Middlesbrough scout, 90, who found Lee Miller for Carlisle Utd
Last updated at 13:23, Thursday, 19 January 2012
"I just thought I could do them a good turn," says Jack Watson, explaining the small but significant role he has played in Carlisle United’s exciting campaign.
If the Blues reach the play-offs this season, it’s clear that Lee Miller’s centre-forward play will be central to the cause.
What is less known is the role a remarkable 90-year-old played in getting the Scot onto the books in the first place.
“Andrew [Jenkins, Carlisle’s chairman] rang me and said they were looking for a big fella, a front man,” Watson says. “I thought Lee Miller could do them a good turn, so I said to Andrew, ‘Just tell Greg [Abbott, Carlisle manager] to think about him.’ From what I’m told, he’s done quite well.”
Watson delves into his mug of tea as we reflect more on the signing of Carlisle’s season in the empty canteen at Middlesbrough’s plush Rockliffe Park training complex. Outside, in the morning mist, is a car park full of Audis, BMWs and one slate-grey Range Rover that is bigger than a house.
Further in the distance, the occupants of those flash vehicles are training under the scrutiny of Boro’s manager, Tony Mowbray. Perhaps the only remaining traditional feature of this modern corner of the north-east is the club’s scouting co-ordinator, who at 90 years and nine months sees no possible reason to retire.
“I don’t know what I would do,” says Watson, in a deep, clear voice which his years have preserved. “I’ve never been out of work. When I missed one match on a Saturday through being out of fettle I took badly with it. I felt I was missing out.”
The reason Watson continues to occupy the position he so relishes into his tenth decade is the deep, mutual trust he shares with Mowbray, who advised me, friendly but firmly, to “be gentle” with the interviewee when we met earlier in the morning.
The connecting thread to Carlisle which enabled him to offer the tip on Miller (a Boro reserve, until last August) is Watson’s distant association with the Blues. When Bob Stokoe took Watson from Sunderland’s backroom staff as Brunton Park’s chief scout in the 1970s, a link was created which saw Watson found a centre of excellence, act as Harry Gregg’s goalkeeping coach, perform as emergency physio and bear the title of United’s vice-president. But it was as a talent-spotter he established a priceless reputation.
“Bob just seemed to have great faith in me,” Watson says. “I always believe in a manager seeing a player before he signs him, but not Bob. If I went out and saw a player who I thought was useful, that was good enough for him.
“Paul Baker was the first one, from Southampton. Ian Bishop was another. I went to Everton reserves one night, came back and said I’d seen a lad who might do us a bit of good. Bob said, ‘Okay, if you have, get cracking.’ I spoke to the chief scout who said we could have him for £15,000. Bob and Howard Kendall discussed it, manager to manager, we signed him and the rest is history.”
Watson’s recommendations have led to many more hidden gems dropping into Carlisle’s team, Mally Poskett being one of the best, and the young Mark Patterson, sold to Derby for good money, another. When Watson left Carlisle, to occupy one of the legion of posts he has held with north-east clubs and then with Danny Wilson (Sheff Wed, Bristol City) and finally Mowbray (Hibs, West Brom, Celtic, Middlesbrough), he has always retained a useful hand for the Blues.
“Carlisle was always homely, friendly,” he says. “I always got on with the chairman [Jenkins] and I’m a loyal kind of fella.
“Bob wasn’t really interested in the younger element, so after he had gone I suggested we have a school of excellence to tap the talent in Cumberland. The only problem was that there was only one man in the county who had an FA coaching badge. So they said, ‘You’ll have to do it’.
“Eventually Jackie Ashurst started coming down to help me, and Andrew with his business [Pioneer Foodservice] was a gem, sending down pies, peas and sausage rolls every Tuesday and Thursday for the kids. Once a month he gave the parents a glass of wine. It was all really sociable and people enjoyed coming to Carlisle because of the treatment they were getting.”
The game has changed, changed utterly, but Watson enjoys comparing old and new. “In some instances it has changed for the better. There’s more marketing now and fitness is better. When Sam Allardyce was at Newcastle he had about 20 of these sports scientists. When I was at Carlisle there were three of us. The manager, the trainer – Dick Young and his pigeons – and me.
“I came in one day and Bob said Herbie Nicholson, the physio, was ill. So I had to be physio, just like that. My first match was against Millwall at the old Den and I vividly remember it. Kevin Carr was in goal, we conceded two penalties and Kevin was sent off, but he didn’t want to go off. I had to go on the pitch to get him and take him up to the dressing room.
“Well, I was spat at, sworn at, punched at, everything, going up there and back down again. George Graham was their manager and at the end he said, ‘You will look after Bob, won’t you?’. I said, ‘Yeah, but who’s going to look after me?’”
He chuckles. “I’ve done the lot in football. At Darlington I was caretaker manager five times. I even went to a board meeting and took the minutes. I have done every mortal thing except be chairman.”
There’s still time, I suggest. “Oh, no!” he splutters, and laughs again.
John Martin Watson: over in the north-east, the name conjures other meanings than just the ageless scout. Gentleman of a certain vintage also recall one of the finest cricketers who ever bowled a ball in England’s top right corner. In the Tyneside Senior League there was no more deadly operator than the boy from High Spen. In a different era, he might have played county cricket and beyond.
“I was selected for the Minor Counties side, which was quite an honour, and I played for them against Australia at Jesmond. I remember who got me out. Every time that Richie Benaud comes on telly I think, ‘You bugger, you’...
“Keith Miller was the captain and at one point during that game my strap broke on my pad. I said I would get some new ones sent out but Miller said, ‘No you won’t. You’ll go back to the dressing room and change it there. And while you’re there, we’ve all backed a horse – find out if it won.’
“I came back and said, ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ He looked at me. ‘The good news is the horse has won. The bad news is that it was only 2/1.’ Miller got the ball and threw it into the ground so hard I thought it was going to Australia.”
For Durham, he took six for 23 against India. For Northumberland, he rolled over four of the touring West Indians in 1950. “I was pro at Ashington and Rohan Kanhai followed me there,” he continues. “I went to play in his benefit match and I bowled him out second ball. It was awful. I had to ask the umpire to call a no-ball.”
So many more of these jewels, so little time. One more: “Once we played against Yorkshire and Len Hutton was captain. On the first day he was very aloof but on the second day he was friendly and asked me to have lunch with him. Anyway, later on I clean bowled him for 20-odd.
“I’ve still got the photo in my scrapbook. I was bowling off-spinners around the wicket. Len played for the turn, it didn’t turn, and it went straight on and hit his off-stick. He couldn’t believe it.”
Offers from First Class counties inevitably came – Colin Cowdrey tried to take him to Kent at 34 – “but I married a lass who I met in Canada when I was in the RAF. Ruth wasn’t sports orientated much, and cricket was seasonal back then. You had to get another job in the winter. So I joined the police force. It was a bit of security, and the wages as well... four guineas a week.”
Later, he became the professional at Shildon and coached the football team (he was once Ashington’s goalkeeper), planting his feet firmly onto the north-east football scene which took him to Darlington, where Les O’Neill was one of his early finds there) and beyond. But the summer game remained in his bones. “I took a hat-trick at 71,” he says, smiling. “All clean-bowled.”
Over lunch, as Boro’s coaches and players file in for their midday feed, we discuss modern sport. We talk of crazy money and of Carlos Tevez, the Argentine refusenik. “I think he should be banned,” Watson says. “In my day, you couldn’t wait to get out and play.”
Watson rejects laptops, e-mail and new scouting software in favour of pen and paper and his own eye (“I can send a fax, mind”) but clearly retains warm respect inside the office at Rockliffe which he shares with Boro’s coaches and ProZone assessors, none of whom can be heard talking down to the old man.
“The game’s still the same,” he says. “It’s still about putting the ball between those white posts.”
Watson’s patch is now mainly the north-east and Carlisle (he can often be spotted under his flat cap at Brunton Park) but he is also in charge of dispatching Boro’s other scouts to all points.
“People sometimes see me at a game and say I’m wasting my time. I say you’re never wasting your time. There’s always something that crops up.
“Once, when I was working for Sheffield Wednesday, I went to watch Blyth playing Barrow. I saw Grant Holt and I liked what I saw. They bought him for £5,000 and the rest is history.”
Such nuggets may be harder to find today, as the net is more commonly cast abroad. “We’ve just appointed a new European scout here, Gary Gill. We didn’t have much of a network before Tony came in. I had a lot to do with Tony when he came through as a lad at Middlesbrough while I was chief scout. When he got his first managerial appointment at Hibs he asked me to go with him and I’ve been with him ever since. You couldn’t work for anyone better. He’s very considerate, and his man-management and tactical awareness are first-class.”
When a secret party was thrown to celebrate Watson’s 90th last year, Mowbray was there to help cut the cake. So was Jenkins, with a certificate confirming his vice-presidency at Brunton Park. Banter is thrown his way from the younger men in Boro tracksuits when he unveils the framed document, for a photo. “You’re a famous man these days, Jack,” calls a colleague from across the office.
“I’m president of Shildon Cricket Club, you know,” he confides, when we walk outside, into the mist, for further pictures above the training pitches where Lee Miller used to do his work before Watson nudged him across the country. “The Durham County League – I’m president of that. And when Durham County Cricket Club formed a former players’ association a couple of years ago, they made me president of that as well. It’s a bit embarrassing, really, but...”
When I remark that he now carries more titles than the average bookshop, he laughs once more. “Yes, but late in life. I don’t know... It’s just nice that people think about you a little bit.”
First published at 11:27, Thursday, 19 January 2012
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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Fantastic article Jon; There's a book in there for all football and cricket fans if you act fast...