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Gone but not forgotten:
Terry Burton
Position: Assistant manager
From: A hospital bed - September 2002
To: Cardiff City - September 2004
He was: Terry from Terry and Ray

It's a rubbish chant, first and foremost. It was a rubbish chant when it cropped up at Portsmouth, where supporter participation is measured by quantity rather than quality. And it was still a rubbish chant when it was adopted by the Rookery, tentatively initially and then wholeheartedly as enthusiasm for the new regime began to snowball.

Rubbish, but appropriate: "Terry and Ray" summed up the new partnership at the heart of Watford Football Club, just as the close, trusting working relationship between the manager and his assistant seemed to sum up a more fundamental change of approach at a daunting time. Whether for very good or for very bad, the egos of the club's recent managers been dominant. Here, it seemed, were people who would be happy to have their names in much smaller type: this was not to be "Ray Lewington's Watford" as it had been Graham Taylor's and Luca Vialli's.

In truth, while those who care about "big names" brushed the suggestion aside, Terry Burton would've been a very decent candidate for the manager's job itself when the vacancy came up in the summer of 2002. A dynamic, intelligent personality, he'd managed to enhance his considerable coaching reputation with a stint at the helm of Wimbledon after fourteen years with the club: he held steady against an unstoppable tide until getting the sack, reportedly for clashing with Charles Koppel over a small selection of the contentious issues available. One of the rare occasions when getting the boot proved to be a positive career move....

Instead, we did even better. The appointment of Ray Lewington left many waiting to be convinced, for this was not a man that we yet knew well. Within a day, he'd signed Sean Dyche: such an elephant-sized statement of intent that it still makes me chuckle now. In reacting to the announcement, I'd already said, "The selection of Ray Lewington's assistant will be significant...but, again, there is the opportunity to build a management team that fully understands the club and the context in which it operates." So, did we get one of Ray's mates, along for the ride? Or a popular ex-player to appease the fans? Or an affordable nobody?

Nope, and it was a key moment: Ray Lewington managed to persuade one of the most respected, experienced coaches at this level to join forces with him. To join us, penniless and desperate. After Terry Burton had recovered from a hip operation, the partnership was formed...and it would see us safely through two of the most difficult, testing, potentially disastrous years that the club has ever experienced.

As always, it's hard to judge the extent of the assistant manager's influence. But not that hard in this instance: a talkative, honest soul whose Watford Observer archives will be rich with fascinating detail, Ray Lewington was never shy about explaining the importance of his other half, and never tried to claim credit that was due to someone else. Indeed, for many months, it was much more common to see Terry Burton's alert, eager face in post-match interviews, letting the manager remain where he was more comfortable. As time went on, it became increasingly apparent that this was much more than a mere assistant.

Indeed, I'd suggest - without any great evidence, admittedly - that Terry Burton's presence was a vital factor during the troubled 2003/04 season, when struggle against relegation was never accompanied by significant rebellion in the dressing room. When the entire club might've fallen apart, and didn't. Certainly, that has much to do with man management, yet it must also be related to the degree of satisfaction with the day-to-day work on the training pitch and elsewhere. It's not all about Saturday afternoon, after all. As his manager often noted, Terry Burton took full responsibility for coaching, with Lewington and Gibbs as his assistants in that context. It's my view that, just by maintaining the players' belief in the management team's methods, he did much to keep us on an even keel when the boat might've easily capsized. You can't bluff twenty players every morning for two years.

Invaluable, which is why we couldn't keep him forever. As part of the verbal agreement that brought him to Watford in the first place, he could leave if he wished to accept a better offer. That better offer came from Sam Hammam at Cardiff and he left, just a couple of days before a more-than-slightly-ironic three-nil win for the Hornets at Ninian Park: "I just passed Terry in the corridor," quipped Lewington after the game. "He had a strange look on his face."

It's another key moment for the club, then. In promoting Nigel Gibbs and bringing in Terry Bullivant, Ray Lewington has kept a measure of continuity, and that seems typically sensible. Terry Burton will be a hard act to follow in the long-term. But then, perhaps his presence for two years will have created the kind of integral, internal coaching academy that is almost as vital as the youth academy in the current circumstances. More vital, in some ways. Perhaps that'll be a lasting legacy. Whatever, his immediate legacy is more than valuable enough: we're still here, more or less where we were when the roof caved in.