Goalkeeper Kevin signed from Birmingham City in the summer of 1994 for £250,000. He went on to play for three seasons at the club, winning the Player of the Season award twice. He then joined Crystal Palace in the Premier League for £1.5 million.
Now living and coaching in Cornwall, Kevin spoke to Watford Legends shortly after playing for Watford in the Masters competition in 2008.
Hi Kevin, thanks for talking to Watford Legends. How did you enjoy the London Masters?
Yes it was great. It was good to see everyone again.
And where were you for that goal vs Spurs!
I think you’ll find that it was ‘continental goalkeeping’! You might call it sweeping!
And good to be with old team mates?
Definitely. Craig Ramage and I thought we’d be model pros the night before the tournament. So we went for a beer. And it was good to see the Little German [Hessenthaler] up to his old tricks, kicking a few people.
And back to your time in the first 11, how did you end up at Watford?
I was signed for Blues by Terry Cooper, who then got sacked. Then Barry Fry came in and it was at the time that Barry Fry bought a lot of players. One of those players was ‘keeper Ian Bennett. Barry came to me at the end of the season and said “Sorry, Kevin, but I’ve bought Ian and have to play him.” That was a fair comment and I knew I had to go to a new club.
I got an injury running in pre-season, and my first game was later on in pre-season when we played Fulham at Craven Cottage. I played quite well in the game and went down to meet Glenn Roeder at Vicarage Road where I signed a contract.
Then you had three full years at Watford and played 130 plus games.
It was a make or break move really but signing for Watford got me going again. I had a fantastic first year at Watford and really settled in well. What made it easier was that there were a few other new faces as well, which makes it easier when you are the new boy at the club. We just missed out on the play-offs in the end, and had a great run including a record nine games in a row without conceding. I think it was only a couple of points we missed out on the play-offs by in the end.
Any favourite games at your time at Watford?
I remember a game against Birmingham which was good to be involved in. I had three one-on-ones with Steve Claridge. Disappointingly Steve Finnan hit a free kick, I dived, and it hit me on the back and went in. But it was a memorable game.
Also I think back to the Coca Cola cup game against Southend early on in the season when I made a great save after one of their lads hit a bicycle kick from about six yards out which I got a hand to.
Do you keep any mementoes?
I’ve given a lot of my shirts and so on to a godson of mine, so he has most things. But I have got various videos and so on.
You got The Player of the Year Award twice. What did that mean to you?
I got it in two out of my three seasons. It does mean a lot because is shows that the fans appreciate what you have done for the club. It’s a fantastic honour to have.
How did you get on with the fans?
I got on really well with them. I’ve made no secret that Watford and Barnsley were two of the best clubs to go to because everybody from the tea lady to the Chairman make you feel so welcome.
It was daunting for me because as a lad coming up from Devon, and then being in Watford, it was very daunting.
The fans were fantastic, and they made me feel comfortable. And it made me feel that I wanted to be in goal every week.
Did you move to the area?
Only for the last six months, but before that I commuted down from Birmingham. My partner at the time worked in Birmingham so I couldn’t move. I used to car-pool with Alec Chamberlain, Devon White and Craig Ramage. We would take turns to drive down.
We used to have a great crack driving down – especially when Craig was driving.
Seems like a good team set-up during that time.
We never had any superstars at the club, and we had genuine people. Honest hard working people who wanted to work for each other. You don’t see that too much in football now.
We had Craig Ramage, and it was a running joke in training when he used to say to Hessy “You do the work Hess, get the ball, and then let the players play!” We knew that Craig couldn’t defend so we didn’t want him back.
We were very close knit, and we did a lot together such as player social nights.
What was it like when Graham Taylor, Luther and Kenny came back after Glenn Roeder’s sacking?
Well obviously at the time it was all about the return of the messiah, and how the club’s fortunes would change. But it’s never that easy. He got there in the end, and he has a fantastic reputation.
Kenny Jackett’s coaching was second to none, especially with how he brought the kids through.
And then on to Palace for £1.5 million. Quite a big fee…
Initially I had agreed terms with Nottingham Forest, but that was going to go to tribunal over the fee, but then Palace came in with a fee, and Chris Day went the other way. It was a great deal for me financially, but football wise was not so great. But to buy me for £250,000 and then get £1.5m for me was good business for the club.
And at Palace?
It was hard. I left under a real cloud there because the club went in to administration and I didn’t get paid. It was a real mess in the end.
Steve Coppell was great with me and is a great coach.
But overall it was Premier League, and if I didn’t go then I might have felt I’d missed an opportunity.
And then on to Barnsley for three years. Similar story to Watford – same amount of games over the same period of time.
Yes. The club was amazing. Fantastic people, the Yorkshire people. I loved my time there. A big part of me going there was Harry Bassett. He’s the best manager I’ve played for. In every game he made the players feel at ease. Not one of the players felt under pressure. And if you had a bad game he’d talk to you about it – not just bomb you out on a whim. I’d be surprised if anyone has a bad word to say against him.
And then on to Exeter and Bristol Rovers.
I was offered a new contract by Nigel Spackman but turned it down. I was averaging 30-35 games a season but was offered an appearance based deal. I was not happy with this, and so moved back to Devon to set up home there.
I enjoyed my time at Bristol Rovers when Ray Graydon was manager, but then Ian Atkins came in. I thought this was the wrong appointment – I didn’t like his way of dealing with players and I didn’t like his man-management. And neither did many of the other players.
I remember Scott Sinclair scored a hat-trick in a reserve game at 15 years of age and afterwards Ian tore him to shreds. All the lads signed his hat-trick ball and Scott was so delighted. The club then sent Scott’s dad a bill for fifty quid for the ball. I think in any walk of life and in any profession, sometimes you need to give someone a rollocking, but it was monotonous in the end and got people’s back up.
You then went to Southampton for the last bit of your career
Yes I went to Southampton for a month and we won five of the last seven games. On the strength of that George Burley offered me a one year contract. I helped with a bit of coaching with Malcolm Webster.
I went on loan to Torquay for a month which was an eye-opener. At the time it was so unprofessional. You’d change for training at the ground, go to the training field at the racecourse at Newton Abbott and then get in the car, sometimes soaking wet and muddy to go back to the ground to shower and change. When I first turned up they had no kit for me. Paul Smith of Gillingham was also on loan and between us we had one sock, one pair of shorts, one t-shirt and one sweat shirt. I used to joke with Paul that I was only there for a month, he was there for six!
Now it’s great to see that the whole place has been sorted out, which is great
And what are you up to now?
I work with John Hodge (ex-Northampton) doing some football development. I work with the goalkeepers. We have opened up a development centre for Exeter City, and hope to open up two more this year. We have already had two kids sign for Exeter’s centre of excellence. It’s big area here with a lot of kids who want to play football. The kids pay £4 for 90 minutes coaching. It’s more of a hobby than anything at the moment.
We also do coaching in schools. Teachers now need 10% of their time to do marking and so on, so we go in to do PE lessons. Any kids that look good we take over to the centre, which is mainly in the evenings.
Sounds like a good life – living in Cornwall and playing football!
It’s not bad. When I came up to London to play in the Masters it took me over an hour to drive two miles in Chiswick. Even I could have jogged it in two hours!
And speaking of the Masters, did you enjoy it?
It was brilliant but we were gutted and should have beaten West Ham. We got more prize money the further we went and Gibbsy’s team talk beforehand was “Come on boys, there’s a credit crunch on – we need the money!” We loved it.
So that’s your football career, from Watford to Watford! Thanks for your time.
Great stuff. Cheers.
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