Hi Gary, can you tell us how you started out in the youth ranks at Watford?
There was a scout in the north east called Norman Alder who worked for Graham Taylor when he was at Lincoln. When Graham moved on to Watford he took his scouting network with him and I was part of his next batch of players.
Norman had seen me play for my school team, and I also played for a boys team called Lampton Street Boys Club which Micky Smith and Mick Harford had both played for years before. There were five of us in total who came down. We got the Intercity Express from Newcastle into Kings Cross, and Tom Walley came and picked us up in the minibus and we spent a week or two weeks on trial.
It was a long way from home and I was only 11 or 12 then. Norman looked after us though, and he had been trusted by our parents to keep an eye on us all. But for five lads coming down to train with Watford for a week, we just saw it as a fantastic opportunity. It was brilliant.
When you were working you way through, did you ever think that you might not make it?
I impressed them in my first trial down there, so for the next three or four years I kept coming back in every school holiday. There were various other lads that came down as well and Gibbsy was in the same age group as me. In the end I signed schoolboy forms on my 14th birthday, and kept coming down from my home in Sunderland every holiday until I left school and became an apprentice.
What can you remember about your first team debut?
My official debut was at Molineux when we beat Wolves 5-0. I think Maurice Johnston got two or three that day. I came on for the last 10 or 15 minutes on the left wing. My full debut was away to Leicester at Filbert Street and we got thumped 4-1, with both Lineker and Smith scoring for Leicester. To make my full debut was fantastic but the result was awful. My parents had come down from Sunderland to watch it, but to be fair I was 17 years old and the game just flew by and I didnít really get too involved. I played wide left that day, so Barnesy must have been injured or being played through the middle or something. I didnít really like playing left wing but because of my age and my size, I was about nine stone dripping wet, it made sense to play me there rather than centre midfield which is what I preferred.
What other players were you closest to as you broke in to the first team?
There was five of us apprentices all coming through at about the same time. There was me, Gibbsy, a goalkeeper called Derek Williams who was also from Sunderland, Alex Dyer and a centre half called Pat Noonan. Pat was the only one to not go on and have any type of career in the game. Derek moved on to Reading before drifting out and ending up working for Barclays Bank. Gibbsy and Alex are both still involved in the professional game. We were the only apprentices at the time so we had all the jobs to do between us!
Cleaning a lot of boots then!
No, the only job we didnít do was clean other playerís boots. Graham Taylor would not allow it. He believed that if you were a professional then you looked after your own boots. So we were left with sweeping out changing rooms, filling the kit skips, making sure the balls were clean...the only pairs of boots we had to clean were the gaffers and the staff. So there was John Barnes England international, cleaning his own boots! I could see the logic behind it though. They are the tools of your trade, you should look after them.
Is it fair to say you enjoyed your time under Graham Taylor?
Yes, it was fantastic. The one question people always used to ask me especially in Sunderland was, why Watford? The simple answer was that from me first coming down to the club on trial and every time I came back in the holidays after that, the club was always progressing. They were always looking for improvement and achieved it.
When I first came down I think we were in the third division but by the time I signed as an apprentice in '82 they were in the top flight. In fact my first full season at Watford was that first season in the top flight when they finished second only to Liverpool.
All I had seen was this club growing and growing and going up and up, where as my home town team were just up and down all the time. The biggest reason though is that they made me feel special and like they really wanted me, so it was a fairly easy decision really.
How did you feel at the time when Dave Basset came in?
When Dave Bassett came in I was 21 years old and had only just established myself in the first team as a regular. At the time there was no sign that the club was going to struggle so basically I just got on with training and making sure I impressed the new manager. Apart from Barnsey leaving Dave inherited a good team, a team who was capable of finishing in the top half of the league.
Was there maybe a split in the camp with players Basset brought in and players that were already there?
Initially there wasnít a split but after a few games into the season and some of the players from the Taylor era were sold and replaced, and results werenít good, splits started to form. It was difficult for Harry because he had to follow the most successful manager in Watfordís history and selling players like Kevin Richardson and Mark Falco had an effect on the dressing room when things started to go wrong.
Nigel Gibbs has told us that he had thoughts about making a transfer request at that time, did you get 'itchy feet' at all?
Graham came in for me and wanted me to go up to Villa with him. Bassett told me about the bid, but also told me that he didnít want me to go as I was part of his plans at Watford. If I could turn the clock back I would have gone. Villa is and were a big club and I enjoyed working for Graham, but Bassett didnít want me to go.
Do I regret it now...no, because I still had a fantastic career and played a lot of games for Watford. I do wonder where I might have gone in the game had I gone to Villa. But ultimately I didnít have that choice as I Bassett didnít want me to leave.
Would you say Graham Taylor is the best manager you have played under?
Without a doubt. He was an unbelievable club manager, fantastic. He had his most successful as manager at Watford in that spell and it was great to be part of.
Are there any particular games that stand out for you? We can think of one in particular!
Ha! The Bolton game is the one most fondly remembered. But as well as that, I remember Arsenal in the cup quarter final, the semi against Spurs at Villa Park, which although turned into a disaster was a great occasion. We beat Spurs in the league 1-0 a few weeks later. Maybe with a full squad it may have been different, who knows? As for the Bolton game, what can I say?! 18 minutes left and losing 3-0 and playing an absolute stinker in the rain. We were that bad we may as well have stayed back in the changing room! I got the first one back, then the second and then Ken Charlery got the equalizer. I think Glenn Roeder was the manager at the time. And then I managed to score the last minute penalty to win the game.
Nervous taking the penalty?
No. I never was. I was the penalty taker, I had a job to do so I just did it. It was something I just did. We had already pulled it back to 3-3 from an impossible situation so even if I missed it would have been a point gained. The penalty was just the icing on the cake for me and for the team. For 72 minutes we were just not in it. When we got the first one back it gave us a bit of a lift, and then when the second went in we actually started believing we had a chance. The right back for Bolton that day was Phil Brown, the current Hull manager. I saw him back when he was Derby manager and he said to me then that he still couldnít believe it!
Still got the ball?
I have, itís in the garage but I made a big mistake. I got it signed by all the lads, but I didnít get the special coating you can get put on it to protect it so they have all faded now.
I also remember another goal that was a bit special, away to Norwich.
That goal took us into the last game against Leicester with a chance of staying up. We won 2-0 or 2-1, and gave us real hope. We were playing in the burgundy kit, which is about the only kit I never kept! Graham was back as manager by that game. I actually spoke to Graham about that goal a couple of years afterwards, and he told me that at the time when he saw me turn he was praying I wasnít going to shoot as he thought I was too far out but in the end he was pleased I did!
Was long range shooting something you always had?
I always had goals in my game, and when we were at Watford we were always encouraged to shoot when we could, albeit not ridiculously. Graham was a big one for stats and he would look at the number of crosses into the box, shots on target and everything else. Quite simply, you had to shoot to score was his idea so shoot a lot but get them on target. So we were confident to hit them from distance.
Who had the better long range strike, you or Richard Johnson?
Johnnoís were more ferocious! We had a good little mix in midfield. I was left footed and couldnít kick with my right, and Johnno was the other way round. You would have to see who got the most goals though!