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Gone but not forgotten:
Jamie Hand
Position: Midfielder
From: Youth Team
Record: Played: 42(19) Scored: 0 Yellow Cards: 16
To: Fisher Athletic - Free Transfer - January 2006
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Booked. Often.

And so a legend moves on. Quietly. Inconspicuously. Perhaps the only inconspicuous thing he did in four years in the senior squad. Vicarage Road will be a duller but perhaps safer place for his absence.

It's fair to comment that it didn't seem likely to end this way. Brought into the side by Gianluca Vialli, and awarded his debut in the closing minutes of a cup tie with Arsenal as a seventeen year old, Hand may not have convinced all onlookers that he was a candidate for an immediate first-team role, but there seemed little doubt that there was ample raw material there to work with. Young-player-of-the-year awards and England U19 caps bore testimony to this.

I remember thinking of him as a parcel that just needed the strings pulled a little tighter to hold the package together, a little more discipline. His attributes were evident... a ferocious competitiveness, boundless energy and a complete lack of fear that was never better demonstrated then when taking on Kevin Harper, most of the Pompey team and half of the Fratton Park crowd during Vialli's last victory in 2002. The most generous assessment was that we might have another Richard Johnson on our hands, as some of Hand's performances, in particular perhaps his best game for Watford in dismissing a pathetic Derby side a year later, gave us a glimpse of an impressive range of passing to compliment his obvious destructive qualities. He couldn't shoot for toffee, mind, but perhaps that would come.

One unmissable characteristic of young Jamie's fledgling career was a reliable propensity for picking up yellow cards. And not faffy yellow cards for dissent, professional fouls and the like but for brutal hacks that often looked like dismembering whichever poor sod they were inflicted on. His quite remarkable yellow card tally quickly became a feature of BSaD match reports, and he has kept up a solid ratio of one every three games-ish during his various loan spells. The only surprise, perhaps, that he has yet to see a red... although he pushed this record to the limit on occasions, particularly during his loan spell at Oxford.

His most memorable foul in a Watford shirt was probably a thunderous execution of William Gallas during our comprehensive cup replay stuffing at Stamford Bridge at the start of 2004 that was no respecter of his opponent's more illustrious reputation. Conducted directly in front of us on the touchline, it will live long in the memory. The following Saturday, however, we were stuffed again - this time at Vicarage Road against playoff-bound Crystal Palace. Hand was substituted at half time, and never played competitively for the senior side again.

So what went wrong? Well, part of the problem seems to have been that Hand wasn't perhaps quite as good, or quite as much the finished article, as he thought he was. Ray Lewington once commented during a fans' forum that Hand's desperation for consistent first-team involvement bordered on the exasperating; that Hand didn't get that start was down to areas of his game that he evidently wasn't prepared to work at strengthening. A series of unspectacular loan spells followed during the 2004-05 season, the last of which was curtailed when Lewington departed and Aidy Boothroyd took up the reins. Having already signed a season loan deal with Livingston, Hand was ineligible to play for the Hornets again but chose to pursue his claims for re-assimilation by training with the first team squad at Watford.

This seemed ill-advised at the time, but come pre-season Hand was again involved in the centre of midfield as Betty's rehashed side gradually took shape. He played at Redditch and Boreham Wood, and featured in both games in Denmark, but wasn't amongst the nineteen named for the trip to Northwood at the end of July and never suggested he'd be involved in the squad as younger players moved clear of him in the chase for midfield starts as the successful 2005-06 season developed. A loan to Peterborough followed (featuring a run of six yellow cards in seven matches). Then, at the start of 2006, he was quietly released and signed for Ryman Premier side Fisher Athletic... and thence on loan to the growing Watford old-boys society at Northampton Town, a peculiar series of events perhaps oiled by the Spurs links of the two managers concerned, Justin Edinburgh and Colin Calderwood.

Ultimately, it's all too easy to lump Hand in with the other victims of Gianluca Vialli's rather arbitrary and perhaps insufficiently careful promotion of youngsters to first team level. Gary Fisken and Jason Norville have gone the same way; Anthony McNamee seemed destined for ignominy last season but, blessed with greater natural talent than any of his erstwhile colleagues, looks to have taken advantage of his dog's chance.

Jamie Hand failed to do so.

Matt Rowson