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Balancing the Books

Peter Remnant of You ‘Orns TV and Do Not Scratch Your Eyes on why he enjoyed the Glenn Roeder era more than the results might suggest


Glenn Roeder did not look like a footballer. He looked like someone who should have worked in an accounts department somewhere, who would keep himself to himself and then get drunk at the office party every Christmas.

But looks can be deceiving. We had signed Glenn as a player on the strength of finally ending an FA Cup replay infinity loop by putting the ball in his own net whilst playing for Newcastle. Once signed, Glenn proved to be a graceful centre-back who would pick up the ball and play with calmness and poise.

After two years at Watford Glenn got a manager’s role at Gillingham, who were at the bottom of the fourth tier and in danger of dropping into the abyss of non-League. Glenn went in and steered them successfully into bottom-but-one position – condemning Halifax Town to relegation.

In the meantime, Watford and Steve Perryman had seemingly decided that a loveless marriage of convenience should come to an end, and Jack Petchey looked to the intelligent former captain to come in and run the ship. A tight ship. A frugal ship. A ship where anything that floated or commanded a fee would be jettisoned overboard for whatever could be got for it. To finish off this torturous ship analogy, if Petchey had been the captain of the Titanic, he would have sold the lifeboats to the highest bidder.

In past issues of YBR!, Colin has stated that history should judge Jack Petchey more kindly. I however am not history, and can therefore conclude that he was a West Ham-supporting tosser! (Other tossers are available, and not all tossers are West Ham supporters, even though a lot are – always read the label, terms and conditions apply.)

One of Petchey’s bright ideas, it was rumoured, was that if a manager wanted to sign a player, he should work out the transfer fee and required wages for the deal across the length of the contract, then submit this to Petchey, along with an alternative that would cost a third of the desired target. This would act as a contingency in case the initial target could not be secured – in theory. In reality it was the reason 35-year-old Luton-associated Kerry Dixon was signed instead of 31-year-old Watford-associated Paul Wilkinson.

This feature ended up having a big influence on Roeder’s tenure as manager, as he saw the calibre of his forward line whittled down, losing Paul Furlong but recruiting loans and cheap signings such as Dixon, Devon White and Micky Quinn (who made Dixon look like a spring chicken). 

Whilst these Poundland replacements did not work, the quality also fell off a cliff when Roeder’s major investment following the sale of Furlong, Jamie Moralee, spectacularly failed to fire. The import from Millwall, whilst willing and hard-working, was simply of insufficient quality physically and technically to replace the Chelsea-bound Furlong. He managed to notch seven times in sixty-nine appearances.

Roeder’s first season, it must be said, did buck the problematic loan trend for forwards – in the final week of the transfer window he brought in Colin Foster and Keith Millen to stabilize the sieve-like defence, also signing Dennis Bailey – who acted as a free-scoring super sub – and a certain Tommy Mooney to bolster the firepower after options were reduced by Bruce Dyer’s sale to Crystal Palace.

This was a recurring trend of Roeder’s era. Anything good that he did would be undone due to the chairman cashing in on a sellable asset. 

It can be argued that our average attendance of 7,915 resulted in the owner having to make sales to invest in infrastructure. 

However, success on the field would have been the only way of getting bums on seats and generating revenue in what (without Graham Taylor’s return) would have been a white elephant stadium. 

David Connolly, from the youth team, and Kevin Phillips, signed for £10,000 from non-League Baldock Town, were added to help cover over the continual lack of investment and Moralee’s lack of contribution, and an attacking midfielder called Craig Ramage was purchased from Derby.

Players continued to emerge from the youth set-up under Roeder – Robert Page made his debut and Richard Johnson became a regular scorer of spectacular goals – while stalwarts such as Gary Porter and Andy Hessenthaler got through mountains of work in mountains of games.

Roeder adopted a diamond midfield on many occasions, with Ramage at the top of the diamond. Ramage (below) was one of those players who without injury (and possibly with a better attitude) would have played at the very top for years. A former England Under-21 international, Ramage had suffered dreadful injuries to both knees which, coupled with an ambitious Derby transfer policy, saw him needing to move on. Roeder signed him for £90,000 and it is fair to say that for three seasons he bought star quality, a sumptuous passing range and his share of goals from midfield. The less kind will point to his constant struggle with gravity in the opposition penalty box whilst under ‘light’ challenge, and body language which betrayed an enthusiasm to run forward but not so much the other way.

There were a heap of defeats under Glenn – he had a 31.65% win rate (lower than Perryman, which I still cannot emotionally balance out) – but there was work rate, as well as games of a quality that defied the budgetary constraints and a pitch that was at times simply mud.

The comeback against Bolton with Gary Porter’s hat-trick, beating Graham Taylor’s Wolves with a thunderbastard of a Johnno strike, and the relegation six-pointer away at Peterborough are probably some my favourites, and they stand the test of time against any Watford era – ever. For that I will always simply smile when I think about the Roeder era.