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Players: Tributes:
Steve Palmer
"Palmer d'Or"
By Ian Grant

Without solid foundations, the most beautiful buildings will collapse. Without strong hooks, the world's finest works of art won't stay up on the wall. Without quality binding, the pages of the greatest works of literature will start to fall out. You get the general idea.

At the start of Graham Taylor's last season, we saw Watford sides play with real verve and panache on several memorable occasions. At times, there was an abundance of flair, both in midfield and attack, that was virtually impossible for opponents to counter without sticking all eleven men behind the ball and hoping for a goalless draw. At times, particularly in the first half at Forest, we came close to the "total football" ideal - roles being switched at will, no inhibitions at all.

Meanwhile, Steve Palmer approached his hundredth consecutive appearance. To many, these things seem entirely unrelated - Palmer is a creature from another universe, a place where football is defiantly unsexy and midfielders are merely defenders playing ten yards further forward. Workmanlike and dreary, a relic. Definitely not Nordin Wooter, in other words.

Even his admirers developed an annoying habit of starting sentences with phrases like "He might not be the most skillful player but..." or "He might look clumsy but...", as if it's necessary to apologise before singing his praises. Really, it's not necessary at all.

So, once again, let's redress the balance.

Steve Palmer was the best signing the club made in the nineties. He served us so brilliantly, tirelessly and effectively in a variety of positions in three different divisions that there is no serious competition.

Post-Barry Fry, it's possibly an old-fashioned idea...but surely you spend money on players because of what they can do for your club? In which case, Palmer is the ultimate signing. He has no re-sale value, no attraction to sponsors, no great hero status. He's just a footballer...but he has repaid his paltry transfer fee countless times.

The point is, of course, that every side must have a Steve Palmer. But very few have a Steve Palmer as good as Steve Palmer, if you see what I mean. In midfield - always his best position, to my mind - he's the perfect caretaker, the one who carries out constant repairs to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Like the referee, he's had a good game if you haven't really noticed him. He allows others to shine. If we're playing well, you can be sure that he'll be in the background, making certain that we're not going to be caught out - when they break forward, you don't want Allan Nielsen or Micah Hyde to be worrying about defensive cover.

It's vital, and let's not pretend that it doesn't require considerable skill. Football isn't only about ball control and shooting, you know. For players like Palmer, it's about reading of the game, anticipation of situations, prevention rather than cure. Anyone who's played at an even vaguely competitive level - and a fair few few professionals - should envy the talent that requires.

Appearances don't matter. It's not Steve Palmer's job to look good. The situations that he must involve himself in are inevitably untidy and scrappy - disrupting the opposition, tracking back to break up a move, winning the ball when it's bouncing about. Nordin Wooter doesn't look particularly elegant when he's tackling either, believe it or not.

When it comes down to it, others will take the glory. He'll never score with an overhead kick at Wembley or save a penalty at St Andrews. He's not really a match-winner. Instead, he's a season-winner. He's the kind of player who'll quietly gain the team points over the entire course of a campaign, points that make occasions like those at Craven Cottage and Wembley possible. In every game, we'd have been weaker without him...and he's played in a lot of games. That, ultimately, is why he was such an outstanding servant of Watford Football Club and why Kenny Jackett hasn't hesitated in taking him to QPR.

The consummate professional. Here's to you, sir.

(First published in "The Yellow Experience")