An era came to an end in September 1996 when Les Simmons, Watford’s groundsman, retired at the age of 70 prompting Graham Taylor to observe: “When you have put 40 years of full time and 10 years of part-time into an organisation, it is a big thing when you leave.”

Reading that quote some 18 years later, I was immediately reminded of my own retirement nine years later. Les, however, had his greyhounds to work with and train and, when I closed down the computer for the final time, I had given myself the challenge of settling in France.

Yet looking back at the 1996 files, I can recall feeling I was in my prime back then. As with all retirees I suspect, now I sit and mentally shake my head in wonder. I was 77 last week. How the hell did that happen. I never saw it coming.

I always feel an extra twinge of sadness when recalling Les. We went to many funerals together and a couple of old players’ reunions. We went down to Southend one afternoon to attend Jimmy Bowie’s funeral and on the way back, Les asked me if I would attend his. I promised I would and he returned the promise he would attend mine, if I should go first.

Attending Pat Morrissey’s and Charlie Livesey’s funerals in subsequent years with a Watford fan and former Hornets legal adviser Richard Hanney, we gave each other similar assurances. The last time I spoke to Richard, he asked me for the address of the local French funeral parlour. It will be a long trek, Richard, and I hope you will not be too old to make it.

However, I digress for I arranged to fly back to Les’ funeral and keep my promise. I was in the departure lounge at Limoges when the announcement came through that the heavy snowfalls in France had forced the cancellation of the flight. I slipped and slid back home, checked everywhere and there was no way I could make it back to Blighty for the funeral. It’s one of those things I recall in retirement that bugs me still.

Les was first deployed at Vicarage Road on the old “flapper track”, looking after the greyhound racing that took place three times a week. That was back in the Second World War and Les would relate with great gusto how he went AWOL and was tracked by the military police back to Watford.

He could tell a good tale and had a fund of anecdotes that stretched back to the days of manager Bill Findlay, the man who cycled to work and was never known to remove his bicycle clips.

He became involved part-time with the pitch and gained in experience and then in the late 1960s he took on the role of groundsman.

Les had made up the numbers in the odd practice matches and may even have made the odd reserve team outing, probably in friendlies. He knew all the players and was a great friend of one of those who, like Tommy Barnett and Skilly Williams, had more claim to a place on the 1881 flag than some.

But greyhound racing was his first love and he kept greyhounds right up until his death. He was a character but a kind man and I got to know him, sitting in Molly Rush’s kitchen back in the day, waiting to interview the manager.

He knew his football and I remember he once took me to one side and opined: “I have looked through the fixture list and I can’t see, with the best will in the world, us winning one game”.

He was not far wrong: it was August 1971 and that season Watford finished bottom of the second tier with five wins.

“I still don’t know how that happened,” he said but there was a photo of Les on the bench, where he sat until Taylor arrived in 1977, celebrating against Aston Villa.

He spoke his mind. “Oli that is the ugliest dog l I have ever seen,” he told me when I came down to the ground with my mongrel Dylan.

One day, visiting manager George Kirby’s house to help him sort out his lawn, Les admired a jacket. George, who was spontaneously generous, gave Les the jacket. Two days later, George received a call. Les had come across £100 in notes in one of the pockets. A grateful Kirby thanked him for his honesty and when George died, Les tracked up to Halifax for his funeral.

When Graham arrived, Les and the new manager had an early run-in. Les was furious at a line in Danny Blanchflower’s Sunday Express column which referred to a weed covered pitch. He phoned me that Sunday morning to locate Graham, whose concentration was interrupted by a thumping on the door by Les.

I printed the story in the Mid-Week (later Free) Observer and Graham thought it significant that Les phoned the press first rather than going through the perceived proper channels. The new manager wanted everyone on board for the new era. He was not sure that Les was part of the “all for one and one for all” ethos. He continued to worry about Les over the years for Les was a rogue cannon.

As a non-representative of the club, he attended public meetings and once chewed a public strip off would be take-over man Leslie Wise, and always maintained there were two structures at Vicarage Road: the players and management were one and “the peasants” were the others.

Les remained very much his own man; took issue with managers when they sought to train on the pitch for he was very protective of his masterpiece. After his retirement and the testimonial against Arsenal at Vicarage Road, Les invited some 20 or more individuals who had played a part in fundraising to a meal out one Saturday night.

Suddenly I heard that old voice echoing across the restaurant. Graham had arrived on his own, without his wife, thinking she had not been invited.

Les exploded at him and ordered: “Phone her up now and get her down here. What do you think I am a b…….. penny-pinching peasant!”