O Captain! My Captain!

America, Canary, Caveman, Darling, Haddock, Hook, Flint, Nemo, Pugwash, Sensible , Sparrow and Underpants. All great Captains. But who is your Norwich City great? Richard Jeffery tells us his all time favourite City Captain and why.

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We in the British Isles impart the role of club captain with a lot more prestige than elsewhere in the footballing world, rightly or wrongly. We almost mythologise the role, whereas in most countries it’s just the person who tosses the coin and hands over the pennant.

I like that we do this, it’s good to have that focal point. So with that in mind, allow me to bring you my all-time favourite Norwich City Captain.

There are several standouts, but to name two who would have a shout as all-time Norwich City Captains: Big Dunc, hard as nails and the man who got us to the top flight for the first time, but who I discount as he was before my time. Also, WFLGH. Moustache, goals, swagger and spearheading that meteoric rise back from the dead. Hard to overlook him, but overlook him I will.

I’m going for the man who was captain when I started going to FCR, and who was captain during the period of our best ever kit (Adidas™ Pinstripe obv.). That man is Dave ‘Watto’ Watson. 

A nuggetty centre-half, good in the air but who could also play a bit and weighed in with a few goals, Watson signed for us from Liverpool in 1980 after being stuck behind Lawrenson & Hansen in the queue for a starting berth.

His debut came away at Ipswich in a 2-0 defeat on Boxing day that year, and he played pretty much the rest of that unmemorable and unsuccessful season as we slid down into the second division.

We bounced back at the first time of asking though, with Watson forming a solid partnership with the then captain, Micky McGuire, who Watto then assumed the armband from for the 82/83 season, on our return to the top flight.

He remained as captain for the rest of his time with us, lifting the Milk Cup in ‘85, and following our ridiculous relegation that same season, was joined by Steve Bruce to bring us back up at the first time of asking.

I idolised him as a kid. I played as a centre-back at that time, in a spectacularly unsuccessful team, and Watson was the player I pretended to be when we were having a kickabout. The first page I turned to in the matchday programme was his notes, entitled ‘Watto’s Words’.

He was a down-to-earth guy, not showy or flash, and went about his work with the minimum of fuss. And this is how when one day around that time on a family trip to Lowestoft beach, we found ourselves pitched right next to the Watsons. I could not believe my luck. 

I was kicking the ball around trying to catch his attention, in the hope that we’d have a kickabout. He didn’t notice me. So, I plucked up the courage to ask him if I could have a photo, and thankfully he agreed. I had my dad do the honours. No selfie sticks in those days, and indeed (disastrously) no digital cameras.

A quick history lesson for those too young to remember pre-digital camera days. You’d ration your photos then as you didn’t have an unlimited amount of film, and it was expensive to buy and get developed. There were also numerous pitfalls that could mean your pictures were either rubbish or completely ruined when you eventually got them back.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. For whatever reason, the image didn’t come out. I remember the fervid anticipation of the photographs coming back from the chemist followed by the crushing disappointment that they were ruined. Nothing, no photo of me and my hero. I’d told my mates about this picture as well and had nothing to show to back up my story. For shame.

The happy postscript to this sad tale of youthful devastation came many years later, and again it owed to Dave Watson being so down-to-earth.

Watson had left us for Everton following our promotion in 1986. He won the league title with them at his first attempt, later winning the FA Cup and Charity Shield to complete a personal clean sweep of major domestic trophies. In total he played over 400 times for them over 15 seasons.

I lived in Manchester during the mid to late 1990s and used to occasionally come home for the weekend on the long, tedious cross country train journey that ran from Norwich via well pretty much everywhere in between to Manchester and then on to Liverpool. 

So, it’s November 1994. I’d been back for the weekend, taken in a dire 0-0 draw between us and Everton on the Saturday and had a few drinks with my mates afterwards. Hungover, I boarded the train for Manchester the next day and who should be sitting the other side of the aisle from me in his Everton tracksuit? Yes, Dave Watson, not even in first class. Also hungover. Man of the people.

He’d stayed down for the night to catch up with old friends and was getting the train back to Liverpool. I took the opportunity to mention the photo incident, which oddly he didn’t remember, but we had a nice chat before I left him in peace to read his paper and enjoy the journey.

That was it for me. I had closure and finally was able to move on with my life.

So when Dave went up to lift the Milk Cup, the fact I was there, I was there, will always be a special memory for me. That’s why Dave Watson is my Captain.