"More than a footballer"
By Paul Goldsmith
This is a story about character. This is a story about a man who was so much
more than a footballer. This is a story about a man who embodied everything
that was great about our club in the second Graham Taylor era. In fact, I would
suggest that if Graham Taylor had been incarnated as any footballer, he would have wanted
to be Steve Palmer.
Why? Because Steve put in 100% effort every game. Because Steve ignored his
limitations and became the immovable object on
which our promotion to the Premiership was built. Because Steve showed the
previous season that whatever the team needed, he
would provide, whatever number he was asked to wear. Because Steve spoke to
everyone, whether fan, journalist, child, shareholder, as
if he was interested in what they had to say. Because Steve had dignity, in
victory and in defeat.
I remember sitting on the edge of my seat at St Andrews in the playoff
semi-final in 1999. Birmingham were in the lead and threatening to
trample all over us. As they poured forward in droves, I was getting more
nervous every second. Then, Dele Adebola - all 6'3" of him - went
charging down the left wing after the ball. The crowd rose expectantly.
Steve went trundling across. He was the smaller of the two, and Adebola's
first tactic was to try and shove him out of the way. Big
mistake. Steve started to shoulder-barge Adebola gently, then leaned into
him, and curled his foot around the ball when they got to it, and came away with it
calmly. That was when I knew we were going to Wembley. Steve wasn't going to
let us lose.
I remember walking up to Steve at the party at the end of the Premiership season. I
had heard that he studied software engineering and
I thought it would be interesting to chat to him about it. I thought he'd
manage a one minute conversation, ending with "...but I'm a footballer now". But
no, not Steve. We stood there for twenty minutes. He told me about his days as a
Premiership player with Ipswich, when he would train in the mornings and
then go to an office in the town to develop software to measure train velocities in
Holland. We talked about the technologies that he was comfortable with. I
even threatened to try and hire him when he retired to work in my IT department!
At the end, we talked about his desire to become a coach and see how far he
could go with that. He loves football, but I think he loves it so much
because, if he wanted to, he could do other things.
Finally, I remember meeting him at the end-of-season party back in
May 2001. Gianluca Vialli had just taken over, and Steve just looked
deflated. I asked him about what he thought would happen to him, and he muttered some
clichés about fighting for his place and seeing what happens. But I think
he knew then that the writing was on the wall for him. He wanted to carry on
as a player, not go into coaching yet, and I think that we both knew that it
would be unlikely at Watford under Vialli. All I felt then was sadness, because I
knew that, whilst Gianluca Vialli may not miss Steve Palmer the player, he
would definitely miss Steve Palmer the man.
And so, one of my all-time Watford heroes rides off into the sunset.
Leaving the memories of that awkward running gait, head lolling furiously
from side to side as he tried to keep up with the pace of the young whippersnappers who
whizzed around him. Leaving the memories of his occasional goals, and his
frequent goal-saving tackles. Leaving the memory of his one minute in goal which
created football history, and summed up all any reader needs to know about
Steve Palmer the footballer.
But most of all, leaving the memory of a man who would have run himself to a
standstill for whichever club he played for. Whilst I agree with the
footballing reasons for his departure, Vicarage Road will be a colder place without him.
Good luck, old chap.