Boys From '77 - Trevor How
Alongside the small nucleus of players who were destined to reach the pinnacle of the game as part of the incredible journey from Fourth Division also-rans to First Division runners-up under Graham Taylor was a larger group, whose contributions to the lift-off phase were less celebrated, but still vitally important
In the first of a series of portraits of this band of brothers, Nick Brodrick catches up with full-back Trevor How, whose post-Watford life turns out to be every bit as enjoyable as his career at the Club.
A talented schoolboy, Trevor joined Watford aged 16 in 1973 on apprenticeship terms, under George Kirby’s management. He had grown up in a sporting environment – father Ron had been a leading rider during the Speedway boom of the post-war years, being capped over 50 times for England and Great Britain, at a time when only football drew larger crowds. Ron appeared for Harringay, Wimbledon and Oxford, and in 1965 was officially rated among the world’s top ten riders.
Towards the end of his career, Ron took over the running of The Crown Inn in Little Missenden, Bucks, from his-mother-in-law, the pub having been in her own family since 1923. Trevor grew up there, and it has been a constant in his life ever since. More of that story later.
Trevor made his first team debut at the age of 17, and whilst still an apprentice, in a goalless draw with Blackburn Rovers in January 1975. Watford were in a mess, on and off the field, and at the end of the season succumbed limply to relegation to Division 4. Trevor ended the season with eleven full appearances to his name, and a professional contract. Manager Kirby was less fortunate, sacked and replaced with one of his players, Mike Keen, who assumed the role of player-manager.
Keen was an intelligent and stylish player and, according to Trevor, ‘a really nice guy, and a decent coach’; however, ‘the dressing room contained a core of tough old pros, who made life pretty difficult for him.’
The 1975/76 season saw Trevor established as a first-team regular, and after a dreadful start, which saw them rooted to the foot of Division 4 for the only time in the club’s history after three opening defeats, the team recovered to finish eighth, albeit without ever seriously threatening a promotion challenge. Lincoln City ran away with the title, under a manager who would soon loom much larger in the local consciousness.
1976/77 was largely a carbon copy of the previous season, with the side again nine points short of a promotion slot, in seventh place. Having held down the right-back position through to the end of October, Trevor lost his place to recent signing Tony Geidmintis. Reappearing at Southport in April, he finished the season once again in possession of the no.2 shirt.
Whilst the Keen era is now largely regarded as an unmitigated failure, it would be fair to say that supporters at home games were treated to some extremely vibrant, attacking football during his last two campaigns in charge; arguably the equal of anything produced at Vicarage Road under Graham Taylor until the 1981/82 promotion season. Away from home it was a much different story. Without a win on foreign soil since January, and fresh off the back of a 0-3 humbling at lowly Newport County (attendance 2,218), Watford pitched up at the Vetch Field, Swansea in April. There they faced a side on the verge of promotion, only to turn the form book on its head, in a fixture that features amongst Trevor’s favourite playing memories.
‘The Vetch’ was never a place for the fainthearted, whether players or supporters: ‘There was always a tremendous racket there; hatred really’, he recalls. ‘They really got stuck into you, and at full back you got the lot. This time, though, we were three up in no time, and it was all a bit different, although they gave their own players plenty of abuse!’ The final outcome was a wholly unexpected 4-1 victory, a reverse that effectively cost Swansea promotion – with significant consequences for the parallel paths the two sides would take over the coming few seasons.
Patience with Keen exhausted, new Chairman Elton John then made the appointment that altered the Club’s history. Everything changed following the appointment of Graham Taylor: ‘That close season was a revelation’, says Trevor, ‘really, really tough. All the running in the park, up and down the terraces – he knew exactly what he wanted, and he really challenged you.’
Team spirit was revolutionised, with the Chairman writing personalised letters to each squad member prior to the start of the new campaign, setting out the Club’s ambitions. ‘It became a great dressing room, really together; everyone got on – quite unusual’ Friendships were forged, many of which survive to this day: ‘A lot of the lads are still in touch – Bobby Downes, Keith Mercer, Roger Joslyn, Ross and Luther, all of whom I speak to quite frequently. There was a little café at the back of the Red Lion, and a bunch of us used to repair there after training.’
After starting the season in the Reserves, Trevor regained his place at the beginning of October, and was part of the side that really made people sit up and take notice with a hugely impressive 3-0 win at promotion rivals, Brentford. Demoted again six games later, Trevor made only a handful of appearances, before fighting his way back again in time for the run-in, playing in eight of the last nine fixtures, including the promotion and Championship-clinching victories against Bournemouth and Scunthorpe. His second-ever senior goal secured a draw at Halifax in the penultimate game, and his season’s work was rewarded with a Division 4 winners’ medal.
The following season saw the arrival of Ipswich right back John Stirk, who was destined to play in every league game, leaving Trevor once more consigned to Reserve team action, appearing only twice for the first team in FA Cup fixtures. Whilst the team’s eventual promotion further increased the buzz around the club, for the player himself, it was quite a frustrating time. The 1979/80 season saw Trevor’s determination to regain his place yet again in evidence, as Watford initially struggled to adjust to the increased demands of Division 2. Stirk departed after an early League Cup exit, and Trevor embarked on a run of 13 appearances in the opening 14 league fixtures. Of these, Watford only won three, leading Taylor to begin a radical overhaul of the squad, with seven players including Trevor making their final appearances before the year ended. His final first team outing came in a 1-3 reverse at the hands of Leicester City, with new signing Mick Henderson taking over the right back position.
Trevor finally left the Club in March 1981, after a total of 101 appearances, spread over six seasons. He then embarked on a second career in non-League football, spending the next decade turning out for Aylesbury United, Wycombe Wanderers, Harrow Borough and Slough Town. Pictures from the time show the same grimace of determination and touch-tight marking so familiar to Hornets fans, although the luxurious blond locks are less evident than of yore. During the latter part of this period he began, together with wife Carolyn, to work alongside his father running The Crown.
In the days before the advent of the multi-thousand-pound weekly wage, running a pub was a relatively popular option for professional footballers reaching the end of their playing careers. It’s not really difficult to see why – many simply saw it as an opportunity to continue longstanding habits, with the added bonus of free access, together with a degree of continued public recognition. In many cases, the experiment proved unsuccessful, sometimes with unhappy consequences for those involved.
25 years since taking over the licence of The Crown, nothing could be further from the truth for Carolyn and Trevor. Well aware of the potential pitfalls after the best part of a lifetime in a pub environment, Trevor is clear about the basic requirements for running a successful operation. ‘First of all, you have to be in control of the drinking side. I like a drink as much as the next person, but you simply can’t allow yourself to do it on a daily basis, trying to be everyone’s best friend. You have to have a strategy.’ More importantly still, ‘You need a strong and durable partnership – it takes two of you to do this job properly, and Carolyn is every bit as big a part of all this as I am.’
‘All this’ is really quite something. Set in a picture-postcard Chilterns village, The Crown is a quintessential traditional English pub: comfortable, atmospheric and welcoming. It has been recognised in the Good Pub Guide for 25 years in succession, and recently received the remarkable accolade of ‘Britain’s Best Country Pub’ in the 2019 edition of the same publication.
Trevor How saw both sides of the footballing coin during his years at Watford: the decline of the post-Furphy years, and the stunning renaissance under Graham Taylor. Forty years on from his Division 4 winners medal, for this loyal and likeable club servant, another presentation awaits.