Bitter times give way at last: Oliver Phillips continues to look back at past managers

3:18pm Monday 21st January 2002

WHEN George Kirby was axed as Watford's boss, Mike Keen was appointed.

There was quite a lot of bitterness involved in this whole saga. Jim Bonser, the chairman, had received no end of stick during the Leslie Wise take-over saga and he always looked for someone to share the bad times with.

As an exercise in public relations, Watford were terrible during that on-going row and, while the board may well have been right to keep Mr Wise at bay, he might have brought something to the party.

Bonser had been relieved in 1971 when Ken Furphy had left because the Watford manager had been on at him about bringing rich men onto the board, and there were interested men about.

So, a few months after Kirby took over, and Watford experienced their worst season ever, a new predator, in the shape of Leslie Wise, made his take-over bid. The whole sorry saga continued through the winter as Watford plunged to relegation.

Bonser was looking for someone to blame. The manager had not helped by steering the club downhill, he reasoned and Kirby was really upset when the chairman decided to sell the star player, Keith Eddy.

Fearing the manager might also point his finger at him, Bonser cast around. When Mike Keen became available on a free transfer, Bonser called him over for talks and then told George this might be the man to replace Keith Eddy.

Kirby was lukewarm about the idea, and would always think of Keen as a Bonser-man.

Indeed, when Kirby ordered his players in for extra training during the following summer, it was Keen who saw the chairman about scrapping the idea.

Kirby was sacked and Keen was appointed manager. So I had a new man to deal with.

Eventually we established a relationship but Bonser fell out with me and The Watford Observer and refused to take our calls. He even prevented Mike Keen from writing a weekly column in The Watford Observer.

He did not, however, stop Keen speaking to me and so we got on well, but later I was to discover he would tell his coaches and players; "That is one man you don't upset."

I would have preferred the relationship to have been based on an understanding of our mutual needs and thought that was the case. After he too was axed, I found out that had not been the case.

Mike would talk after the game, both to the press and then privately to me. In common with the previous managers, I had his home phone number and I would check up with him during the week.

I would go down on Thursday morning to get the latest news and I would be in his office every week when the telephone rang.

"It's the Evening Echo," Mike would say.

I would look down the notebook, appraising the things he had just told me, and tell him which of the bits of information, should be given to the rival paper.

That might seem like sharp practice but The Watford Observer had only one bite of the cherry: the Echo came out every night, and it was my job to get something fresh for Friday mornings. If the manager asked me what story should he give to the Echo, it was not down to me to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

Mike was not a successful manager. They were relegated but he started writing for us again. He was a genuine man and he survived the first year of Elton John's chairmanship, despite the calls for his head in the boardroom.

Eventually Mike told me just before a match that it had all been signed and settled and he was on his way. With that he went out on the pitch and watched Watford record a famous victory. Reduced to ten and then to nine men against Huddersfield, they went on to win 2-0 and there were cries of "Keen in" but the fans did not know then, but Keen was already "out".

It was new era, with Bonser no longer in control, and it called for a fresh approach. Enter Graham Taylor.

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