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Gone but not forgotten:
Robert Page
Position: Central defender
From: Youth team
Record: Played: 244(8) Scored: 3
To: Sheffield United - £350,000 - September 2001
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: A true Watford stalwart

Let's not beat about the bush. Based on pure defensive skills, Robert Page is nothing special. But that doesn't stop him being a bona fide Watford legend.

I'll put it bluntly, shall I? Captain of the Second Division Championship winning team in 1998, captain of the Wembley playoff team in 1999, Watford "player of the year" in the Premiership season. Nuff said.

Coming up through the youth team, this Welshman won rave reviews as a tough tackling full back. Reports talked glowingly of his tenacity, courage and leadership skills. Having found himself a regular place in the team in the first season in Division Two (1996-97), those leadership skills quickly came to the fore. So much so that, when Graham Taylor took charge again full time in the summer of 1997, he was made captain.

In the Championship winning team, he was in a back three, with (mostly) Keith Millen and (experimentally) Tommy Mooney. Throughout that season, Page grew and grew as a defender, becoming a regular in the Welsh team as well.

But it was in 1998-99 that Robert Page truly came of age. The signing of Dean Yates actually found him relegated to the bench at the start of the season. But his injury, along with Keith Millen's, put Steve Palmer and Page in central defence. And there they stayed.

Palmer and Page gave Watford the best central defence since the days of John McClelland and Steve Sims. They just would not let the opposition pass. People remember the run of wins at the end of that season, but they may forget that none of them involved Watford scoring more than two goals. That was because we didn't have to. It was written at the time that Robert Page became a captain that season, rather than some bloke with an armband.

At the end of every game that Watford won, Page would remain on the pitch to applaud the fans. He would walk up to the penalty area, swing his arm round in a large arc, and pump his fist in the air emphatically. I would copy him. It was our "thing" that we would do.

The Premiership season didn't have many highpoints, but Robert Page was one of them. He tried his hardest, he really did. He even scored a goal (he only managed three in a Watford shirt). He also saved the game when he raced back and robbed Gareth Grant of Bradford of the ball after he had rounded Chris Day and was about to equalise in the last minute. "Player of the season" was fully deserved, and hardly questioned.

Last season, it all seemed to go wrong. He began to make too many mistakes. His passing, never good at the best of times, was horribly exposed in its limitations. He seemed to slow down, and was beaten in the air too often. His leadership ability seemed to disappear visibly, and it was a shame.

I met him at the sponsor's evening. He was extremely friendly and chatty, and always made an effort with the fans. He asked me who I thought should be our new manager, and I asked him if he was worried about it. He said that he tried not to be, but it was difficult. It was a portent of things to come.

He was more or less turned into a scapegoat for Watford's capitulation in the second two thirds of the season. Gianluca Vialli stripped him of the captaincy, lobbed him on the transfer list and he left Watford in an unnecessarily ignominious fashion.

The last time I saw Robert Page was when he came on for the stiffs team in the friendly against Aylesbury. It was a humbling experience for me, because I knew that no longer would we do our "thing" with our fists after Watford games.

So there we have it. He was slower than John McClelland. He was worse in the air than Steve Sims, and his passing was worse than Ian Bolton. Those guys were Watford legends too. But not one of them ever lifted a cup at Wembley in front of 38,000 Watford fans.

Remember that, Robert. We'll never forget.

Paul Goldsmith