It's interesting how facts have a habit of rewriting themselves differently into folklore. Taken in the context of players returning to the Vic with a different employer, it is often a cause of some frustration that folklore is so catastrophically wrong on so many occasions, leading to what many perceive to be the "wrong" type of reaction from - as Danny Baker would call them - the "Nineteen, Nineteen year olds" at the back of the Rookery.
For years, we had to endure abuse of Andy Hessenthaler that was so far from the mark it was embarrassing. Here we had a player who was one of the few bright lights at Watford for five seasons, who suddenly became "their" number one enemy for having the temerity to suggest that he had more than a year or two left in him. Nearly a decade later, Andy Hessenthaler continues to win rave reviews.
Then Kevin Phillips returned to a hero's welcome, despite the fact that Watford were the club who nursed him through a career-threatening injury, before he sneaked off to whoever would offer him a chance outside of Division Two. True, he deserved a reception of note for his performances whilst at Watford, but he was not Luther returning with Bournemouth, for heavens sake! On the other hand, Connolly gets less hostility than he deserves - mainly because I would welcome the head-to-toe tarring and feathering of that particular individual, and everything else falls short of justice...but this is just personal!
Over the last couple of seasons, players have returned to polite applause (Darren Bazeley), rapturous acknowledgement (Robert Page), or muffled sighs (Clint Easton). However, it seems that where there is possibly a degree of contentiousness about a players departure, the "Nineteen, Nineteen year olds" are judge and jury, determining which way the praise-boo-ometer will swing. Yet again on Saturday, the kangaroo court enabled the gaggling jury to deliver their verdict without any thought for the evidence.
Tommy Smith was a promising forward for Watford. He was never a striker, but worked superbly with Heidar, forming our only strike partnership of note in the last five years. He had shortcomings as a player, and with three different managers in three seasons, he found himself pushed and pulled around the various positions he was capable of filling. There was no consistency in the side over those three years, no consistent front line or supporting midfield. But rather than wash his laundry of disillusionment in the press like so many prodigious talents would have done, there was never a comment about any issues he must have had with the way things were going.
His decision making on and off the pitch were questionable, but when he left the club Tommy was still only twenty-three years old. How many decisions did we get wrong before our twenty-third birthday? Or to the jury at the back, how many will you make before you reach twenty-three? And at the end of a contract that Tommy signed as a teenager, he left. There was no Jason Drysdale-type vitriolic quotes about how he could not have stood any more time at Watford. There were no parting shots at the management team or the fans.
So which particular part of Tommy Smith deserved that reaction on Saturday?
First published in the Watford Free Observer