they were deadly together. George would win the flick-ons and before he’d even gone up for the header, Mo would be running in behind.
I scored an own goal against Birmingham in the sixth round. Howard Gayle crossed the ball over, Mick Harford was standing right behind me and the ball hit me and went in. That was an intimidating place. They had a good side. Coton, Hopkins, Blake, Kuhl, Harford – so to beat them away from home felt like a big result.
Then came the semi-final against Plymouth Argyle of the Third Division.
I think we thought Plymouth was the ideal opponent. The first 20 minutes we were okay, but after that we were under pressure. I did my knee in the second half. I played on but it was getting worse as the game went on and I knew I’d have to go off. George Reilly went to centre half for the last 10 minutes and he made a couple of great tackles with his bean pole legs. I got my knee strapped up and had ice on it and I was just hoping we could hang on.
We didn’t go out on the town after that. I am sure a few of them did but I couldn’t go out anyway, because my knee was strapped up. I was worried about what I’d done with my knee, whether it would clear up in a few days or whether it would put me out of the cup final. Fortunately it was fine and I was back in a couple of weeks.
What was it like to play in the cup final?
Amazing, obviously, but also it was surreal stuff really. Back then the cup final was so special to play in and Wembley was something everyone dreamed about. I think the final was on our minds from the moment we got through. We played a league game at Luton and it all flared up. Wilf [Rostron] was a fiery little bloke and there was a bit of pushing and shoving it was never a sending off.
Having such a young side, and particularly such a young defence, he [Taylor] named the side early to get it out of the way. I was the oldest in the back four and I was 21. I think we were the youngest back four to play in a cup final – we probably still are.
We didn’t play as well as we could have done. We were an attacking side but we didn’t really get into the game.
You were very close to the Andy Gray challenge on Steve Sherwood for Everton’s second goal. Was it definitely a foul?
He did knock it out of Steve’s hands. Steve called and he had it. I tried to get out of the way and Andy Gray jumped into him. It should have been a free kick.
Steve wasn’t a commanding presence, which was weird because he’s 6ft 4. He wasn’t the most verbal. He’s the ultimate gentle giant. I was never the most verbal either. If Wilfy was playing, he’d have organised us. I wasn’t the loudest at that time. I didn’t have the experience. I think you get louder as you get older. Perhaps we lacked someone at the back to just take charge, make decisions and ask questions later.
I don’t think we played badly but we didn’t do enough in the game. Les missed a chance, Barnesy had a chance. It wasn’t an end-to-end game. Barnesy and Cally didn’t really play as well as they could. I’m not putting it on them at all but we were a side that needed to get forward and attack and for whatever reason we just didn’t.
That was the closest Watford have ever come to winning a major trophy but the whole decade was packed with good cup runs.
We often go to the quarter-finals, had a couple of semi-finals. I remember we played Liverpool in the quarter-final of the FA Cup  and we drew 0-0 at Anfield. It was disappointing to lose the replay because I think we would have gone on and got to the final again.
Then in 1987, in the semi-final at Spurs I came on for Simsy when he got injured. We had the wine waiter [Gary Plumley] in goal. I think Steve [Sherwood] was fit. The stick Steve had got for the cup final was unjustified and I don’t think there’s any doubt he’d have done a better job against Spurs. He’d not have let in four.
We also lost to Sunderland in the Milk Cup the year it was Norwich and Sunderland in the final. That was a quarter-final and the draw had opened up so nicely. If we’d got through we’d probably have been favourites to win it but they had a deflected goal that hit Nick Pickering and went in.
In the FA Cup we went 2-0 up at Luton one year and they came back to 2-2, then we drew the replay at home and then went back up there for the second replay and lost.
What did you think of John McClelland when he came in?
The difference he made was impressive. You didn’t have to wonder if he’d be there because he was always there. He was a quiet lad off the pitch but he talked a lot on the pitch. But it was always simple stuff. If I missed it or the ball went over the top, he was there to sweep up. His organisation was superb and it meant I could go and attack the ball. He’d encourage me to do that, so it really helped my form.
You developed a great partnership and really established yourself once Steve Sims left and at the end of the season you were part of the team that beat Tottenham 5-1 at White Hart Lane and Manchester United 5-1 at Vicarage Road two days later.
Yeah! Imagine that now. Tottenham had been my club growing up. My dad was a policeman, and he used to work at Spurs. He used to take me along, him in his uniform, and lift me over the fence into the ground. He used to put the siren on and get us to the game!
Man U had their FA Cup final coming up at the end of that week so we were probably the last team they wanted to play. People said we were just long ball but there is no way we were just long ball. We worked on what we were doing day after day in training. The ball was played into the channels where the forwards were running.
Do any other games stick in the mind?
There was an FA Cup game at Man City where Mark Lillis gave me a really hard time. It was a big pitch – a massive pitch at the old Maine Road – and a big crowd and we’d drawn the first game at home and thought our chance had gone but Barnesy was on fire that night.
In the quarter-final that year, we did so well against Liverpool for two games but in extra-time in the replay I was so knackered. We’d given so much and Liverpool had attacked us for about half an hour solid trying to equalise. We deserved to hold on. But they kept going and their movement was something else. They kept making chances. It was a harsh penalty because [Ian] Rush was going away from the goal and the angle was so tight he was never going to score. Tony [Coton] went for it and Rush went over his arm. Penalty. I didn’t think it was a penalty. We were a fit side and all the talk was that all Liverpool did in training was five-a-side but they were a fit side too. They were very different to us, they made you work hard by doing very little. It was clever play, fast, long passes along the ground. Into feet and out again, then they’d spin and try to turn you. It was the level of concentration you needed against then as much as anything.
Then there was the time we beat Arsenal twice in two days in the league. Again, we were probably the worst team to play against twice in a row like that. I think they’d had a few drinks the night before the second game because it was Easter. They were all over the place. But to do that against Arsenal was incredible.
Did it help you that in training you were up against the likes of Barnes and Blissett?
It did because we trained like we played. Marking our forwards was hard work. Their movement was difficult to keep tabs on and they would try to get in behind you. It was extremely effective as well, but different to Liverpool’s approach. There’s more than one way to win a game of football and I think we were very good at what we did.
You mentioned that Sheffield Wednesday had come in for you. They were interested a couple of times weren’t they?
They were. Howard Wilkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday played in a very similar way to us. I had been surprised Graham let Simsy go in the first place. Graham would never say why he’d done things, he’d just manage the club the way he saw fit. He didn’t come in and say why he was doing something – that was for him to worry about not us. Then he brought Simsy back and I wondered if it was time to go. For two years I’d been in the side but then I was out again. I’d been at Watford since I was 14 and I didn’t want to go but with firm interest from a club like Wednesday I thought maybe I should consider it.
But Graham turned it down and I didn’t get a say. Back then that was how it was. The players didn’t really have any say. When you went in to negotiate a contract you’d go in and say, ‘I want this,’ and Graham would say, ‘No, you’re having this’ and you’d walk out again. That would be that. No argument, no discussion. No agents in those days.
You came on for Sims in the semi-final against Tottenham, which must’ve been difficult. Spurs were already ahead and you had Gary Plumley in goal.
Spurs were a good side but they weren’t a 4-1 side against us in those days. It was a hammering really but with a goalie we didn’t know it was always going to be hard. Even if he’d been the best goalie, it takes time for a defence and the goalie to build up an understanding. If you put a new guy in goal there’s always a bit of hesitation. But he wasn’t the best, was he? He wasn’t a top First Division goalie. He was Eddie Plumley’s son, the chief executive’s son.
What did you make of it all?
Honestly, when you’re a player you are so wrapped up in your own game you don’t really worry about other people. You don’t really question the team selection. The manager picks the team and you get on with it. That’s the job. But I did wonder. Surely there were other goalkeepers, weren’t there?
It was after the transfer deadline and a lot of keepers would have been cup-tied.
Yeah, I suppose it was hard but surely there was someone we could have got on loan? I don’t know the ins and outs and like I said we didn’t think about that. If Graham picked the guy to play in goal we’d go out and play with him. It wasn’t up to us to go, ‘Are you sure about this?’
I don’t know. I remember thinking he [Plumley] wasn’t all that hot in training and he wasn’t the biggest of keepers. But Graham is a legend isn’t he? He can do no wrong in my eyes but that one was a strange one.
Did the fact Graham left at the end of that season not persuade you it was time to go?
Graham had already offered me a new contract around January time. My wife, Tanya and I were having our first baby but then we heard Tanya needed a heart transplant operation, so it was a really traumatic time.
It was Tanya’s 21st birthday on April the 14th. We’d had the baby but then Tanya needed the heart transplant operation – a really, really big operation. I played a game while Tanya was in hospital – against Southampton – but I didn’t play the last two games of the season because I couldn’t concentrate and I certainly didn’t want to be away from home.
It was early May, just after the season had ended, and I was in hospital with Tanya when they said there was a call for me. It was Graham ringing to say he was going to Villa.
When I reported back [Dave] Bassett had come in. We were adjusting to life with our new baby, Kayleigh, and Tanya was coming to terms with having a new heart. It was a really, really difficult time.
The team went on tour to China and I obviously didn’t go. Elton sent us some flowers while we were out there. Then we went on tour to Sweden for pre-season and it was immediately obvious Bassett’s methods were going to be different. Dave wanted to be one of the lads. We went out for a couple of drinks and it was more laid-back. Graham would never have done that.
He brought Mark Morris in and he took my place in the team. He brought in Gary Chivers in, Hetherston, Agana. No disrespect to them, they were okay players, but they weren’t as good as the people who’d been allowed to leave for not much money. Tony Agana came in from Weymouth in non-league. He was a decent player and he did better at Sheffield United than at Watford but trying to replace John Barnes with a lad out of non-league wasn’t going to work was it?
That was a difficult season for me. I didn’t play much because I wasn’t really with it. Football was on the back burner. My head wasn’t really right. Steve Harrison replaced Bassett and he offered me a three-year contract but in the end he sold me on [to Hull].
What was it like at Hull? They were in the Second Division at the time.
It was the wrong decision football wise. They had Richard Jobson, Neil Williams, Alex Dyer and Charlie Palmer. I knew all of them from Watford. I knew Dennis Booth too and he thought he was going to become manager and he was the one who persuaded the club to sign me but he ended up not getting the job and Eddie Gray came in. I think we’d have done better with Dennis in charge. We went down, Dennis left and I went to Northampton. I hadn’t seen the ground and didn’t realise they shared it with the cricket club so it was three-sided with a cricket pitch and pavilion on one side. But I liked it there.
What do you think of now when you think back to your career?
Just lucky really. I had some great times and it was a privilege to play for Graham Taylor. I think we all realised just how good he was when he left. Maybe everyone had taken it for granted a bit but then someone else comes in and the football just wasn’t very good. Steve Harrison tried to pick it up again but he thought he had to take the job because if you were a coach that’s what you did, you moved on to become a manager. He couldn’t laugh and joke with us like he did when he was a coach and I think he realised that coaching was his role, not management.
But really, I am happy to have had the career I did – 200 games for Watford, another 250 elsewhere. My dad Peter had been a footballer and he played in the FA Amateur Cup final for Enfield but his dad made him go and get a proper job. When I was a kid all I did was kick a ball about and I’m just grateful I was good enough to do it for a living.