By Matt Rowson
I received a package through the post today.
It was sent by an old schoolfriend, someone who I would have probably lost touch with but for the laziness that email lets you get away with and the vigour with which one mutual friend protects a vast myriad of contacts. The friend who sent the package, Ben, was the lead guitar and frontman in the band, the mutual friend's contribution not given due billing by simply calling him the drummer, and I was a very functional bassist. Steve Palmer with a long fringe. And probably not as good on bass as Steve Palmer.
The CD contained a compilation of Ben's best stuff between then and now, including a remastering of a song that I wrote the lyrics to in 1989, aged sixteen. The music still sounds good - sounding a bit like The Cure's "Three Imaginary Boys", which Ben swore he'd never heard before writing it, can't be a bad thing. The lyrics... well, they scan and everything, which is a start. But it's pretty much precisely the emotional stuff that you'd expect a heartbroken sixteen year old, dumped for the first time, to write. I know that it was painfully heartfelt when I wrote it, but I can't really remember what it feels like to feel that way now, more than fifteen years later.
I was rubbish when it came to girls. The mutual friend, the drummer, he'd tell you... many an hour was spent knocking back damson wine or whatever ghastly concoction we'd ventured into that week, mulling over the latest failed conquest. Going to a boys' grammar school hadn't helped matters, nor had arriving from abroad during the first year without any lingering contact with primary school friends to fall back on. Not that there would have been any of them anyway, at a guess. Although I can't be sure, there would probably have been a twelve month period in there, somewhere between twelve and sixteen, when I didn't speak to a female my own age.
When the failed attempts at relationships started, they kept coming. Sometimes, like the one that provoked the song, they lingered, threatened to develop into something, then cruelly disappeared. Like the Leeds game last weekend. On other occasions, I really shouldn't have bothered, four-nil down by half-time. Others seemed like a good idea but never quite felt right at all, routine two-nil defeats when you never really got going. Either way they kept coming, and each failure was like a punch in the stomach, not hurting any less than the previous but leaving you less inclined to get up and try again...
Rotherham, then. Already relegated, and as tradition goes an unpredictable quantity, as likely to be up for the fight, freed of the shackles of worry and uncertainty that prevailed before their fate was sealed as they are to roll over and die. There has been precious little of the former in evidence, with brittle confidence, an ageing defence and an all-round absence of physical presence that you wouldn't traditionally associate with the Millers the story of recent performances. The appointment of new boss Mick Harford may well change all that, though... the new man is likely to find his squad keen to impress, and is as unlikely to be sympathetic to the Hornets' plight as the travelling support is to give him a warm reception.
Mike Pollitt is likely to be in goal for the Millers, perhaps their most consistent performer this season despite occasional rumours of a move to Forest. He is also a marketable asset, and with Gary Montgomery a decent understudy one that could be cashed in on over the summer.
At the back, the cornerstone of Rotherham's formidable side of a couple of years ago, the central defensive pairing of Chris Swailes and Martin McIntosh, is beginning to creak a bit; both are thirty-four now, and McIntosh in particular has been struggling. Phil Gilchrist, another experienced centre back, is out for the season following a shoulder operation so the versatile Shaun Barker is the only cover.
In full back positions long-serving Rob Scott vies with Barker for the right back slot whilst Paul Hurst plays on the left - at 5'5", his lack of height has reportedly been targeted to reasonable effect of late. Scott Minto was on the bench at the weekend, but rated a defensive liability and more of an option on the left of midfield.
The midfield suffered against Preston with Paul McLaren, another former Luton name, missing with an ankle injury, Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the left suspended and John Mullin suffering a broken nose during the game. Campbell-Ryce, a rare spark of excitement in recent months since being signed as a replacement for Chris Sedgwick, misses out again as he completes his ban, but McLaren should return. This could be bad news for Paolo Vernazza, ex- of this parish and to whom Rotherham have warmed as much as you might expect. One messageboard thread this week discusses suitable descriptions for the flaky midfielder, "powderpuff" being amongst the politer suggestions.
Other options include yappy little terrier Michael Keane and the balding Paul Warne; however, one thing evidently lacking in the absence of Campbell-Ryce is attacking width, which suggests that on-loan Leandre Griffit and wantaway Andy Monkhouse must both be injured. Young striker Will Hoskins played an uncomfortable wide-left role at the weekend.
Up front, Martin Butler's lack of pre-season has never really been overcome as he's been a shadow of the effective forward man we've been all too aware of in the past. He's playing alongside another friendly face in on-loan Tony Thorpe, who needs no introduction but has yet to impress at Millmoor thus far. He turned thirty this week, and is surely a contender for any "players that are younger than they ought to be" eleven. Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane take some shifting up front in that one, though. Michael Proctor, past master of the Wayne Brown trick of turning it on when there's a contract to be had throughout his career, has again fizzled out badly since putting pen to paper.
The enthusiasm of many for the fight, myself included, has been battered and eroded by recent events at Vicarage Road, both the what and the how. But however disenchanting much of the club's conduct has been - and we're talking about a sight more than a string of defeats here - giving in to the temptation to float away from it, to allow one's enthusiasm to be challenged, feels a lot like giving up. And I'm not about to give up on (my) Watford. Which doesn't mean that when there's a time to kick and a direction in which to aim I won't be kicking f***ing hard.
But if I'd given up on relationships, Tsega wouldn't be sitting on the sofa, nicking strawberries from my bowl whilst half-singing-half-humming "Strawberry Fields"...