The Captain's View - Keith Eddy
In 2019 Geoff Wicken had the pleasure of talking to the late-Keith Eddy about his team-mates in that historic season. We reproduce the article as it was published at the time.
It may have been 50 years ago, but Keith Eddy’s recollections of his fellow players in the team he captained to the Division 3 title in 1968/69 are clear and perceptive. Manager Ken Furphy had appointed him captain the previous season, aged 23, two years after signing him from Barrow for a bargain £1,500. In his book ‘Portrait of Promotion’, Furphy wrote that making Keith captain: “did much to add stature and responsibility to his game, and throughout the season he was a shining example to the rest of the players in accepting not only responsibility for his own performance but also for marshalling and reminding his defensive colleagues and attacking forwards of their responsibilities or lack of concentration.”
He was prepared to ‘have words’, then. Certainly, some of the stories Keith tells now serve to back up Furphy’s observations about his leadership qualities and maturity. Looking back, his comments about his team-mates are generous, yet still provide fascinating insights from his captain’s perspective.
As would any Watford fan from the late 1960s, he highlights the contribution of Barry Endean, who had joined the club from pub football just before the season. “Barry was a huge part of the success we had in 1968/69. Watford’s strength at that time was we had a pretty decent defence, and we had Barry Endean, who scored goals like they were coming out of his ears. I don’t know how many he got, but he scored some really vital goals. There was one in the game at Swindon - he scored the winner and we won 1-0 when I’d missed a penalty, and I could have kissed him. It was a big game.”
Keith points out there was more to Endean’s game too: “Barry was a raw talent, but a very good worker. Not only did he score goals; he put defenders under pressure. He really worked his balls off in every game. I remember having a conversation with Ken Furphy when I said: ‘you know, this boy is doing a hell of a job, but if he ever starts thinking he’s a player and stops doing what he's doing he's going to struggle’. At times he was on his own up front and he would chase the right back down, the left-back down…a lot of times he got possession back. His work-rate was phenomenal, it really was. And he was a shy, retiring type of guy – it was such a difference to what you saw on the field. But his goals carried us to the championship.”
Keith himself was part of that “pretty decent” defence, which kept 25 clean sheets in the 46 league games. Micky Walker was in goal for 23 of those, but as Keith points out: “he was a good goalkeeper, but of course that’s not only down to him. You can’t just say it’s down to the defence either, it’s down to the whole team working as one to keep out the goals. I think all successful teams are built on solid defence, and then if you can get a couple of excellent players to play up front or in midfield, you might win things. That’s the key. If you build on a foundation, and you can find somebody like Barry Endean who can score goals, then you’ve got a chance.”
One of his fellow defenders was Duncan Welbourne. Keith appreciates what the full-back brought to the team, but wasn’t always comfortable with his combative approach. Every team seemed to have its hard man, but even so he feels that ‘Chopper’ had a tendency to overdo it. “He annoyed me at times. I used to get onto him and say ‘you’re going over the top of the ball too much, and it’s because you don't want to get hurt yourself. Somebody’s going to catch you in the end’, and it happened in the semi-final of the Cup.” He’s referring to Watford’s FA Cup run the following season and Welbourne’s collision with Chelsea’s Eddie McCreadie in the 1-5 defeat. “It was the left-back. They went for a 50/50, and they both went over the top. They both went down on one knee, and Duncan got McCreadie’s boot right in his forehead and was totally concussed. He tried to play on, but they ran riot down that left side after that.”
Another significant figure in the team was Tom Walley. Keith chuckles as he draws a comparison between Walley’s pre-match approach and his own: “In those days I used to sit in the dressing room and smoke a cigarette before a game. I would read the programme, and drink a cup of tea, and I’d be calm. Tom would be jumping up and down, trying to head the ceiling and bouncing around. I used to say ‘Tom, sit down, you’re tiring me out’. But he was a good guy, and he made a contribution to the team as well. God, he was a hard worker. It used to wear me out just watching him, but he was just one of those type of individuals.”
As Keith moves on to speak about Stewart Scullion, his ability to understand what made his team-mates tick is apparent. “Stewart…well he wasn’t strange exactly, but he marched to a different beat. He was a bit of a shy kid as well, but he had great ability to go past players. He could take them on one-on-one and he’d be excited by that. Perhaps the highlight for me of Stewart was when we went to Manchester United in the Cup and he scored after a few minutes with an absolute lash.” For Furphy’s well-organised team, Scullion’s wing-play was an important outlet. They knew that, when they passed him the ball, it might be a while before they saw it again. “No, he didn’t like giving it back. He wasn’t a one-two type of a player. You gave him the ball, now he was going to attack somebody, and he was going to go past them.” Sometimes though, Scullion needed an encouraging word from his captain. “A lot of it was mental with Stewart. I remember him coming to me before a game and saying ‘have you seen who’s playing left-back? I couldn't get past him last time I played him’. Now that was him done. In his mind he can’t beat this guy, so he’s not going to take him on. I had to get onto him at half-time, and say ‘you will take this guy on, you will’, and eventually he did, but that sums up Stewart’s mentality, how he thought. He could be a real threat, but if he got a notion that a guy had stopped him before, he wasn’t happy. It could be a different Stewart out there, but that’s just one of the quirks that players have. It’s part and parcel of the different packages you get in different people.”
Plenty of others played their part too. Rodney Green was a much-travelled striker, often selected as substitute, who scored five goals that season including late match-winners. “I liked Rodney. He was a hell of a nice guy. He was decent in the air – he was a big guy, and if you’re a big guy, you’ve got a chance of being decent in the air. Yet in some ways he was soft as a brush. He would avoid any trouble on the field as though his life depended on it. But he was a good guy, and he scored some vital goals for us.”
Two other strikers weren’t consistent enough to Furphy’s mind, and dropped out of the picture. Barry Dyson, who had grabbed 15 goals in 20 games in 1967/68, started the season in the team. Before long though, he lost his place to Endean, fell out with Furphy, and moved on. As Keith recalls: “Barry was a little bit off-the-wall, and could have fallen out with anybody at the drop of a hat.” He also again blends a reminiscence with appreciation: “The poor guy had alopecia and he would run to try to avoid the wind blowing his hair back and showing his bald patch. I would say, ‘it doesn’t matter, Barry, nobody gives a damn’. But he was quick, and he had that little spell with us when he scored goals like they were going out of fashion.” Then there was Row Low. “He was a character. He was very smartly dressed all the time, almost like a dandy. He wasn’t at Watford that long, but he wasn’t a bad player.” Reminded of Furphy’s comments about Low’s level of effort, Keith is more forgiving: “That was Roy. If he felt like it, he would play; if he didn’t, he’d walk around. He had ability, no question, but you didn’t know what you were going to get on any given day.”
Moving on to Dixie Hale, Keith’s fondness for the Irish midfielder is clear from his voice. “Ah, Dixie. I forgot he was playing at that time. I played with Dixie at Barrow when I started at 17, and he was captain. He helped me a lot – he was one of two players who did. The other was a guy called Dickie Robinson, who came from Middlesbrough. He was at the end of his career, like most players were at Barrow in those days, and he helped me enormously. He’d talk to me the entire game. I was playing right-half at the time, and he was playing right full-back. He would tell me ‘hold, hold, tackle’, and I would just do whatever he said. He taught me more about the game than anybody else in my life. I was 17 and he was about 35, but he and Dixie helped me when I played for Barrow.” When Hale joined Watford later, Keith was now his captain and valued what he did. “He was at the end of his career when he came to Watford, but he did a useful job. Dixie was a good passer, although he could tackle as well, and he could strike a ball.”
Although now retired, and living near Tulsa in the US after setting up and running soccer schools following his playing career, Keith stays in touch with the game today. He reflects with amusement on how some things have changed, not least off-the-ball behaviour: “You got away with far more in those days. Nowadays it’s almost like they want to do away with tackling altogether. If somebody goes on the ground and wins the ball now, they still give a free kick for dangerous play. It wasn’t like that in my day. A lot more went on off the ball because you didn't have all these cameras. People would whack each other in the penalty box…although the way they grapple now in the penalty box at corners is ridiculous. The referees have got to get a grip of it. When the referees start giving penalties, then perhaps they’ll stop.” Although a stylish player, there were occasions when he got caught up in it. “You could get away with murder, you really could. I went through my entire career and never had a red card. Once, I don’t remember where we were playing, but I had the ball and this guy just whacked me down from behind, chopped my legs away. Without thinking, I jumped up and punched him right in the face. The referee just gave me a warning. And then I saw the poor guy afterwards and he had a black eye, and he told me he was getting married in a few days. I felt so guilty.”
Keith married his wife Jackie at the end of the 1968/69 season, and became a father for the first time in October 1971, while still at Watford. In another contrast with the modern era, he wasn’t there for the birth – he was at Ayresome Park. “I said to my wife on the Friday, when we were going to go up to Middlesbrough, ‘are you sure there’s no problem?’ And she said ‘it’s not even close’. And I found out because when I got on the bus to go back, one of the players said to me ‘did Ken Furphy talk to you about your wife having a kid?’ I said, ‘no, he didn't!’ I stormed down the bus and said, ‘what the hell’s going on?’ and he said, ‘oh yeah, sorry, you had a girl’. She was born in the hospital that overlooks Vicarage Road, and it was my birthday. So I said, ‘let’s stop and get some beers on the bus back, let’s celebrate’, and by the time I got to visit my wife I was half-cut!”
Overall though, Keith feels that he and Ken Furphy made a good pairing – indeed, they went on to work together again at both Sheffield United and the New York Cosmos. As captain however, he considered that once a match started he was in charge of things on the pitch. It’s an approach strikingly different from the micro-management adopted by many of today’s coaches: “I got on very well with Ken. At odd times I’d fall out with him, but we had a very good relationship, and he knew at times I’d object to something he’d done. He was playing when I first went to Watford, then he stopped playing and made me captain. I came off the field one day, and he started ranting on about something, and I said, ‘hey, just a minute, I make decisions on the field, whether you like them or not. If you don’t like them, you can take me to one side after the game and we can discuss it, but I don't need you ranting at me in front of all the other players’. And he said: ‘you’re right Keith, OK’. So that's how we were, that was how we did things, and I was allowed to make whatever changes I wanted to make on the field. And it worked. It worked successfully for a few years, anyway.”
It certainly did. And 1968/69 was the peak amongst them, as Watford reached the second tier of English football for the first time, after years of toil in the lower leagues.
As for Keith, he acknowledges it as the best year in his career. In addition to captaining Watford to the Third Division championship, and getting married, he had the honour of being picked for a post-season FA tour to New Zealand. It’s good to know that such a golden year for the club was a golden year for the captain too.