Steve Sims

Former Player Remembers: Steve Sims

Former Leicester City, Watford and Aston Villa defender Steve Sims recently spoke to Club historian John Hutchinson about his career at Filbert Street
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Steve, who payed for Jimmy Bloomfield, Frank McLintock and Jock Wallace at the Club, also discussed his rise with Graham Taylor's Watford from the Third Division to runners-up spot in the top-flight.

Steve was born into a footballing family. His father was a centre-half who played for Lincoln City in the 1950s.

“I was too young to remember him playing,” Steve recalled. “He ended up playing for non-league sides like Boston United.

“He had a knee ligament problem which in those days was never diagnosed. He worked for a big engineering company called Ruston Bucyrus and I remember watching him play a couple of times for them.

“As a youngster, I took to football naturally. We lived in a terraced house in Lincoln with a back yard which was about five yards wide.

“My dad would throw a tennis ball at me and I had to control it. From an early age, I was able to use both feet to control the ball. 

“At the age of 15, I was playing for the Lincolnshire Boys Under-18 side and for Lincoln United’s youth side, which was the strongest in Lincolnshire by quite a distance.

“I was quite tall, had ability and could look after myself.”

Jimmy [Bloomfield] was pure football. He loved the idea that I could actually play. He used to come and watch the youth team games a lot and he’d seen me develop.

Steve Sims

When he was 16, Steve was invited to Filbert Street by chief scout, Ray Shaw. There, he came under the wing of the coach George Dewis, an ex-Leicester City centre-forward. Things didn’t start too well.

He continued: “I had just turned 16 when I came to Leicester. I was very shy, quiet and homesick.

“On the first weekend I went home on the Friday afternoon not realising that I should have cleaned the dressing room before I went!

“It was hard because, for the first three months, George Dewis wasn’t too sure of me. He already had his group.

“I wasn’t getting into the youth side, but when he saw me playing for the ‘A’ side one day at Stoney Stanton, he then realised I could play. From then on he was a big supporter.

“He was brilliant. He taught me the basics of being a centre-half. He was good tactically. He made me believe in myself, saying that I would go on to play in the first team.

It’s good to have someone at the club backing you.”

Steve signed as a professional when he turned 17 in July 1974.

A year later, in August 1975, following an injury to Jeff Blockley, he made his debut in the old First Division against Manchester City finding himself in opposition to Mick Channon and Joe Royle.

He was injured in the next game but went on to play 13 games that season, becoming the regular centre-half the following season (1976/77).

In his four seasons as a first teamer, Steve played under three managers: Bloomfield, McLintock and Wallace. They were all very different.

“Jimmy was pure football,” Steve remembered. “He loved the idea that I could actually play. He used to come and watch the youth team games a lot and he’d seen me develop.

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Steve Sims
Steve Sims

Sims emphasised how much he 'enjoyed [his] time playing at Leicester'.

“He liked the fact that I was tall and could head a ball but also that I could actually play with the ball at my feet. He was a big believer in that.

“When I was in the first team, Frank Worthington was playing up front, and he made it very clear that he wanted ball to his feet.

“You had to be good in that side to get the respect of your teammates because there were some good footballers in there. Jim was good. He took a liking to me and pushed me on.”

Despite finishing mid-table in the top flight in 1977, Bloomfield left the Club in May 1977 and was replaced by McLintock, who had been a big star for City in the early 1960s.

“It was a popular appointment but McLintock’s one season at the Club ended in relegation.

“Frank was a young manager,” Steve said. “He had a bad time of it with some of the players. It was a transition time, wasn't it? It was a struggle for Frank and he was having a lot of problems.

“He brought a lot of players in that didn't quite do it. Looking back on it, I can see now that he was trying to teach me things that I could have probably taken advantage of.

“But at the time I didn’t for whatever reason. After all, he’d been a top-class defender, hadn't he? If I’d been older, I would have probably appreciated him more.”

With relegation confirmed, McLintock left before the end of the season and was replaced by Wallace in June 1978.

Despite relegation, Steve’s England Under-21s career was flourishing.

I went on to New Zealand with the England party but I never played. Bobby Robson, the manager, asked me if I was alright but I wasn’t. I came all the way back from New Zealand on my own.

Steve Sims

He added: “I played 10 games for the Under- 21s. Following relegation, I was selected for the 1978 UEFA U21 European Championship.

“We reached the semi-finals where we were beaten by Yugoslavia. Along the way we beat Italy in the quarter-finals.

“I was up against Paulo Rossi and when he scored all those goals in the 1982 World Cup, I’d say: 'Well, he didn’t score against me!'

“I had his shirt for a long time, but that has disappeared in transit somewhere along the line.

“We had a decent side, with players like Peter Reid, Paul Futcher, Tony Woodcock, Laurie Cunningham, Peter Barnes and Bryan Robson. Terry Venables was the manager.

“Don Revie, the England manager, used to watch us. I really liked him. There were good coaches like Dave Sexton, who was brilliant, and Howard Wilkinson.”

That same close season, Steve went on the England ‘B’ tour to Malaysia and New Zealand, but he returned home early with an injury.

Steve explained: “When Jock came in, I'd just come back from an England ‘B’ tour with a cartilage injury, which I had got in the first game, against Malaysia. My knee locked and that was it.

“I went on to New Zealand with the England party but I never played. Bobby Robson, the manager, asked me if I was alright but I wasn’t. I came all the way back from New Zealand on my own.

“It was a long way back, with three or four stops. It was alright until I got to Bombay, but after that, the plane was full and I ended up cramped at the back. We didn't get the posh seats in those days! 

“I had been eight weeks or nine weeks injured and Jock wanted 100 per cent straightaway and I couldn’t do that. In those days it took quite a while to recover from cartilage injuries.

“This didn't help our relationship. It’s not that we didn't see eye to eye, but I didn't quite get him. He did great things for Leicester but we didn't quite gel at that time.

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Steve Sims
Steve Sims

Sims played an important role during a successful period in Watford's history.

“He was very brash. He wanted me to be an up-and-at-em defender. He was the exact opposite to Jimmy Bloomfield.”

In December 1978, Steve transferred to Graham Taylor’s Watford.

“Jock was looking to sell me,” Steve continued.

“A proposed move to Derby fell through but then I had a meeting at the Holiday Inn with Watford’s Graham Taylor, who knew me from when he had tried to get me to join Lincoln City as a 15-year-old.

“He told me about his plans and then told me there was someone on the phone for me. It was (Watford Chairman) Elton John!

“Elton was as excited talking to me about me signing for Watford as I was talking to him! In the early days he was at every game and we had a lot of contact with him.

“He would do meals for the players at his house. He was just a lovely fellow. A brilliant man.

“Watford paid just under £200,000 for me, a record for a Third Division club which stood at about £50,000. I signed just after Christmas.

“It was hard to start with. Graham’s fitness standards were unbelievable. He was quite extreme. Jock had made us run up and down sandhills, but I was way behind in fitness terms.

“Graham’s style of play was very direct and I just wasn’t fit enough. I played 13 games and then was left out. We were promoted at the end of the season.

“During the summer break I worked really hard, sometimes on my own, working with the physio. I tuned into what Graham wanted from a centre-half which was different from what I’d been brought up with.”

Steve, Watford’s player of the year in 1980/81, became an important part of the incredible story which saw the Hornets rise to runners-up in the old First Division in 1983 and reach the FA Cup Final in 1984.

Steve explained: “Elton built up the club’s infrastructure. When we reached the First Division, teams couldn’t handle the way we played.

“Today they talk about high press play, but we did that at Watford in the early 1980s. It wasn’t kick and rush. Teams in the top-flight, facing us for the first time, couldn’t quite get the hang of us.

“Our forwards were our best players and our plan was to get the ball to them quickly.

“We had good players like John Barnes, Nigel Callaghan, Luther Blissett, Ross Jenkins, Wilf Rostron and Kenny Jackett, who was one of the best midfielders around.”

Steve then recalled how finishing runners-up behind Liverpool in 1983 qualified the Hornets for the UEFA Cup: “I was captain for the first game we played, against Kaiserslautern.

I was close to fitness before the final, but not close enough. I played a practice match on the Wembley pitch the week beforehand but I was never going to make it.

Steve Sims

“They were favourites but we beat them, then we beat Levski Spartak before we lost to Sparta Prague.

“It was unbelievable that Watford, who had been in the old Fourth Division seven years earlier, had reached this far.”

That season, Watford reached their first-ever FA Cup Final, but Steve missed out through injury.

“I broke my ankle playing against Leicester”, Steve recalled. “It was an accident. Andy Peake went for the ball and I kicked underneath his boot. I carried on for a few minutes then had to come off.

“I was close to fitness before the final, but not close enough. I played a practice match on the Wembley pitch the week beforehand but I was never going to make it.”

The following September, with the emergence of young centre-half Steve Terry at Vicarage Road, Steve signed for Larry Lloyd’s Notts County in the old Second Division.

He spent two seasons there until October 1986, when Taylor asked him if he would like to return to Watford.

Steve said: “He told me I might not be playing but he wanted me to work with the young lads. Then John McClelland was injured and I was playing back in the side again!

“At the end of the season, Graham left Watford to manage newly-relegated Aston Villa, and I ended up following him there.

“I played for the first season, when we got promoted, and then Graham told me that although he would be bringing new players in, he wanted me stay to help get his philosophy across and to help the young kids.”

“After I left Aston Villa, there were a couple of years in hiatus and then I went to work at Coventry City before returning to Leicester to work at their Centre of Excellence with David Nish and Nev Hamilton.

“It needed building up and I really enjoyed it there for the first couple of years until it was time to move on.

“I then worked monitoring clubs’ academies for four or five years. I reported to Dave Richardson (a Leicester City coach under Wallace, Gordon Milne and Bryan Hamilton), who was then Head of Youth Development at the Premier League, responsible for the development of the national Academy system.

Steve, who has now retired, concluded: “I really want to emphasise how much I enjoyed my time at Leicester where I made my name playing in the top division as an 18-year-old.”

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