Golden Graham 08/06/2011Posted by Ian Grant in Thoughts about things.
It may seem like a daft premise for a farewell to the club’s and the division’s top scorer…but let’s forget about the goals for one moment. It was always about so much more than that, after all. The times when casual observers and fans of other clubs would comment on Danny Graham’s scoring record always made you feel a little bit smug, knowing that they’d missed the reason why you’d have his name on the back of your shirt if you weren’t too grown up for such things. Anyone can score a few goals; Scott Fitzgerald managed it, for pity’s sake. Not anyone can be Danny Graham.
From the very start, he had an apparently natural awareness of his surroundings that set him apart in the frantic bustley hustle of the Championship. Watching it all from high up in the stands, you don’t get many players who can see things long before you do, who can pick out runs that you haven’t spotted and anticipate events before they’ve unfolded; it’s just not that easy when you’ve got some ugly bruiser about to take your ankles away. The first month was barely out before we were describing Graham as “the fulcrum of it all”, the player with the ability to link together the ideas of Don Cowie, Tom Cleverley and, briefly, Tommy Smith in the final third.
That raw ability has since been welded to genuine authority. A lengthy dry spell put his place in jeopardy, echoing the increasing danger of relegation as the 2009/2010 season neared its close. The reaction from key players was emphatic, nigh-on revolutionary; with Jay Demerit heading for the exit, John Eustace became the captain elect, and others took up their places in the new order. For the first time in years, you looked at the dressing room and saw a structure that made sense: a proper, shouty captain with senior players unafraid of responsibility. A team of few egos but plenty of stars. Danny Graham wasn’t just the centre forward any more. He led the attack.
From then on, until he nigh on collapsed from exhaustion a few weeks ago, he was the best player in the division. End of. Adel Taarabt, my backside. Find me another striker with such technical accomplishment, then see whether they have Danny Graham’s genuine selflessness, his apparent love of doing it for the team and his relish for getting on with stuff that he could’ve left to others. Find someone with that uncanny vision, then see whether they can match his almost suicidal workrate, whether they’ll muck in and take the throw-ins too. Find a forward with goals against their name, then check whether they’re as dangerous as yer man when drifting out wide and firing in ferocious crosses, whether they can drop deep to get the ball if it isn’t coming to them. A complete footballer, quite simply…and one who genuinely seemed never to take anything for granted. Somewhere in virtually everything positive that we did, there was a bit of Danny Graham, even if it was only chasing a lost cause to win a corner or making a run to create space for others.
And goals, of course. Goals from a couple of inches to thirty yards, from simple tap-ins to booming long-range volleys followed by whirly-shirted runs to the corner flag. With head, feet, knees, whatever. Lucky, clinical, opportunistic, routine, spectacular. The ability to sniff out an opening seemed to desert him for spells in that first season…but my word, he had it back over the last nine months, great clusters of pick-that-out goals that made you wonder whether he wasn’t about to turn into some kind of comic strip hero before our eyes.
You’ll have your own favourites, I’m sure. Mine, for what it’s worth, is a bit of an obscure one. A goal down away at Scunthorpe; a pure poacher’s goal, getting in front of the keeper to flick in a stray back-header. But watch it again if you get the chance…and the more you see it, the more it seems as if someone’s shown him the video the day before. “Ah, yes, this is the bit where…if I stand just here…and flick it over like this…” The kind of goal you can only score if you’re really tuned into the game, if you’ve truly found its pulse; the kind of goal that’s dismissed too quickly. That was Danny Graham, in a nutshell. He made some of it look easy, but don’t let that fool you…
And he ended his Watford career exhausted and spent, having given us his absolute all. If he were less talented, you’d call him a folk hero…but his story has more chapters in it than we can write, and the chance to play for a top flight side with a vacancy for a line-leader is something we shouldn’t even momentarily begrudge.
For my money – and it’s not my money, obviously – the oft-voiced line about him being a good Championship striker sells him considerably short: that sixth sense isn’t something we see every season, that combination of talent, dedication and enthusiasm isn’t easy to find. It’s not about satisfying an abstract concept – “good enough” – but about continuing to make those positive contributions; I find it hard to believe that that’s beyond someone as irrepressible as Danny Graham. He’s grown immeasurably over the last two years, a tribute to our coaching staff, his team-mates…but most of all, to his hard work and high standards. He can continue to grow.
We’ll be watching and, I think it’s fair to say, we’ll be hoping too. Good luck, Danny. Enjoy it.
Note: Obviously, there’s much to discuss at the present time, but there are countless places for speculation, discussion and hysterical breakdowns about selling all of our players for tuppence; let’s leave that aside here. If you want to comment on Danny Graham’s Watford career, and perhaps share some of your favourite bits, please do so. Ta.