By Matt Rowson
Some things change, some things stay the same. Were it possible to compare England now to the England of the middle ages, one suspects that differences wouldn't be hard to spot. Communication must be much easier over long distances, if less regular with your next door neighbour. Transport and travel probably much more frequent. Technology has certainly developed, medicine has moved on. England's system of government has changed, as has its relationship with the rest of the world. Except possibly the Scots.
But certain things haven't changed. Intangible things, mostly. In the late 15th Century, for example, there were a number of rural uprisings against the people of London, who were seen as paying too little for farm products and generally unsympathetic to the country way of life. Which sounds familiar.
So too the tradition of story telling, tales passed through generations within local communities. Cinema, television and the games console ought to have killed that one stone dead, but actually, they haven't. Not really. The fact that I know who Ross Jenkins is, that I have such a vivid picture of him in my mind's eye, has little to do with the eleven times I saw him play. Nor, really, with the portraits in match programmes assembled from my Dad's gifts in the late seventies. I can picture him thanks to the stories that accompanied the programmes, and the loving accounts of others that have been around long enough to remember him. Some accounts written, some spoken, whatever. Jenkins is folklore, he is Watford history.
Back in the Middle Ages, it's not difficult to envisage neighbouring villages writing the same individual into their stories in completely different ways. A travelling merchant could arrive in one village bearing exotic wares, not seen in the neighbourhood before. The children of Chelsea might one day be telling their grandchildren of the mysterious voyager they encountered, bearing what he claimed was an "England Cap".
In between one village and the next, however, the merchant might be robbed and beaten, arriving at his destination naked and broken, and run out of town as a vagabond. A different perspective, different stories to tell the grandchildren. Circumstances can greatly influence a point of view. Myths and legends are founded on less.
So none of us would be surprised to discover that a Huddersfield fan, even a Huddersfield fan old enough to remember, might not generally hold Ross Jenkins in the same esteem that so many Hornets do. He made his name in our village, after all. And it cuts both ways.... we wouldn't necessarily recognise great Huddersfield figures from the past, nor revere the likes of Marcus Stewart however much we appreciate his ability.
Despite all this tedious logic, however, contrasts in certain aspects of local folklore from one village to the next can't fail to surprise. On a Huddersfield website, nestled innocently in a report on last Saturday's draw at Fratton Park, a reference to Trevor Senior. The Trevor Senior whose impotent lumbering was such a depressing feature of the six months after GT left Watford in 1987. The Trevor Senior who this Huddersfield figure cites in awe as one who always found the net against the Terriers.
One can only assume that, in the era when Senior was finding the net so regularly for Reading, Huddersfield's defending was as immobile and reactive as that which saw defeat upon defeat anchor Town to the bottom of the division for the first half of the season. Form has recently improved, Saturday's draw bringing to an end a three match winning run instigated by the introduction of Lou Macari and Joe Jordan in place of the unlovable Steve Bruce. Nonetheless, Town have a string of injuries as long as Carlton Palmer's legs, and having just announced annual losses of £4.5m it seems unlikely that the new management team have much money to play with. Much has changed since we so fortunately emerged with three points from the McAlpine stadium in August.
In goal for the Terriers will be the Belgian Nico Vaesen, presumably a little more conscious of his near post since his humiliation by Neil Cox forty-five minutes into the season. His cover is Welshman Martyn Margetson.
Defence is a particular problem area for Macari, with injuries and other circumstances seriously weakening his hand. Right-back is worst, following Sheffield United's decision to recall the effective Robert Kozluk, and Tricky Trev calling in his pound of flesh by taking Steve Jenkins on loan. His ability to pick a loanee as the need arose was apparently a condition of the deal that sees Peter Ndlovu at Huddersfield. Youngster Thomas Heary has stepped into the breach but has been exposed by pressure down the left. Peter Kennedy could have picked a harder game to come back.
On the left, Jamie Vincent has recently made a welcome return from injury, but missing in the centre is influential skipper Chris Lucketti, out with a fractured cheekbone. With Ken Monkou so injured as to have been forgotten about, long-serving duo Jon Dyson and Kevin Gray form the central partnership. Macari is rumoured to be bringing in another defender before the weekend; the mooted Steve Vickers of Middlesbrough wouldn't add greatly to the defence's mobility. A previous deal for Charlton's Carl Tiler fell through, whilst American Gregg Berhalter, on trial at the start of the season, has made unrealistic wage demands.
In midfield, Town have slightly more options. A strong feature of the recent revival has been the midfield powerhouse formed of deputy captain and ex-Hornet Craig Armstrong alongside Chris Holland, no less beloved of the Watford faithful following his penalty embarrassment eighteen months ago. On the flanks, Simon Baldry is a popular attacking option down the right, whilst Ben Thornley flatters to deceive on the left flank. Other options include veteran Scott Sellars and former Tranmere beermonster Kenny Irons, as well as Dutchman Dean Gorre. Gorre has failed to recapture last season's form and slapped in a transfer request amid suggestions of sulks over the promotion he claims was guaranteed when he arrived. Diddums. Chris Beech is one notable absentee, now nearing fitness after an achilles problem.
Up front, Huddersfield also have seriously restricted options, with Clyde Wijnhaard still recovering from injuries suffered in a car crash earlier in the season, and Martin Smith out with a hamstring strain. Kevin Gallen has begun to punch his weight since his summer signing, however, and Peter Ndlovu, clearly keen to impress, has made a decent start since his arrival on loan. The raw power of Delroy Facey is favoured by Macari as a weapon to bring off the bench. Up front is another area that Town want to strengthen, with recent moves for Dean Windass of hated neighbours Bradford, and Martin Pringle of Charlton having been unsuccessful.
The Terriers' performances have toughened up under Macari, and the Scot appears to have displayed similar grit in provoking a twelve-game touchline ban with a shove on a fourth official at Fratton Park (not, however, due to start until after Christmas). Nonetheless, the Portsmouth draw betrayed some flaws in the recovery plan, with hard-fought midfield possession translated into precious few chances for the visitors. We know ourselves how brittle the confidence of a side under pressure can be. This is a fray to exploit.
Some things change, some things stay the same. The season's course for both clubs has followed a path which neither set of fans might have predicted at the season's start... in Huddersfield's case, the touted play-off place has long since vanished in the distance; in ours, the all-conquering start was as unexpected as the mini-collapse that has followed it. But after the game on Saturday one side's unfulfilled pressure might be the other side's stout defending, one team's deprived penalty could be the other's shocking gamesmanship. These perspectives will be set in stone and passed on in folklore.
Magic, isn't it?
Have a good Christmas.