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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 01/01/02
Playing along with the joke
By Richard Scrimshaw

Luca Vialli handed a group of lucky Watford fans a New Year treat to start off 2002. With most of the first team squad taking one look outside, and assuming that this was another day off, kick-off time approached with only two first team players in the ground.

Quick to spot a PR opportunity, GV and RAR, dashed round to the Rookery and hauled in the first thirteen male fans who looked about right. To maintain the effect, they were sent out to play wearing the shirts their heroes would have worn, had they turned up.

Unfortunately, the illusion only lasted as long as it took the visitors to work out that these were no more professional footballers than they were taxi drivers (except for the one that was) - 3pm in the case of the Fisken lookalike, slightly earlier for the unlucky chap wearing Blondeau's shirt. To his credit, the man who would be Nielsen made a good fist of pretending to be a good footballer short of match fitness, while the one playing Vernazza had his vanishing act off pat. Star of the show early on was Tommy Smith's stand in, until he got stage fright after hitting the post and was not seen again until substituted, to a chorus of boos from the Vicarage Rd faithful, playing along with the joke, just as they would have reacted if the real TS had been taken off.

We were even treated to the sight of one of the ball boys in a dreadlock wig pretending to be Wooter - he blew it, unfortunately, by getting one of his crosses past the first defender, but not a bad effort. It has to be said, he also played Heidar through for his goal - well done to both him and Alec for turning up, by the way.

Disappointments? Well, I'm sure the new Paul Robinson wasn't too happy to get injured after he'd got the suicidal passing pretty much sorted out, and I'm willing to bet that Ramon won't be thanking his stand-in for getting him suspended, but it has to said both challenges were in character. Biggest disappointments were that they only went looking in the Rookery - I could have done just as well in Issa's shirt - and surely they could have found someone who was actually awake to play Gayle.

Ah, well, the "players" can take their seats on Saturday knowing that allowed their heroes a day's rest in preparation for the cup tie.

What, you thought they were the real players?

Naahh. Couldn't be....