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Gone but not forgotten:
Mark Williams
Position: Central defender
From: Chesterfield - free transfer - July 1999
Record: Played: 22(2) Scored: 1
To: Wimbledon - undisclosed fee - July 2000
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Hulking

It's ironic, in some ways. Watford FC signed four players on free transfers last summer: Des Lyttle, Herwig Walker, Dominic Foley, and Mark Williams. Of those, three have now left, one (Walker) without ever escaping the reserves, another (Lyttle) to West Brom, which the cruel might suggest amounts to much the same thing, and now Mark Williams. Of the four, Dominic Foley was probably least rated in August, looking as he did (and I say this as a fully-fledged TUFFian) weak, clumsy, and workshy, while Williams looked Premiership class. No question.

Cast your mind back to...well, any game up until Man U away, but especially Liverpool and Arsenal away and Chelsea at home. The presence of Mark Williams in those teams was instrumental in our winning two of them - remember just how dreadful the twenty million odd partnership of Flo and Sutton looked against us? For all their brawn, power, and - erm - bigness, they barely got a kick. Or take Liverpool, when the other side of that coin - a Camara/Fowler partnership of trickery, guile and a keen instinct for goal - still couldn't get past the lad. Not to coin a phrase, he was immense. He even scored something very close to goal of the season - take a look again at that goal against Leeds. It's bloody incredible. And don't feed me any nonsense about Leeds being a defender down - Williams was being man-marked by Jonathan Woodgate, a player who's made the England side.

Games you shouldn't cast your mind back to are actually similar in number. I can only think of a handful when he was genuinely dreadful, and generally his performance was in line with that of the rest of the team. Man U away has been cited as some sort of turning point, but his dismissal was irrelevant in the context of the match and none of the team exactly covered themselves in glory that day, or at Wimbledon, when his performance was only marginally more dreadful than the rest of the dreadful performances put in. Which makes his subsequent vanishing act all the more confusing.

There are, of course, rumours of a falling out with GT over some suit-kicking antics (the manager's, allegedly and oddly enough), but perhaps it all just comes down to confidence. As I've said, I don't buy into the idea that one dubious red-card for a challenge out by the touchline in a game we'd already lost affected his confidence per se. But the team, shorn of one of its early-season stalwarts for several games, actually did okay without him. A humiliating 4-0 drubbing by Coventry aside, they got a couple of creditable draws and even a creditable win against Southampton without him. Then came the Wimbledon debacle, and that awful Boxing Day game against Spurs which I watched on telly in Scotland and cringed at Williams jumping and trying to head a ball three yards away from him before someone (Iversen? Sherwood?) nodded it past AC. Can't have helped an(other) player who'd been in a mediocre second division team six months earlier to remind himself he was good enough to play against and beat the best, can it?

As ever, then, it's a shame we've seen the last of Mark Williams in a Watford shirt, as he had his moments. His part in what was probably our most famous victory since October 97, against Liverpool at Anfield, should ensure him at least an honourable mention in the book of Hornet heroes, should such a thing exist. And - perhaps also as ever - it's not that much of a shame, as we've already got the equally hulking Darren Ward to replace him.

Nick Grundy