Watford Legends spoke to Malky in 2011, a few months after he left the club to manage Cardiff City.
I got a call from Peter Grant saying that Watford had come in and it was up to me to decide if I wanted to make the move. I was still under contract at West Ham and the manager told me I was absolutely part of his plans still despite the club having signed James Collins and Danny Gabbidon. So the decision was down to me to go and play regular football or stay and play maybe six or seven games in the Premier League that year. At the age of 32 though I really just wanted to go and play football.
Aidy phoned me and invited me up to London Colney. I won’t forget it, he gave me the directions to get up to the training ground and it was a beautiful day. I met with Aidy and Keith Burkinshaw and I had a good chat and walk about the grounds with them. I was at Norwich when Aidy was there as a youth team coach so we knew each other well. He told me about his plans of trying to bring some players in to try and improve the squad. I think I’m right in saying that they’d only just avoided relegation the year before so there was work to be done. So for me the decision was to leave a Premier League team for a struggling Championship team but I felt at that time I wanted to play football.
A lot of the other players that played under Aidy have spoken about how he made them feel ten feet tall and it’s well known he was a good motivator. As a more experienced player did he have the same effect on you?
We were already friends as I already knew him from years before at Norwich so I knew what he was like already. We were a similar age as well. He was young manager and I was an older professional which made things slightly different to a lot of the other lads but we certainly had a trust between us and could talk openly. Once I made the decision to go and play football at Watford as opposed to watch football at West Ham I was sold on Aidy and the aims he had as I knew he was someone I could trust.
It’s well known you got promoted to the Premiership with Norwich and didn’t play a game, so to then get promoted with West Ham and leave to join Watford must have posed a bit of a risk to you?
Yes it was a risk. I had been promoted with West Ham and that was great and so walking away from that to work with a young manager and a team that had struggled the year before was a risk but at the end of the day I wanted to play football and that took over everything. Aidy told me he saw me as a leader from the back, he explained he was going to bring in four or five others as well and that we were going to try and have a successful season. The manager always plays a big part about any move; it’s not always decided by money.
Aidy was adamant we were getting promoted before a ball was even kicked that year. The two years previously you had won promotion to the Premier League so you had been there and done it and knew what was needed to win promotion from the division. Did you share Aidy’s belief that we would win promotion?
No not at all to be honest. For me it was a case of let’s see what squad can be put together and then just aim to do as well as we could. The budget we had was a million miles away from other clubs in the division. But we were a hard working unit and the team that came together was consistent. We didn’t use a huge amount of players that year and the boys that did play tended to play most of the games. I think we had players hitting the right stage of their careers at the right time; take Marlon King, who was in the best form of his life that year. We had an incredible young talent in Ashley Young who was fortunate enough to have been kept at the club and that nearly didn’t happen. You saw how well he done that year and what he has gone onto since. We also had warriors and really dependable players such as Gavin Mahon and Clarke Carlisle who had been there and done it before. It ended up being a really nice blend but if I am honest I didn’t have any thoughts at the start about promotion.
How far into the season were we when you started to believe that we were in with a shout?
As the season went on we grew in confidence as a group of players that we could go anywhere, play anybody and give anybody a problem. It was the Christmas period that was a bit of a concern with such a small squad and you have to concentrate on keeping people fit. If we hadn’t have managed that then we may have struggled but we managed to keep the same small group of players on the pitch most of the time so there are elements of luck involved as well but there is also an element of the manager, an element of the training and an element of the team spirit and of course belief – and that got stronger and stronger as the season went on. We carried that right through until the play-offs and into the final against Leeds. Before the Leeds game there wasn’t a single person in our changing room who thought we were going to be beaten that day. It was quite incredible.
You’ve also been lucky enough to live out my boyhood dream of scoring against L***n at their place.
Ha I thought you might mention that! All through my career I’ve been very lucky to play in some great local derbies. I’ve managed to score in quite a few of the ones I’ve been involved with as well. The Norwich v Ipswich one is a very fervent derby and I knew that Watford and Luton were rivals as well and I learned that it was a very fierce rivalry. I was lucky to get to play against them as not long after that season they dropped through the divisions and out of the league as we all know.
That year though they were doing well and it was a good derby. I remember that game against them up at Kenilworth Road and the atmosphere was unbelievable, just really unbelievable. We had a cracking fan base there that day. Derby games are great to play in as there is always something extra in them and a great intensity to them as well so to score in it was just smashing.
Was it over the line?
Yes it was, the keeper was over the line and I booted it from him! It never hit the net but it was definitely over the line!
A lot of the players who played in the play-off final have said they felt the game was won in the tunnel with the bawling and shouting that rattled Leeds. Would you agree with that?
We had belief. We weren’t slating them or trying to do anything other than focus on ourselves.
There was honestly no slating or sledging Leeds United – it was all about focus. We had worked really hard in terms of mental strength and belief in our own ability, helped by winning the semi-finals without conceding a goal. We certainly felt we had the measure of Leeds, so we had to get our focus and belief right when walking out. I can still picture it now, walking out there. There was a focus and energy to every single one of the players.
We were in the zone and the staff were the same. We started strongly because of that and we never let them get going. The goal in the first half from Jay’s header helped to settle everything down. Very rarely in the game did I feel we were under pressure. It’s a funny feeling as there were certainly times during the season when I felt under pressure but that day I felt we just clicked as a team and everything came good – the culmination of a lot of hard work. I can still see it now, a stadium of 70,000 people, and half the stadium a sea of yellow – just thinking about it now makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
We’ve mentioned the game against the enemy as being a great one from the fans point of view, but are there any other games from that season that stand out for you for any reason?
I think the play-off semi-finals against Palace. Both legs were memorable but certainly the first leg as we were under pressure in the first half. Palace came flying out of the blocks at us and put us under huge amounts of pressure. There was a great atmosphere down there and it’s a tough place to go as I found out again this year when I went there with Cardiff in the cup game. That afternoon with Watford was a really fervent atmosphere and Andy Johnson had been on fire. It was 0-0 at half time when Aidy changed it. He took Darius off and moved a few things about.
We came out for the second half and scored the goals. Marlon scored early on, Youngy hit his free kick and then Springy got the vital third goal late on to confirm the victory. We played really well in the second half and gave us a big boost going into the second leg, which was a bit of a non-event. We needed to defend as a unit and kill their spirit which is exactly what we did. But in answer to your question of what game I remember the most it would be the first leg against Palace at Selhurst Park.
How did it feel once we won promotion for you to actually go and finally play Premier League football?
I was delighted. I was under contract so it wasn’t a worry that it might not get renewed or anything like that and I was wise enough to know I wasn’t going to be involved in every game but I ended up playing something like 13 or 14 games that season. I was delighted to be involved in it. With me having not played in the Premier League before I think it had been built up to have been a bit more than it was anyway in all honesty. I had been at Norwich, helped get them up and not played and then the same with West Ham.
But I was 33 or 34 then and by that stage of my career I had played against three quarters of the teams in the Premiership already and played at a lot of the grounds as well so it was a nice story for the press but not a huge deal to me. Don’t get me wrong I was absolutely delighted to be involved but it wasn’t the be all and end all that it was made out to be.
It was during the Premiership season that you began to make the transition from the playing staff to the coaching staff.
Yes I remember just after Christmas time I got a phone call from Aidy asking if he could come up and see me at my house. I told him that was fine; the baby was in bed as it was 9:30 at night!
My wife was staring at me and asking who I was inviting up to the house at that time of night. I explained it was the manager and it made her wonder why he was coming up but I had no clue either. I didn’t know if he was coming up to sack me or something bad like that!
So he arrived and the first thing he said when he came in was that he was starving hungry as he hadn’t eaten! So we made him something to eat and enjoyed a wee bit of small talk and then he cut to the chase. He explained he was changing things around a bit and that he wanted me to accept a role of player/coach. I had no inkling it was coming and it was never something we had discussed previously so it was a genuine shock. He knew I was way down the line with doing my coaching badges and I had been working on them for quite some time but that was all he was aware of.
He announced it to the rest of the squad the next day and so for the rest of that Premiership season I had one foot in each camp, so to speak. I was in the dressing room, changing every day and training every day but as well as that I was in every staff meeting as well as spending some time with the younger ones and reserves in the afternoon. It was a really good grounding for me and it helped by being a gradual process.
Is it difficult to go in every day having one foot in each camp?
I suppose it depends on the individual. You need to have a decent relationship with your fellow professionals as I am sat there getting changed with them but then later on I am in a meeting discussing them. By that point I had been at the club for a couple of years so I was comfortable with the people at the club and comfortable with the players, staff etc. I got on with most people there and that meant that the situation as OK. I think if I had ever got to the point where players stopped talking when I walked in the dressing room then I would have left the dressing room for good but that never happened. I was mentored well by the technical director at the club, a guy called Dick Bate, and he made the gradual process comfortable for me. He was a fantastic coach; he helped me with the reserves as well and was a great guy to have around.
How did you feel when Aidy left? He was a friend of yours and gave you a crack at the coaching side of things so you must have been sad to see him leave but that also gave you the opportunity to have a go in the hot seat albeit on a caretaker basis.
It was a strange time; obviously he had been manager of the club for a few years by that point. I remember we had lost at home to Blackpool and had a couple of days off after that, and I recall actually being in the cinema with my dad that day. I came out and I had a lot of missed calls on my phone from the Chief Executive. I got asked to go into the club and I was told they were going to part company with Aidy. We had been beaten a couple of times recently but I still wasn’t expecting it and there had been nothing in the papers about it. I was very shocked.
They asked me to take over the team until such time as they make a longer term decision. I said I was OK to do that and they asked me to keep things stable. What it did do by the end of the three and a half week period was give me a sneak look in Pandora’s Box so to speak and give me an insight into the job. It is vastly different from being a coach! It gave me an idea of who you’ve got to deal with and what you’ve got to deal with when you are the manager. Once you get the job you are the man that picks the team and you are the man that affects people’s careers so it’s a lot of pressure. That small period stood me in good stead for nine months later for when I did get the job full time.
I really enjoyed that three week period though and at the end of it Brendan came in and he decided to keep me on and we became good friends.
We all know now that Brendan got the job, but did you apply for it as well?
Yes I did. 30 odd people applied for the job and it came down to the last two which was myself and Brendan and they went with Brendan. I had only been a manager for three weeks so I was a real novice. The board of directors were very good to me, they were happy with the job I had done in keeping things stable. Brendan came in and made me his first team coach. Over the weeks he learnt to trust me and to trust my opinion and knowledge of the club as well. I learnt from him as well and we are still good friends to this day.
Brendan then took his opportunity to go to Reading and the job was up for grabs again.
Yes I was in Glasgow with family and I got the call telling me he had gone to Reading. I was really stunned. I applied for the job again alongside a lot of other people. I went along to the interviews and then Graham Taylor decided to give me the job. I think by that point I was the best qualified person to do the job. I was aware of the first team, reserves and youth as well as how the club was run, how it operated and how the board of directors liked things doing. I also knew the traditions of the club so I was well conditioned to take on the job. I also knew the situation we were in financially and what parameters we had to operate in. All these bits helped me get the job.
How did you find having GT as the chairman?
He was smashing. He was certainly a man I looked at as someone absolutely steeped in football history and someone I can learn from. He was very careful to stay at arm’s length initially so people wouldn’t see it as Graham Taylor running it and I was just the coach. He was very wary of that which I liked. He has a house in the area now and we used to meet for coffee so we could discuss various bits and chew the fat for a couple of hours at a time. We would just sit and talk about football and his experiences. I enjoy his company; he’s a good man and very helpful to me.
Within about six weeks of taking over the goalposts moved a bit and I had to sell six players from the first team. That was a massive change. There were changes to the board as well and also the chief executive changed. Come Christmas time, just a few months into the job, we were two hours from administration. There are some bits that stick with you throughout your career and one of them will be that bleak, black, wet and cold Friday night in December with lawyers when we were two hours from administration and waiting to see if the office staff had a job on the Monday or not. That’ll live with me forever. That was a result of mismanagement of the football club at certain times. Julian Winter was working hard to keep things ticking over along with Stuart Timperley, David Fransen and Graham Taylor of course.
But going back to your original point, I thoroughly enjoyed working with Graham Taylor and I have a huge amount of respect for the man.
As a full time manager, are there any games that stand out for you? Ironically I remember one of the best performances under your stewardship being at home to Cardiff when we beat them 4-1.
That was a game that the directors at Cardiff mentioned in the interview for the job here funnily enough! They said I had spoilt their Christmas that year. The Chief Executive was due to fly out of London that night on holiday to America and so came to the game beforehand. He said that because of that game he has a miserable holiday! There were several other games though that I really enjoyed watching and I enjoyed working with a really good group of players.
Players like Mariappa were great for and we also managed to get in some fantastic loan signings such as Tom Cleverley. We were so short of money but I was desperately trying to bring him in as I knew what he would be able to bring to us as a group. I made the phone call to Manchester United. By luck, he was meant to be going back to Leicester City but something had happened the day before that scuppered that deal. Sir Alex Ferguson told me the Leicester deal hadn’t gone through and that we could take him on loan and told me what the fee was. We got him in the building and everything was agreed but then it became clear that we couldn’t afford to pay the loan fee. I had to get back on to Sir Alex and tell him this. I couldn’t believe I was having to phone one of the best managers there has ever been and explain that we couldn’t pay the fee.
He told us to just take him for half the season and we managed to scrape the loan fee together for that. He came in and was great for us but then by the time the half season loan was up at Christmas time, Newcastle and everyone else had come in for him and wanted him as he had performed so well for us. Sir Alex was delighted with how he was progressing with us though and insisted he stay with us for the rest of the season which was great news for us. We also managed to get Heidar back as well who was a real man for us, and the likes of Danny Graham grew from strength to strength with us.
So we had some great players in and all worked well but in answer to your question about memorable games, I would have to say in the second season when we played away at QPR who were still unbeaten about 20 games into the season. We went there on a Friday night and played them live on the television. It was as well as we’ve played and I remember Neil Warnock saying to the press afterwards that it could have been eight or nine they conceded– we were really good that night. Everything clicked; we had Mutch and Taylor in on loan. Marvin was going great guns up front with Danny who was simply on fire. Tiny was solid at the back as well. Another game that stands out was away at Millwall when we scored six goals.
With regards to Danny Graham, did you ever expect him to take off the way he did or did you see he had that ability?
Danny wasn’t my signing – he was already in the building by the time I got the job. He was a signing by John Stephenson and he was already contracted before I got the job. However, he was part of the system we had. We didn’t have any money to play with so had to go down a structured route. John as the head of recruitment, Julian as chief executive and myself as manager had a weekly meeting to discuss targets. We touched base daily but had a sit down meeting once a week. We had a system where we had scouting reports from all over the country to really look for lower league diamonds because other than that it was going to be kids from the academy and the very occasional experienced pro coming in only if they would come here for less money than they could get elsewhere. The chief executive’s remit was to find a buyer for the football club and he had a couple of years to do that.
The remit for the head of recruitment was to bring in a certain amount of money each year in transfer fees with players he had brought in. My remit was to keep the club in the division with what I had. If you look at the three things individually they don’t actually marry up! One selling the club, one having to sell players and one having to keep a team together. The two of them are good people though and always worked with the clubs better interests at heart. We always worked together and tried to work in a way that suited all of our different remits and was also in the best interests of Watford football club.
We used my contacts and Johns contacts at Premier League clubs to beg, steal and borrow talented loans to bring in to help us stay in the division and marry it with our academy boys coming through – alongside a few older pros such as Martin Taylor and John Eustace. The remit was clear, the books were open to me and I was in on every board meeting. By knowing exactly what financial situation we were in it meant that I knew it was futile to go and ask for a couple of hundred grand for a player as I knew it simply wasn’t there.
Danny was a lower league gamble, Will Buckley was another, who had the potential but wasn’t doing it on a consistent basis. We saw enough there to know there was something that may come out over time.
Your finest moment as Watford manager must undoubtedly have been masterminding the goal scoring prowess of Lloyd Doyley?!
That was something very special for everyone who was there that night and nobody will forget it! It was a special moment and created some good memories as well as some laughs in training!
Lloyd is another one who I have an awful lot of respect for, he was a young boy when I came in to the club but I could see he was an incredible athlete and someone who desperately loved playing football. He’s been at the club a long time, since he was just a wee boy, and loves his football. He has a lovely temperament about him and there is a real honesty about his performances. I saw a huge development in him as the years went on. Unless we got a better left back in then he was the best man for the job. He can play anywhere across the back four which is a great trait to have and he is also one of the best one-v-one defenders I have ever played with in my career.
We also wanted the team to play football and be comfortable on the ball so we made a point of getting Lloyd on the ball hoping he would get better and better and he hit that point where he got confident enough to attack down that side and linked up really well with Don Cowie. He was edging closer and closer to the 18 yard box, he finally got that far and then that night he got on the score sheet. It was a great night!
You were at the club when the new owner, Mr Bassini, arrived at the club. How did you find that period of time?
It was something that had been floating about since Christmas time and we did hope it was going to be completed in the December. There was a chance of a bit of investment in the transfer market in January so we could actually have a little go as we had done OK in the first half of the season and had got to a reasonable points tally that wasn’t a million miles away from the play-offs. But it dragged on, and on, and on! It was actually March by the time it all got completed. The owner had been to a few games and met us a few times as well but it was March when it went through.
Things started changing quite quickly and various members of staff were going to be moving on and the new owner was making things change to work how he wanted them to, which is of course his prerogative. Come the summer the club were approached for me and I made a decision to leave. The club was changing and several people were leaving the club, including people that I have a lot of trust in and so I decided it was time for me to move on.
What made you decide to leave?
I just felt that the changes at the football club that were happening and it was maybe going down a different route to one that I was comfortable with – let’s just say that. I really had a lot of trust in Graham Taylor, David Fransen and Stuart Timperley as a board. I also had a huge trust in Julian Winter and John Stephenson as the guys who were running the football club on a day to day basis. John and Julian both left having decided it was better that they leave the club and I just felt it was time…things were changing and going in a direction that wasn’t right for me, and it was best I left as well.
Before you left Watford for Cardiff, had you looked to leave before then or had you been approached by any other clubs about joining them?
There were a couple of things that happened in the January. There was an approach by Burnley and there was also an approach by Newcastle but at that time we were doing well and I wanted to carry on and have a real go at seeing how far we could get.
Am I right in thinking the Newcastle approach was to be part of their staff but not as manager?
Yes that’s correct, but I was happy as the manager at Watford and like I said I wanted to give it a real go to see how far we could get at Watford.
When you made the move to Cardiff you took a few players, targets and staff with you which riled a few Watford fans.
Ask me questions on it and I will happily answer them because I wouldn’t mind clearing any bits like that up to be honest. I know there has been a bit of animosity in certain quarters so I will be happy to clear that up.
Ok, I think the main signing that upset people was Don Cowie on a free transfer when there was some ambiguity within his contract. I think there were some accusations at the time that you knew something about his contract that allowed you to get him on a free.
Ok, this will be good to clear up. Don had signed a contract with Watford some time before when Brendan signed him. That was the contract he signed – I had never looked at it nor seen it. The football club then went to Don’s agent, when I was still the Watford manager, about negotiating a new contract and again that’s not something I was involved in other than saying to the board ‘yes I’d like to keep him’.
That is as far as my involvement went and is quite normal. The board and agents will deal with the rest of it. It turned out that what the club thought was an option to extend the deal by a year was actually an option on the players side which left Don’s agent free to start phoning round other clubs in England and tell them that Don was a free agent at the end of the season. Every single club in the Championship knew that Don was available at the end of the season on a free transfer.
There was no involvement from me; there was no conversation with me telling Don not to sign or anything like that. I didn’t leave the club until the middle of June and so I didn’t know I was going until then. Dave Jones didn’t leave Cardiff until two weeks before I got the job so there was no way of me knowing before then anyway that I was going to Cardiff. I then became Cardiff manager and, like every other Championship club, I was told Don was available on a free and wouldn’t be going back to Watford because the offer the club made him wasn’t as good as other offers two or three other clubs had put to him. So he was available on a free and wanted to come down. There was no conspiracy and nothing untoward despite what’s been said.
Had you heard of these accusations then?
Yes I had, when we played up at Watford at Christmas time I had the question put to me by Frank Smith from the Watford Observer. I think the bad feeling was heightened because when I left I didn’t do an article about leaving or anything about the good times at the club, and I only didn’t because at the time it was quite sensitive with the new owners and what have you – and also contractually I wasn’t allowed to speak about my time at the club. I also know the fans weren’t happy at Will Buckley being sold to Brighton, which was something else I was asked about.
I have it on very good authority that you weren’t aware of the Will Buckley deal and he was sold without your knowledge. Is that true?
Things were being done differently to how I was used to and the club was going in a different direction to what I was comfortable with. Will Buckley isn’t my player now and I don’t want to talk about deals involving players that are no longer mine – take from that what you will.
Are there any other bits you’d want to clear up now from accusations that you’ve had against you since you left?
Yes just about the staff that left Watford to join me down in Cardiff. They were all on employment contracts at Watford and could have stayed – none of them were forced to come down to Cardiff. None of them were coming down for fortunes. They were all staff that wanted to leave the club at that point and all staff that wanted to leave for specific reasons. It wasn’t because they didn’t like Watford – they’d all had a great couple of years there but they were all staff that then wanted to get out at that point for reasons that might be apparent now. It may not have been nice but that was certainly the case.
Did it frustrate you having to leave but keep quiet?
Yes it did but there are always two reasons why you leave a football club as a manager – you either leave of your own accord or you’re sacked. If you’re sacked then you’re angry with yourself or the club. If you leave of your own accord then you are invariably leaving to go to another football club and that will leave other people unhappy.
I hope in time that I am judged on my time there as a player and then also my time there as a manager. I didn’t leave with any disrespect towards Watford Football Club but it was going in a direction I didn’t want to be part of any more.
The last couple of weeks at Watford sound difficult and for a short while after you left there were some muck and bullets flying about. Taking those times out, would you say your time at the Vic was an enjoyable period in your career?
It’s one of the best times in my whole career. I was lucky enough to make a decision to come to Watford rather than stay in the Premiership with West Ham and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We moved up to the area, my daughter was born in Watford General and we still live locally. My kids still school in the area as well. I was lucky enough to be club captain for a while. I took massive pride and a lot of honour to be manager for a while in the clubs history. The club will always have a place in my heart, as will all the people I worked with there as well.
Well thanks for talking with us Malky, good luck for the season ahead.
Thanks guys. Nice to talk with you.
Quick Fire Round
|Favourite Ground (apart from the Vic)|
|Best Ever Player|
|Team you supported as a boy|
|Favourite Holiday Destination|
|Favourite TV Show|
|The West Wing|
|Never happier than when|
|I am lying on the beach with the wife and kids|
|Desert Island Woman|