Dennis Bailey: The Watford Years
By Ian Grant
Put it this way...there are players who can get among the club's all-time appearance makers and still be widely disliked (I'm mentioning no names here, take your own guesses). Then there are players who can play less than a dozen games and be remembered as heroes. Dennis Bailey made a grand total of two (count 'em) full appearances for the Hornets and yet here I am doing a tribute to him...
It was the end of the 93/94 season and we were going down. No question. The 3-0 home defeat against Grimsby, preceded by the sale of Bruce Dyer to Palace and followed by a demonstration against Jack Petchey, was one of the lowest points for the club in its recent history. We were still perched precariously above the relegation zone but performances did little to suggest we were about to start winning points - by March 26, Dennis Bailey's debut, we'd picked up just ten points since the New Year.
The pessimists (including me) were forecasting disaster, unaware that reinforcements were waiting in the wings. Colin Foster and Keith Millen arrived to add some experience to a defence that had been leaking two goals a game; Tommy Mooney came on loan from Southend in exchange for Lee Nogan; and Dennis Bailey was borrowed from QPR. Those recruitments, coupled with Petchey's "resignation" as chairman, massively boosted morale for the home game with Millwall.
26/3/94 - Watford 2 Millwall 0
It was extraordinary. We were re-born. We kicked off, went down the left wing, Mooney bundled into the box, Lavin scored. Thirteen seconds gone. Video evidence reveals that Lavin got nowhere near it (the defender and keeper combined to let the ball in) - it appeared that young Gerard had a bet on himself to score the first goal, which also explained what the bloody hell he was doing in the six yard box in the first minute.
Hessenthaler added another in the second half, running onto a through-ball and slipping it past the keeper - we even kept a clean sheet, our first since October 10. Bailey made a substitute appearance but everyone was probably too delirious to notice.
30/3/94 - Forest 2 Watford 1
Forest in midweek? You must be joking. We lost 2-1, with Gary Porter scoring a spectacular goal and Bailey coming on as sub again.
2/4/94 - Watford 1 Leicester 1
It all started here, as far as Bailey's concerned. Leicester, as dour and ugly and irritating as ever (let's face it, a side with Iwan Roberts, David Speedie and Ian Ormondroyd as its strike force ain't going to be pretty), were bound for the playoffs and, ultimately, short-lived promotion to the Premiership.
We slaughtered them. We whupped their asses. We played them so far off the park that they were practically on their way back up the motorway by half-time.
Naturally, then, they managed to get out of their own half once in the second half and took the lead. Their fans couldn't believe it, we just felt a bit ill.
Cue Dennis Bailey and his super-sub heroics. As injury time reached its 342nd minute and the Watford fans roared their team on, the ball was chipped into the area and Bailey was there, finding the net with a magnificent diving header. It was the least we deserved, to be quite honest, but it was still a glorious moment.
From this point on, whenever things were going badly for the team and Bailey was on the bench, the fans would start chanting 'We want Bailey on' until he made an appearance, usually replacing Tommy Mooney.
5/4/94 - Peterborough 3 Watford 4
Unforgettable. An epic match, full of drama and magic and goals and glory. It was at London Road that, for me and many others, Dennis Bailey cemented his place in Watford FC history.
Again, he was substitute. Again, as the game drifted away from us, the fans demanded his appearance. In the last ten minutes, it happened.
It was 3-3, Peterborough had just equalised. We'd won a corner and the Watford fans, louder than ever that night, were urging their team on from the away terrace - the image of fans climbing up on the fences to give more support is still as vivid even now. I couldn't see a thing and I didn't find out what happened until I bought the end-of-season video. We saw the ball come over, then everything went mental - the most delirious celebration I've ever been involved in, one of the most important goals in recent Watford history.
Ironically, it wasn't even Bailey's goal. Not really - he headed it towards goal but a Peterborough defender had a brainstorm and deflected it past his own keeper. It doesn't matter, though.
If I had to pick one goal as my favourite from the last ten years, that would be it. No question. Nothing else even comes close to that. I'm not alone - use the words 'Dennis Bailey at Peterborough' in the company of anyone who was there and you'll get the same reaction.
9/4/94 - Watford 1 Tranmere 2
Super-sub strikes again, this time with a diving header that bounced into the ground and over the helpless keeper for a vital equaliser. Three goals in the last three substitute appearances, quite an achievement.
Tranmere won with a last-minute goal - slightly cruel but we'd played badly and deserved nothing. I felt hungover from the Peterborough experience, the team just looked knackered.
12/4/94 - Barnsley 0 Watford 1
The origin, believe it or not, of my ludicrous 'lucky shave' superstition. I didn't, of course, travel to Yorkshire in midweek so I was preparing to go down to the pub. As I was shaving, Furlong's winner went in. 'Nuff said, I think.
This was Bailey's first full appearance and I've no idea if it was any good or not - presumably, though, he did play a part in what was a vital win. I remember that Radio 5 waited an agonising half an hour after the final whistle before they announced the score - there were a couple of Watford supporters in the pub that night, both grinning from ear to ear.
16/4/94 - Watford 3 Southend 0
With Furlong suspended, this was Bailey's last full appearance. I'd imagine that we were a little worried at Furs' absence - we needn't have been. In a wierd turn of events, Tommy Mooney ended up playing against his employers - Tommy being Tommy, he was so fired up it seemed as if he was about to explode and the game became a personal crusade.
Mooney still needed Bailey's help, though. Bailey smacked home the opener after less than a minute and we proceeded to run riot, scoring three times in the first quarter of an hour and generally causing chaos. Mooney netted his first Watford goal and only just resisted running a lap of honour - by this time he had about three or four chants to his name.
23/4/94 - Bristol City 1 Watford 1
Very much an anticlimax. We all hoped we'd make the safety point here and it'd be remembered as Oxford a few seasons before is remembered - it didn't happen. Bailey was on the bench and stayed there, despite the fans' protestations.
30/4/94 - Watford 1 Portsmouth 0
In which we secured our position in the First Division (for a couple of seasons, anyway...sigh), thanks to a first half goal from Andy Hessenthaler. It was a narrow win and I indulged every superstition going beforehand but the battle had been won by this stage - we were more confident and we were getting the results to ensure survival.
Bailey came on as sub for Mooney - it was his last Watford appearance.
8/5/94 - Crystal Palace 0 Watford 2
A mighty p!ss-on-yer-party win. Palace were champions and weren't being particularly modest about it either (they lost their first Premiership game 6-1 at home to Liverpool the next season - I laughed like a drain), we came and turned them over. It wasn't a classic by any means, we didn't care much about that.
Mooney, sporting a hideous goatee beard, scored the second with a mighty, Bailey-esque finish, mis-hitting the shot and seeing it bounce over the keeper. Bailey stayed on the bench and we never saw him again...