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03/04: Review:
September 2003:
Fantasy Football
By Mike Peter

No, I know. We are most definitely not playing fantasy football at the moment. However I'm sure many Watford fans are dreaming of it as another ball bypasses our leaky defence or as another poorly thought-out attack comes to an all too hasty conclusion. Either doing that or shouting their mouth off. That's not to say they don't have a right to, let's not beat about the bush, we're playing crap at the moment. More on that later. Let's move onto yet another tenuous analogy.

A lot of newspapers and websites run fantasy football competitions. Most of you have probably played once or twice. For those completely new to the whole concept allow me to explain; for those who know, think blissfully for a few moments about how good it was in the good ole days. Anyway, when playing "fantasy football" (how looking at eleven crudely drawings of shirts alongside various figures constitutes as fantasy is beyond me...) one picks eleven players from the various teams in one division. The person running the game will give the players points on certain criteria, i.e. goals scored, clean sheets etc. Whichever team has the most points at the end of the season wins. There was a league for WMLers last season, which I am going to claim I won, despite the website going bust in mid-March.

I have a fantasy football team on a well-known website - oh all right, it's on, this isn't the bloody Beeb. One of the players in this team of all-stars was a certain Paul Devlin. Naturally I was pleased when early in the month he signed for the Hornets. Of course that meant my team was down to ten men (and I can tell you, I was scared when Dion Dublin, another of my chaps, was rumoured to be coming to us on loan). A pro and a con. And this hugely eventful month has had many of those.

So we start September on the 13th due to the international gap (where England were bloody terrible again). In a fairly average game we beat Millwall 3-1 in a game which only be remembered for a stamp that no-one saw (I didn't even realise until about the sixtieth minute that Muscat had got sent off). The dazzling form of Lee Cook and the promising debut of Ashley Young were huge plus points. Good start.

Derby in midweek. Bugger. I don't believe we've managed a point at Pride Park yet and this season was no exception. Watching on the Ceefax I felt a mixture of both elation and disappointment (as only a Ceefax fan can, waiting for the page to turn, tension's like going to a game, except it's not) as the Horns got a last minute equaliser only to throw it away again as we so often do.

Next to Wigan. Top of the league, confidence high, million pound striker - a novelty nowadays - up front. The result was inevitable. 1-0. It also was the first appearance of Lenny Pidgeley (surely the most ridiculous English name Watford have had on their books for some while), Richard Lee having broken his arm. He's out for three months, Lenny's here for one. Um. The first calls for Lewington's head came through on BWL that day.

Another midweeker at Bristol City. Surely we can win this one? We always win at Ashton Gate. It's a fact. Apart from when we don't. Which was what happened this time. Dumped out the cup unceremoniously, I was left to brood on City's next round - home to Southampton, which could have been a chance for some sweet revenge from April (especially for me, my local club being Saints).

So Watford play Ipswich with only four points from eight games. Mind you, the Tractor Boys are doing poorly as well, so surely we might get something out of this one? It looked promising - it really did. Then Watford scored, thus cursing ourselves. Indeed they were level within three minutes and Magilton's beautiful strike (which my Dad predicted a second before it happened) finished us off.

This game saw the debut of yet another loan signing, Stephen Kelly. Signed for a month, Lewington claims that we have a problem at right back. As far as I see it, that's one place we have no problem in. We have Lloyd Doyley, who currently has the highest average player rating as well as being an extremely decent player. We have Cox, again a very competent defender, and Mahon and Ardley who can play there as well. When the team is crying out for a centre forward or a creative midfielder we get a right back. This is nothing against Kelly, who looks decent enough, but no significant improvement against Doyley.

So plus points then...well, at last the boy from Northwood Town, Scott Fitzgerald, is getting a look in. His first start of the season came against Ipswich. I'm surprised it hasn't come sooner really. With both Webber and Dyer firing blanks we desperately need a raw determination, his eye for the goal. Some may criticise Lewington for buying two ineffective strikers but I'm sure Danny and Bruce will deliver. It's also worth noting that Danny was never a goal machine when he came on loan here. I'm sure some might want both of them out of the team at the moment but that is simply not possible, Heidar and Norville being injured and Patterson (back from struggling Wycombe - where he scored two goals) and Godfrey have never set the world alight.

Of course, one of the main criticisms of Lewington has been his decision to take Cook off every match. I must admit to being rather confused at this tactic as it often means we lose our only creative outlet. Of course, it has been argued, that against Ipswich we needed a defensive midfielder to stop them scoring. However, I believe that Devlin would have probably been a more suitable candidate for the change, having done far less than Cook in that game.

So I feel I should move onto the question on everyone's (well, all right, not everyone's, just a few thousand Watford fans - but that's quite a lot of people) lips. Should Ray Lewington go? My answer is a definite "No!" First, there is the obvious answer: we can't afford to do it even if we wanted to do it. And even if we did who would we replace him with? Terry Burton? Nigel Gibbs? Well, they both seem to have the same managerial mindset as Ray (the reserves are playing crap as well) so they can't have the job. Anyone for Glenn Roeder again?

And look at the problems we've had to face. Jimmy's death has affected the team. Their confidence was low. They started losing and it stayed that way. Confidence is far more important than technical ability in football. To add to that Ray also lost his close friend Ray Harford.

Heidar's injury during the two weeks when Ray thought he could get everything back on track was another massive blow, especially as, let's face, he's the only one who is going to score goals for us this season.

At the beginning of this season I was predicting a place in play-offs. So seeing the team in the position it is in is a huge contrast. But that doesn't mean we should start calling for the manager's head. It's the end of September, not January. We are not the sort of club that demands redundancies whenever the team loses and I'll be damned if I let us become one.

Step back take a look the fixture list. Easier games coming up (I bet I'll live to regret saying that). There is light at the end of the tunnel, if there ever was a tunnel in the first place.

So I finally move onto perhaps the most significant news for Watford fans this month. Johnno's departure has been expected subconsciously for a number of months now. I do admit to being optimistic about his future at the club, seeing his regain the number ten shirt and being handed a start against Bournemouth. Alas it was not to be. Surely though he deserves a testimonial? Maybe against QPR (aka: Watford's second eleven) who he is apparently going to. I look forward to shouting "Shooooooooot!" at him many times before his career ends.

Of course, Johnno's has not been the only departure this month. Technically, Tommy Smith has been gone for ages now but this week it was confirmed when Tommy signed for Sunderland, who he scored a penalty against in the cup run last year. He may be too big for his boots but I certainly won't boo him when he comes to town.

Tim Shaw's leaving is something of a mystery. In a time when the board seem to want to show solidarity it's a little odd to see that he "wants a new challenge". He has been villainised for simply being around when Vialli was. He was also rather ugly and the picture on the front of the Watford Observer didn't really appeal. But anyone who has met Tim Shaw will tell you he is Watford through and through. He should be thanked for pumping millions of pounds into the club to keep us afloat.

So in other football news...Arsenal and Man Utd have been waving handbags against each other again. Personally, I think the whole thing is a bit of a farce. I've seen far worse many times. Eight players ending up with disciplinary charges is simply ridiculous. Especially when players like Lucas Neill and Kevin Muscat get mere three match bans for horror tackles like those on Carragher and Webber. Mind you I'd have found extremely amusing if Keown had lamped Van Nistlerooy. I think that's just me though, I quite enjoy violence on the football field.

The other major bit of news is Franchise finally moving to Milton Keynes. I bet I wasn't the only one shocked and appalled at the amount of pro-Franchise people on the radio. But as one AFC fan put it "Let's see how many MK residents are there on a cold February evening, eh?" A fine sentiment. Let's hope they rot.

**STOP E-MAIL** Watford have just drawn with Burnley. Apparently, it was quite an entertaining game. Of course, I wasn't there, I was too busy writing this. You see - I'm dedicated to you. My fans. No, no. Don't applaud. Oh, go on then.... Good to see Vernazza playing even if he did get sent off. I'd been thinking that he might add something creativity wise. Now enough football talk, let's hear some cheering....