Former Watford forward Nathan Ellington spoke exclusively to Vibe107.6 FM sport reporter Noah Abrahams.
Former Watford FC forward Nathan Ellington says that “it was very difficult” adapting to the style of football played when attempting to help the Hornets gain promotion to the Premier League in 2008.
Watford’s then record signing, spoke exclusively to Vibe107.6 FM sport reporter Noah Abrahams, reflecting on a turbulent three seasons at the club.
Scoring five goals in 56 games for the Golden Boys, the former Premier League striker shared an insight into what it was like to play for the Hertfordshire outfit at that time.
“It was a mixed time for me. I didn’t have the best of times playing and it was the hardest time with the type of football we played,” the 39-year-old said.
“When I came to the club, I was told I was going to play. I left West Brom to play games and then I was on the bench at Watford. I knew I couldn’t say anything because the boys were playing well at the time.
“I didn’t have the match fitness, despite trying to stay as fit as possible and when it did come to getting involved, the gaffer decided to go a lot more route one than usual. It made it very difficult for me, I wasn’t used to playing that direct. The style of football played a part in us dropping off and a quite a few of us not playing to our potential.
“It was very hard to adapt to Aidy Boothroyd’s style. When I first came in, I thought we would be popping the ball around because of the players that we had.
“I was buzzing to get on the field in my first game and I hit the post in the first five minutes. I was moving between the lines and asking for the ball from midfield.
“After the game, Jobi McAnuff said to me that we weren’t allowed to pass the ball through the lines. I thought he was just having a laugh at first but, it was actually true. Boothroyd told players off for being imaginative. It was a killer.
“For the first time, supporters weren’t happy with me and it hurt a lot.
“Boothroyd got a lot of success at the beginning of the season and he felt that his style was the best way. I’m not saying he was a bad manager because of it, but it was too late when he finally decided to make us play attacking football. We would have done a lot better had played that way from halfway through the season.
“I’m not one to complain. Every team plays a bit different, but I felt like we were playing for Danny Shittu to score goals, defend and win corners. All we did was ask Danny for goals. He was a defender! The gaffer went to him too much and it hurt the strikers. We had players who could score goals and we didn’t use them to their potential. We played to half of our potential that season.”
Ellington cost the Hornets £3.25 million. The most expensive Watford player ever at the time. The ‘Duke’ explained how his price tag affected the move.
“I had no thought of the transfer fee in my mind at any time during my move,” he said.
“I don’t get the money; I don’t get paid it! It didn’t mean anything to me. It only dawned on me when someone overtook the record and Watford mentioned me.
“Finally, someone had come in for a better fee than Nathan Ellington, who is always remembered as a player who didn’t do much at the club.
“I’d already gone from Wigan to West Brom for £3 million, so to go for £3.25 million, it didn’t mean anything to me. It only meant something to the club.”
Whilst some Watford fans struggled to warm to Ellington, others understood the difficulties that he faced at the club. Explaining a unique relationship with the supporters, the former Hornet said:
“I know a few people were upset, but more often than not, I would come across people who felt the same way I did. Why did the club bring me in, if Aidy played that way?
“Those who knew their football understood. I was trying and doing whatever I could.
“Things didn’t work out how they should have. We had so many good players and I was puzzled. I was dreaming about playing good football. It didn’t happen and it didn’t work out in the end.”
A proud Muslim, Ellington found religion whilst still playing professional football. The founder of the Association of Muslim Footballers, he explained that life continued as normal.
“It was during my last year at Wigan that I began researching about religion,” he said.
“I took religion on board and I was really excited. It didn’t take anything away from my football. I carried on as normal and just called myself a Muslim.
“My football and religion were totally separate. At the time Islam was seen in a bad light. People in the world saw it as a negative. People would say that I wasn’t interested in my football. Instead of playing cards, I read a book. It didn’t make sense.
“I ended up having something attached to me and it coincided with me not doing so well. People tried to put the two together and that’s where the struggle happened.
“There will always be negative people. Some people are ignorant, and they won’t change. Racial hatred will never fully go.”
Retired but still with one eye on Watford, Ellington said: “I will always wish Watford the very best, no matter what.”