The Boss Files: Steve Harrison

By: Watford FC Staff

To help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Watford’s move to Vicarage Road, Daily Mirror sports writer Mike Walters recalls his encounters with those who have occupied the Hornets’ hotseat.

Next up is Steve Harrison, who featured for the Golden Boys as a player before returning to Hertfordshire to manage the team between 1988 and 1990.

Dipping into his pocket, the great comedian produced a £5 note and waved it at the group of players slumped on the pavilion steps after an energetic training session.

Breaking into song – nicely in tune – Steve Harrison recited a few bars of a Frank Sinatra classic and posed the group of mainly young prospects a quiz question which left them floundering more than any tactical diagram on a flipchart.

“Right,” said Harrison. “A fiver to the first one who can tell me the name of the dog who features in the lyrics of Strangers In The Night... any offers? Anyone? Come on, the name of the dog...”

After a few seconds of blank looks and head-scratching, Harrison put the group out of their misery. “Give up? You’ll kick yourselves...”

Breaking into song again, he slipped the fiver back in his pocket and replaced Strangers In The Night in the opening line with “Scooby-dooby-doo...”

As the players broke into a mixture of jeers, howls of laughter and indiscriminate gestures, Harrison wagged his finger knowingly at another audience defeated by his invincible sense of humour, and invited the waiting football hack into the canteen for a cup of tea.

If Harrison wasn’t the funniest man in football, he was in the top one.

At one of Watford’s end-of-season awards nights at Bailey’s nightclub, his send-up of Chairman Elton John was world-class mimicry.

A robust left-back as a player, Harrison was the Hornets manager whose second coming at Vicarage Road early in 1988 came too late to repair the damage of half a season stalled on the starting grid under Dave Bassett.

Although he was in the cockpit when relegation came calling, ending Watford’s six-year stay in the penthouse, he was desperately close to bouncing back at the first attempt, thwarted by an undeserved (and unique) play-off semi-final defeat on away goals against Blackburn Rovers.

That season was decorated by a four-game FA Cup marathon with Newcastle and the eclipse of another top-flight club, Derby County, with a reassembled side financed largely by Sir Elton’s largesse.

“The Chairman is on tour around the world doing his business so I can do mine,” said Harrison, who quit in March 1990 on the premise that he was more cut out for coaching on the training ground than the all-consuming demands of football management.

His overall record (36 wins, 27 draws, 35 defeats) was inconclusive support of that argument, but Harrison’s transfer deals included some gems – Neil Redfearn and Rick Holden went on to enjoy cup success and adulation at Oldham, with Redfearn also a leading light in Barnsley’s elevation to the Premier League almost a decade later.

This correspondent’s view is that Harrison, now 69, was unduly harsh in his self-assessment, and history might have judged him very differently as a manager if fortune had not deserted the Hornets in that play-off semi-final against Blackburn.

But that impersonation of Elton stands alone in the Bailey’s hall of fame...

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