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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
99/00: Reports:

FA Carling Premiership, 18/12/99
Watford
versus
Everton
 
What were we thinking?
By Matt Rowson

So that's it then, I guess. "They" were right all along. Watford aren't good enough for the Premiership, not by a long chalk. Being beaten by all and sundry, just like they said it would be, because the squad is "low on quality". An unreliable goalkeeper, no strength or cohesion in defence, a lack of leadership and imagination in midfield, no punch in attack. Foregone conclusion, really. Don't know what we were thinking at the start of the season. I mean, as if this lot were even worthy of a place on the park with the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea.

Hold on...didn't we beat those two?

And...unreliable goalkeeper? Alec? Yeah, I bet Michael Johnson thought so in the play-off final last season too. Long time ago, of course. No strength in defence? Robert Page and Mark Williams, soft as shit, clearly. Ask Heskey, Flo, or any of the others bullied into submission this season. No imagination in the middle of the park? Like we've never seen Johnno split a defence in two before? What about his pass to Ngonge during the first game of the season! No punch in attack? Gifton's goal against Sunderland, Tommy's goals against everyone, Michel bruising his way through any number of defences....

Most of all, low on quality? Nicky Wright's goal at Wembley, mugging Birmingham at St.Andrews, OUTPLAYING Chelsea, taking the piss out of Bolton twice, the carnage against Oxford, low on quality? For Christ's sake!

None of this has been remotely in evidence over the last couple of games...but it's easy to forget, isn't it? And the players seem to have forgotten too. The most shocking feature of our recent capitulation has been the lack of spirit; losing games is one thing, being outclassed is another, being outclassed without offering as much as a whimper of resistance is quite another, and the last thing I'd expect from this or any Graham Taylor side. I don't pretend to understand how morale can have got this low. Surely it's more than just beginning to believe our own press?

It's as if the ghost has been given up. Not just by the players, but by the support as well, which is criminal. Of course, it's natural that, just as it's wonderful to be part of a success and to cheer the side on during two brilliant seasons, the body's natural defence reacts to protect against this hurt - just self-preservation. So "we" who did so well become "they" who are playing so pitifully. The unwavering, blind support suddenly finds its contact lenses - on the sideboard all the time, as if we'd left them there just in case we needed them.

But who loses out most if we go down? Worse, if this all collapses into the first division stodge that most of us remember, or the second division eternity that we were given a brief but oh so terrifying glimpse of, who loses out most? The players? No...of course they want to play at the highest level - and, dare I say, earn the highest wages, who wouldn't? And some of them will continue to do so, with us or with someone else. But they are employed by Watford. For the most part, they are not Watford fans. Do you care for your employer as much as you care for your team?

The board, then. No more Premiership lucre, no more quick bucks. Trips to Northampton and Chesterfield on a Tuesday night again. As if.

Graham? Well, maybe. But you know what I'm driving at. Cheering and supporting the team should have nothing to do with whether they (we) have done anything to merit it. Cheering is evidence of being part of that team, of fulfilling OUR role, and helping give the players the strength to fulfil theirs. Do we want to stay up or don't we?

The continued quest for survival could certainly have been pitted against stiffer opposition than the rapidly melting Toffees on Saturday. Like us, they are without a win since September - albeit with a bigger cushion to fall back on - and recent performances have included a nil-nil at Exeter, an annihilation at Old Trafford that exceeded even our own, and a mind-numbing showing against Villa.

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for Everton fans, subjected as they are to the impossibly arrogant chairmanship of the vile Peter Johnson. The team is another matter though. For all Walter Smith's "silent revolution" the Toffees are still a uniquely unlovely side, even if the sinister feature which prompted my mate Kieron to record a song entitled "F*** off Everton" when we were at school is no longer a blemish.

Paul Gerrard is currently holding down a place in goal following some impressive displays, initially as cover for Thomas Myhre. Whilst less erratic than in his Oldham days (remember that penalty at Boundary Park?) he is still suspect on crosses. Myhre, meanwhile, is covering for injuries at Smith's old club Rangers, and is one of seven of the deadwood to have been loaned out this season. Steve Simonsen is currently on the bench.

Portugese Abel Xavier played at right back on Saturday, although he's more commonly played in midfield. Alec Cleland is another option, "described in some quarters as the best uncapped fullback in Scotland", according to the official site. Fairly confused quarters, given Liverpool's distinctly unScottish location, one supposes. David "who wears the trousers" Unsworth is keeping Michael Ball out of the left back slot despite being slow and having no distribution.

Scotsman David Weir is a regular in the centre, although he too can play wide on the right. Alongside him, Richard Dunne has looked very composed at times, but is liable to the occasional glaring cock-up, and had a nightmare at Old Trafford. Richard Gough and Dave Watson are both returning to fitness, but very slowly, as you'd expect.

In the middle, Don "I'm a Scotsman, honest" Hutchison is on the verge of signing for Leeds, Newcastle, Middlesbrough or Spurs depending upon which tabloid you read. John "cultured" Collins, recently retired from international football, is working on the art of chopping people that so many midfielders adopt when their legs go. The delightful Mark "git" Pembridge has arrived from Benfica, although the Everton support seem to be maintaining a healthy scepticism, whilst Nick "potential" Barmby is having another one of those "this could be my year but not quite" seasons. The rest of Everton's midfield options are anonymous and largely interchangeable.

Up front, Jeffers and Campbell will always be a threat, particularly given our recent proficiency at corners. Jeffers may be petulant, but he is remarkably aware, while Campbell has scored seven times this term and contributes a lot of good linking play. Joe-Max Moore has recently arrived from the U.S. as cover, it will be interesting to see what 78 US caps translates as in the Premiership. Danny Cadamateri, a singularly arrogant striker, seems to have hit a dead end and the suggestion is that he will be offloaded to whichever gullible first division side can be persuaded. Appropriately, he has just spent a loan spell at Fulham.

Supporting the team isn't always made easy, even against nonsense like Everton. Not including the Birmingham game in the season ticket was contemptible; charging 20 for a tie when the same teams in better form could have been seen for 14 (still not cheap) last term was almost laughable. And of course the lack of anything to hang on to in the performances makes you want to weep.

But we're part of that team. "Watford till we die", remember? "We sing, cos we love our team"?

So does the team continue to feel sorry for itself? Were "they" right all along?

Or are we better than that?