John Watson was an apprentice when I was a young whippersnapper following eagerly in his path at Wallsend Boys Club and trying to follow in his footsteps at the Toon school of excellence. John was generous enough to help out the younger lads and along with Lee Makel, Tommy Heron and Alan Thompson, he imparted his knowledge and experience on us and helped out with training sessions.
Some years later in the twighlight of his career and with me on my way towards my own premature retirement, our paths crossed again when he played in the same team as me at Annfield Plain in the Wearside League. Mine was but a fleeting pipedream but John Watson actually lived that dream of playing for his hometown club, albeit by his own admission, for a fleeting moment in time. But like Chesney Hawkes sang just as John was realising that dream, no matter how short a period it was, he played on that hollowed turf, in those famous stripes and ‘you can’t take that away from him’.
Anyway, I caught up with him and asked him a few daft questions about his playing career –
BBM – When were you at Newcastle and how far did you get?
Jon – I was at Newcastle from being 10 years old (1984). I signed schoolboy forms then joined the club full-time as a YTS in 1990. In 1991, I made my first team debut and signed a professional contract the following year. I played one league game and one Anglo-Italian cup game, before leaving in 1993.
BBM – Which position did you play?
Jon – I signed as a centre forward, but spent most of my time at the club playing right-back.
BBM – Who did you play alongside? Did you play against anyone relatively well-known?
Jon – I played alongside the likes of Lee Clark, Gavin Peacock, Micky Quinn. Played against Ryan Giggs, Chris Waddle, David Ginola, Peter Bearsdley, Les Ferdinand, David Batty, Robbie Fowler, Andrei Kanchelskis, Vinnie Jones (they’re the ones that spring immediately to mind).
BBM – You must have been a boot boy back in the day of the old YTS? Who’s kit did you look after?
Jon – Tommy Wright (GK), Mark Stimson (now Gillingham manager), Kevin Sheedy, Mick Quinn
BBM – I often think some of the character is going out of the game and we lack personalities. Was there a joker in the pack?
Jon – Micky Quinn was always up for a laugh.
BBM – Which managers did you work under at Newcastle and what were they like?
Jon – Jim Smith, Ossie Ardiles and Kevin Keegan at Newcastle. All had very different qualities, however as a 17 year old….being told to just go out and play by a World Cup winner (Ossie) was the best for me personally.
BBM – What was training like?
Jon – Training began at 10am and normally lasted about 2hrs. Training would involve warm up, running, technical work, shape and always included small sided games. But Benwell was unforgiving when it was cold and windy.
BBM – What’s the your favourite ground that you played in?
Jon – Bari, Italy, Old Trafford and St James’ Park.
BBM – Best player you’ve played with?
Jon – Lee Clark
BBM – Who was your favourite player growing up? Did you aspire to be like anyone?
Jon – Glenn Hoddle. And no, not really.
BBM – This is purely because they used to ask sh*t questions like this in The Match but what were your pre-match meals back in the day?
Jon – Normally breaded chicken breast, beans and toast.
BBM – Who was your biggest influence during your career?
Jon – My family were my biggest influence, with all the support they gave me over the years. And all the coaches I have worked with (even the bad ones leave an impression)
BBM – How did you feel when you left Newcastle?
Jon – I was devastated when I left. Being told you had no future at your home town club is hard to take. However, I had a lot of clubs interested when I became available, so things weren’t all bad. One thing people can’t take away from me……I played at St James Park, in the first team at Newcastle United!
BBM – Who else did you play for?
Jon – Scunthorpe Utd, Gateshead three times, Bishop Auckland, Whitley Bay twice, Durham City, Newcastle Benfield, Bedlington Terriers, Annfield Plain!
BBM – Have you hung up your boots for good now?
Jon – Definitely!
BBM – Do you support Newcastle?
Jon – Yes, though I supported Spurs as a boy.
BBM – Ahem, well everybody skeletons in the closet. Moving swiftly on, do you still speak with lads from your playing days or stay in touch with people at the club?
Jon – Occasionally at annual dinners.
BBM – What do you/they think of the situation at the Toon at the minute? Can you see an end to it?
Jon – It’s a shambles, and can only see an end if Ashley sells….and sells to someone who understands football and this fairly unique club, and realises what it will take, to take the club forward.
BBM – There has been somewhat of a fire-sale at the club over the summer, if there was one player you don’t/didn’t want to see sold who is/was it?
Jon – I don’t think there is one player in particular that I was/would be desperate to keep. Every player has their price.
Cheers Jon – enjoy that golf course……
Thanks to Excelsior, who in the absence of any good footage of John back then (I mean it was a while ago!), has worked wonders again with his illustrations.