Craig signed from his home town club, Derby County in February 1994 for a fee of £90,000. Over a three year period, he played just over a hundred games for the club, scoring 27 goals.
The former England u21 midfielder was interviewed by Watford Legends in 2008. He is living back in Derby where he provides co-commentaries for BBC Radio Derby, as well as occasionally for Three Counties Radio. He is also now a Property Developer.
Firstly, the million dollar question, did you have a ‘Cool as Craig’ t-shirt yourself?
No, but the missus did as a nightie!
How did your move to Watford from Derby come about?
I broke into the first team at Derby at 19 and then I played Under 21’s. I then got two bad cruciate knee injuries, one after the other each season. Unfortunately when I came back from injury it was at the time when Derby spent all that money in 1990. I think it was about £15 million on players like Mark Pembridge, Dave Kitson and a few others. I would get a run of about 8 games and then when somebody came back I was the first one out as they were players that had been brought in on big money.
Around that time we played Watford at the Baseball Ground when Glenn Roeder, who had just taken over, was manager and I was marking Hessy. I did quite well against him and that’s why he was interested in signing me. I remember getting a phone call on the Tuesday night and it was Glenn. I had already put three transfer requests in with Derby but they kept turning them down, but in the end they accepted it and Watford came in which was brilliant news as I could get away. I could go to a club where if you were doing well, you would be on the team sheet. I ended up coming down and having look. Watford were actually playing Derby on the Saturday at Vicarage Road and I was down to play. Roy McFarland called me on the Friday and said, ‘Look, I know you have had talks with them but I think it’s in the best interests of the lads if you don’t play.’
I ended up travelling to watch the game with my dad and that’s how it all came about.
Is it a move that you are glad that you made?
It was the best move. My heart’s at Watford. When the Masters came up and I got the shout to play for Watford, it was brilliant. How can I say it? I’m a Derby lad but my heart’s in Watford.
Are you a Derby fan?
I was as a kid, well Derby and Liverpool, and I always wanted to play for my hometown club. But when I came to Watford it was my best spell injury free to a degree and the fans took to me and I just felt at home.
I think the reception from the fans was generally good over the years wasn’t it?
They were brilliant. I had a sticky spell just before I left but that was more down to clashing with managers. It was my best spell and the fans were brilliant with me.
I remember the fans giving you a bit of stick one year, something to do with you coming back for pre-season a stone over weight?
Yeah it was only a stone though! I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about, pre season is pre season isn’t it! I think we went to Norway or Sweden that year, but myself and the manager had had a bit of a ‘to do’ before that and I think he just used that against me. I remember he lobbed me a bib in training on the Friday and I thought, ‘flipping heck, I’m not playing.’ We won the first game against Sheffield United but then we lost the next 3 so I got back in.
I seem to remember going up to Grimsby to watch your first game back, and remember the crowd giving you stick, something to do with pies, I cant remember exactly what!
Yeah that’s right, I think someone threw one on! I think they were just pleased I was back as they had been on a bit of a bad run. I think the last straw was when we had just been beaten away at Charlton 3-0 on a Tuesday night. We had the day off on the Wednesday and then Glenn pulled me to one side on the Thursday and said, ‘Are you ready to get your season going?’ And that’s when I got back in.
During your time at Watford, are there any particular games that stand out for you?
That game against Grimsby was a big game for me and then we played Stoke at home. The crowd was brilliant to me when I came out and I managed to knock two goals in. I’m not being big headed or anything, but I felt on fire that day and like I had something to prove.
It finished three nil didn’t it?
Yeah, and we missed a penalty. I dived for that one. I had a big centre half running after me and I took a tumble. It looked hideous on the video though. He was nowhere near me!
Are you sure you want that in the interview?!
Every footballer does it, I don’t care who they are. You are playing for a team and you will do anything to get to where you want to be. You hear about all this fair play but everybody has done it. You see it when a keeper comes out when someone is clean through and the striker will leave his foot in so he gets dragged down. It will always be in the game.
Who did you get on with best at Watford?
I roomed with Jamie Moralee…he was a character! I roomed with Tommy as well for a bit. There was no ‘best mate’ as such; it wasn’t that type of dressing room. Everybody was buzzing every time we came in. You go in some dressing rooms and you can get cliques. Ours wasn’t like that. Everyone was buzzing together, right down to the younger lads like Robert Page. It was a great mixture. If we had another centre forward that year, we would have got into the play offs at least.
We have it on good authority from Devon White that he hated being in a car with you driving, as your attention span was about three seconds. We also put this to Kevin Miller, who reckoned that was three seconds too many!
Yeah that’s about right! Let’s not talk about the car – I had a Sierra Sapphire. It was a nice car but because I was doing a few miles in it and as we were all travelling in together we would use it. There comes a time when you probably should change it but for the laugh I kept it and all they did was moan. It was falling to bits to be honest! I would turn up and say, ‘Dev, I’m knackered.’ but he would say, ‘no, it’s your turn to drive!’ Dev had 6 kids so I would say, ‘Don’t put your kids in my hands. If you want to get home, you’re driving because whatever happens I will be sleeping all the way to training!’ He would get in and try and adjust the rear view mirror and it would come off in his hand! We would all be in the car pissing ourselves laughing!
I will never forget one time. It was in pre season and we still talk about it now when we see each other. I had been to Asda and bought a couple of lemon soles for me and the missus. I got home and unpacked all the bags but couldn’t see the lemon soles so I thought I must have left them at the check out. Then for the whole week going up and down the M1, we were driving along with our heads out of the windows. We didn’t know what the smell was. At the end of the week, I just had to sort it out. Right in the crevice of one of the seats were these 2 rotten lemon soles. The lads had been moaning like mad!
How was the Masters for you?
It was brilliant. I loved it. I was on a bit of a downer afterwards, because we didn’t win it. We didn’t do it just for the fun, we wanted to win it. When we saw our team we knew we had half a chance. I hadn’t done anything for quite a while before that but I went to Spain in June for 10 days. I did a lot of running whilst I was out there and kept in training right up until the masters. I did a bit of five-a-side with a pub team to just try and get the feel of it again. We were gutted at the end though. We had to play the final straight after the Tottenham game with no break and our legs had gone a bit by then.
What did you make of Kevin Miller coming out and getting lobbed?
I must admit we were in the bar afterwards and he said he wasn’t looking forward to seeing his header again. It bypassed me a bit as I was that knackered and I wondered what he was on about. I recorded it and when I looked back at it, I couldn’t believe it. What was he doing there?
Something he has told us was ‘continental goalkeeping’?
I couldn’t believe he had got there, have you seen the size of him?! He has got more chins than me! Me and the missus had decided to make a weekend of it. A bit of shopping in Oxford Street and all that on the Friday, and then back to the hotel at about six to have a meal. As we were walking out of the restaurant, there was Kev and his missus sitting there so the pre match wasn’t very good to be honest! We ended up in a sportsman’s club having a few the night before. It was a good night. It was just lovely being part of it all again, seeing some good people and bringing back a lot of good memories.
What was it like when you moved on up to Bradford?
Yeah, it was good. Chris Kamara was manager. I didn’t want to leave Watford to be honest with you but I had had the knee injury about six months, I think I did it against Peterborough at home. I wanted a bit more money if I’m being honest. Watford got me very cheap and I wasn’t earning big money. When I was doing really well I never went in for a renewal or more money. Glenn got the sack and Graham Taylor came in. I’ve got no bad words to say abut Graham, he was brilliant with me and it was him that gave me my under 21 caps. I think he liked me, he knew what I was about. Kenny Jackett came in as well and I don’t think I was Kenny’s type of player to be honest. Also I had hurt my knee and I was out most of the season. I got fit then went on loan to Peterborough, then at the end of the season Graham called me in and told me to go and get my career going again. That’s how leaving Watford came about.
Then my agent called me and told me Bradford wanted to sign me. toke also wanted me and I knew Birmingham had bid £250,000 for me whilst I was playing regularly at Watford. I had a day training with Lou Macari at Stoke whilst I was with Watford, but that ended up in the papers and Glenn wasn’t very happy so he called me back. I hadn’t said anything so it must have been Stoke’s end that it got out. Anyway, Stoke were still making noises about signing me, but Bradford made a firm offer to me and Watford had confirmed they had released me which I was gutted about. My agent advised me Bradford were the better choice as they had actually put their money on the table and made a firm offer which Stoke hadn’t. So I signed for Bradford. The very next day, Stoke made me an offer. I was gutted as Stoke is only half an hour up the road from me.
Bradford was good though. It was a good dressing room with the likes of Peter Beagrie and Stuart McCall. I was in and out with injuries though, my knees were playing up and I didn’t really get going. They had the season in the Premier League and I was sub a lot. I had really come back fit in pre season where I was keeping up with the fast ones in training, which was unheard of. But then we were playing one-v-one and I tore my cartilage which ruined all the hard work but I managed to get back within four weeks. In the time I was out injured though, they had signed Gareth Whalley and paid £600,000 for him.
After that I was only getting five minutes here and there, or playing in the reserves when I wanted to be playing first team football. The final straw came when I walked in the dressing room for one game and wasn’t even on the bench. My knee had been playing up after reserve matches but I was keeping it quiet as I was in the last year of my contract. In the end I went to see the physio as I thought I can’t keep playing on this and I had to start thinking of myself. He checked me over and they discovered I had fractured my femur so I had been playing with a broken leg! I got that sorted and Bradford wanted to keep me on but I wanted to be playing first team football.
So then on to Notts County?
Yeah, but first I had an experience out in China! I had an offer to go and play out there. Shenzhen Jianlibao they were called. Paul Rideout was playing for them. They offered me five months out there on good money, but I only lasted three days!
Why was that?
I didn’t like bull frogs and Chinese for breakfast is just not right! So I came back, and big Sam (Allardyce) wanted me at County. I trained with them all pre season without a contract. I got a call from big Sam who wanted me but said they couldn’t offer me a contract but they did want to take me on loan. It was a bit risky for me in case I got injured but I went for it anyway and I scored six in eight for them. The fans were singing at the board to take me on, so they put the gate price up a quid and signed me! I had a good run there. I played 50 odd games, but then I got the injury that finished me at 31.
And can you tell us more about that?
I can’t go into it too much for legal reasons but I was given some treatment for an injury, treatment that I shouldn’t have been given, and it damaged the perennial nerve which meant I had drop foot for three years. It was horrendous. I couldn’t even lift a bed sheet with my foot. It was a sudden end when I was planning on finishing at about 35.
What did you do after that?
There wasn’t a great deal I could do for three years. I could hardly even walk as I had to lift my knee right up to put my foot down so I couldn’t train and I couldn’t coach. As the injury meant I had finished playing earlier than I thought, I hit some quite dark times. I managed to keep myself going and got through with the help of my family and friends and just trying to keep myself busy watching local non league football and stuff like that.
And when you did recover from the drop foot, what did you do from there?
I do some work in property now. I bought another property last year which I did ok on as I sold it at the right time but I’m holding fire on doing any others at the moment. I have also just passed my 360 digger driver test! I quite enjoy that, it gets your brain going a bit. I can drive up to a 10 ton digger now!
Anything else that you fancy doing in the future?
I have done a bit of coaching with the under 16s at Derby County, I quite enjoy that, but apart from that, just taking everything day by day and enjoying life.
If it was a straight choice now, between making a living inside the game or outside, what would you take?
Even when you’re on the coaching staff instead of the playing staff, there is nothing at all like football banter. There is no other line of work where you get the same banter; we are all big kids really! You are doing something you love as well. I do think though that someone should bring something out for footballers for when they finish in the game. Look at Gazza, it’s a shame to see him that way. He has no money worries but he doesn’t know what to do. It’s a huge culture shock. Unless you have been in football, it’s hard to understand. It’s not so much having to get in the real world, I’m not afraid of grafting, it’s just there is nothing like playing football for a living and when it’s gone it’s impossible to replace.
Have you seen much of Watford since you have left?
They are the first result I look out for. Watford started last season on fire, but then seemed to lose their way towards the second half of the season. They are a hard working side, they just needed a bit more class. They needed me really, have a word with Aidy!
We will see if we can get you a good contract!
I would play for Watford for nothing.
When Watford play up at Pride Park this year, will you get along to watch?
Yeah, I will definitely be there for that one.
You should come and sit with the Watford fans, I’m sure there are a few Watford fans who would want to buy you a beer.
Definitely, sounds like a good idea. Count me in!
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