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The Day I Met: John Stirk

Geoff Wicken on a chance meeting in WH Smith


Unremarkable. That’s a word you might use to describe John Stirk’s Watford career. He played at right-back for one season, and I don’t recall him doing anything particularly memorable. No slaloming runs up the wing, no dreadful clangers at the back. Never scored a goal, never came close. But he absolutely looked the part as a full-back – shortish, slightly stocky – and got the job done.

In another sense, though, his stay at Watford was remarkable indeed. GT signed him in the summer of 1978, and he started every single one of our 58 matches in the 1978/79 Division 3 promotion year…followed by none at all in Division 2 the following season. Instead he disappeared from view, to all bar the hardy souls who attended reserve games, and had left for Chesterfield by March. Although I can be very precise about when I met him, I’d have to describe our interaction as unremarkable too. It could hardly have been more mundane.

And yet what followed, indirectly and a couple of months later, was one of the great moments of the era.

It was Saturday 17 March 1979. We had a home game against Hull scheduled that afternoon. As was my habit at the time, I spent some of the morning poking around the record shops in the High Street. My favourite was Harum Records by the Town Hall pond, which always had a good supply of new wave singles in a box on the counter; another haunt was WH Smith, then located roughly where Wilko is now.

As I entered WH Smith that day I spotted a friend from school. We chatted, standing by the magazine racks at the front of the shop, when in walked Watford FC’s ever-present right-back. I recall three things about John Stirk that day. First, he was wearing cherryred Doc Martens. Second, on noticing that we had recognised him, he addressed us cheerily with “alright, lads?” Third, and most significantly, he informed us that the afternoon’s game had just been called off.

This remains the one and only time I have been given advance notice of a postponement directly by a Watford player. That was pretty much it. Meeting adjourned, just like the Hull game had been. It wasn’t a huge surprise that the game was called off – that had been a winter of many postponements, and there was still snow around that mid-March morning. It was still a disappointment though.

Watford’s promotion charge had turned into a stagger, and that day’s game felt like a good opportunity to pick up a win. Hull were in the lower part of the League table, and not much cop away from home. Too bad though – the match would have to be rearranged. And as it turned out, Hull’s eventual visit for the rearranged game would be one of the great nights. With a win necessary to secure Watford’s second successive promotion, John Stirk and his ten more clearly remembered team-mates got the job done in style. The 4-0 win saw us back into Division 2. Later that night, quite a few fans made a trip to the Town Hall pond – albeit to immerse themselves in the waters of celebration rather than visiting Harum Records.