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96/97: Friendlies:

Les Simmons Testimonial, 19/5/97
Watford 1(1)
Team: Eschbach, Gibbs, Ludden, Johnson, Millen, Page, Slater, Flash, Phillips, Easton, Mooney
Subs: Ward (for Page), Bazeley (for Easton), Noel-Williams (for Ludden), Chamberlain (for Eschbach), Andrews (for Phillips), Blissett (for Flash)
Scorers: Slater
Arsenal 3(4)
A small reward
Report by Ian Grant

Football's continuing love affair with testimonials is usually misguided. Bearing in mind that many players have annual salaries ten times larger than mere mortals like us, it seems utterly laughable that we're then asked to show our appreciation by giving them more money. And the 'short career' argument no longer holds water either - in the modern employment market, there's simply no such thing as a permanent job.

But there are still deserving cases. In terms of 'thick and thin' commitment, Les Simmons' 51 year stint at Watford Football Club simply dwarves anyone else's efforts. It's a remarkable achievement and one that, I suspect, has received an inappropriately small reward over the decades. This is what testimonials really should be about and the attendance of over seven thousand shows that the Watford public feel the same way.

You probably already know that I detest friendly matches - football is meant to arouse passion, it's only really worth the price of admission when there's something at stake. But compared to some I've been to (I went to Jimmy Case's testimonial in Brighton a couple of years back and had the dubious pleasure of watching an indisputably classy Liverpool side play like careless imbeciles for what seemed like an eternity), this wasn't at all bad.

Arsenal won it at a canter - even with a side that featured more reserves than international stars, they were too smart and too sharp for our jaded team. The appearance of Dennis Bergkamp, who's vision is so extraordinary that it really does seem that he has eyes in the back of his head, on the Vic Road turf was worth the admission on its own - I fail to see why Zola and Juninho are so celebrated while Bergkamp remains somewhat overlooked.

Our own foreign import, German triallist keeper Daniel Eschbach, did little to help his cause and we were one down within five minutes as Hughes beat the offside trap and slotted home. A few minutes later came the one moment to celebrate for Watford fans - a superb goal from Stuart Slater, bringing the ball in from the right wing and curling a shot that nestled exquisitely in the top corner.

Arsenal re-established their lead shortly afterwards and had extended it by half-time thanks to some cack-handed defending (Dominic Ludden's claims for a first team place won't have been helped by a suicidal pass across his own area that was seized up by the Arsenal forwards). While never being truly one-sided, there was no doubt which was the Premiership club.

The second half settled into a familiar pattern, with Watford pressing and Arsenal looking infinitely more dangerous on the break. A couple of yellow-shirted moments - a sublime piece of skill by Richard Johnson, rolling the ball under his foot and turning to evade a challenge, and a long-ranged drive from Tommy Mooney that forced a good save from the Arsenal keeper - enlivened proceedings but, generally, it was pretty easy to forget that a game was in progress.

Aside from a tricky opportunity for Gifton Noel-Williams towards the end, Arsenal created all the chances and added a fourth right at the death, snappy passing leading to a clinical finish past Chamberlain. By that time, we'd had a substitute appearance by one Luther Blissett (he hardly touched the ball but what the hell) and we were happy enough.

See you all next season, I guess...