21 September 2017
I grew up in South Bucks in the 1980's. The nearest league club was Watford, and so I ended up supporting them. We had John Barnes, Luther Blissett, John McClelland, David Bardsley and sundry other great players. Tony Coton though, was my favourite. A crackerjack goalkeeper.
I remember watching one brilliant save, maybe against Leeds United, where after making it, he turned and stared at the Watford fans in the Vicarage Road End, as if to say, "yeah, I'm that good". He was, and loyal too. In the end, I almost wanted him to leave, as he was far too good for the division and an international class keeper. Watford were going nowhere fast, and after chucking his Sondico gloves and grey number 1 jersey into the crowd, he was off. Watford would not gather much forward momentum until Graham Taylor and Elton John came back, half a decade later.
Coton was, I believe the phase is, "a character". One of Watford's greatest mustaches along with Steve Sims, Ian Bolton, Les Taylor, Gary Penrice and Paul Wilkinson.
If he was baffled as to why he never played for England, then so were the football press, all of us Watford fans, and subsequently, the Manchester City fans. If not for a suspended prison sentence, Bobby Robson would have taken him to the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, and after Graham Taylor became England manager, we Watford supporters hoped he would finally get his much deserved chance.
This book finally sheds some light on the above non-selection mystery, and Coton's continuing omission has a more ridiculous reason than you might ever have imagined. I always wondered why Chris Woods played all four matches on the 1991 post season England tour, and Coton and Nigel Martyn didn't get so much as a half between them. Taylor probably felt he couldn't play Woods and Martyn on that tour, and not play Coton, so he just played Woods. This book explains why this strangeness happened, and who was behind it. It is actually quite scandalous, the more you think about it. The England team is not always picked on merit and Coton's is a case in point. He should have played for England many times over.
Some sports biographies are rather cookie cutter in nature, but this is a very insightful look into the life of a great footballer and its attendant ups and downs. It is also candid about his own misjudgments, and contains many amusing stories. There is another shade to the book though. Coton, at times, in his earlier playing days, appears to be the anti-Teflon, as trouble has a habit of finding, and subsequently sticking, to him, but thanks to a move to that corrugated and friendly cathedral of football, Vicarage Road WD18, he keeps his career on an upward track and becomes a Watford all time great.
This book should do well. Birmingham City, Watford, Manchester City and Manchester United fans will all most definitely enjoy it, along with fans of other clubs. Even Luton fans will get something out of it, as Mick "officially the world's hardest player" Harford is in the book. He comes across as a good guy, like Coton, loyal, but tough.
Coton also talks honestly about some mental health issues he suffered later on. This is a very important part of the book, as it may encourage some readers to reach out for support, and to understand that what they are going through can happen to anyone, is nothing to be ashamed of, and that asking for help is a sign of courage.
The cliche about Coton is that he was the best goalkeeper never to play for England. This is half right. The truth is, he was better than most of the goalkeepers that did.