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The Quarantine Selection – Centre Backs 28/05/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

How’s your lockdown going?  What I wouldn’t give for a game under the floodlights at the Vic.  Any game, obviously, in that it would mean that Stuff was Better.  But selfishly, flippantly, a night-time game at the Vic. Condensation on your breath. Hands deep in pockets. Bloody hell.

Centre Backs, then.  Commemorating 40 years watching the ‘orns, here my ten favourites over that period.  Not best, necessarily, though maybe that too, but Favourites.  As previously I’ve made executive decisions on who qualifies as a centre-back and who doesn’t.  Once again, there’s a quiz at the end.

10- Filippo Galli

9- Christian Kabasele

8- Tommie Hoban

7- Steve Sims

6- Neil Cox

Fashionable to have Galli higher up of course but whilst he was extraordinary, and it was extraordinary to have a player of his pedigree at the club even at the age of 97 and whilst he even managed to make Wayne Brown look good for a bit it was such an unlikable season that anything associated with it is tarred. Kabasele…  often a great defender, sometimes not but maturing with age.  And a top bloke.  Tommie Hoban… heartbreaking, but a cracking defender, better than his young injury-hit career had any right to leave him.  He looked like a veteran.  Simmo… proper centre half, proper tache, brute of a defender.  Neil Cox… defied being written off to captain the side through the toughest of times.  And a fine if rarely effective line in free kicks much beloved of this blog.

5- Craig Cathcart

You can’t put a price on just being in the right place at the right time.  Always. On making the whole defence look better, work better. You’re tempted to say “unflashy”, except that there’s a flash inside forward in there somewhere… a surprising array of flicks and tricks at the attacking end have peppered his Watford career, and his art is in leaving you surprised every time it happens.  He’s been pretty much a first choice ever since he (re)signed six years ago and yet you can see yourself walking past  him in the street without recognising him.  Brilliant.

4- Colin Foster

Difficult to describe if you weren’t there quite what a dramatic relief the emergency surgery applied to the squad by Glenn Roeder in early 1994 provided.  Tommy Mooney was the longest lived of those sticking plasters, Dennis Bailey burned brightly but briefly.  Keith Millen probably a more reliable defender, just because he stayed fit.  But Colin Foster was tremendous… like signing an oak tree and planting it on the penalty spot. Crosses and attackers were drawn to him and bounced off pointlessly.  When he lurched forward you he swayed ominously, nobody wanted to get too close.  If he’d stayed fit he’d have been a legend, but then he’d probably not have signed for us in the first place.

3- Marcus Gayle

Like Cox, an unlikely return to the fold after apparently being out of the door, but more so and with bells on.  Indeed, Gayle was played “out of position” twice over at Watford… a winger, never a target man in his successful career at Brentford and Wimbledon he was deployed as such by Gianluca Vialli on recruitment from Rangers with very moderate success.  Indeed, it’s difficult to reconcile that slightly awkward, clumsy season from Gayle with what came next.  From the point where he lined up to general surprise on the left side of Ray Lewington’s first central defence in the first competitive game at what is now the KP Stadium, he was magnificent.  Imperious, in fact, a strong, quick, elegant presence at centre half with Cox or Dyche alongside to nudge him in the right sort of direction;  so comprehensive was his transformation that he walked off with the Player of the Season award whilst becoming more of an attacking threat than he’d been as a number nine.

2- Adrian Mariappa

Mapps is a legend several times over.  Going way back, there’s the version who lead the Youth Team to the FA Youth Cup Quarters in 2005, leaving the pitch in tears after defeat to Spurs.  There’s the teenager who made his League debut off the bench, in central midfield in an absolute scrap at Elland Road (so long ago that BSaD was still going) with the Hornets down to nine men.  And then held his own in the top flight the next season.  There’s the version who played 113 consecutive League games.  The version who captained the side, who set a standard for the kids to follow, who was so demonstrably on another level to the rest of the side in 2012 that it was no surprise at all that he moved to the Premier League where he has played for eight seasons.  Or the version who came back to Vicarage Road, ostensibly as fifth or sixth cab off the rank only to re-establish himself, to captain the side, and to always be there to rely on if he does slip back to the bench.  A gem.

1- John McClelland

It’s difficult to do justice to the majesty of John McClelland if you didn’t see him play.  Looked like some kind of troll carved from granite, built like a wardrobe but moved like a gazelle.  Literally kept pace with the quickest strikers despite looking like even getting up a trot was a bit of an effort.  Had telescopic legs that would surgically extract balls they had no business reaching.  Stuck his arms up in the air before taking free kicks (and corners?  did he really take corners?).  Couldn’t drive, so walked or caught the bus everywhere.  Brought in to plug an appallingly leaky defence in 1984 and plugged it comprehensively for four and a half years before moving to Elland Road, where he’d play 18 times in a League title winning side at the age of 37.  Magnificent.

Another one done.  Different flavours of midfielder to come in a bit. Once more…  here’s a little quiz.  Every centre back to have appeared in competitive action for the ‘orns since the start of 1979/80…  to reiterate, I get to decide who’s a centre back and who isn’t .  Centre backs to have appeared in friendlies only are hidden bonus answers – again, can’t promise that this is exhaustive.

Centre Backs Quiz


The Quarantine Selection – Full Backs 14/05/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Episode Two in a series of Some, doing the fashionable retrospective thing in the absence of foootball now to talk about.  Commemorating 40 years watching the ‘orns, here my ten favourite full-backs over that period.  Not best, necessarily, though maybe that too, but Favourite.

As soon as you move away from goalkeepers of course you start having to classify players as being predominantly one position or another.  This I’ve made executive decisions on;  any quibbles can be addressed to my co-editor.  Once again, there’s a quiz at the end.

10- James Chambers

9- Marco Cassetti

8- Daniel Pudil

7- Daryl Janmaat

6- Jose Holebas

Chambers.  Did A Job wherever we put him;  honest, quick, likeable.  A trooper.  Cassetti… suave, classy, humble.  Compare and contrast with Patrick Blondeau, say, a full-back of similar pedigree who doesn’t make the list.  Pudil… did tend to get caught behind, did pick up a few bookings…. one of the first “mercenaries” was anything but.  A sound guy.  Janmaat…  a single-minded full-back, perhaps one of few whose form held up in the early weeks of this season before his injury. His rhino-goals, particularly against Chelsea for some reason, have been fun but always come when the chips are down.  A leader.  Holebas.  Cult hero… always on the edge of losing his rag, terrifyingly aggressive, huge fun.

5- Wilf Rostron

I went on holiday with a load of Villa fans in the early nineties.  I didn’t know half of them beforehand, but as soon as my loyalties were none one guy was waxing lyrical about Wilf.  Not for reason of any memorable goal against the Blues.  Just because Wilf was great. Thinking about it this would only have been four years after Wilf left Watford, but then time did move more slowly in those days.

Rostron joined the Hornets as a midfielder, but was famously tried out as a left back as John Barnes’ emergence made it clear that left wing chances were going to be limited.  He was tremendous, dogged at the back and a threat up front.  I remember Rochdale’s manager being quoted after a League Cup game about how they’d had to “try to sort out their Wilf Rostron problem”.  Which sums it up.  He must have been a pain in the arse for opponents at both ends of the pitch for the best part of a decade.

4- Paul Robinson

Robbo was also a pain in the arse for opponents, but in a more literal sense.  The foremost of the fearless booterers of the period (TM: Look at the Stars) he was a kid who’d always dreamt of being a left back, never wanted to be anything else than a left back, may have been genetically engineered to be a left back. His emergence coincided with my little sister’s most concerted and focused period of supporting the ‘orns, and he was always a favourite.  “He’s just so passionate….”.  Him scoring with a tackle against Wimbledon was one highlight, his charge upfield to try out being a poacher for a few minutes against Charlton was another.  When he left I was absolutely gutted.  Goalscorers, even talented midfielders, perhaps even goalkeepers you accept will one day move on to better things.  They are eye-catching.  Robbo should have stayed at Watford for ever.

3- David Bardsley

Yes, I know there’s a prevalence of mid-eighties players in here.  Sue me.  David Bardsley was bloody great.  He never smiled.  He was stupid quick. He had long hair which made him look even quicker.  He played right-back in the Cup Final aged 19 having been signed from Blackpool that season…  this is us, Watford, now a top flight club and seemingly invincible signing right backs from Blackpool.  He had to be good.  He was good.  He played elsewhere too… occasionally in midfield, often on the wing.  Ask Kenny Sansom. When Bassett came in and took a hatchet to the side… this was the one that hurt most.  Barnes was always going, Hill was a disappointment having had such a build up, Richardson was criminally stupid, dropping Coton bizarre.  But selling David Bardsley was unforgivable.  He later played for England under GT.  Still not smiling.  Probably.  And he earned his Watford debut in the same week as the next man up, which is just ludicrous.

2- Nigel Gibbs

It wasn’t half a difficult choice between the top two.  I made a call in the end, almost on the toss of a coin.  But both were magnificent, spanning well over 32 years of Watford history between them.

Gibbo was remarkable.  He debuted in the UEFA Cup in 1983, was a first team regular eighteen months later whilst still a teenager and was a major part of both the first golden spell in the top flight and the insane charge up the divisions in the late nineties.  For almost 20 years from his debut he was just there, a solid, unflappable, reliable presence at right-back.  Sometimes he played badly but he never played stupid, and the odd goal, once every hundred games or so, was lamped in from about 25 yards, an essential full-back trope that the likes of Robbo and Bardsley never quite mastered.

There’s other stuff, too.  The years spent as a coach and assistant to the excellent Ray Lewington.  The spells out of the game injured when it really looked as if his Watford career was up but after which he fought back, unfussily, unflashily.  Doing his job.

When he signed for the club, Peter Davison was Doctor Who.  When he left, criminally discarded in the vanity of the Boothroyd administration, David Tennant was manning the tardis.  Gibbo regenerated a few times in the interim too, but remains a bona fide Watford legend.

1- Lloyd Doyley

Lloydy edges it.  He wasn’t as good a footballer as Gibbo.  He didn’t play as many games, play for us for as long.  Never won the FA Youth Cup, never played for the England U21s.

But he made the most of everything he had, and then some.  He was rejected many, many times.  Written off.  But came back fighting… not angry, not sulky.  Just putting a shift in.  There were criticisms of his attacking capabilities, of his distribution… but none of his defending.  He was an absolute limpet, and when circumstances meant that he was asked to do a man-marking job he’d just throw a blanket over the guy and quietly, politely, apologetically, club him out of consideration.  Jason Roberts, that’s you that is.

And the goal.  Obviously the goal.  Never has there been a more popular goal at Vicarage Road.  Significant yes, obviously.  Popular, no.  Never one greeted with so many wide grins.  Grins, rather than exaltation, even if it was QPR.

His Watford career ended as it began.  As a bit part player, now in an increasingly talented squad.  Still doing his bit.  Still digging in.  Still setting an example.  Still a top man.  Legend.


That’s that, then. Once more…  here’s a little quiz.  Every full back to have appeared in competitive action for the ‘orns since the start of 1979/80…  to reiterate, I get to decide who’s a full back and who isn’t .  Full backs to have appeared in friendlies only are hidden bonus answers – can’t promise that this is exhaustive unfortunately.

Full Backs Quiz

The Quarantine Selection – Goalkeepers 04/05/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

First, the COVID-caveat.  Yes, there is important stuff happening in the world and yes, this article is frivolous and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  Without wishing to belittle anything I make no apology for that.  Indeed, it was ever thus if rarely as starkly – there has always been more important stuff going on, but we all reach saturation and we all need Other Stuff to write or read or think about and so here we are.

I have nothing to say about COVID that isn’t expressed by more eloquent and better informed individuals elsewhere.  I’d just like to say that whilst times of crisis bring out the very best in some people and the worst in others, I’m as proud as I’m ever been to be a Watford supporter.  The club’s conduct in directly supporting their neighbours at Watford General Hospital, in co-ordinating a past-and-present player ring-around checking on elderly and vulnerable supporters, and Troy’s role at the helm of the playerstogether NHS fund, all magnificent.

Meanwhile.  Only seven weeks since the last BHaPPY report, a report from a game I didn’t go to (and boy doesn’t it feel longer…), it occurs to me that this season marks the fortieth anniversary of my following the Golden Boys.  My first match was actually the final game of the 1979-80 season, a 4-0 win over Burnley – 40 years ago yesterday as I write, this article has taken a while…, but there exists photographic evidence of me poring over match programmes much earlier in the campaign.

This is an anniversary of interest to me and of very little interest to anyone else.  Nonetheless…  herewith the first of a series of articles that will pop up as frequently as I can get around to writing them looking back at forty years supporting the orns.  Suggestions/requests gratefully received, but to kick off a run-down of my favourite goalkeepers in this time.

Note, “favourite”, not “best”;  whilst the two may overlap and whilst both are ultimately somewhat subjective the former is explicitly so and explicitly mine;  again, no apologies.  Hopefully high on anecdote and low on dull reproduction of detail.  There’s even a quiz at the end if you Like That Sort Of Thing.

10- Chris Day

9- Richard Lee

8- Manuel Almunia

7- David James

6- Kevin Miller

Daisy.  Smiled a lot.  Apologised when he tonked me with a misplaced effort in the warm-up at Gresty Road.  Richard Lee… decent keeper when we needed him to be.  Manuel Almunia… perhaps harder to warm to but a fine keeper, and that double save.  DJ…  remember him lurching around the Family Enclosure when he was in the youth team and everyone knew he was going to be a star.  And then he was.  Kevin Miller… very fine keeper, surprised that he never turned out to be quite as impressive elsewhere but was impressive for us at a time that not much was.

5- Steve Sherwood

It’s grossly unfair that Shirley is now, however many years on, principally remembered for That Cup Final Goal.  For starters, any Watford supporter will tell you that it was a heinous foul… and any Everton fan will surely concede that at the very least it was a stiff aerial challenge, coming out second best to Andy Gray in which is rather a harsh thing to damn someone with.

But beyond that, Shirley was goalkeeper in the side that was promoted to the top flight for the first time, that finished second in the League, that took on Europe and reached the Cup Final also for the first time.  Beyond that he was the only player to predate Graham Taylor’s arrival, remain for the duration of his first spell and still be around at the end.  Luther was too, but he’d had that gap year in Italy so doesn’t qualify…

And… a splendid chap.  Which matters, if we’re talking “favourite”.  Being a nice bloke counts in my book…

4- Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes, baby.  Spurs fans might mock the suggestion that Gomes is a Watford legend, but that’s because they’re Spurs fans and don’t know any better.  Half of them would probably play Glenn Hoddle in goal if they could, bloody idiots.

Gomes is no longer the Watford first choice but he’s a massive personality and deserves to be remembered fondly for his role off the pitch as well as for his heroics on it.  Being a leader.  Being the guy who looks after Richarlíson and João Pedro.  Hell, signing for us in the first place, dropping a division to join a side who’d just finished mid-table.  He’s a Brazilian international, remember.

On the pitch, tremendous anyway.  Heroic really isn’t too big a word.  At his best, capable of defying all comers – that draw at home to Chelsea in the first season up springs to mind.  Almost scoring a late equaliser with a header at West Brom, Richarlíson beat him to it.  Tremendous.

3- Alec Chamberlain

So last year my brother gets a big job with Channel 4.  Commissioning Editor of Factual Programmes in the North of England.  Big deal.  He’s a big Watford fan too, obvs, one of his earliest games was Dave Bassett’s last stand against Hull City where, turning to make sure that the kid brother under my charge was coping with the heated atmosphere, I found him standing on his seat giving Bassett the big one from the Family Enclosure.  He was seven.

Fast forward to last June, and one of his mates responded to his news with hearty WhatsApp congratulations, and as a follow-up… “And now the Channel 4 News, presented by Alec Chamberlain”.

The implication, of course, that Channel 4’s northern documentaries might have an unprecedented Watford angle going forward.  Judge that for yourself. Significant, though, that twelve years after retirement and another eleven after joining the Hornets, ostensibly as a backup keeper behind Kevin Miller, Alec was the name selected for this one-liner by a Middlesbrough fan.  Chamberlain’s arrival, ex-Luton, already 32 and following a relegation to the third tier, didn’t suggest a club legend in the making but he didn’t miss a League game in the two promotion seasons and was on the club coaching staff for many years after retirement.

Not a flash character, not a big name.  But Watford through and through.  I contacted him through the club to ask if he’d fancy shooting a spoof Channel 4 news thing on his phone, announcing Will’s new job.  I think he thought that I was a bit of an idiot – at any rate he said something about being busy moving house.  I didn’t follow up.  He’s clearly in the top five anyway.

2- Ben Foster

When Ben first arrived, a lad we’d never heard of on loan from Manchester United in the turbulent summer of 2005, I was quite resentful.  Wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the whole thing at the time… Boothroyd, the new players coming in, the players and staff leaving.  Mixed emotions then, pretty much the same looking back.  Rather irritated that Richard Lee wasn’t in goal for the opener against Preston.

That concern didn’t last long. The only criticism of Foster in those first two season was that he was rather too eager to launch an impossible throw into the feet of an escaping Marlon King… occasionally he was a couple of steps too far ahead.  He ironed that out in a couple of months.

Thereafter he looked every inch a top goalkeeper.  Confident, brave, agile… the only surprise perhaps that he didn’t play more for England, or establish himself as first choice at Old Trafford, or at a top club.

Clues as to that when he rejoined the Hornets nearly two years ago, having talked about maybe quitting the game.  His own man, not one to do what’s expected necessarily, not one to follow a well trodden path just because it’s what’s expected.  A great footballer, but clearly not just that.  You can’t see Ben Foster spending his time after playing trading off having been Ben Foster once, put it that way.

And then there’s the rest of it.  I remember during his first season there was a Horse Racing night at the Vic in honour of Alec’s testimonial.  No surprise perhaps that a fellow goalkeeper was there, but there weren’t many players there from memory, and Foster hadn’t long signed.  Impressive then, utterly unsurprising now.  Countless instances, even over the last twelve months, of Ben Foster being a thoroughly good bloke… small things, not flash things, but brilliant things.  And being a good bloke matters.

1- Tony Coton

Having said which I’m going to completely contradict myself, because Tony Coton was a complete bastard.  He came with a colourful reputation from Birmingham City, and for what was at the time no small fee for a goalkeeper, £300,000.  “A fee for an international keeper, and Coton certainly isn’t that” sneered Jimmy Greaves’ letters page in Shoot.

He scared the crap out of me, and I was some distance away in the stands.  Heaven knows what it must have been like to play in front of him, particularly as a youngster, particularly if you screwed up.

But he was brilliant.  Extraordinarily agile, completely in charge.  In my mind’s eye he never conceded a goal, and certainly never played badly.  I suspect that this might be the passage of time stretching the truth a little bit… but my word.  For the duration of his time at Watford under GT he was utterly vital and imperious, facilitating an aggressive attacking style for those three season by being such a reliable, intimidating last line of defence.  Thereafter he was briefly dropped by Dave Bassett – I’d say the final straw, but the straws had all long since packed up and gone home – and then stayed for two seasons to try to get us back up – winning an unmatched third Player of the Season award in the process – before moving on to Manchester City, where he’s held in similarly high regard, and beyond.  That he never played for England completely crackers.  Even Ben Foster doesn’t really come close.


Right, that’s that.  Full backs will be along in due course;  in the meantime feel free to pass comment.  And/or…  here’s a little quiz.  Every goalkeeper to have appeared in competitive action for the ‘orns since the start of 1979/80…  goalkeepers to have appeared in friendlies only are hidden bonus answers (I think the latter list is exhaustive).  Enjoy.

Goalkeepers Quiz