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Gone but not forgotten:
Stuart Slater
Position: Winger
From: No contract - free transfer - November 1996
Record: Played: 29(8) Scored: 1
To: Carlton - free transfer - January 1999
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Our injured hero

We all wish it were different. We all wish that Stuart Slater - lovely bloke, smashing player - had proved to be the Watford star that his early performances promised he'd be. We all wish that we could glance over to the bench every Saturday and see Slates warming up for a rip-roaring last twenty minutes. We all wish it were different. We wish.

Because Stuart Slater - lovely bloke, smashing player - possesses the kind of gleaming class that supporters of clubs like Watford pray for. The kind of gleaming class that saw him play in the top flight of both the English and Scottish leagues before losing his way and, as if in a fairy tale, bestowing his gifts upon a lowly, downhearted club in Hertfordshire. He wasn't "someone who's played in the Premiership" (even Brett bloody Angell's got that on his CV), he was "a Premiership player".

Oh, and he was a beautiful footballer. Remember the only goal he scored for the Hornets, 96/97's "Goal of the Season", a glorious bit of close control and a volleyed finish from the edge of the area. And remember his substitute appearance at Gillingham in the Championship season, coming on at 2-1 down with only ten men and ripping the opposition defence to shreds to salvage a point. Wingers don't come much more swashbuckling than Stuart Slater.

But the stats tell another story. Injuries simply decimated his Watford career, as they had at earlier clubs. Stuart Slater - lovely bloke, smashing player - made just thirty-seven appearances in two years. He was probably fully match fit for, ooh, a quarter of those appearances.

And that's before you consider the question of form. Not the most assertive player, he failed to impose his obvious brilliance upon too many games. Even when fit, he contributed too little. It's possible to argue that longer runs in the side might've exposed his lightweight inconsistency and left fans with rather less fond memories. That would appear to be Graham Taylor's view.

As it is, we do have fond memories. Brief, but fond. Stuart Slater - lovely bloke, smashing player.

Ian Grant

The 96/97 season was one of great expectation, but we just couldn't do it. At times we were unimaginative and a lack of investment in the squad didn't help. We were relying too much on young players and Kenny Jackett was forbidden by Petchey to spend any money.

We cried out for creativity. We cried out for joy when Stuart Slater arrived. We knew that he was hot stuff at West Ham, but he never quite cut it at Celtic or Ipswich. He chose us in preference to Premiership Leicester, so he obviously felt we could do something.

I remember his early games - stuck out on the wing, the midfield wasn't able to get the ball out to him. When they did, he took people on and generally beat them. During one game he was receiving the ball on the touchline and beating his full back every time, I remember the crowd singing "Give it to Slater!". I also remember a certain web site editor praising the partnership between Slates and Gary Penrice! (Penrice? Jeez, did I really? - Ed) He hit a peach of a goal against Rotherham. He controlled it on his chest then sent a measured-to-perfection volley over the keeper.

Then he got injured, though this was only a minor one! He had suffered badly from injuries before, and his time at Watford was full of them. He made a return towards the end of the season, was back on form, and scored a belter of a goal during the Les Simmons testimonial. During his injured spell, several list members met Slates at the Kit Sponsors evening. He was a very down to earth and honest guy. When he told us how much he liked it at Watford, we could tell that he meant it. He also asked Dr Dave for medical advice and spent most of the evening with us, buying us drinks and telling us about his time at Celtic and West Ham.

He was fit and ready for the Championship year. He started against Burnley and some of his old form was coming back.

Then he got injured, and made a storming comeback against Gillingham. As ig put it at the time - fire cracking wing play! He was also one of the stars during the 4-0 Luton match. Yes, Kennedy got the two goals, but I would argue that Slates had just a big a part in that victory. He terrorised a useless Luton defence.

Then he got injured and made a come back against, ironically, Luton. Although clearly a long way short of match fitness, he starred yet again! The reception he received when he ran out onto the pitch was amazing for a player who we knew would probably get injured again.

Which he did. When we met him at the sponsors evening for the second time he had just been injured playing for the reserves, and once again, he asked our own Dr Dave for some advice. He said that the physio had told him to stay at home, but he wanted to come and meet us all again! I think we may have bought him a drink that night.... He was saying that as a player of twenty-seven, he really should be getting regular first team football and that maybe it was time to move on. However, he wanted more that anything to be part of the Watford first team and I still think he was as committed as anyone.

Although he wasn't in the squad for Fulham, he still made a few appearances at the tail end of the season.

Errrr.... Can you guess what happened next? Once Nicky Wright and Johann Gudmundsson showed what they could do and we signed Tony Daley, I think it was obvious that Slates was prime 'Free Transfer Fodder'.

You've probably realised that I'm a bit of a Slater fan, who'd rather remember his good bits than his bad (injured) bits. Yes, he couldn't always deliver the final ball, he should have got more goals and he couldn't always impose himself onto the opposition. However, when he did play he was always 'up for it' and during the drab post-relegation season it was good to have a skilful and willing player in the team. Some of his play (especially that way he ran at full backs) was great and it's a shame his appearances for us were so limited. If he could have had a good run in the team he would have been one of our first choice players, especially as we saw a fully fit Slates in less than half of his appearances for WFC!

He always remained popular with the fans, and I hope he manages to find a club where he can settle down and maybe even remain injury free! (Was that a pink elephant I just saw?)

Simon Devon