"A measure of ambition"
By Jon Preston
Choosing the club's best eleven is always cause for good debate. Start at the class of 1982-83 and adjust accordingly has always been my view. Add in Coton and McClelland and then think long and hard as to whether to have Pat Rice or Nigel Gibbs. Rice's influence on that team cannot be underestimated, but I guess we could now expect them to look after themselves, so Gibbs it is. But who should partner McClelland in the centre of the defence? That's always where I get stuck. Steve...yes, so far, so good. But Sims or Terry? Both made significant contributions during that halcyon era. Steve Terry would be more likely to head in one of Cally's corners, but then again you wouldn't think that the all time eleven would be short of goals. So it's Steve Sims' better defensive qualities that just shade it for me.
His arrival was high profile, to say the least. Third Division Watford signing a player with top flight experience and already capped at Under-21 level. The fee of £175,000 was the highest ever paid by a Third Division club. Here really was a statement that Elton John meant business and that Graham Taylor would have a chance to build the team he wanted. The lad from Lincoln had grown up watching Taylor's first team and so he jumped at the chance to play with some of his former heroes such as John Ward and Dennis Booth.
Arriving near the end of the 1978-79 season, he was there to help the club over the line as a second successive promotion was achieved. Soon a fans' favourite with some commanding displays and a long throw to boot. "Simo, Simo" was soon ringing out from the terraces. His quality at the back was crucial during the following year as the club struggled to come to terms with life in Division Two. It was a rare Sims goal that started of proceedings against Fulham as safety was achieved late on in the season.
Things just got better and better as the heady heights of ninth were achieved. It must be remembered that this was the highest ever league position achieved by the club at the time. Forming a formidable partnership with Ian Bolton, it was probably Steve's best ever season and being voted "Player of the Season" rewarded him. Even an own goal in the epic 7-1 win over Southampton was forgiven. Could it get any better?
Of course, we now know that it could. But as the club gained promotion to Division One for the first time, one player was notable for his absence. An early season injury allowed Steve Terry to become established and Steve Sims found himself almost the forgotten man. Fortunately, he was ready and waiting for when the call came. As promotion beckoned, GT knew that he needed that little bit of experience to steady the ship, so it was fitting that he was there to share in the glory as promotion was achieved.
The boot was on the other foot during the following season as Steve Terry found himself on the sidelines as the Bolton/Sims partnership held firm. With the clubs attacking policy frightening nearly everyone, the defence was largely ignored. But there was Mr Dependable keeping the opposition forwards quiet.
It was a difficult start to the 1983-84 season as the "glory team" had been broken up. Fortunately we still had Steve's experience to call upon and he was able to share in the European adventure. Indeed one of Trevor Jones' excellent books shows him awaiting a corner in the home leg against Sparta Prague with his splendid walrus moustache in full view! It was also the season of that cup run. The final may have featured Terry and Sinnott in central defence, but who remembers who played in the first game of the run at Kenilworth Road? The partnership of Sims and Franklin was looking very solid as the club reached the Quarter-Finals.
But it all went wrong, ironically, at Leicester. In those distant days, you only got one substitute and with things going wrong GT decided to swap Nigel Callaghan with Worrell Sterling at half-time. Almost inevitably a serious injury occurred. Sims hurt his leg, later diagnosed as a break. We then witnessed the pathetic sight of him hobbling up and down the wing as the side tried to haul back a 4-1 deficit.
There was talk of him getting fit for the Cup Final, but it was never likely. With Terry and Sinnott established, and further question marks over his overall fitness, he slipped quietly away to Notts County. One wonders, had he stayed, whether the club would have needed to buy John McClelland. It's an ill wind, so they say.
Yet at Notts County he was almost ever present and played as well as ever. While scouting another forward, John Ward saw just how well he was playing and reported back. Soon he was back with a view to taking up some of the coaching duties too. So for a short while we saw the dream combination of Sims and McClelland together.
1987 was another good cup run and the chance for several players to get to the final they missed in 1984. It all ended in disaster at Villa Park as Spurs brushed the Hornets aside 4-1. Worse still, Steve suffered a serious injury to his arm. For the second time, injury ended his spell at the club. Come the summer, Taylor was gone and the chance for coaching had disappeared. Just another casualty, he went off to Aston Villa to join the old manager. How Dave Bassett thought that Mark Morris was a better centre half remains one of life's mysteries....
Steve Sims deserves his place in the all-time eleven, yet his career was still one of slight under-achievement. Had fate been kinder and kept him freer of injury, then who knows what may have happened. Certainly, a combination of injury and playing for an unfashionable club probably kept him from gaining a full England cap. There have been worse players capped over the years.
Remember the Vic under lights and the crowd yelling "Simo, Simo" as he launches another long throw. It all starts to come back.