The Boss Files: Billy McKinlay

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.

Blink and you missed it - Billy McKinlay's reign lasted only two games, but he stepped down as the only undefeated Head Coach in Watford's history.

By the time McKinlay's successor Slaviša Jokanović had been installed, the Hornets were on their fourth boss in 60 days - and the 2014/15 season was only into the first week of October.

In fairness, the breathless turnover wasn't exclusively of Watford's making.

McKinlay, who had arrived at Vicarage Road as Óscar García's training ground lieutenant, was promoted to Head Coach when the Spaniard was forced to quit after just four weeks because of ill health.

And at face value, he looked a safe enough pair of hands when his first game in charge produced a 2-1 home win against Brentford, an occasion made memorable by Matěj Vydra’s scorching half-volley which turned out to be the winner.

Odion Ighalo had opened the scoring with his first goal for the Hornets, devouring the rebound after shovelling his penalty too close to Bees keeper David Button, before Jonathan Douglas levelled for the visitors.

Heurelho Gomes, who had endeared himself to Watford fans from the first day of the season, made a flying save in stoppage time to deny Alan Judge another equaliser, and McKinlay had reason to be satisfied with his winning start.

“I was very, very pleased.” he said afterwards. “I'm delighted to be in charge, although I'd be exaggerating a little bit if I said I enjoyed it that much.

“Yesterday was hectic. I told the players the most important thing was their focus. These things happen in football, and I wanted them to cut away the sideshow. I think they did that really well."

After the post-match media formalities, the man from the Mirror introduced himself, wished McKinlay luck... and that was the last time I saw him in a Watford jacket.

Four days later, Lewis Dunk's header earned Brighton a 1-1 draw at The Vic and it turned out to be McKinlay's final game in charge. I was at an awards dinner in London on the following Monday night when I got a text message warning me of another change in the Hornets' cockpit.

From memory, dashing off to check it wasn't a wind-up, and crashing out a few sentences of copy to catch the first edition, made me late to intercept cycling royalty Sir Bradley Wiggins, who was presenting one of the awards and had agreed to a 10-minute interview backstage.

If McKinlay, now 52 and one of David Moyes' assistants at West Ham, was bewildered by the turn of events in the autumn of 2014, he wasn't the only one.

Ultimately, Watford were vindicated because Jokanović led them to promotion on an exhilarating run-in, but we should be thankful that the Scot's eight-day reign yielded four points from two games. Without those four points, the Hornets would have finished outside the automatic promotion places.

And for all the cheap shots aimed at Watford by outsiders over their changes of personnel in the hot-seat, Billy McKinlay will always be able to say he left with an unblemished record.

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