For many there will only be one winner of the vote for the position on the left-hand side of Watford’s midfield but, come on, let’s at least consider the options first.
Let’s first look at the man brought in to attempt to replace you know who. Rick Holden was plucked from obscurity with Fourth Division Halifax to sign for First Division Watford in March 1988. There have been reports he signed for £450 per week, a £50 appearance bonus and a £10,000 signing on split into three instalments. But 18 months into a four-year deal he left for Oldham, probably because he did not get on with Steve Harrison.
“Steve was one of those managers who would not explain too much his decision to drop you,” Holden said in an interview with WatfordLegends.com. “He and I had a run in during a game at Bradford City. We were one nil up and he took me off and put Kenny Jackett on in my place and I didn’t really understand. The Watford supporters applauded me and I applauded them back as I left the pitch, but then Steve and I were swinging punches at each other in the dug out! It continued on the bus on the way home and we both told each other we were disappointed in each other.”
It was a shame his career at Vicarage Road was cut short as he showed real promise. Writer Dan Turner described him perfectly as “a touchline-hugging, slaloming winger of the old school, Rick Holden brought a swagger to the teams he played for and a left peg capable of laser-guided crosses”.
How George Harris would loved to have been on the end of some of Holden’s crosses. You’ll have to look long and hard to find a better header of a ball in the club’s rich history than Harris, who had a remarkable ratio of scoring once every three games, most of which would have been headers at the far post. The Lambeth-born left winger scored 55 goals in 163 appearances in a four-year spell at Vicarage Road, joining from Newport before moving to Reading where he scored one more goal in 27 less appearances. Many remember him fondly.
Peter Kennedy definitely deserves a mention, helping to inspire Watford’s second rise through the divisions with his wand of a left foot. A few of the class of 99/00 team lamented his absence through injury in that difficult year in the Premiership. Signed for £130,000 from Notts County and sold to Wigan Athletic four years later for £300,000, he will always have a special place in the heart of Watford fans for the two goals in scored in 29 riotous minutes at Kenilworth Road in 1997.
Glyn Hodges was of a similar style. Him signing for £300,000 from Newcastle in 1987 was probably the one good thing Dave Bassett did during his short term at Vicarage Road. Hodges won the Player of the Season trophy in between John McClelland and Tony Coton which says a lot for the era he played in. Also won the Goal of the Season award twice before Crystal Palace paid £410,000 for him.
We thought long and hard about whether to include Ashley Young in the debate, let alone which position to put him in the mix for, but eventually decided you cannot leave out the player who generated a club record fee for an outgoing player. He probably warrants consideration simply for the way he worked so hard to receive a previously unheard of third year as a scholar after initially being released. He also defied concerns about his physique to produce what still must be the season of his career in the rough and tumble of the Championship in 2005/06 as Watford won promotion to the Premier League. He can boast a record of scoring nearly once in every four starts for the Hornets, the last goal coming in the first win of that Premier League season against Middlesbrough. Three months later and he was gone, for nearly £10m, to Aston Villa.
God knows what price John Barnes would achieve in today’s inflated market. Liverpool picked him up for £900,000 (yes, only nine hundred thousand pounds) after he made 231 league starts for Watford. Man City paid £44m for Raheem Sterling after 77 Premier League starts for Liverpool. There were goals to savour (the one against Chelsea in ’85 and his first in the 84′ FA Cup quarter-final win at Birmingham stand out) but Blind Stupid and Desperate author Matt Rowson hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “It’s not stretching matters to say that John Barnes was with little doubt the most talented player ever to wear a Watford shirt.”
If you missed the chance to reunite Barnes with Nigel Callaghan, there is still time to vote in our right-winger poll. Click HERE to register yours