Goalkeeper Steve played in all four divisions, Europe and the Cup Final for Watford. He signed from Chelsea for £5,000 in 1976 and spent ten seasons at the club, making more than 200 appearances and even managing to score a goal in 1984. In 1987 he signed for Grimsby Town.
Now living and working in Lincolnshire, Steve spoke to Watford Legends in 2010.
Hi Steve. Thanks for talking to Watford Legends. You were plying your trade at Chelsea, how did you become a Hornet?
I was in and out of the team at Chelsea toward the end of Peter Bonetti’s era. So I’d never really had a chance to establish myself. I went to Brentford on loan for a season and a half and that really gave me confidence.
Mike Keen was the Watford manager at the time and he had come to see me at a couple of Brentford games, and got in touch with the Chairman to see if I was available. The fee that I cost for Watford to purchase me from Chelsea was £5,000, and it was the most money that I ever cost anybody in my career! So that was how it happened.
At Chelsea it was difficult for me as I had two internationals in front of me. Peter Bonetti and John Phillips, who was a Welsh international. So at the age of 23, I had only played about 16 games for Chelsea.
How did you settle in to the club when you arrived?
Well obviously it was a bit different to Chelsea! Watford were badly struggling at the time. To be fair to Mike Keen he was a nice bloke but some of the players at the time were strong characters and for example if they did not want to do extra training in the afternoon they wouldn’t.
He was a smashing bloke, Mike, and I wanted to do well for him but there were one or two bad apples at the club and Watford were never going to progress with those players.
So how was it when the young upstart Graham Taylor arrived?
The first thing I remember about Graham was we had one-to-one meetings with him and he was sat about three feet higher than I was! To be fair to Graham he said at the time that we were going places and do you want to be part of it. You could see then that there was a manager who you knew was going to put a team together and have a chance.
Could you see then that he was going to be successful?
The main thing that struck me was the organisational skills with him. You could see it straight away. I’d worked for some great managers but none were as organised as Graham. Graham was not afraid to tell us he was the boss and we were working for him. When I was at Chelsea under Dave Sexton the more senior players like Peter Osgood had a say in what training we did and so on. Graham made his mark straight away. He said that he would look after us but it was going to be bloody hard work.
I didn’t break in to the team at first as Andy Rankin was really consistent. But his kicking went and he could only just about reach the half way line. Even when I first got in to the team I wasn’t that consistent until Eric Steele came in to the squad. And that gave me the kick up the back side to makes sure I cemented the place. I sort of blossomed and my confidence grew.
Is there a period that was your most enjoyable as a Watford player?
Probably the second half of the season that we got promoted in to the Premier League, as it is now. And certainly the first three quarters of the first season in the top flight.
As for specific games, I remember a game away at Wrexham when we won 1-0. In the second half it was a sea of attacks and I seemed to save everything that came my way. Graham said as we came off that nobody was going to score past me that night!
I also remember a game against Arsenal at Highbury when we won 4-2. I won Performance of the Season for that one. This was all at a time when we had such confidence that we didn’t only believe we were going to win, but we were going to win three or four nil. That was our level of confidence at the time.
How did you enjoy FA Cup final day.
It was very different, and due to not being from an England set up or anything like that I did find it strange, as a few players did. For example for being taken away from your family.
That said, on the day I thought we played well in the first half and were unlucky to be a goal down at half-time. If you look back at the team sheet you could say that we should never have got to the cup final. We had Pat Rice and Wilf missing, and David Bardsley and Neil Price in at full backs. I’m sure it must be the youngest back four to have ever played at Wembley.
I didn’t like the fact that we didn’t get much of a warm up. I like to dive around the turf and so on but due to the band playing on our end of the pitch we couldn’t do that. By the time they cleared off the game had kicked off, so Everton got a warm up and we didn’t, which I thought was bizarre.
The second goal, the Andy Gray incident killed the game off after that and it became a non-event after that. Wembley is a horrible place to go and lose.
How disgruntled were you by that incident?
I was more disgruntled the day after really. The referee said that he stood by his decision, and Andy Gray said that he hadn’t headed the ball but my wrist. I don’t blame him though – if I was manager I would want an Andy Gray putting myself about and unsettle keepers. It was just the referee not doing his job.
I fell in a heap with Steve Terry and thought at first that I had collided with Steve Terry, and I hadn’t realised what had really happened until I saw Andy Gray running off with his hands in the air and the scoreboard had his name in lights. It was disappointing, and I had all my family down. The headlines were not great the next day, but that’s a goalkeeper’s life at the end of the day – you’ve got to have a thick skin!
Does it annoy you when the FA Cup is mentioned, and Andy Gray’s goal incident is one of the key topics?
You’ve got to take it on the chin. I know at the end of the day it should have been a foul. But I also know a couple of weeks before the cup final I’d had my worst game for the club when we played away at Norwich, and I do look back and wonder if the referee was influenced by me not going through the greatest spell of my career. The incident was just a moment in time when the referee could have given a free kick but didn’t. Other than that I did ok in the game I feel.
Who were your favourite centre-half pairing to have in front of you?
Well I’d go a little further than that and say the best back four were Sims, Bolton, Rice and Rostron. They were all really good pros. Ian Bolton wasn’t the best trainer but he could read the game really well. Simsy would have been an England international had it not been for his bad knees. Pat Rice was the best captain I’ve ever played under, and I think got the best out of Nigel Callaghan, and Wilf became a fantastic decision by Graham Taylor to turn him in to a left back.
You wore the all red goalkeeper kit in an era when most goalkeepers where the same and in green. How did you like being in all red?
Rita chose it! It was the decision of Rita Taylor, who preferred me in red. I would have played in anything, pink and yellow dots wouldn’t bother me, but Rita thought it looked good so I went out in all red.
You once scored for the club, tell us about that!
Yes I did, it was against Coventry. It was a foreign keeper in goal who’s name I can’t remember, but it was wind assisted, he misjudged it, and it sailed in. 14th January 1984 I think!
In 1987 you departed for Grimsby. Why did you leave?
I had a difficult choice when Tony Coton arrived. I was such a Watford person by that point – my wife was from Watford and my sons had both been born in Watford General. I was a Watford man really. I stayed for a testimonial, but I knew I wasn’t going to get many games, so I knew the time was right to go for a new challenge.
How was Grimsby?
It was amazingly similar to Watford. Mick Lyons was the manager and 11 out of the 19 squad were out of contract when I arrived, and by pre season there were just 9 senior pros and the rest was made up of youth players. The club was in disarray but then Alan Buckley came along, he brought in players he knew would play the way he wanted to play and so I got another two promotions under my belt. So it was great at Grimsby as well in the end, we got back to the equivalent to the Championship and mid-table respectability. Don’t get me wrong, it was nothing like Watford’s rise, but was still impressive. Watford was fairy tale stuff and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it.
And what is the day job now?
I’m an Independent Financial Advisor and a Will Consultant, so now I advise on saving people money rather than saving footballs! I deal with companies and individuals. I don’t think many footballers now would get involved nowadays as it is a lot more professional than when I started in the industry. I enjoy it though as I like to deal with the public, and I like to not really know how the day is going to pan out.
I do miss football though, especially the coach journey home after an away win. I miss the banter and the togetherness. Especially from my time at Watford. Everyone at the club was part of a togetherness that was excellent. It was a different game then though; we would walk down Watford High Street and talk to people. Now the game for the working man is ridiculous.
And if you were 25 again tomorrow, how do you feel you would do in today’s game?
That’s a hard one as I think footballers are taught totally differently now. You have to be more or less as comfortable on the ball as an outfield player. I did like to catch the ball, whereas now I think the goalkeepers like to look better than that and perform corkscrews before tipping it over the bar. So it’s a lot more ‘showy’. There is a lot of Hollywood flashiness now. Nobody really wants to catch anything now, just punch. Maybe that’s because the balls move around a lot more.
Do you still follow football?
Well I always look out for Watford. Unfortunately the football in this area isn’t great at the moment with Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Lincoln. I tend to watch a handful of games each year and most will be Watford games. I do come down once or twice a year for a game in the Legends Lounge with Neil Price. I’m a Watford supporter, no doubt about that!
Well thanks for your time Steve, much appreciated.
No problem lads.
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