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Nationwide Division One, 19/10/02
By Matt Rowson

"Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over
We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
Then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
Saw boys, toys, electric irons and TVs
My brain hurt like a warehouse
It had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store
Everything in there"

Five Years, David Bowie

So is five years a long time or not ? Ziggy obviously didn't think so, but like so many things it all boils down to your point of view.

Sixteen pounds, for example. Now is that a lot of money ? Were that all it took to save Watford Football Club I'm sure we'd all be much more relaxed; however if a pint of beer in the Estcourt took a hike to that sort of level we'd be decamping to another pub. One that had a big screen, preferably.

What about to get into a Division One football game, then? Well, you might be able to question "value for money" but not unreasonable in comparison to the norm for the division. But for a place on a terrace ? "They're not shy, are they?", as my co-editor put it. Terraces are more fun than stands though, worth seeking out and penciling in for the freedom to stand alone. Still doesn't feel right to pay that much. Perspective.

Two months. Long time ? Not if you're Watford... the last two months have flown by, oiled by a splendidly unanticipated run of form, briefly interrupted by the Worthington Cup, propelled less comfortably by the financial clock ticking. Somebody slow things down, neither phenomenon can last long enough. Not Gillingham's point of view though, a shocking league run briefly interrupted by the Worthington Cup. The last two months have seen one win (at Brighton) four draws and four defeats in the league. The three 1-0 wins with which the Gills opened the season yield a thirteenth place that flatters their recent form.

Two key factors seem to be identified on the Gills' messageboards; first, a serious injury list that a squad the size of Gillingham's can't really carry. Second, whilst Gillingham have been solid since their arrival in Division One two years ago they've been able to pepper their robustness with a healthy spread of goals. Not so recently; fourteen goals in thirteen league games, four of them at Brighton and an unpopular and unfruitful tendency to launch high balls at five-foot-not-much Rod Wallace.

In goal, Welsh U21 keeper Jason Brown has been outstanding recently, and has kept out previous first-choice Vince Bartram.

At right-back, Nyron Nosworthy is highly rated, with 34-year-old Mark Patterson, back from a knee injury, the most likely alternative. On the left, a recurring knee injury to Roland Edge has seen a few players tried. Former Southend youngster Leon Johnson played in the last disappointing game, a defeat to Coventry, but ex-Hornet David Perpetuini dropped back into defence at Rotherham last weekend.

In the centre, the capable Chris Hope plays alongside Barry Ashby who left Vicarage Road nine years ago next month. Ashby still commits the occasional "faux pas" according to reports... including an own goal on Saturday. Patterson's return provides an extra option here, but Adrian Pennock is still out with a knee problem.

A lack of creativity in midfield appears to be a problem, an ankle injury to Simon Osborn seemingly a critical blow here. At 37, Andy Hessenthaler is still going and it's good to see that the burden of management hasn't dampened his focus - he picked up his fifth booking and first suspension of the season by mid-September. Paul Smith is team captain, but has been playing with a knee injury and with players returning he may get the rest he needs sooner rather than later. Mark Saunders returned to the side at the weekend to provide an obstacle in front of the defence and the former Arsenal man Paul Shaw is likely to make up the four. Options from the bench include the popular Kevin James and rated youngster Danny Spiller; Perpetuini dropping to defence would seem to leave them weak down the left, however. Ty Gooden is a further absentee, his ankle problem reputed to be threatening his career.

Up front, Guy Ipoua's eagerness to please has won him a few fans... "he's f***in' useless, but has the heart of a lion, bless him" being one frank assessment. Ipoua picked up his own fifth booking at the weekend for yet another ill-judged bit of gobbiness, he'll miss next weekend's game against Ipswich. Alongside him could be one of the ex-Old Firm veterans Rod Wallace or Tommy Johnson; both have been struggling for fitness, Wallace got his first goal for the Kent side at the weekend whilst Johnson was absent at the birth of his child. Big Malian striker Mamady Sidibe has been out with ligament problems, but the fact that he scored in the African Nations' Cup at the weekend suggests that he'll be available also. Marlon King, meanwhile, remains otherwise engaged.

A welcome opportunity to stand on a terrace, even for 16, which will be all the more enjoyable if we extend our unbeaten league run to 8.

Five years, meanwhile. Is it a long time? Not for Ziggy, but very much so for any Watford fan. Five years ago this week Watford prepared to face Millwall in what was to be the first of only three home defeats in the Championship season (the Gills were to record the second). This was also the first match to see a BSaD preview, so after two promotions, a relegation, three managers and the collapse of the club's finances, five years feels a very long time indeed...