IT’S BEEN A RIOT FROM START TO FINISH FOR LEGENDARY COVE RANGERS SKIPPER ERIC WATSON
FAREWELL: Eric Watson and his son Finn take a final look around Balmoral Stadium after his last match there for Cove Rangers.
ERIC Watson almost caused a riot when he first met John Sheran so it was almost ironic he helped prevent one in his last game playing for him and Cove Rangers...but more of that later.
Eric, the most decorated Cove player of all time, bowed out in style by helping the club win a treble and promotion into League Two for next season.
He may be going but he will never be forgotten - most certainly not by the large band of Cove fans at Shielfield Park for the second leg of the SPFL Pyramid Play-off final against Berwick Rangers,.
They spent almost the entire match chanting for their hero of the last 12 years to be brought off the bench.
“Six foot two, plays in blue, Eric Watson’s after you!” was the repeated call, which was eventually answered when Eric came on in the dying minutes of their 3-0 win - and nearly scored twice.
“It would have been brilliant to sign off with a goal,” said Eric, who plans to stay in the Highland League, with Inverurie Locos and Formartine United thought to be among those seeking to secure a deal with him.
“It meant a lot to actually get out on to the pitch at Berwick, although it was also very strange because I knew it would be the last time I would be wearing a Cove shirt.
“It would have been great to stay next season as well, but I still want to play regularly and accept that wasn’t likely if I had remained with Cove.
“I leave with no regrets though, I’ve achieved so much and loved every minute of my 12 years with the club.”
Eric departs with 13 winners’ medals in his cabinet, including seven Highland League titles, as lasting momentous of his time with Cove.
Cove chairman Keith Moorhouse presented Eric with another special trophy, listing his baker’s dozen of triumphs, after the Berwick game.
Eric said: “Every medal I have is treasured.
“I remember when I won my first Junior Cup final one of my older team-mates told me after the game to make the best of it because it might be the last one I ever win.
“That’s pretty much how I looked at things from that day.
“I know I’ve been very fortunate because there are better players than me who played in the Highland League for years and years and never won a thing.”
It’s something he confessed he could never have imagined after spending most of his career before joining Cove playing Junior football down in Tayside.
“I had been with Montrose Roselea for about six years and just fancied a change,” said Eric.
“I had done well enough to be offered deals by all the big Junior clubs in Tayside and eventually agreed to go to Tayport.
“The forms had only just been signed when the phone went and it was the offer from John Sheran to come to Cove.
“Having played all my football down in Tayside I was honest enough to tell John I didn’t know a single thing about the Highland League.
“I actually turned to Google to sort that out, saw pictures of Allan Park and I thought ‘that looks a pretty grand stadium.’
“It was certainly more grand than most of the ones I had been used to playing in.
“I was still impressed after making the journey up to Aberdeen and peeking over the walls, so that was that.”
Cove co-manager John managed to persuade Tayport to part with their new signing for £1,500 a fee he last month described as “the best £1,500 Cove have ever spent.”
Eric laughed loudly when I told him that because he admitted he was worried John might decide against signing him because of what happened when they first crossed swords.
“It was when he was manager of Montrose and they agreed to play Montrose Roselea in a friendly,” he said.
“Things got a bit tasty, even though it was no more than a bounce match, and I remember going in with a late tackle on one of their boys.
“It all kicked off after that, players were squaring up to each other then John pulled his team off the pitch.
“He was going berserk at me so it was quite a first introduction.
“I met him socially after that, when he was with Echt and we were at a function for Luthermuir Amateurs, and I apologised for what happened in that friendly.
“Thankfully he didn’t bear a grudge and I will be for ever grateful to John for giving me the chance to join Cove.
“He also tried to take me to Peterhead when he was up there, so I think we have had a pretty good relationship over the years.”
The medals mean a lot but the special relationship Eric enjoyed with Cove’s barmy army of fans has been just as valued by the 37-year-old.
What happened while Cove celebrated gaining promotion last weekend underlined just how highly Eric is respected by those supporters.
A section of the Cove fans chose to dart across the pitch to where a band of Berwick ones were doing their best to mask their own disappointment by trying to wind them up.
It was unlikely there would have been any problems given that the Cove fans have no record of bad behaviour but Eric totally defused the situation by dashing over and acting as a one man barrier as he ushered them back to where his teammates were still having their fun.
It’s doubtful anyone else could have calmed or controlled that crowd in the manner that Eric did, but it’s because the Cove fans feel blessed to have had him as their captain.
“They have been unbelievably brilliant towards me,” said Eric.
“It’s great that I have the happy memories of lifting trophies for them to look back on.
“Mind you, I also loved the stick I got from opposing fans.
“The way I always looked at it is if they are giving you grief you must be doing something right.
“The more they did it the more it inspired me - and the more I enjoyed upsetting them even more by helping Cove beat their team.
“I will probably get stick playing for my next club as well, but bring it on.”
Asking Eric to pick one highlight from his time at Cove was like asking a farmer to pick a needle from a haystack, but he had a go anyway.
“Scoring a goal against Deveronvale to earn a vital draw on the way to clinching my first league title is certainly up there,” said Eric.
“I also scored against Lossiemouth on the day we clinched the second league title, I really loved that one too.
“But the real highlights have been playing alongside so many great players, many of whom have remained good friends.
“Kevin Tindal was my manager as well as a team mate and is now one of my closest friends.
“I’m actually meeting him on Saturday.
“We are going out to celebrate the 10th anniversary of winning that second league title, which should be good fun.
“I will also keep in touch with our goalie John McCafferty, we’ve been travelling back and forth together to games and training for more than five years now.
“I’ve been lucky to have made so many good pals at Cove.”
Eric’s loyalty to Cove is such that he was going to return to the Junior grades if they failed in their bid to gain promotion into the SPFL because he couldn’t envisage playing against them.
That’s not an issue now, so Eric is excited by the prospect of seeing if he can add to his haul of Highland medals.
“My phone has been red hot with offers, which is pleasing,” said Eric.
“I will get down to sorting that out now because I still feel I have a lot to offer.”