Ah, pre-season and the transfer window. Spurious conjecture and wild speculation command the attention of millions. It’s a great time to be alive, but back in the mid-90’s times were tough. You had newspapers, the odd paragraph on Teletext, and for the truly desperate, ClubCall – a premium rate phone line for fans to listen to pre-recorded transfer gossip.
Watford’s transfer targets rarely made the back pages of the nationals, so most of the significant information came from the Watford Observer – the local weekly paper. One update a week. It was hell, and in the summer of 1994 I could not wait to find out where Watford would be investing the large sums they had received from the sales of Paul Furlong and Bruce Dyer. Selling Furlong in particular was a huge blow, given that he was arguably the most complete centre forward in England at the time. But, despite the loss of such an irreplaceable talent there was also sense of expectation, because Watford had actual money to spend – a new experience for me.
Being naïve I assumed they would invest a good chunk of it on the team, which meant the manager, Glenn Roeder, could be pretty ambitious with his targets. I started to dream about a big name signing to shove in the face of the haters at school, especially Paul Lewis, the Luton fan I sat next to in maths. That smug bastard was already boasting about their new forward line of Plymouth’s Dwight Marshall and Peterborough’s Tony Adcock. We needed to think big.
However, after waiting a couple of weeks and hearing nothing about a new striker, I started to panic. Why was this all taking so long? I realised Glenn might need some help identifying suitable targets, so decided to lend him the benefit of my detailed knowledge of football things. Based on my expert insights and tactical nous I managed to narrow my focus to one target: Kevin Campbell.
Why would Campbell leave Arsenal to join a Watford team that had narrowly avoided relegation to the third tier? Good question, but we don’t have time for that now. The important thing is that I was so certain we could get him I wrote a letter to Glenn Roeder with this suggestion, then waited patiently for news of Campbell’s imminent signing.
The weeks passed and nothing happened. I grew concerned. Had Roeder not received my letter? Worse still, had he received it and chosen to ignore it? Eventually, I had my answer and it was not the one I wanted. Roeder had made his choices. I read about the signings on Teletext and sighed. And then I got this in the post:
As you can see, Glenn correctly assumed I was already aware of his transfer business and the four signings referenced in his letter. It must have been obvious to him from my correspondence that I wasn’t just another annoying fan who needed to get out more. It’s evident that Glenn respected my opinions, as he went on to explain his rationale for signing these players in some detail : “I am sure all these players will be good for Watford”. It’s a solid argument, but did history prove him correct? The Millwall forward Jamie Moralee was the most expensive at around £400k, and proved to be disastrous signing – one of the worst I can remember. Too lightweight to lead the line, he struggled to have an impact, and his confidence had disappeared by Christmas. In summary, he scored about four goals, but had a fling with Danniella Westbrook and was therefore Watford’s most famous player during this period. Derek Payne was a small, tough tackling midfielder, normally quite useful, but he was signed to play alongside Andy Hessenthaler – a small, tough tackling midfielder. I’m not sure Geoff Pitcher was real.
So, that’s 0 for 3 so far, and then there was Tommy Mooney. Signed as a striker, Mooney also struggled for goals initially and over the next few seasons had spells at wing-back and sweeper, head cheerleader, club secretary, and Hornet Shop manager, before ending up as a striker again. And, it was Mooney’s run of goals at the end of the 1998/99 season that fired Graham Taylor’s Watford to the Premier League via the play-offs, cementing his status as a fans favourite and ‘total ledge’. So, that kind of gets Roeder off the hook, eh? No. No it does not.
Roeder was sacked in 1996 with his team were struggling against relegation, unable to score enough goals (keeping them out had also become a problem by this stage too). The thing is, it could have been so different. Later in the 1994/95 season Roeder discovered a talented non-league forward called Kevin Phillips, who he signed for £10,000. Phillips displayed a natural goal scorers instinct and was particularly effective when partnered with a target man, but Watford lacked the quality centre forward to play alongside him. When Phillips was partnered with Niall Quinn at Sunderland a couple of seasons later he couldn’t stop scoring. I’m pretty sure partnering him with Kevin Campbell would have had the same result.
So, basically I was right. Knew it.