bcfc.com talks to Blues coach Steve Watson about his role at the club and his playing career.
When Steve Watson and Lee Clark played alongside each other at Newcastle during the early 1990s as teenagers, it’s unlikely the pair would have envisaged linking up on the coaching and management side of the game some two decades later.
Watson went on to represent five high-profile clubs before a long-term hip injury whilst at Sheffield Wednesday forced him to hang up his playing boots. In this interview Watto gives us the low-down on his career and his current role at the club.
Looking back at your playing career overall, what were the main highlights?
Making my debut at 16 for Newcastle, the club I supported was pretty amazing. Some of the highlights playing under Kevin Keegan were fantastic. We came very close to winning the title with Kevin and then there was playing in stadiums like the Nou Camp against Barcelona under Kenny Dalglish. We beat Barca 3-2 at St. James’. I was also lucky enough to be involved in two FA Cup Finals – one with Newcastle and one with Villa. I also had a really good five years at Everton where I thoroughly enjoyed it and managed to finish in a Champions’ League spot in the last season there.
And do you have any regrets?
I have got plenty of regrets, as in I wish I would have won more. I would just have liked to win the title at Newcastle. We had a big chance when we were 12 points clear coming out of Christmas. Along with that there were various England age groups all the way through, but the main cap eluded me and I still look back and wish it had happened, but I can’t have too many complaints.
The first manager you worked under at Newcastle was Jim Smith, who has strong Birmingham City connections. What was Jim like to play for?
He was great with me. He trusted me enough to put me in at that age and kept me in. He was a straight-talker. When I heard his bark I was terrified and just used to keep my head down in case he started on me! He was great for me though, as was his coach Bobby Saxton as well. He’s a real football man with core beliefs and probably different beliefs to nowadays, but the game has moved on.
Were you always determined to stay in the game in some capacity and was coaching the obvious choice?
Yes it was. I’d only left school for three months when I made my first-team debut for Newcastle in the November (he remains the youngest player ever to turn out in a first-team fixture for the Magpies). Football has been the only thing in my adult life and my job. It’s the only thing I’ve ever thought about doing. What did work for me was that I was spending so much time in the latter part of my career just managing my injuries and things like that. That year out when I was recovering from surgery gave me an incredible appetite to get back. I thought I could just chill out for a year or two years and play golf and not be around football, but I couldn’t.
Do you still get a buzz at games and is there more pressure being on the sidelines because you’re not out there to make a difference?
Yes, it’s really frustrating at times. When I’m sitting in the stands I feel completely helpless, but when I’m in the dugout which I have been lately I can have an influence and chat to Lee and Faz and Terry. The other week I found myself barking in the directors’ area. When I looked round I thought ‘what am I doing?’
With your role at Blues, is more of your time spent working with the first-team or development squad?
I’m lucky enough to do both and it works really well. I’ve got a really good relationship with Richard Beale. He’s a fantastic young coach and so enthusiastic. I spend every morning doing training with the first-team and then every afternoon, if there’s a group out, I’ll go out with Richard and that group.
How much do you enjoy the challenge of working with the younger players?
Working with young players and seeing them progress is probably the most satisfying thing as a coach. To be fair I haven’t really coached them for very long, I’ve only coached them for a year. The influx to the first team of the likes of Nathan (Redmond), Mitch (Hancox) and the other lads, (Richard) Bealey can take a hell of a lot of credit for, along with the academy staff.
Other than natural ability, what other attributes do young players need if they are going to make it in the professional game?
You see a lot of players with talent that don’t necessarily make it. We’ve let two or three very talented young players go because we didn’t believe that they had either the drive or mentality to play for Birmingham City. It’s a fine line between letting players with a lot of talent leave the club and finding ones that you think have got enough to work on to turn them into very good young players. It’s a hard decision to make. At the end of last season the manager asked me and Richard (Beale) to come in while he was talking to all the young lads about their contracts. I was lucky enough as a player not to get many knock-backs. Young lads in the manager’s room being told they have to find another club is heartbreaking and you feel for them totally. It’s more than just ability it’s about being able to cope with the game mentally week in and week out. We had a tough season at times last season. Certainly before Christmas it was really hard and the young lads playing in the team were playing under immense pressure. They might not have seen it at the time but it will be great for them in the future.
Finally, how important is the relationship between the manager and his coaching staff and will Lee take on board advice from his staff?
It’s very important and he does welcome input from those around him. There are usually six or seven of us always in the room together. He’s constantly asking for input on the team and players, such as what stages they are at and when they are going to be ready. I've learnt by now though that you’ve got to be very careful with Lee when you voice your opinions, depending on how things have gone in the previous game! As a manager Lee is incredibly hard-working. He goes to every development game, whether he’s got seniors playing in it or not, and he’ll probably watch every game that is on the television as well. His enthusiasm rubs off on everybody.