A preview of the X-Men interview with former Hornets’ captain Neil Cox, due to appear in Saturday’s matchday programme
NEIL Cox is not a man who minces his words, and throughout the course of our interview the former Watford skipper does not pull any punches in his assessment of former managers, coaches, teammates and even his own performances.
It`s not all serious business with the 42 year-old – now assisting ex-Watford teammate Neal Ardley at Wimbledon – as Cox recalls the first of several big moves, moving from then Fourth Division Scunthorpe United, to First Division Aston Villa.
“It was £350,000 up front and there was something like 4000 seats as well because Aston Villa had loads of blue seats and Scunthorpe were having blue seats behind the goal. I get a little bit of stick when I do go back home because, they say I`m worth more in seats than in money really!”
From the homely surroundings of Lincolnshire to the exposure of the top-flight, Cox – now assisting ex-Watford teammate Neal Ardley at Wimbledon – admits that he struggled to adapt following the move after just 26 appearances for the Iron.
“It was a big wrench for me to leave, especially being a local lad and Scunthorpe being my home-town team, but it came out of the blue; a telephone call one night, I travelled up the next day and two days later I was flying to Hong Kong to play with the Villa first-team, it was a strange week really.
“We had a reserve side full of internationals when I used to play in the reserves so obviously it was a difficult time. There was no going out on loan, they wanted everybody there so you just got on with it. I was training with Dave Sexton most days in the afternoons; it was difficult not playing games on a Saturday because that`s what I`d been used to at Scunthorpe and suddenly being sat watching game was difficult.”
After a frustrating three seasons at Villa Park, Cox jumped at the opportunity to join boyhood hero Bryan Robson at ambitious Middlesbrough.
“I`d played for Aston Villa against Manchester United a couple of times and played really well during a couple of televised games and Bryan Robson had seen me play and he`d made a comment to me after one of the games, asking me what my situation was next year and suggesting that he might have an opportunity for next season. I just left it at that, he was a bit of a hero of mine and I had a bit of a smile on my face, the next thing was a telephone call, “Would I be interested in going to Middlesbrough?” so I decided to go up there to speak to him and obviously I became Middlesbrough’s first million pound signing, which was a bit of a shock at the time for a young lad who`s a right-back.”
Cox had previously moved for what was a record fee between Division Four and Division One clubs when he left Glanford Park for Villa Park.
After three years and over a hundred appearances for ‘Boro, Cox was looking for a change of scenery when the chance to join Bolton Wanderers came up completely out of the blue: “I was out of contract at Middlesbrough and the bosman ruling had just come in. We`d just been relegated and beaten in two cup finals at Middlesbrough and there were one or two off-field issues with players at the club, one or two scrapes which were in the local papers.
“On the train home from the Cup final I got a phone call from Colin Todd [Bolton manager] and I just thought I`d go down there for a chat, and that was it, I was looking to go and play abroad if I could, that was what I really fancied. I got down to Bolton and Colin spoke really highly of the football club and they were moving to The Reebok Stadium and I just signed a three year contract then and there really. Colin sold the area and the football club to me straight away,” remembers Cox.
It was at The Reebok that the paths of Cox and the Hornets crossed on that memorable May dad underneath the twin towers at the old Wembley: “We played really well in the final for probably 25 or 30 minutes – I remember Alec Chamberlain making two or three great saves from Eidur Gudjohnsen to keep Watford in it – then obviously Nick Wright`s overhead kick – which could end up anywhere – goes in and you knew it wasn`t going to be your day. At 1-0 down we were chasing the game and then you find yourselves 2-0 down and that`s that.”
“I knew Graham Taylor a little bit so I went and knocked on the Watford dressing room door and they were all partying and just wished them all the best for the following season because obviously they`d had a great run to get to the final and to win the final so I put my head in out of respect to congratulate them for playing so well on the day and that`s how it [moving to Watford] happened.”
The rest, as they say, is history…
Remember! This is just a preview of Cox’s X-Men interview, for the full interview, pick up a copy of Saturday’s matchday programme from around the ground.