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Gone but not forgotten:
Wayne Brown
Position: Defender
From: Ipswich Town - on loan - January 2002
Record: Played: 10(1) Scored: 3
To: Ipswich Town - end of loan - March 2002
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: A call to arms

Gone...but definitely not forgotten....

You'd have to go back to the end of the 1993/94 season, when Glenn Roeder borrowed and subsequently bought a journeyman striker from Southend, to find a loan signing having such an impact. Then, it turned out that the striker was Tommy Mooney, which is a bit like finding a winning lottery ticket down the back of your second-hand sofa. Now, the anonymous defender from Ipswich revealed himself as Wayne Brown, a player of clattering commitment looking for an embattled rearguard to call his own.

Generally, loan players hang around in no man's land, lost somewhere between two clubs. Not so here. In two tremendous months, Wayne Brown hurled himself so wholeheartedly into whatever Watford Football Club asked of him that you rather imagined that he'd have chained himself to the East Stand rather than be forced to return to Portman Road. While George Burley may be correct in saying that there was never any possibility of a permanent deal, he might have trouble explaining that to a player who confessed that he'd be "gutted" if he couldn't continue to be part of things at the Vic next season.

It wasn't merely that he turned up, played well and went again. At a critical time, with the team drifting, promotion hopes disappearing and high wage-earners being transfer-listed, Wayne Brown's attitude somehow seemed to reverberate through the squad. It was, if you like, a bit of a call to arms. Those of a like mind - Alec Chamberlain, Filippo Galli, Neil Cox, Allan Nielsen - seemed to mount a take-over bid, dragging others along with them. In many ways, the results weren't as important as a fundamental change in approach. It took a while, but they started working for each other again...working really, really hard...and they won back the fans in the process.

Despite sending Gifton Noel-Williams on his way to an equalising goal at Preston with his first kick of the ball in a yellow shirt, it took a couple of games for Brown to settle. But when he found his rhythm - usually a slow, thunderous stomp, sometimes an alert shuffle, and a swaying gallop in emergencies - he inspired and delighted in equal measure.

There was something extremely refreshing about seeing such totally nonsense-free, unfussy defending. Wayne Brown, gawd bless 'im, does not stand on ceremony. He's comfortable enough in possession and passes constructively...but, when the ball needs clearing, it gets cleared really bloody hard and very far away. Many a moment of danger was brought to an abrupt halt by an almighty WALLOP and sighs of relief as the ball sailed into the proverbial Row Z. Against Grimsby, he shoulder-charged an opponent away from the ball with such power that the poor chap was nearly sent bowling into the lower Rous from fully twenty yards away. That's what you want.

In a rejuvenated, suddenly youthful Filippo Galli, he seemed to find a kindred spirit and an equal partner. For both, there's no magic, no secret formula. You get stuck in, you contest win that header, you scrap for that tackle, you get that ball clear, you mark that player...whatever comes your way, you deal with it and you move on. With the assistance of Neil Cox, Paul Robinson and Alec Chamberlain, none of them exactly lacking in competitive instinct, the Watford defence gradually became stubborn and belligerent.

If mistakes were still made on occasions, they were made honestly and positively, and they were readily forgiven and quickly forgotten as a consequence. As the Hornets recorded a series of terrific results against playoff contenders towards the end of Brown's loan spell, the sheer intensity of the defending repeatedly blocked out what initially appeared to be clear-cut chances, frustrating opponents and bringing obvious satisfaction to Brown and his new team-mates. Suddenly, they played with purpose and determination...and some success. A template for a much brighter future.

It wasn't always that good, of course. While Brown himself rarely let his standards slip, the team continued to find consistency elusive. Nevertheless, it really was that good sometimes, which is a great improvement on never at all. In a mighty victory over promotion-chasing Coventry, Brown signed off with two headed goals, a "man of the match" award (his fourth in eleven games) for another massively impressive performance...and one last almighty WALLOP that cleared the Rous stand.

You wouldn't have to do much reading between these lines to realise that bringing Wayne Brown to Vicarage Road permanently during the summer would be a serious morale boost...for the player himself, for the squad that he clearly felt part of, and for the supporters who've rapidly taken him to their hearts. Much will depend on the fate of Ipswich, who can probably count on a few more well-wishers as they fight against relegation between now and May.

Loan players are often peripheral figures. At best, we get a fleeting glimpse; at worst, we can't get rid of them soon enough. But, as with Tommy Mooney back in 1993/94, a quick glance through the finest Watford performances of the season reveals that Wayne Brown was right at the heart of most of them.

He'd be welcome back.