Golden Memories | Lee Sinnott
By Matt King
Lee Sinnott wasn’t born in Watford, but it was here that the building blocks of his career were put in place.
He grew up in Walsall, and it was with the Saddlers that Sinnott started out, before moving onto Watford and eventually Huddersfield Town, at opposite ends of his career.
He was just 17 years old when a move to Watford materialised, although the switch to Hertfordshire wasn’t quite what he was expecting at the time.
“I always remember we had got heavily beaten on the Saturday for Walsall, away at Bolton,” said Sinnott, speaking to watfordfc.com ahead of this Saturday's game between his two former clubs. “I won’t tell you the score but it was a big’un!
“I had got booked for mouthing off at the referee and I got called into the office on the Monday morning. I thought I was going to get fined by the manager Alan Buckley.
“But he said ‘no, we’ve accepted a bid from Watford and we’re off down there now’. It really was a case of ‘right, you’re going!’. I said goodbye to my Mum on the Monday morning and then I was gone.”
Sinnott is warm, effusive, funny and most importantly honest as he takes a self-reflective trip down memory lane.
“But in saying that, going to Watford made me the player I was,” he said.
“You never know what will happen in your career but it was most certainly a career defining moment when I got transferred to Watford.
“I had great coaching there – Graham Taylor was magnificent – but I’m also talking about Steve Harrison, John Ward and Tom Walley.
“If I hadn’t had that coaching I don’t know if I’d have had the longevity of the career that I had.
“I was young then and John McClelland was in his mid-20s, but I could see the mid-20s John in me when I got to that age.
“We played the game in a similar way. We weren’t out-and-out number fives, we were like a number six playing off a big man, mopping up and seeing where the danger was.
“But if I hadn’t had that coaching, you don’t know if the penny would have dropped. They were vitally important, those years.”
When the time comes to move on – especially from a place that has had such a dramatic impact on you as a person and as a professional – it can often be a difficult decision to take, but Sinnott speaks with a clarity that indicates he feels justified, vindicated even, in his choice to move to Bradford in 1987.
“It got to a position where I had to move after four years at Watford. I remember Dave Bassett came in. Dave had his own way of doing things but I had to move for myself anyway.
“I wanted to be playing regular football so I went to Bradford and played four seasons of 46 games each season on the trot, which is what I needed at that time.”
Bradford led to Crystal Palace, a second spell at Valley Parade then beckoned, before Sinnott found his feet again in a three-year spell at Huddersfield.
But he was now a very different player to the one that had left Watford in 1987. He wasn’t as fast as when he was 17, but who is? He was now a vastly experienced defender joining a side on the up.
“They always say that about football, you’ve got young legs but no brain. As you go through your career the experience comes a bit but the legs go.
“I still had the legs at the beginning at Huddersfield. I really enjoyed my time there. I went there at Christmas time and I still remember my first game was away at Hull, which is where I live now.
“At the end of the season we went to the play-off final. We beat Bristol Rovers 3-2 under Neil Warnock’s stewardship and it was extremely enjoyable.”
And it’s with Watford and Huddersfield where Sinnott’s career comes full circle, joined together at the top of the loop by one special place, the hallowed turf at Wembley.
“These two teams figured in the two biggest footballing 90 minutes of my career. With Watford it was the 1984 FA Cup final and with Huddersfield it was the Division One play-off final.
“They were both good days but one had a better outcome than the other, obviously!”
And now, three decades since Sinnott left Hertfordshire, the two sides meet in the top division for the first time since the Premier League was formed.
“For them to meet now, together, it’s a magnificent achievement for both clubs to be in the Premier League,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s all new for Huddersfield Town, while Watford have more of a history with it. But it’s always a challenge for most clubs to stay in the Premier League.
“I watch it all on TV and I see how Vicarage Road has changed, many, many years since I Ieft. 30 years, in fact. Wow!”
Pick up a copy of the programme on Saturday to find out who Sinnott chose in a best XI of ex-teammates from Watford and Huddersfield.