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Nationwide Division One, 23/12/00
Huddersfield Town
By Nick Grundy

This was a game of arses. The most obvious ones involved were eleven of the fourteen players Watford used: what they thought they were effing doing I have absolutely no idea, but it wouldn't even have been very good had they actively been trying to parody the playing of a game of football so intense was their collective awfulness. The Huddersfield players were also arses, only less so, and the combined sheer ineptitude of the two was exemplified by the fact that the most significant factors in a game of football were, you guessed it, arses. The referee was only a bit of an arse. There's a couple more sets of arses I'll come to later.

It's indicative of the game that I can remember almost nothing coherent about it. I don't have any real memory of events in a logical order. Like some surrealist play, things happened, people arrived, people left, people did things, but nothing was effective at making any sense of it all. The goals were a case in point - our ridiculous, dreadful, almost embarrassing equaliser, where a hopeful ball into the box by our only genuinely effective player was nodded home by a hapless Huddersfield defender. It was the sort of goal that normally you'd be delighted by. In this instance it wasn't even much of a relief, as there was still the knowledge at the back of your mind that the Huddersfield right back had just taken Watford's only noteworthy chance of the first half, and that reminded you just how bloody terrible our strikers and our midfielders had been for forty-five minutes.

And the defence, of course - yet again we were atrocious at the back. Huddersfield's first goal read like the Alan Hansen book of piss-obvious things not to do in your own half. Exhibit A: allow a cross from the left (Cox) to travel all the way across the penalty area without intercepting it (Ward, Palmer) in spite of the fact that it's travelling below headheight. When the ball arrives at the back post, shin it all the way back across the face of your own goal in a cringeworthy attempt to clear (Robbo). From the resulting corner (remind yourself at this point how easily it could have been an own goal), half-clear the ball several times (everyone), before pushing up late and individually (everyone), allowing one of their strikers to latch onto a headed ball back into the box that should have been cleared anyway and dink it over the goalkeeper.

Their second was even worse. Huddersfield had spent the whole of the second half running at our defence. Ndlovu aside, it wasn't as if they were any good on the ball at all (and it wasn't as if Ndlovu being able to dribble can have taken anyone by surprise), but we'd already seen I think Facey - or some big, brutish, bludgeon of a player - take the ball past three or four of our players without the hint of a challenge. It wasn't even really as if he had to take it past them: rather he'd just run with it, a Watford player would run on his shoulder for a while, and would then drop off, leaving him for the next man to do the same thing. Inexcusably dreadful. Their goal was shambolic: Baardsen beaten at his near post, both full backs yet again conspicuous by their absence, Palmer and Ward continuing their recent form by falling on their arses rather than clearing/challenging/doing anything.

Other turds that stick in the pipe include the memory of Robbo picking up the ball just inside Huddersfield's half, Allan Smart making a brilliant diagonal run from the opposite side of the box into the left hand channel while screaming and gesticulating for the ball, and Robinson aimlessly clouting the ball onto the forehead of one of Huddersfield's defenders in the area of the penalty box Smart had vacated about three hours previously. He was at least better than Cox, who continued his recent defensive tactics of (a) advancing too far up the pitch, (b) without ever adopting threatening attacking positions, (c) failing to make the attacker go inside or out by standing much too square to him, (d) attempting to tackle by prostrating himself hopefully in front of said attacker and (e) chasing manfully back from the positions he shouldn't have bloody been in in the first place. Hell, at the moment I'd pick Gibbs and that kid Neill in the youth team who's supposed to be promising ahead of Cox, and that bigoted git Perpetuini and Danny Braithwaite ahead of Robbo.

In fact, Paul Robinson is my bloody hero (see other articles I've written in the past if you can be arsed), and unless he gets at least back to the form he showed two years ago I think we should sell him and buy someone else. Two years ago he looked like a player with the potential to play for England, if he was careful, dedicated, thoughtful and lucky. Sure, he was out of position a lot of the time, but he made up for it by tackling like Stuart Pearce on dexedrine. Now he never bloody tackles any more, he looks like Dominic bloody Ludden (only less of a tosser, harder, and like a professional footballer rather than an amateurish pub player - couldn't let that comparison stand).

While I'm on this character assassination lark - Darren Ward is starting to look like David Holdsworth, so can we please resign Colin Foster pretty damn sharpish? Allan Nielsen looks like the sort of ex-Premiership player who Wolves should pay silly money for, Carlton Palmer looks like he should stop giving interviews to the press about how he's not here to make friends and play some football, Mooney spends much of the game not looking like anything, Vernazza looks like he's made a terrible mistake, and Peter Kennedy just looks lost. By the way, what formation are we playing, Graham?

GT was a bit of an arse, too. Think back to the start of that Second Division campaign, if you will. The one dramatic difference between that side and Kenny Jackett's side from the season before was shape: the players looked like they knew what they were doing. With that came intent, with that came purpose, and with that came a team which transcended the limitations of its individuals every single week. This team has no shape at all, we don't have width while seeming to lack numbers in the middle, we look like we're trying to play possession football and on the break at the same time, and our free kicks are an absolute embarassment (two things: one, Robbo kicking the ball into Steve Palmer's arse ten yards away (another arse). Two, why the hell is Robbo taking attacking free kicks while Peter bloody Kennedy, the best crosser of a ball at the club by a country mile, is on the pitch?). There's no sign of Nordin Wooter, who at least looks dangerous and who at least can run with the ball - sure, often there's no final product, and sure, he's often hopelessly out of position, but when there's no final product and no one looks like they have positions anyway we might as well play him. We know he can instill sides with shape and with spine and with a playing method that works: why isn't he? I don't have the answer, and suggesting going "back to basics" is ridiculously simplistic, but at the moment we might as well be putting some of the players whose names have been bandied around for years a chance. Stick Matt Langston or Danny Braithwaite in the team; they can't play worse than the current incumbents are. Anyway, onto the final set of arses.

The crowd. Listen up you pack of feckless f***ing idiots: I stood up when Allan Smart left the field and clapped him off, not because I thought he'd played well but because I was so f***ing ashamed of the imbeciles surrounding me who were cheering his sustitution. Any of you who cheered him leaving the pitch aren't fit to call yourselves Watford fans. Has Wembley escaped your tiny little minds? Has the entire season that preceded it? Have Chelsea and Tottenham at home - surely you were at those games, at least? Why were you cheering him leaving the field? There'd have been more reason - and I absolutely mean this - to chant for Tommy Mooney to leave the pitch - at least I noticed Smart making runs in the first half, and at least I noticed him getting into dangerous positions. Mooney's only noteworthy contribution to the first half was when he tried to get booked for squaring up to Vaesen. It comes down to this: Allan Smart was marginally the better of our two very bad strikers in the first half. He played better than several other members of a team which was performing worse than I can remember it ever performing, noticeably better than players who cost many times what he did (Allan Nielsen, for instance), and he has already proved his worth and his commitment to the club a dozen times over. If you cheered him being taken off the pitch you are either a grade A moron or you are actively setting out further to worsen the situation we find ourselves in by unsettling and lowering the confidence of players whose confidence is already very, very low indeed, and you should think very seriously about what supporting a team means to you.

The team were embarrassing on saturday, but not half as embarrassing as the fans. I felt no desire to apologise to the Huddersfield fans after the game for the behaviour of my team.

Rant over. To return to the game. At the moment our play reminds me of the worst periods of Kenny's reign (and don't get me wrong - I think he was and remains a good manager). However, at least then we had excuses. Back then, we had serious injuries (Holdsworth until we sold him, and SuperKev to name but two long-term ones) and no money to spend. We were relying on journeymen like Keith Millen and Gary Penrice (and jesus, I don't remember one single time I was embarrassed by either of those players - even when they were awful they took the trouble to look like they cared), or unblooded rookies like Andrews, Ward, Robinson, even Flash. And back then those same players looked like they wanted it. Flash only made one appearance, in that 4-1 defeat up at Turf Moor, but at least he ran around and looked like he cared. Even when we were losing a twentysomething unbeaten run away at Peterborough on a foggy march night, and were playing in a way I described as "pathetic" and "embarrassingly crap", at least we were trying. At least we weren't embarrassing because we looked like spoilt little ex-Premiership rich kids struggling to deal with the harsh and continuing realities of a ferrari-free existence. At least we weren't embarrassingly detached from the fact of our inadequacies.

I don't mind my team - the team that I and so many others have supported for so many years - being embarrassing because they're not quite good enough. I'm familiar with not quite good enough - we've never had a team of the best players in the league, and in many ways I hope we never do, because I don't want us to become like a Chelsea or a Fulham or whoever. I can cope with that sort of not quite good enough, because at least you know that those same players are doing the best they can, and that the older ones who're reaching the end of their career can maybe play one or two games when they're a crucial part of a team better than they ever thought they could be part of, and can help the young players at the club avoid the mistakes they made, and that the young players can get a game and come through the ranks and make it as pros or not, but at least improve as footballers. Maybe that's what we need. Maybe we need someone like Keith Millen or Colin Foster precisely because they know their limitations and don't believe they have some divine right to play for a Premiership side. The only players who can hold their heads up after Saturday's game are Paolo Vernazza, who looked very good and played out of position for half the game looking like he was bloody glad to be playing at all, Stephen Armstrong, who at least tried to give us some shape by playing wide, and Tommy Smith for the same reason.

At the moment the problem has nothing to do with how good or bad our players are; few would disagree that we've got a group of individual players at the moment who are better than any we've had at the club in more than a decade. The problem is that their hearts aren't in it. We - or rather, the club staff - must find out why that is and sort that problem out very, very soon. After the shame of the past month or so, I'd be quite happy to see us sell half a dozen senior players in the long-term interests of the club, even if it means we do nothing for the rest of the season. Accuse me of a lack of ambition, but I'd rather see youngsters playing above their ability and therefore improving in a losing side than watch people play below their ability in a winning one.

Of course, watching good players play below their ability in a losing side is - well - arse.