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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


1. Michael - 04/05/2020


This is a great treat in these times and absolutely right to go with favourites rather than ability ( although not sure the list would be much different). Before reading on I did my own top ten – All same bar one. To me TC was a beast – always felt safe when he was in goal – almost cried when he got sent off at Arsenal in 87 ( I think) and later did when he got injured when we got to the semi final.

Anyway – great fun – thank you and stay safe.

2. davewatfordnil - 04/05/2020

Thanks Matt, finally something classy to read while locked down in Borehamwood. Also a quick note about Ben Foster. During his first spell for us, my six year old son wrote to him hoping for his autograph. He replied with signed photos and a very sweet , handwritten letter which, at the time made a massive impression on my lad .
Looking forward to seeing the rest of your selections and congratulations on your 40 year anniversary.

3. Neil M - 04/05/2020

Good to see you back I miss your match reports and quite frankly I think you could probably write a lot more intelligently than some people on the subject of Coronavirus anyway; so probably no reason for you to not be posting at the moment. I’ve got to agree with your keeper assessments with one glaring exception; Tony Coton was not ‘a complete bastard’ even if he came across that way on the pitch. He was (and probably still is) a very engaging and eloquent guy who showed a great deal of interest in the development of Watford players and was happy to spend time talking about football after a game on a Saturday night.

Matt Rowson - 05/05/2020

Fair criticism, badly expressed by me. I’ve interviewed Tony and read his bio and you’re right of course. He was a very aggressive character on the pitch tho.

4. Simoninoz - 05/05/2020

Not technically qualified for this group, but also worth an honourable mention is the man who left Watford in the close season after that first game of yours, Matt. It’s Andy Rankin who was quite superb for us from 1972 until 1980 and won two Player of the Season Awards. Perhaps his finest moment was his extraordinary save that helped us prevail in the miracle of Old Trafford in October 1978. And he is possibly the only footballer to have missed a game due to an injury sustained while carrying coal to put in his lounge room fireplace.

Matt Rowson - 05/05/2020

I know of Rankin only by reputation so can’t list him. Pat Jennings, Dave Underwood, Skilly Williams, Geoff Moreton were all great Watford keepers but I never saw any of them play…

5. Ray Knight - 05/05/2020

Hi Matt – can’t really argue with the top of your running order, but I’d prefer having Rankin than David James. The latter rather than John Barnes tends to deny his Watford roots. Didn’t he hide wearing Luton socks when training and he could be quite erratic on crosses/ coming out of his box. Embarrassing dancing on Strictly probably demotes him as well. Keep safe and well. Let’s null and void this season and make sure we can go again.

Matt Rowson - 05/05/2020

Against that, when I wrote to every ex player and manager that I could find asking them to join the inaugural Supporters Trust he was the first to reply (with a cheque)

6. Kris - 05/05/2020

Alec was the first Watford keeper that stood out to me. Others may have been greater at the time, I don’t know, but he was a constant in my early days supporting Watford. I always felt he was better than we should be able to attract. Maybe my view of him is slightly rose-tinted but he is up there to me. Coton was before my discovery of Watford, and therefore means less to me personally though I know his importance in club history. So to me, out two most recent keepers conclude the top 3 in my eyes. Granted I am easily swayed when players show values off the pitch that embody the spirit of the club. Heurelio and Ben are outstanding ambassadors to the club and happen to be outstanding goalies as well.

7. Harefield Hornet - 05/05/2020

Just a few comments from me. Chris Day deserves a mention for that win at Anfield. Micky Walker wasn’t a bad keeper either but again before your time. And as mentioned above TC was a nice guy off the pitch. He visited my Dads pub, the Swan at Harefield with Steve Harrison and Luther to support a Tom
Walley benefit night, and you couldn’t have met a nice bloke. Great to hear from you again by the way!!

8. Harefield Hornet - 06/05/2020

Couple of comments – Chris Day worthy of an extra mention because of that win at Anfield. Micky Walker also a decent stopper but before your time. TC lovely guy off the pitch – came to my dad’s old pub, the Swan in Harefield, for a Tom Walley benefit night with Steve H and Luther – Top bloke!

Matt Rowson - 06/05/2020

Daisy – yes. Only away game I missed that season, have I mentioned that? TC… I think as above I was clumsy in my wording. He seems to be a very good guy, but was also a tough bastard on the pitch.

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