This is a tough one. We don’t know about you but we don’t think there is one standout midfielder in the club’s history, one where you say, ‘Well, he is a definite’. Like John Barnes was with the left-wing spot or John McClellend was with one of the centre-half spots
Do you go back to the mid-60s and early 70s and select Dennis Bond? He goes up in our estimation with the knowledge that he turned down Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal because “Watford was where I had the best chance of coming through to the first team and actually making it in the game”. Oh for a bit of that attitude these days. He made more than 200 appearances in two spells with the Hornets, moving in between times to Tottenham Hotspur for what was then a Watford club record fee of £30,000. He had such a zest for the game that he didn’t stop playing until he was 55.
Even though he played only 50 appearances for the club, Kevin Richardson comes into contention for his performances in the 1986-87 season. The writing was on the wall for Dave Bassett once he sold him to Arsenal for £25,000 less than Watford paid for him.
It’s difficult to look past Kenny Jackett, however. He made nearly 350 appearances for the Hornets in ten years and you wonder how many he would have racked up had his career not been cruelly cut short by a chronic knee injury at the age of 28. It was a toss up between him and Gary Porter as to who had the best left foot and they dovetailed well together in the middle of midfield. Porter will never be forgotten for his part in that famous comeback at home to Bolton Wanderers in 1993 when the Hornets were 3-0 down after 71 minutes.
If this was an all-time goal debate then Richard Johnson would have a few contenders. He got a goal-of-the-season last-minute winner against Graham Taylor’s Wolves, a left-footed belter at Luton and this one below against Bristol City.
It was cruel that his career reached its peak so soon in the Premiership season of 1990/00. He was never the same again after rupturing his lateral and cruciate ligaments against Manchester United.
Micah Hyde, his midfield sidekick, will be remembered by some for the shoving match with United’s Nicky Butt, but his seven-year Watford career was so much more than that. He turned down Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Coventry City to join the Hornets in 1997 and was a stylish, smooth passing midfielder. He weighed in with the odd goal too, scoring two at Blackburn, his favourite at home to Bolton and the two below at Nottingham Forest.
Cast from a completely different mould was Andy Hessenthaler. You’d have to go a long way to find someone who ran more for the club’s cause than him. He was plucked from the building site to make his Watford debut against Everton and Peter Beardsley, giving everything to make sure he didn’t have to go back to the tools. He was gutted the way he was portrayed as greedy when he left, for Gillingham, in 1995. “I didn’t want to leave the club but I felt the offer they were making to me at the time simply wasn’t right,” he said in an interview with WatfordLegends.com. “Some of the stuff written in the papers disappointed me that wasn’t true.”
What a player the club would have had on their hands had Craig Ramage possessed a slither of Hessenthaler’s engine. Few more naturally gifted players have worn the famous yellow shirt and those who were at Grimsby, to witness Ramage’s hat-trick, or at Vicarage Road when he scored two against Stoke will never forget it. The £90,000 Watford paid Derby for him in 1994 brought three seasons of joy to Watford fans.
Almen Abdi is of a similar ilk and vintage to Ramage but looks set to do it over a far longer period and at a higher level if he sees out the three years on his contract. He is probably the fans’ favourite of the signings made under the Pozzo era.
But we can’t go without a mention for Allan Nielsen. Speak to anyone who played with him for three years at Watford and they will tell you what a top pro he was and how he raised the standards in training. His late winner against Wimbledon stands out when recalling his time at the club, as does the ovation he received when he was substituted in the 89th minute of his final game so he could be saluted by the crowd.
“The fans all stood up and were cheering and applauding me,” he said in an interview with WatfordLegends.com. “It was very emotional for me and I would like to say now it was very much appreciated as well.”
Now it’s time to vote. You get one vote to decide your first choice midfielder….
and then a second vote to pick his partner:
The results of the poll and the all-time Watford XI team will be announced on our website before the game against Manchester United.