Goalkeeper Eric joined Watford from Brighton and Hove Albion in 1979 and spent five years at the club, initially as first choice but then as back-up to Steve Sherwood. He left in 1984 to join Derby County.
Now a specialist goalkeeper coach, he currently works for the FA but spoke to Watford Legends in 2010 while working for Manchester United.
How did your move to Watford come about?
I had enjoyed a very successful time at Brighton under Alan Mullery from ‘76 to ‘79 where we got promoted from the Third Division to First over the course of three seasons. When we got promoted to the First Division I was offered a new contract which I took but then they gave Graham Moseley a chance for three or four games. I went to speak to the manager and I said that I was disappointed I wasn’t involved and then within three months or so Watford got in contact.
Graham Taylor at that point was in the re-building stage at Vicarage Road after they had just been promoted to the second division. I had a few chats with Graham Taylor and I decided then that as I wasn’t going to be involved at Brighton I should make the move to Watford and that is exactly what I did back in ’79.
Did you enjoy your time at Watford?
I have to be honest and say it was mixed. I was there for five years all told and for the first two and a half years I was involved. For the last two and a half years I was surplus to requirements as Steve Sherwood came in, and to be fair to him he did a great job and he fully deserved to stay in the team. I left in ’84 but certainly for the first two and a half years it was great to be involved as they were re-building the whole football club, not just the team.
Elton John had been heavily involved and it was enjoyable to be part of such a re-building project. Everything was being revamped; the team, the club, the stadium. They were immense changes and we enjoyed it alongside some terrific cup runs and I certainly do have some fond memories of my playing days from my time there.
Every now and then I do nip back to Hertfordshire to take in a game. I knew Mart Poom from my time at Derby and so I went to see him play for Watford a couple of times. I still speak to Alec Chamberlain as well so I still have links with the football club.
So overall I would say that Watford was a good move for me.
Did you play in the European games whilst at Watford?
I was involved when we played the Kaiserslautern games but I was only on the bench so never played. One of my biggest, fondest memories is the Southampton game where we lost the first leg 4-0 down at The Dell but we brought them back to Watford to beat them 7-1. That set up a tie with the European champions at the time, Nottingham Forest, and we beat them as well. We had some great cup runs.
I also remember going to Wolves who had Andy Gray and John Richards in their team and they had just won the League Cup and we beat them 3-0 which was a terrific away result. Luther Blissett and Malcolm Poskett were absolute stars as a striking duo. I have some excellent memories from Watford. I would like to have been involved more but I was still very grateful to Graham Taylor and the staff for having me there.
What was Graham Taylor like to work for?
When you are in the team you are always going to be happier, there is no hiding that fact and likewise when you are not in the team you are not going to be happy. I tried to remain professional and I stayed loyal and at the end of the day it was a successful time for the club.
I played the season where we ended up finishing second in the First Division which was a terrific achievement when you look at some of the teams we were up against. I can’t see it happening again where a team will go up to the Premiership as it is now and finish second only to a team like Liverpool, it was incredible. I think a lot of people underestimated how well we did that year.
Overall I enjoyed working for Graham. He was a good coach, a good manager, and a very thoughtful man. He was part of an evolution and he introduced a lot of the younger players such as Kenny Jackett, Steve Terry, Cally, John Barnes, and then the next generation with players such as Nigel Gibbs.
He also introduced foreign players such as Jan Lohman as well. There was a huge evolution with the players coming through, youngsters and imports replacing the older players etc.
What Graham Taylor did was a phenomenal achievement with the backing of Eddie Plumley and Elton John and nobody can take that away from him. Incredible.
If you don’t feel comfortable answering this then please don’t, but how would you compare working under GT back then who was at the top of his game and one of the most highly rated managers at the time to the man you work for now, Sir Alex Ferguson?
I can make a direct comparison in the some ways as I worked under Graham as a coach when he took over at Aston Villa a few years ago. The game had moved on somewhat and Graham then was an executive director in an advisory capacity. John Gregory resigned and Graham did a terrific job in just stabilising the club for six months and to be fair Graham felt he had done his job in doing that, and then David O’Leary came in at the end of that season.
I think Graham realised in that period that the game had changed so much with regards to wages, modern day players etc. and it was completely different to the game that Graham had been so successful in when he was manager of Watford. It is difficult to compare him to Alex, as Alex is a manager at a much higher level. They have both managed national teams and they have both managed at various levels, but Alex has had unbelievable success. Alex has won the European cup four times now which is terrific, once at Aberdeen and three times at United. He has a superb record and will always be held in very high regard by me.
When your time came to leave Vicarage Road, what was it that prompted you to make that decision?
I left in ’84 purely because I wanted to play football – it was as simple as that. I had given five years and been loyal but it was time for me to get out and play. I was offered a two year contract which I turned down and I had a few options to go elsewhere, and in the end I chose Derby who were again a team that were really re-building. At the time I did wonder why I had signed when Arthur Cox told me we were starting pre-season with nine players!
We then had an unbelievable three years where we went from Third to First and it was quite an exceptional time in terms of my career. It proved to be a great time in my career where I won another two promotions. Graham wasn’t too happy that I chose to leave but you have to look out for yourself in football, and my number one aim then was to go and play football.
So you had three good clubs in a row then in Brighton, Watford and then Derby.
I’ve had an unbelievable career which I have thoroughly enjoyed both as a player and even now as a coach. All told I had six promotions as a player. I won the fourth division championship at Peterborough, I went from third to first with Brighton, second to first with Watford and then with Derby I went from third to first. In my coaching career when I was self-employed I helped Barnsley to promotion, I helped Derby gain promotion to the Premier League and I have also had other successes in the coaching game.
As a player I was proud of what I achieved; I was never the best but I was always a good pro and I would like to think that I always gave good value for money whether I was in or out of the team and you have to do that if you are going to be a modern day professional.
Do you prefer being a coach or would you still play given the choice?
I would play every time, no doubt about it. I sat through murder a few weeks ago at the Champions League final at Wembley. You can do more as a player with regards to determining the result and the performance. Once you have done your work Monday to Friday as a coach you then have to sit back.
So playing is the number one but the next best thing is to coach or manage. In fact I had this conversation with Kenny Jackett not that long ago. I am lucky that I have been involved in the game for nearly 40 years now.
Do you think you will ever try and get a job as a manager somewhere?
I’ve never had any ambition to do that. I have managed my own business when I finished playing at Derby at the age of 34. I owned my own pub/restaurant with 11 full-time staff and ten part-time. That was a different type of management though as I funded it all out of my own pocket as opposed to spending a chairman’s or chief executives money. I managed that business for six years and we were very successful. Within that business I was then able to set myself up with my coaching career whilst the business was running, and I sold the pub when I was 40 to then concentrate solely on the coaching career which is why I am where I am now. I thoroughly enjoyed running the pub but I just couldn’t stay away from football.
I was coaching from a very early age and that was down to Graham Taylor as he pushed all of his players to get qualified form a very early age and that was easily the best advice I have ever had. I will always be grateful to him for that.
Are you still in touch with many people from your Watford days?
I still see Graham regularly. Quite often we will get to games early and if Graham is doing the commentary we stop to say hello and have a catch up. Kenny Jackett I still speak to. Every now and then I speak to Ian Bolton and Steve Sims. I see Les Taylor and Mickey Lewis occasionally when our paths cross, though I know Mickey more form our Derby days. I see Barnesy occasionally as well as he still lives in the North West so we bump into each other every now and then.
I also speak with Alec quite often as there is quite a good link between the clubs that started with Ben Foster.
Were you at United when the Ben Foster move happened?
Not when he first signed for United. That was almost six years ago now that he signed believe it or not, and I have been here since 2008 so I did work with Ben when I arrived and we had some good times such as the Carling Cup final when he was man of the match.
Was that the final where the Ipod came out showing Ben the penalties?
Yes that’s the one, the Ipod final as it became known! People talk about the penalties that day but to be fair to Ben his overall performance was exceptional. The problem Ben had was when he started the next season and he had a ten game spell where he didn’t perform to the same level.
What did you make of Ben announcing his sabbatical from the England set up?
I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. In the two years I worked with Ben he never enjoyed the England set up, I know he wasn’t too keen on the Italian goalkeeping coach that had been brought in. So he didn’t really enjoy it at the time which I can understand as you go from your club environment which you enjoy to something you don’t like – but the club environment is an environment I think they should do more to replicate.
So as well as not liking the management set up he also had one or two niggling injuries and the international games didn’t give him time for his body to recover enough to play a full Premier League programme and ultimately extend his career. Edwin Van der Sar found the same thing; he retired from playing for Holland but if he hadn’t done that then he wouldn’t have been playing at the top of the Premier League and Champions league at the age of 40.
Does it really have that much impact though when internationals might play only an extra five or six games a year?
If you just look at the games then you might wonder, but you are away from the football club for four lots of ten days. With the number of friendlies played and the qualifying periods being bigger, that then involves giving them more time to rest and recover. They play a lot of football. For example, Rio Ferdinand came back with us last year on July the 4th and he finished on June the 6th this year – that is an 11 month season where you have to keep yourself in top condition. So that really is where Ben was coming from when he took his sabbatical.
With the rigours, pace & tempo of the Premier League game it is tough. Last year we had a 60 game season at United. You want to play that number of games because it means you have played 38 Premier League games, got to the Champions League Final, the semis of the FA cup and also competed in the Carling cup. In my first year we were involved in 68 games which is an incredible number. In all those games you have to allow time for the body to recover.
Moving on to now, how are you enjoying working under Sir Alex Ferguson?
It’s rough! The quality of players is shocking; we had to get rid of one of the players for £80 million because he was so bad!
I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved at Premier League level since the inception with Derby County, and I have also worked for Villa and Man City. Having worked against Manchester United you know what you are up against. Everybody wants to beat United.
Once you get on the inside of Manchester United you value and realize the institution that it is given that we are now the most successful English football club of all time having just won our 19th title. It starts at the top and it is superbly managed by the Chief Executive and the commercial staff but really you are only as good as your manager – and what a man he is.
On and off the field he is an absolute dream to work for. He has time for everybody. His commitment to football is superb but so is his commitment to people. He seems to value and trust his staff which is why it has been such an enjoyable three years, and long may it continue. We are at a crucial time now though where another team needs to be built having lost Edwin, Neville, Scholes and with Giggs is in his final year so I think he has the appetite to build another team.
What was your reaction the first time you saw a Fergie ‘hairdryer’?!
I haven’t really seen it to be honest. He readily admits he has mellowed, though I have seen him lose it to an extent. It is not something that you want to see though to be fair when he has done it he has had very good reason to do it. It doesn’t happen very often because we don’t lose many games but when it does happen it is very short and very sharp. However the next day it is always forgotten and everything is back to normal and everyone is treated the same which is a statement of what he is like as a man.
When you lost the Champions League final, does it make it a bit better losing it to a team as slick as Barcelona?
We knew on the day that it was a big ask for us and that we would have to be on our game to win it. Spanish football is in the middle of a great generation though. Spain are World and European champions, Barcelona are World club and European champions. It is like Italy in the early 90’s. They have raised the bar.
Barcelona did to us what we do to teams in the Premier League. It must be great to watch for the neutral. We realized after 60 or 70 minutes that we were really chasing shadows then. In many ways it was a kick for us and a message that Barcelona have now set the bar and we are going to do our best to reach that level. I think at the moment Barcelona would even beat any international team in the world including Brazil or Germany. They also have great spirit which comes from a great young manager. Mix spirit with ability and throw in a few match winners that they have and that is a great mix that will win you trophies.
You say that they have set the bar for Manchester United, but do you also think that the format Spanish football has followed should also set the bar for English football generally? It has been a slow work in progress but the results are there for all to see now.
I think you have to look at the model. Ten years ago they set their stall out and decided how they are going to play right the way from under-15 level through to Senior level and they have stuck with it. If you look at their youth teams records over the last ten years it has been incredible and their football model has evolved. If you look at La Liga now all the teams play the same way.
I do a lot of work with youngsters and I work with a few people at the FA who are trying to implement this at grassroots level. England U17’s won their tournament last year and have beaten the likes of Spain so who knows what the future holds for English football?
The really noticeable thing for me is the individual players. The English way is to have a big goalkeeper, big centre half and a big centre forward but Spain don’t have that. Mascherano played at centre half in the Champions League final. Only four players in the Spain world cup squad were over 6’3”, and they don’t play with a centre forward. They are big changes to what we are used to but it can be done.
Ability, technique and a football brain are far more important than height. Let’s not just educate our kids to play but educate them to play the right way.
Well best of luck for the season Eric.
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