Watford adventure tugs at Blissett's heart
Thursday 17 August 2006
There are no prizes for guessing which result Luther Blissett will be looking out for when the Premiership begins on Saturday. Blissett made a club-record 503 appearances for top-flight newcomers Watford in three spells at Vicarage Road between 1976 and 1992. In the process, he scored 186 goals, another record. So the outcome of his old club's game at Everton, Watford's first in the top flight for six years, will be high on Blissett's list of priorities this weekend.
Top of his agenda, however, will be the fortunes of Chesham United as they open their Southern League campaign at Taunton, six levels below Watford on the football pyramid. The former England striker has been the manager since February, steering them away from the South and West Division One relegation zone last season before building a squad he hopes will take them into the Premier Division next May.
And while The Meadows, Chesham's headquarters, may be light years away from the citadels Blissett graced with Watford and Milan, professional pride dictates that no corners have been cut in the build-up to the new season.
"Even though this is part-time football and we only train on two evenings a week, it's important to prepare as professionally as we can," says Blissett, 48, capped 14 times by England in the 1980s. "Of course it can be frustrating when players can't get time off work to train but that's a fact of life at this level. I am enjoying it because it's a challenge and, just like the professional game, the ultimate aim is to win matches. I don't see it as a stepping stone in my career, more as another part of my football and coaching education."
Life in this Buckinghamshire outpost is far from the days when Blissett was an integral part of Graham Taylor's Watford side that marched out of the old Fourth Division in 1978, reached the top flight in 1982 and finished runners-up behind Liverpool the following year. "It was an incredible time," recalls Blissett, who joined Watford as a 15-year-old and became the first black player to score for England when he hit a hat-trick against Luxembourg in 1983. "It was massively exciting for people on the outside so you can imagine what it was like for those of us who were involved on a day-to-day basis.
"There was tremendous camaraderie and the players all felt comfortable with one another. That bred confidence and we knew we were going to go all the way."
Yet no sooner had Watford qualified for Europe after their debut campaign than Blissett moved out to Serie A and Milan, missing the Hornets' only appearance in an FA Cup final the following year.
"I used to watch Watford's European games on television and think, 'God, that's my old club playing in Europe!' It was unbelievable. But I had no regrets about leaving."
So how will Watford's class of 2006, already labelled as relegation favourites, fare in the pressure cooker of the Premiership? "It depends on how the players react and there's no way of knowing until a ball is kicked in anger," says Blissett. "Whatever happens, I'll be backing them all the way."
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