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Watford’s Number 9 01/09/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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None of it stands up to much independent scrutiny, not really.  Investing so much into a football team, finance yes, time of course.  Emotion too.  A fickle, unreliable bedfellow with expensive habits, as we know.

But given that we do it.  Given that this particular die is cast for better or worse, an emotional bond that all football fans understand even if many outsiders struggle to empathise, given all of that it would be inconceivable not to be affected, perhaps even distraught, by yesterday’s announcement as a Watford fan.  If you’re in, you’re in.  I’m a 48 year-old man, I have teenage children, grey hair, I’m closer to the end of my mortgage than the start of it.  I’m in a right state, and I’m not apologising for it.

The profoundness of the impact reflects not just what Troy has achieved but the sort of guy he is.  It’s rare for someone to spend eleven years at any club, rarer still for them to be so conspicuous throughout that period.  For much of his eleven years at Vicarage Road, arguably since the Pozzos took over in 2012 Troy has been the public face of Watford Football Club, the most recognisable face, the most prominent voice.  Whatever the stage of his career – and we’ll get to that – he leaves a chasm unparalleled, arguably, by any other departure save Graham Taylor’s in recent memory.  His role in the team may have diminished but his influence and actions off the pitch have been just as significant and will be missed badly.

My co-editor wrote about GT’s humanity as he left the manager’s position in 2001.  Troy’s humanity has been a big part of his legend at this club.  Like Taylor he’s a real person…  he’s got things wrong – we’ll get to that, too – he gets things right.  He’s got a backstory, a real life that is painted all over his face.

And he’s been unflinchingly honest.  Honesty doesn’t mean being right all the time.  It means telling it as you see it, for better or for worse, and he’s never done otherwise.  This was evident as early as his first season with the club under Malky Mackay; signed on the first day of the campaign thanks to the financial input, it later transpired, of Sir Elton John he inherited the number 9 shirt that had been left unclaimed since Tamás Priskin’s departure a year earlier and was straight into the matchday squad that evening, half an hour in an unlikely win at Carrow Road against a Norwich side destined for promotion.

He had pursued a move from Walsall aggressively, and slacked off pre-season training. With the benefit of hindsight this may have contributed to the slow start to his Vicarage Road career; a disrupted pre-season would often impact the subsequent campaign throughout his time at the club.  In my end of season report at the end of that year I reflected on his honest appraisal of his own poor form in the middle of that season.  Another recurring trend, but more startling in a newly-signed 22 year-old than in a long-established club captain.

He ended that first season playing wide on the right of Malky Mackay’s attack;  the following year under Sean Dyche he was a regular substitute, starting only four games and coming off the bench twelve times by the start of December.  His Watford career by that point boasted an underwhelming six goals in sixteen months and for all that his performances were otherwise strong this was the first of a number of sliding door moments.  Nobody would have blinked had he moved on that January though there would have been (more) grumbles at the “wasted” outlay, the transfer fee up to half a million pounds depending on clauses (or more if you believed Walsall, who until recently must have spent every transfer window wondering if this was the time they’d get their 20% sell-on. Sorry chaps).

Instead it was Marvin Sordell that moved on, and Troy suddenly had a more regular berth in the team.  He finished the season with a forceful nine goals in 17 games…a late winner to deny Boro a play-off spot, an equaliser to earn a point against Hull when Mariappa was sent off, another late winner against Ipswich.

This was more compelling stuff and some soon-to-be-important people were watching on.  That summer brought the second sliding door of Troy’s career as he was sentenced to ten months in prison after pleading guilty to affray. Meanwhile the club was being dragged from the brink of disaster when Lord Ashcroft briefly reclaimed ownership from the catastrophic and defaulting incumbent before selling on to the Pozzo family.  The new owners could have taken a very different line with their centre-forward. So much would have turned out differently if they had, not least for Troy.

There was a lot of deliberating at that time.  For me he had deserved a second chance, but this was largely dependent on his attitude, on his contrition, on whether he recognised the degree to which he’d screwed up.  The call was that he did, that he wasn’t going to let anyone down again.  He didn’t.

His tour de force at Huddersfield in his first start after release in September, helping to secure a 3-2 win after five matches without a victory, lit a fire under the season that was to prove the exception to Troy’s rule.  No pre-season has been disrupted to quite that extent, but he ended it with 20 goals in 35 starts, including surely the most replayed goal in the club’s history.  It must surely still choke you up, even those of you that weren’t in the path of the ball as it was struck, those of you that weren’t the only person in the stadium to notice what was unfolding in the wake of the post-penalty save celebration.

The following season saw 25 from Troy including the first hat-trick by a Watford player at the Vic in over sixteen years.  This prompted the first serious interest in the now undisputed figurehead of the team and after a disappointing league campaign this was another point at which the decision could have been made to cash in.  As a public auction seemed to be taking place in the August the club announced that he wasn’t going anywhere and both this and his acquiescence spoke volumes.  Rarely does a striker stay in the Championship after 45 goals in two seasons after all.

He captained the side to promotion the following year contributing another 21 goals, the last of which a critical strike in a dizzy afternoon at Brighton crowned with the calmest of assists to Matěj Vydra which prompted the least calm of celebrations.  It took a couple of months to get off the score sheet in the Premier League at Stoke but then the goals flowed… fifteen in all competitions, three of them against relegated Aston Villa.  During this campaign he achieved the rare feat of scaring Graeme Souness;  “I thought he was just a big lump but…. he’s a really good footballer!” was his verdict on Sky,  “what are you supposed to do against that?” the unspoken subtext. Perhaps most telling of all was his performance during an appalling end of season capitulation at Norwich; Quique had mentally left the building, most of the team were on the beach, Troy wasn’t having any of it.  A one man wrecking ball, the beating heart of the side.

That summer the overtures came from no less than the League champions Leicester City;  faced with the conundrum of quite who Leicester City sign when they’re league champions the Foxes, mercifully, went for Islam Slimani instead.  Troy would later be linked with Spurs but neither of the roles understudying the strikers who watched on from Leicester’s bench as he scored his most famous goal would have suited Troy.  By now he was a man who had to be the big dog in the room.

A fractious relationship with Walter Mazzarri didn’t prevent him from reaching double figures in the sixth season in succession, including that goal at West Ham that is one of everyone’s favourites (along with so many more).

The wasted Marco Silva season was a difficult one for Troy, another disrupted pre-season and two red cards borne of frustration and only two League goals from open play in consecutive 1-0 wins in late February and early March.  By that time he had upset half of north London by commenting on Arsenal’s lack of “cojones”, their eminent get-attableness, after his penalty had contributed to a 2-1 win.  Telling it like it was again and damn the consequences, consequences that came back to bite him every time he faced the Gunners subsequently.  Nonetheless, Troy played a part in the recovery under Javí Gracia, Jonathan Lieuw in the Independent describing his performance in the 4-1 demolition of Chelsea as “…part battering ram, part talisman, like the carving on the bow of a warship”.

2018/19 was his last great season at Watford.  Eleven goals as the Hornets chased Europe and the FA Cup only tells a fraction of the story.  If the arrivals of Deulofeu and Andre Gray had spread the attacking responsibility Troy was still the focal point, the leader.  His importance was never more evident than in the four games he missed through suspension (effectively, heading off minutes into a frustrating home defeat to another poor Arsenal side), but never more vibrant than in the dying seconds of regular time during the Wembley semi final against Wolves.  The Leicester goal is more famous, but this, for me, is the ultimate Troy goal.  Four minutes into injury time having just won a penalty, more of a pressure shot than the Leicester one, more time to think about it.  There was never any doubt, from the moment the penalty was awarded, no doubt how the game was going to play out.  But to hit it that hard

Both the relegation season and the promotion campaign that followed saw Troy hampered by injury early on.  Double figures once again in the relegation season nonetheless including another goal in a cruel defeat against Villa. Some more of those ferocious trademark penalties peppered the sinister post-lockdown close to the season, As the captain also recovered from hospitalisation by COVID.  On the rare occasions when Troy, Sarr and Geri were able to link up in that campaign we looked formidable.  We just didn’t get them on the field together often enough.

Meanwhile Troy, having turned 30, was lining his ducks up.  Never media shy he started a fortnightly column for the Sun and got a slot on TalkSport.  The ability to be clear-headed, eloquent, honest and direct made him a popular listen but popularity had nothing to do with it.  When Black Lives Matter was thrust into prominent view, Troy was at the forefront of the campaign encouraging taking the knee at kick off.  Telling it as he saw it, irrespective of the consequences.  Amongst the many joys of the return to stadia subsequently has been the confirmation that the voices of support dramatically outweigh the bigots and the morons who claim far too much oxygen on social media.

Last season his role was rendered more peripheral by injury… one goal from open play, plus an array of those penalties.  But off the pitch he was still the leader, the captain.  A club employee reported, during the game against Millwall that saw promotion confirmed, the skipper sitting with his young daughter up in the Upper GT surveying proceedings like a general up on a high vantage point, barking instructions at his charges.

It was always going to end at some point, and it’s good that it ends this way.  Released from a year of his contract, signing for the club he supports in the face of what must have been more lucrative offers.  Everyone gets to feel good about that. Troy believes that his last two seasons were ruined by injury, that he can reclaim past glories.  I hope he’s right.  In any event, for all that we could have done with his presence around the dressing room he was never going to take not being the Big Dog any longer.

Rooting for Birmingham City is going to be a novelty, particularly for those of us who remember combustible encounters of twenty-plus years ago, but it’s good to try new experiences as you get older. If force of personality counts for anything, the rest of the Championship doesn’t stand a chance.

Troy Deeney has been an inspiring role model.  a compelling spokesman, a ferocious leader, a deceptively clever centre-forward, an irrepressible goalscorer, taker of terrifying penalties and a leader of men.  Today he brought donuts as he said good bye to the staff at Vicarage Road, which is of course what any normal bloke would do.

It’s going to take a big personality to claim that shirt.

Best of luck Troy.

Yoooorns.

Comments»

1. leeputman1 - 01/09/2021

Thank you for writing this wonderful summary of Troy’s career and impact. An absolute club legend that will never be forgotten.
That West Ham goal was also one of my favourites – never seen a goal quite like it, felt like it was in the air for about 15 seconds from where we were standing!

Matt Rowson - 01/09/2021

There are too many favourites. But agree, absolutely. Thanks.

2. David Allen - 01/09/2021

Thirty years in management taught me never to give people second chances as they rarely if ever work out. So when Deeney went to jail, I was one who said he should be thrown out of the club. I am absolutely delighted he proved me utterly, utterly wrong.
Thank you Troy for giving us so many never to be forgotten moments

3. soulfulhornet - 01/09/2021

Matt, great summary of the legend (an overused word these days) that is Troy, but entirely appropriate in his case. May I suggest you send the article to WFC for inclusion on the website or in the match day programme.

4. Chris Hockin - 01/09/2021

Superb and worthy read Matt – thanks

Chris Hockin Cmonyawns

>

5. JohnF - 01/09/2021

Thanks Matt, it is appropriate that we as fans pay tribute to someone who has been an icon for Watford and who has shown his passion and loyalty for the club and its fans. When the Pozzo era began Troy was in prison and there were many voices calling for him to be sacked but the decision was taken to give him a second chance with conditions that he happily embraced. Injury has hampered his last two years but he has quite rightly achieved legend status. Appropriate that he is able to leave in an atmosphere of mutual respect and affection having given us some great memories. Fitting as well that his last PL goal in front of a full Vic was a quality finish against Liverpool, not just a battering ram but a skilled footballer.

Good luck Troy, come back and see us to say a proper goodbye.

6. Steve G - 01/09/2021

“it’s good that it ends this way” … indeed so, and well handled by both the club and the player. A brilliant article, Matt, as ever, with your characteristic blend of clarity, balance and emotion. I had wondered whether Deeney might be retained in the team for reasons of sentimentality or possibly to avoid making ‘an issue’ of relegating him to the bench, but it just feels as though a realistic appraisal of a likely contribution in the PL has been combined with a sensitivity to managing his departure in a way which honours his legacy – a transfer to Birmingham seems about perfect and I hope that it really works out well for him.

In the other flurry of transfer activity Hughes, I assume, is going for the money, as I find it hard to believe that this will advance his career by virtue of going to a ‘bigger club’ – it’s far from self-evident that we will struggle more than Palace this season. He was an absolutely critical part of our promotion push last season – I hope that our recent signings mean that we don’t miss him too much.

The Chalobah transfer seems more mystifying to me, unless there is a consensus that he wasn’t going to get much game time in the PL and there was no contract extension on offer (but I thought there was and he wasn’t interested in signing).

7. Mike Walters - 01/09/2021

Great read, as always, Matt – and spot-on

Matt Rowson - 01/09/2021

cheers Mike

8. Hopemole - 01/09/2021

Thanks,Matt. A superb piece of journalism that sums up perfectly what Watford fans feel about Troy. I agree that it deserves a much wider circulation

9. franelynn - 01/09/2021

This is perfect, Matt. Thank you. Tears again

Matt Rowson - 01/09/2021

pull yourself together girl. sniff.

10. Chris Westcott - 01/09/2021

A fitting tribute, thank you – I knew you or IG wouldn’t let us down in properly marking the occasion

11. iamthesunking - 01/09/2021

OMG, I’ve just watched his farewell video and I’m almost crying!

12. Harefield Hornet - 01/09/2021

Worth digging out the video of his first 100 goals . Some absolute crackers amongst them that I’d forgotten about !! I remember after an open day once all the rest of the team and staff had got on the coach but he stayed behind until all the kids who had queued for so long got their photos with him. That was Troy in a nut-shell! My daughter still has hers !

13. jtbodbo - 02/09/2021

A magnificent review of a fascinating man. It also reflects the tremendous contribution the Pozzo’s have made to the club – and Duxbury. I had serious doubts about TD9 after his conviction, doubts about the Pozzo’s, after removing Dyche, and doubts about Duxbury after his unsavoury role at Wet Spam in the Mascherano Tevez business. I was very wrong, probably wrong and again very wrong.
After all these years, I didn’t think it was possible to become so emotional over 1 players contribution, but your wonderful retrospective has summed up my feelings perfectly. Thankyou.

Matt Rowson - 02/09/2021

Thx 😊

14. Dave Sambrook - 02/09/2021

Thanks, Matt. Great summary of all Troy means to genuine supporters and a perfect antidote to the poisonous, bigoted tiny minority on the WO comments.


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