Learning to fly
By Matt Rowson
This is a landmark preview. For the greater part of the last three years, BSaD's match previews have been written from the scruffy chaos of my bedroom...as of now, the venue has changed. Several coats of paint, a tantrum with an unbending wardrobe, a spilled bottle of white spirit and several swear-words later and bedroom number two is converted into a study. Sorted.
So what relevance does this have? Well, none really. Except that I've just noticed the significance of the claret colour scheme with respect to this preview.
Whether this is a lucky or an unlucky omen I'm not entirely sure. At any rate, the football experience is already quite laden enough with superstition not to worry unduly. Come Saturday there'll be plenty to fret about anyway, what with making sure I adopt the currently favoured route to the Estcourt beforehand, wear the appropriate combination of clothes, buy a Watford Observer, Twix and bottle of Pepsi Max from the newsagents on the corner. Not to mention ig's religious insistence on not sitting down before the game kicks off.
Not all superstitions take the form of rituals, of course; some result from a consistent pattern of apparently unrelated events. Going back a few years, during GT's first reign, a Watford goal at the Vic was often heralded by a distant, almost completely tuneless solo of "Come on You 'Orns", possibly by the same individual now responsible for Tuesday night renditions of "Charlie Miller". The thing is, though, these patterns never persist for long once you've spotted them. It's the law. Hence, the observation on the way to the ground on Saturday morning that it was a long time since we'd lost at home in a 3pm Saturday kick-off (March 4th vs. West Ham, in fact) had inevitable consequences. It's a bit like the knack of learning to fly, as revealed in the "Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. You just fall over and forget to hit the ground, apparently. Equally, these superstitions will surely persist as long as we neglect to notice that they exist.
On which basis, it's hard to fathom how Chris Waddle avoided record-breaking runs of good fortune, ignorant as he appeared to be of just about everything during his time at Turf Moor. His first game in charge was our last encounter here at the start of the Championship season when, far from encouraging or motivating his young charges, he grew increasingly and visibly frustrated at the inability of those around him to react to his moments of "vision".
Unsurprisingly, he didn't last long. He last surfaced on Radio 5's "Breakfast" show, fairly arbitrarily answering questions on the subject of the then undecided England managership (presumably in a "man-in-the-street" sort of way, rather than as any kind of expert). Chris' opinion, for what it's worth, was that a two-man team was required. A senior guy, like El Tel or Big Ron (yes, he really said that), and someone junior to learn off him. Someone who'd been there and done it, played at the highest level. Not mentioning any names, like. Chris was also at pains to point out that management at club and international level were completely different games, and one's track-record at the former should not serve as an indicator for one's suitability for the latter. Which is just as well for Chris, really. He's probably crayoning a proposition to Sven as I write.
Waddle's replacement was the granite Stan Ternent, who has assembled a highly experienced squad. Based as it is on a combination of Ternent's old charges in his brutal Bury side and some of the unlovelier members of Luton Town's recent role-call, the Clarets are a very difficult side to feel any warmth for. Nor does the club help itself by pursuing an apparent vendetta against supporters' websites (sparking long-buried memories of invitations to visit the Watford Official Site - "it's official!"). The best I can manage personally is a degree of admiration for the refusal to corrupt Burnley's traditional colours with a gaudy sponsor's logo, resulting in a plain first team shirt. Plus the fact that Waddle's gone, of course.
In goal for the Clarets will be Nik "The Greek" Michopoulos, a recruit from PAOK Salonika. He took over as first choice from Paul Crichton, formerly of Grimsby and West Brom.
Burnley are currently playing a wing-back system; the highly-experienced first choice back-three comprising Ian Cox, Steve Davis and Mitchell Thomas, all of whom have scored at the Vic in recent years. Cox was an invariably impressive figure for Bournemouth during our Division 2 days, and moved to Turf Moor at the end of last season. Captain Davis, of course, once held the same position at Kenilworth Road and has found the net several times this season. 36-year-old Thomas, who would be going some to concoct a more unpleasant CV than Luton, Spurs and the Clarets, has won over the initially sceptical Burnley support.
Cover in the central positions is provided by man-marker Chris Brass, whose career nose-dived under Waddle's tutelage, and youngsters Matt Heywood and Chris Scott, the latter of whom is the fourth member of his family to turn pro at Turf Moor.
First choice wing backs are the prodigiously talented Glen Little - who enjoys the surely unique claim to fame of having been the subject of a £1m bid from Port Vale in the past - and left-sided Lee Briscoe, a summer recruit from Sheffield Wednesday. Cover is provided by Paul Weller, recovering from a season troubled by injury and former Bury man Dean West.
In midfield, the softening is performed by Kevin Ball and Lenny Johnrose. Ball, a 36-year-old formerly with Sunderland and Fulham, picked up a neck-injury at the weekend but was expected to make it for the Tuesday night clash with Norwich. Johnrose, another Ternent stooge, also picked up knee and ankle injuries at the weekend and is more doubtful. The much-travelled Mickey Mellon is a more attacking option. The left-sided Paul Smith and another former Bury veteran Gordon Armstrong provide cover.
Up front the recruitment of Ian Moore from Stockport, already a scorer against the Hornets this season, will add options and release Graham Branch to return to the flank. Branch earned notoriety amongst Hornet fans with a laughable but point-saving dive over Alec Chamberlain at Edgeley Park two years ago. The big question surrounding Moore's arrival is whether he will be able to form an effective strike force with leading scorer Andy Payton, given the pair's combined lack of inches and Burnley's uncomplicated approach.
Bigger options up front include 37-year-old Ronnie Jepson, another ex-Bury man, and Andy Cooke, nemesis of the Hornets on our last two trips to Turf Moor but out of favour and target of the Burnley boo-boys. John Mullin provides further cover, as does loan signing Paul Robinson. An insider at Selhurst suggests that his short stay down south was prompted by a "big-time Charlie attitude". It's difficult to see him fitting in following Moore's arrival. Phil Gray, meanwhile, has joined Oxford to the relief of all concerned. Except Oxford, possibly.
Burnley always beat us, it's sort of traditional. They also play precisely the sort of football that has regularly upset our rhythm this season and are just the side to put the boot in now we're sort of down. In fact, what with the claret room and everything, you could almost say that circumstances and superstition are conspiring against us.
Except that I've mentioned them now.