Before continuing the Graham Taylor saga, I thought it best to pick up on a point made in an earlier article.

I think it is very hard for a local journalist to write about a club for 45 years and not upset a few people now and then. Or as skipper John McClelland once stated in the dressing room: “Hey. He writes 8,000 words or more every week. There is bound to be a sentence someone doesn’t like.”

Upsetting people certainly caused me concern. I spent years fretting over sentences, paragraphs and the like, knowing they would cause problems for me and the ‘victim’. I would reread what I had written of an evening in the build-up to publication but eventually I would remind myself what an old fan had said to me at the outset: “Tell the truth or the truth as you see it.”

But just in case you think that in my dotage I am trying to paint myself as some sort of crusader for the truth, may I point out one occasion when I got it horribly wrong.

The date was October 28, 1987 and I had to apologise to a justifiably indignant Dave Bassett, who was manager at the time. Watford were away to Swindon Town in the League Cup and drew 1-1. Afterwards I noticed Dave was somewhat terse when answering questions and, on the following morning, he phoned to complain and threaten me with withdrawal of access over a report in the mid-week Watford Observer.

I was the author and my claim was justified. Directors Muir Stratford, Bertie Mee and Geoff Smith were convinced chairman Elton John’s appointment of Bassett was a mistake from the day of the announcement. Muir was particularly outspoken and his after-match comments with regard to quality of football were so dismissive and loudly proclaimed, he was overheard by Bassett’s wife. The anecdote won Muir a paragraph in Bassett’s biography.

“I had to go out an buy a copy of the bloomin’ thing. His comments were fair enough, as were mine,” Muir told me later.

The fact was Bertie Mee was not given to leaking observations. He was morally very upright even if on occasions he drifted from the dismissive to downright rude. However, he was cornered one morning by groundsman Les Simmons, who asked him how long “this circus” was to continue. Les explained when asked as to the circus he was referring to and Bertie did impart the distinct impression that it would not go on much longer. Les was “not to worry”.

The fear was that not only the standards Watford had set over the Taylor years were being eroded, but their hold on top-flight status was looking more fragile by the week. I already knew from sundry reliable sources that Elton faced the inevitable decision and that the board behind him had given a distinct thumbs down to Bassett’s continued tenure.
That view was being conveyed to Elton in the USA.

So I wrote in previewing Watford’s League Cup tie at the County Ground that it was doubtful even a successful cup run could save Bassett as the general consensus at Vicarage Road was that it was not working and had been an ill-conceived appointment. This was not a headline story, for the team selection occupied the main thrust of the report, but I did make the above observations after dealing with the preview of the cup tie and Bassett’s pre-game remarks.

Of course Bassett lasted a further 10 weeks leaving rookie manager Steve Harrison insufficient time to pull the fat from the fire. The story I had written was true but I, along with the directors, were left in limbo as Elton had “gone to earth”.

“He did this when we were struggling in Division Two. We found it difficult to contact him. Obviously he knows the situation but is not replying to our calls,” I was informed.

So there was I predicting Bassett’s imminent demise and in fact it was 10 weeks too early.

I had to apologise to Bassett as clearly he was still the manager and explain that I had printed the observation on the basis of information from reliable sources. To his credit, Bassett accepted my statement and we continued to talk on a daily basis, but he always regarded me as hostile right to the end and his biography reflected that.

My only consolation was later when I bumped into Les Simmons and I explained I had a bad week with Bassett, he consoled me with the Bertie Mee anecdote. “He won’t last,” Les said of Bassett but it would not only have been better for me and for Watford, if the directors had contacted the chairman and insisted on the manager’s dismissal. 

Had he been axed after the Swindon game in late October, a new manager might have had time to swing things round.

I remember centre-half Terry Mancini coming into my office in 1965 and asking me why I had labelled him an enigma. I explained that he always promised more than he delivered.

He was not happy but I was amused to read years later, he recited the anecdote when receiving the Evening Standard Player of the Month Award, and said after confronting me, he went away and thought I had a point.

I remember full-back Johnny Williams who did not play a team game, coming in and asking me why I had written in conclusion to the season, that he had not made the left-back spot his own. He pointed out that he had made more appearances than any other left-back at the club.

That was a tricky one because I knew the manager had spent three seasons trying to replace him but had not had the funds to spend after investing in bigger priorities.

Johnny finished with a testimonial after ten years and I worked on his behalf on the committee.

Apart from Johnny, Terry and Steve Harrison, no other players gave me an ear-wigging but I am sure John McClelland was right. A few were tempted.