Tommy signed for Watford after a successful loan period in 1994, joining from Southend United for a fee of £95,000. A striker by trade, he was a firm favourite with the fans for his committed play. He was twice winner of the Player of the Season award, and scored 58 goals in 240 appearances for the club, this is despite enjoying one season where he played mostly as a centre-back. He was the fourth player inducted into the Watford Hall of Fame.
Tommy was interviewed by Watford Legends in 2008, while playing in Marbella. He is now the Player Loans manager at Aston Villa, where his son is in the club’s academy.
Hi Tommy. Your Watford career started strangely, scoring against your own club whilst on loan…
I signed on loan from Southend on the Friday and travelled straight up to Sunderland for my debut. I actually played against Southend at home in one of my first games for Watford, in fact it may even have been my home debut. We won 2-0 and I scored. It happens more now but that was one of the first times that somebody had scored against there parent club. It was a bit strange, but I didn’t get on with Peter Taylor who was the Southend manager at the time so I had a bit of a wry smile on my face as I ran back to the half way line after the goal.
I remember you gave a little thumbs up as you ran past the benches on your way back!
Well it might have been a thumb…but it might not have been! He had made it very difficult for me to leave Southend for six months and then in the last week of the transfer deadline as it was then as opposed to a window, he said ‘alright I will let you go’.
When I look back at it now it is different and I have thanked him for it several times since as I had eight great years at Watford, but at the time he was very, very stubborn and a pain in the arse.
Why Watford? How did it all come about?
I knew Glenn Roeder. I had played against him when he was player manager at Gillingham. The move had been on and off for a little while. Peter Taylor wasn’t going to play me in his first team at Southend but he only wanted to sell me rather than loan me out. He had already turned down 9 or 10 loan offers for me, including one from my home town club Middlesbrough. As soon as he turned that down me and him fell out the very same day.
I then played in the reserves for a couple of months. When he finally realised that nobody wanted to buy me but a few clubs wanted to take me on loan, he allowed me to do it. Because of Glenn Roeder and because it was only an hour from my Essex home at the time that was the reason I went there in all honesty. I had no allegiances to Watford at the time. It all came down to knowing Glenn and travelling time.
How far into your time at Watford did you realise that you were really enjoying it enough to get settled?
I loved it from day one. I had spent 6 months at Southend hating it so much that I had put my house up for sale and I was going to go back up north and give up the game completely because of how Peter Taylor was treating me and because of how I was feeling about the game. I was only six months in to a three year contract that I had signed with Barry Fry. Barry then went on to Birmingham and they wouldn’t let me go with him. In all honesty I spent six months at Southend not wanting to be a footballer.
Then I went to Watford and it changed. I think we got a result up at Sunderland, then we beat Southend and in the space of a fortnight I had got my hunger back. The Watford fans had taken to me straight away as well. Basically, I wanted to be a footballer again. There was no way on earth though that I was going back to Southend. It was left right up until the last minute for the deal to become permanent but I knew it was going to happen all the way along. I was delighted when it did officially become permanent.
Did you realise at your time at Watford how much of an impact you had on the fans, and how much you were adored in your time here?
I think that is quite a tough question to answer. I knew they appreciated the way I play the game. I was no and am no Ronaldo but I will always give everything I have got for the team I am playing for. I had 8 fantastic years there. Granted we had a couple of relegations in that time but I won two of my three medals whilst with Watford, one at Fulham and one at Wembley. You don’t forget those days.
Since I have left the club, I think I realise more now. A couple of years ago a mate of mine who is a Watford fan phoned me and said he had a spare ticket for Watford away at Man. Utd. I said ‘No problem, I would love to go’ not thinking anybody would recognise me or anything. We were getting beaten by United – I say ‘we’ as that has become habit over the years as I consider them to be my team – and the Watford fans were still singing Mooney songs. Unbelievable.
I didn’t understand it and I didn’t expect it. Several little things that have happened since I left have made me realise that I did have a special relationship with the Watford fans and one that I will never have again anywhere else, but I will always have that relationship with the Watford supporters.
I remember after that game away at Old Trafford that you being there was probably the biggest talking point!
Ha ha! Like I say, it was just completely unexpected. I was wearing a hat and a hoodie, and I thought I would just get in unnoticed and mind my own business. I think it was just a case that once one person recognised me the word spread around the concourse underneath. As much as at the time I thought it was unnecessary, I appreciated it afterwards. It makes me laugh and smile now thinking about it but at the time I just didn’t expect it and it took me by surprise. It was just unbelievable.
What were you say were your stand out moments for the club?
I suppose any Watford supporter could pick my top two. Wembley in May, and Anfield in August. 1999 was a particularly good year! Those are the obvious ones, after that there would be the smaller ones like Bolton at home when I scored a header during the run in of that promotion season, I scored six or seven goals in about the same number of games on that run. That was a special time.
As daft as it seems, there was a goal at the home end against Bristol Rovers a few years before that. When I speak to Watford supporters they mention that goal a lot and so I think that’s what brings that goal to the forefront of my mind. I think that goal rather than a chip or smashing one in the top corner sums me up as a player. Just pig headed, bloody mindedness really! If there is something I want then I will go and get it and it would have to be a pretty strong bloke to get it off me. That goal just summed me up perfectly.
Another game that must stand out for you, how did you find the 4-0 demolition job at Luton?
Ha ha!! Still makes me giggle! Peter Kennedy got a couple didn’t he? Before that, I had a very, very average record in the derby games. I don’t know if that was my first win in the derby games but it was certainly the most memorable. It was a great atmosphere, and to shut that lot up in the space of 30 minutes and watch them leaving was brilliant. Just brilliant. That was how it was for the players, so I can imagine what it was like for the supporters.
We have spoken to Peter Kennedy and he said that he didn’t realise how much it meant to the fans until after the game, is it fair to say you knew the importance of it before the game?
Yes, definitely. I had played them a couple of times before already. But I think that was the first time I had played against them at there ground, I remember doing my knee a couple of times before games there but I had played them at home. I remember playing against them up front with Jamie Moralee at home and we lost 2-1 or something like that. The results against them had not always been great, but that 4-0 certainly made up for all of that!
Still makes me smile now thinking about it!!
It seems to make any hornet giggle that does! Long may it continue!
What was said at half time by Graham Taylor in that game? Were you told to take your foot off the pedal a bit because of the people coming on the pitch, or were you told to just keep going and score more if you could?
He wanted us to slow the game down, he was happy with the 4-0. He would have his own reasons for that. GT was very unorthodox in his thinking about the modern game of football. He was ahead of his time. Arsene Wenger is I suppose on record as being one of the most forward thinking managers in the game but at the time Arsenal were doing everything, we were doing it as well. GT got a lot of stick in the press, particularly with the England job but as a club manager he was undoubtedly a very, very successful man. Its difficult to describe. Different, but very clever is probably the best way of putting it. He could see things that other people couldn’t see.
We were 4-0 up and celebrating, and he went mad at us for celebrating at half time. I’m not suggesting he was worried about what could happen with the crowd and people on the pitch. But at the back of his mind he would be thinking that they could score one and get back in it, where as us players were thinking why don’t we go and win this seven or eight nil and really wind them up. He was incredibly professional in his thinking. I can’t remember his exact words but it was more or less ‘calm down and settle for 4-0’. Whatever his reasons were, that was the point he wanted to put across and if he wanted to put a point across, he put it across.
You mentioned Wembley earlier. That must have been an enjoyable game? You almost got on the score sheet as well with a header?
Yeah I nodded it just wide at the far post. I sound like a right statto here because I remember everything! I tend to remember good times though. I think Micah put a cross in to me at the back post, and I just tried to cushion it down into the bottom corner instead of going back across the goal. For a few seconds, I forgot where I was. If I had scored at Wembley, for me as a person that has made the most out of what I’ve got, it would have been an even better day than what it was if that can be possible.
I knew that that was my one and only chance on the day so for two or three minutes after that I was absolutely distraught, but then the final whistle comes and you forget about your own individual things and celebrate what we had achieved as a team.
You more than made up for not scoring at Wembley by scoring the winner at Anfield in front of the Kop…
Yeah, although at the time of the Wembley miss I dint know that Anfield was going to happen! As a Liverpool supporter as a kid, that was a very special day. I think that was the first time I had played at Anfield as well. I have been lucky enough to play there a couple of times since.
But to go there on my first visit and get our first points in the Premier League, and my first goal in the Premier League was fantastic. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. There is a funny story from that trip as well. Whenever we played at Merseyside or Manchester teams we always used to get the train up on a Friday afternoon from Watford Junction.
We got to the station in Liverpool, and the coach was always there waiting to pick us up to go to the hotel. As we left the station we were all in our club tracksuits and following GT to the coach and we walked past the taxi rank. All these Scouse cab drivers were standing there and leaning against there cabs saying ‘Like lambs to the slaughter they walk to their coach!’. We had been beaten by Sunderland and beaten by Wimbledon and now we had to go and face Liverpool away, and thinking ‘oh my god, what’s going to happen tomorrow?!’ As daft as it seems, I was walking off the pitch at Anfield and I was thinking about those taxi drivers! What they were saying was what the rest of the country was thinking.
But we had managed to go and surprise everybody by being very, very lucky that Redknapp and Fowler had missed some chances where as we put our only chance away. Though saying that, it wasn’t our only chance as I could have had two in the second half. But we put one of our chances away, and held on through every weather condition you could imagine to get our first win. It was a great day for us.
If I was at The Rookery end playing against Watford, I would put it over the bar! As a Liverpool fan you must have been caught in two minds!!
Ha ha! There are not too many people fortunate enough to score at the Kop End, no matter who you are. I like to think that Watford fans know me well enough to know that goals are the only bit of football I am interested in so I was more than happy enough to stick it in the corner of the goal and be mobbed by the lads!
Were there any players in particular that you knocked about with a lot during your time at Watford?
Yeah there was quite a few of us that were close. Me, Robert Page, Keith Millen, Johnno, Paul Robinson…we had quite a good little social gathering. In that era of the club we had a very good team spirit and as much as it was a long time ago, I was still one of the senior pros then because we had a very youthful side. We all used to go and have a few beers on a Tuesday in Watford after training. We would still be there at closing time on a Tuesday as well because we had Wednesday’s off! It was that team spirit and work ethic that got us our success in that couple of year period. The majority of players were there for four or five and that was not the norm.
Peter Kennedy was another one that was in that little drinking squad, in fact Peter used to be the leader of the drinking squad! He used to drink Guinness all day, I would need a knife and fork after four or five of them! Like I said though that team spirit got us so far. Even when I left after eight years at the club, there was four or five players that were due to have testimonials. To give that time and service was just unheard of, and it is even more rare now. That dedication also enhanced the team spirit because we all knew that every one of us would be giving 100% for everybody else.
It must have been quite galling when we finally got to the Premier League and then you got clattered by Desailly?
I will be honest with you, I still cannot watch the World Cup coverage on the BBC because when I see his face I want to put my boot through the T.V. Its one of those things but….he was just a nasty bastard. As soon as we walked on the field he put his fingers in my eyes, so I knew it was going to kick off any minute. And literally five minutes later it happened. I don’t think it was a necessarily bad tackle, it was just clumsy.
He meant to hurt me, though I don’t think he meant to hurt me that much. I didn’t realise how much he had hurt me at the time. Its one of those things I should be able to put behind me but I genuinely cant because he took seven and a half months away from my Premier League season and I will always be very, very bitter about that. Whether I would be different if it had been somebody else I don’t know, but I will always be very bitter towards him. I have never come across him since, but then I am never going to get that season back. By the time I was fit after that, we were already relegated. That was the worst bit. I am seeing my team mates, and I have just said how close we were, hurting and suffering every week and I couldn’t do anything to help them because I was still on crutches. It was a very difficult time.
After four months I went for a second opinion as I was no closer to being fit and the physio at Watford at the time had told me I may have to think about not playing again. To say that to me after four months was awful. I had even tried to play on after the injury. My knee was the size of my head but I had though that I could have got through it. Like I said I went to get a second opinion having been out for four months and had two operations, I saw a different physio and surgeon and was back playing in three months. I will always be eternally grateful to the people that gave me the good advice, rather than the Watford physio at the time.
Unfortunately Tommy all good things come to an end and you ended up moving up to Birmingham among rumours Everton also came in for you. What made you decide to move on?
GT had made it clear in the February of that year that he would be leaving and that there was going to be a lot of changes at the club. I am not talking out of turn, he never told me about Vialli or anything like that but I knew he was going. I also knew that on transfer deadline day Birmingham had offered £500,000 for me, as did Nottingham Forest. My last season for Watford was probably my best season. GT turned those bids down as we still had a chance of promotion ourselves. It was an outside chance granted, but we were not out of it completely and I was the only one scoring goals at the time so he wasn’t going to let me go. It was a big move by the club because they were turning those bids down when they could end up losing me for nothing three months down the line at the end of the season. I had said I was happy to stay, but also that was my chance to go on and secure my future and my family’s future financially. I am not trying to keep any secrets from anybody so I am happy to share that, I am quite open about it.
I went to speak to Forest and Birmingham, and when I was on my way home from Birmingham I got a call from Walter Smith who was the current Everton manager. I went to meet him at Manchester Airport but turned him down ultimately. I have gone over it in my head and asked myself why quite a few times since. I was not and am not a Premier League player. I was one of those players where the Championship was easy for me, but the Premier League was too much for me. I was one of those players that was caught in the middle. The difference is I am honest about it. There are several players even now that will cruise the Championship but find the top level too much. I knew that if I went to Everton the chances are I would have got swallowed up and ended up moving on again not long afterwards.
Because of the ages of my children I needed to settle. They were 3 and 4 at the time and were about to start school so they needed to be settled and have some stability. If I moved to Merseyside and then six months later went to Birmingham it wouldn’t have given them that. So I decided to go to Birmingham because I knew I could have another decent season in the Championship and I wanted another promotion. I also knew I would get to play more at Birmingham than Everton, and if the truth be told Birmingham’s contract was better than the one Everton offered me. It just seemed right for me to go there.
And as it happened with Watford anyway, when Vialli came in he was asked if he wanted to speak to me about trying to get me to stay and he said no and turned it down flat, he wasn’t interested in speaking to me. So in the end, staying at Watford wasn’t an option anyway.
How did you enjoy your time at Birmingham?
It was difficult at first because I signed for Trevor Francis and things went pear shaped for him. I had an ankle injury that I had to have an operation on and missed two and a half months of the season. Whilst I was out injured Trevor got the sack because they were not doing well despite spending a lot of money on players. Then Brucey came in and we went from twelfth to sixth in the last 12 games and got promoted at Cardiff. It was very similar to the way we got promoted at Watford against Bolton. If you win 12 out of your last 13 games you know you are going to get promoted. There is no doubt in your mind you will do it when you are on a run like that. It was a fantastic time.
Then when Birmingham got to the Premier League they signed Christophe Dugarry. This is a man who has won World Cups and European Championships, who am I to turn round and say that I should be playing instead?! It just wont happen, football doesn’t work like that. I then went out on loan to Stoke, Derby and Sheffield United.
There were rumours locally at about that time that Luton Town tried signing you, was there any truth in that?
No. I think a lot of the Luton rumours were at the end of that season when I eventually signed for Swindon. I actually got some pretty nasty letters from Watford fans on the back of rumours in the press about me going to Luton. There is no way, not a cat in hells chance of me going there. If I was down to my last 50 pence in my back pocket I still wouldn’t go and sign for Luton. Its just not the done thing. When you have been loyal to a club for eight years you don’t go and then sign for their local rivals. I never spoke to them, and they never even approached me in fairness so it was just people trying to cause trouble in the written media.
Do you have any idea where it started out from?
I have no idea to be honest, it was in the national press when I first saw it. Just some bored journalist that wanted to cause some trouble in Hertfordshire.
Did those letters you received maybe slightly taint your relationship with the Watford supporters?
Oh no not at all, I could understand what they were saying from what they had seen in the media. It was just so far from the truth. Like I said, I never spoke to them and they never approached me.
Neither party made contact with the other one. I think they would probably know that I would never, ever sign for them.
What’s it been like when you have been back to Luton with other teams? Do you get much stick from them?
Yeah I get a bit of stick but I have got a good record there now. Ever since the 4-0 game I don’t think I have ever lost there. They tend to give me a bit of stick on the warm up but once the game starts and you go 1-0 up they go very, very quiet as they often do at Luton. Its not been a problem for me. The clubs I have been back there with, Wycombe, Oxford, Swindon and Walsall are all relatively low profile clubs so there is not big crowds for them games anyway. I chose to go to those clubs because I was working three days a week and I could keep my family home in the Midlands and just drive to training on them three days.
For the last couple of years my career has been very relaxed. Now, I have rented out the family home in the midlands and am now living in Spain and playing for Marbella.
And moving on to now, we understand it is an English owned club and they got in touch with you as you were living out there?
I have had the holiday home here for four or five years now, and the house is only ten minutes from the training ground. Some English people have come in and taken over a high percentage of the club, but not completely. The club is still ultimately owned by Spanish people.
These new investors wanted to bring in some English players though and I am the first one they signed. Hopefully we can raise the profile of the club. At the moment we only get a few thousand Spanish supporters when there is 30 or 40 thousand English ex-pats living here so we would like to get a few English people in and get them enjoying the Spanish way of football.
Its very family orientated here. Kids under 16 are allowed in for free and you can come and watch a game of football and still be only 200 yards from the beach, and behind the other goal there is a mountain! It’s a little bit different to most grounds around England, and even in December it is still 75 degrees!
Are you thinking of doing just a couple of years out there or living there permanently?
This is probably me now, certainly long term. The children are enrolled in a Spanish school and they are having Spanish lessons at the moment, and also our season is now underway.
In the build up to the season were you looking forward to it in the same way you did when playing in the English leagues?
I was a little apprehensive to be honest. It is a very different style of play here. The number 9 role I had at Watford is not the same as the number 9 role that I have here. I play up front alone here. It’s a very slow build up, a very slow pace. Its similar to basketball in a way because when you get in the final third it becomes very quick. The ball doesn’t come in the box as often as I would like but hopefully we can change that around and make it a bit more entertaining.
What English division would you compare the league you play in now to?
I would say League 1, but the players are technically better and play a slower game. Its difficult to compare because of the differences in the style of play. You would probably say League 1, but the players are perhaps technically as good as Championship players.
It’s much easier to play here because of the slower pace. The defenders are very comfortable on the ball here but then they are not being hurried and harassed by strikers like you would be in England.
Was playing in Spain always your plan once you stopped in England?
Not necessarily to play as that came out of the blue. But to live for a couple of years was always the plan to give the children the experience of a different culture and learn a different language and that will hopefully stand them in good stead for there adult years.
So the move here has probably come a little sooner than planned because of the opportunity to come and work here. Its good to get with the club at the beginning of this new era though, and play for one or two years and then who knows after that?
Where would you like to see yourself in five years time if by that point you have hung your boots up?
If you had asked me that a year ago I would have said a manager in the English league. Now, I am not so sure. The quicker I learn Spanish the easier it will be for me to coach here and then perhaps the experiences I pick up here may stand me in good stead if I was offered a job back in England or wherever else.
To learn from the experience as much as get a sun tan is the basics of it. I have not just come here for an easy life though, I would still quite like another medal in the Spanish league. When I go to work that’s the aim, but when I am not at work the aim is to relax and wind down the career a bit.
Before you went out to Spain there was an article in the Watford Observer about how the club came in to try and re-sign you, but you were not informed of it. Was there anything in that story?
Yeah I wasn’t made aware of it. It was when I was at Wycombe and we got to the semi-finals of the cup against Chelsea. I am told they made an approach and that they wanted to swap one of their players on loan until the end of the season. I don’t think Aidy had a great amount of money in his budget and it was just a little gamble that never came off.
I was disappointed because I had a good relationship with the Chief Executive and the manager at Wycombe and neither one of them told me about it at the time.
My first reaction is I would have gone back there immediately but sometimes with hindsight you look at it differently. The Watford fans seem to hold me in very high regard, and if I went back there now I am not the same player that I used to be. As much as mentally I have all the same attributes and mindset, physically the years are catching up with me and I wouldn’t want to disappoint any Watford fans that remember the Tommy Mooney of several years ago. So that would have been at the back of my mind. But the option and the decision wasn’t down to me. It was just something that could have happened but didn’t.
What do you think of the current Watford side when you see them?
I think it’s a very, very difficult time. They seem to be paying now for mistakes of several years ago, despite having had a season in the Premier League that brings in a lot of money. Selling arguably the best players is the proof of that. I still have a lot of friends at the club both on and off the pitch.
I will always wish the club well as you would expect me to, but it’s very difficult for them to compete in a division now that is almost like the Premier League where there is leagues within leagues.
Some of the clubs in the Championship are on a financial par with the Premiership clubs because of the parachute payments or receiving big transfer fees. that makes it a very tough time for Watford. Another season in the Premier League anytime in the next five years would be a big bonus.
Do you still keep an eye out for what the club is doing?
Yeah I still speak to a lot of people within the club, and I have friends who are die hard Watford fans so I also get to hear a rumour or two despite me being in a different country! You don’t spend eight years at a club and have such a great time and just forget about them. Its always the first result I look for, Watford then Birmingham as those are the two clubs where I made the most friends.
Your last appearance in a Watford shirt came at Wembley in the Masters, how did you find that?
It was my debut in the Masters and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of the people you have spoken to I hadn’t seen for ages. I hadn’t seen Rammer since he left the club I don’t think. I have spoken to him on the phone several times since he left but never seen him. You lose touch with people where phone numbers change or people move away. It had probably been seven or eight years since I saw Rammer.
And then all the others. Hessy, Gibbo, Kevin Miller. It was just great to see old friends but once that dressing room door is shut we are all professionals and we got to the final because we were a bit pig headed on the night and decided to kick a few people rather than have people pass round us.
You all seemed to be taking it seriously?
It goes back to that team spirit thing with us. With every game there is a winner and a loser and nobody wanted to be the loser at the Masters. I was in a dressing room with 10 people there who all had the same mindset and hate losing.
As much as we ruffled a few feathers on the night sometimes that is what you have to do. It is a competitive competition, you are not just going there for a beer and a giggle. You are going there to represent your club and give your best.
But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to see all the boys, the banter was flowing and the couple of hours we spent together was great fun with a few good games of football in between. I am hopeful we will be back down there for it next year.
I hope so, it was good fun to watch. It took me back a few years!
We never had any of the best players in any of the divisions we played in, but we had players who knew what they were good at and stuck to it. In a team sport that often works.
Well thanks for the interview Tommy, we can you leave you be now to go and enjoy the weather! You will be pleased to know it has been belting it down with rain here and freezing cold!
Ha ha chin up boys! I have to be honest with you lads, I have got a couple of hours left before I have to go training tonight, so I am sat by the pool on a sun lounger at the moment! Thanks for talking to me.
Quick Fire Round
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