From: Watford FC Academy
Record: Played: 0 Scored: 0
To: ??? - Free transfer - February 2003
He was: The victim of a bad tackle
Picture the scene...you're in your third year of an Academy scholarship, desperately trying to energetically impress enough to earn a pro' deal when, in the middle of a Reserve match, you are scythed down from behind. It doesn't feel too bad at first, but you can't stand properly. On comes the stretcher, off you go lain upon said medical aid, and you later discover you've ruptured knee ligaments...end of season.
Neil Saunders had some neat touches but was just one of a clutch of young players who were a good Academy 'team' but didn't excel enough to be seriously considered on an individual basis.
His knee-scrambling tackle came in October 2001 at Stevenage Borough while putting in a bright performance against Tottenham's second-string. On the strength of his early-season form, erstwhile Watford hot-seat custodian Mr Gianluca Vialli awarded him a one-year professional deal to "ease the pain of recovering from injury" as he would have put it had he known who Neil Saunders was. You see, Vialli never attended away Reserve games, and faced away from the pitch quoffing wine at home matches.
No-one will remember Neil Saunders, but, equally, no-one who was at Tottenham that night, will forget a quite dreadful challenge. The line between success and failure in football is still so fine for the younger generation.