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Gone but not forgotten:
Johnnie Jackson
Position: Midfielder
From: Tottenham Hotspur - on loan - December 2004
Record: Played: 14(1) Scored: 0
To: Tottenham Hotspur - end of loan - March 2005
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Over-taken by events

So, here we are. In a quiet cul-de-sac while a riot rolls down the high street. Here I am. Writing about Johnnie Jackson's low key loan spell, in the full and complete knowledge that it's not really at the top of the agenda at the moment. That said, it is pretty much the only thing that I can write about without being consumed by frenzied, incoherent fury, so it's probably best for all concerned that we stick to the matter at hand....

Johnnie Jackson, then. Not, by some considerable distance, the most significant thing that happened to Watford Football Club during the early part of 2005, but a diverting enough story nonetheless. And right now, diversion is good. In some ways, it's appropriate too: over three months, Jackson's role was that of a contract worker, filling in first for Neal Ardley on the left of midfield and later for Brynjar Gunnarsson in the centre. He finished at left back, in a game that proved to be the end of more than one Watford career. It's tempting to apply an agenda onto all of this, to cast him in the role of the sellotape that was used to try, with limited success, to hold our disintegrating squad together. A diversion, just temporary cover.

Tempting, but not entirely fair. It's certainly reasonable to suggest that Johnnie Jackson didn't - couldn't - do enough to prevent the slide in form that finished off the manager, that he was unable to supply the leadership and influence that we missed from other, more experienced members of the squad. He wasn't Neal Ardley, he wasn't Brynjar Gunnarsson. Like so many young midfielders, he tended to follow the game around rather than dictate its course, and only time will tell whether he'll gain that control as his career develops elsewhere.

But within those parameters, it'd be hard to ask for more. That is, if you're prepared to ignore nearly all of the first month of the loan, during which a series of rather wet and limp appearances on the left wing did absolutely nothing to suggest that we'd be asking him back for an extended stay. Clint Easton with stubble, an obviously neat and tidy technical player was simply by-passed by the frantic pace of Second Division football; it is, as Ray Lewington acknowledged, not easy for a loan player to settle into unfamiliar surroundings, and Johnnie Jackson was very obviously not settling in.

The transformation was extraordinary, then. Much has been made of the switch from the left to the centre, his natural position, but there must have been more to it than that: when a second-string line-up travelled to Wigan and scrapped its way to a remarkable draw, Johnnie Jackson's brief Watford career gained an astonishing twist. Thereafter, he was simply not the same player. Before that, he couldn't tackle for toffee; now, he was belting around the pitch, slamming into challenges with evident relish. The slight, insignificant winger became the aggressive, angry little ratter, and didn't look back for a second.

You can usually tell when a player's enjoying his work. The abiding memory of Johnnie Jackson will be of his hunched, lean frame with billowing, untucked shirt stumbling around the midfield melée in search of the ball, then crashing into other bodies to contest it before scrambling upright to resume the search. It looked like tremendous fun. It looked like proper football...although one wonders whether his Tottenham colleagues will agree, when he returns covered in mud and bruises.

It'll have done him enormous good, though. Somewhere around the end of January, Johnnie Jackson emerged as a strong, independent character in his own right, and seemed to grow up in front of our eyes. He contributed to some fine performances during his three months at Vicarage Road, but there were some absolute stinkers too...and when it would've been the easiest thing to disappear into the safety of anonymity, he seemed to react with a bit of fire and anger. A bit of pride. For me, there's an awful lot that can be forgiven of players who don't go missing when it all starts to go pear-shaped.

As a half-empty ground expressed its considerable dissatisfaction at a home defeat to Preston, Johnnie Jackson stood alone in the penalty area and, as a farewell gesture, made a point of applauding supporters who really weren't in the mood to return the compliment. That takes guts. That takes character. A player with much work still to do, those attributes will serve him well.