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Watford's finest queue up to toast a Vicarage Road legend!

28 July 2005

When Watford goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain began his professional football career, Prince Charles was about to marry Lady Diana Spencer, riots were taking place in Toxteth and Brixton, and Ipswich Town had just won the UEFA Cup.

And it was to Portman Road - the home of Ipswich Town - that 17 year old Chamberlain headed after chosing a football career ahead of cricket. It was the summer of 1981, Sir Bobby Robson was still the manager, and the team of Butcher, Mariner, Brazil, Muhren and Thijssen - to name but few - should have pipped Aston Villa to the Championship that year.

He lasted just one season at Ipswich. But with the strength of character for which he has since become renowned, he bounced back and went on to player over 800 senior games - establishing himself as one of England's most reliable goalkeepers, with five seasons at Colchester, followed by stops at Everton, Luton and Sunderland (with brief spells on loan to Tranmere, Chelsea and Liverpool), before joining Watford in 1996.

Who would have thought, when he signed on the dotted line, that Chamberlain would become a key player in successive promotions to The Premiership, and a Cup run that took Watford to the semi-finals in 2003. And at 41, he is still going strong. Indeed, he is still hoping to start the new season as Watford's first choice 'keeper, and though he appreciates time is catching up with him, he remains fit, strong and more than capable of holding his own at the highest level.

It is hardly surprising, then, that among Watford supporters Chamberlain is a legend. Up their with the best of them - Taylor, Blissett, et al. And as he prepares for his Testimonial game against Charlton this Saturday, even lifelong supporter Sir Elton John has joined in the chorus of approval.

"Alec has been a fantastic player for Watford, and he has been a model professional and a great example to young players," said Sir Elton this week. "Alec is an excellent ambassador for the club - he commands enormous respect from his team-mates, and the supporters hold him in such high regard because of his commitment on the pitch, and also because he always has time for people."

Though he has spent much of the past two seasons as a substitute, he has consolidated his legend by coming to the rescue with the team eye-balling the prospect of relegation. In four games at the end of last season he kept three clean sheets, and Watford survived - just.

Manager Adrian Boothroyd, who took over after Ray Lewington's dismissal towards the end of the season, was highly impressed: "He came into the side at a time when we really needed results, and played superbly in all four games - he was terrific. It wasn't just his performances, but the commanding presence he brings to the team when he plays that impressed me, and he'll be very much in contention this season.

"OK, so he's touching 41, but he is still a very good goalkeeper, he is still very fit, and you know the saying about if you're good enough, you're old enough; well the same applies too the other way round: if you're good enough you're young enough. It's a credit to Alec that he's managed to go on for so long, and is still at the top of his game."

Graham Taylor was the man who persuaded Chamberlain to sign for Watford - and describes the 40,000 transfer fee he paid to Sunderland as the best business he did for Watford. "If you're looking for a true professional - the attention to detail, reliability, everything - then you certainly have that in Alec," he said. "Quite simply he was one of the best signings I ever made in terms of value for money."

"He's not a flashy goallkeeper, he only makes saves that are necessary, and that's the hallmarks of a very good goalkeeper - not spectacular, but very reliable, and that's him as a person. He's a terrific team player, and has been a great ambassador for Watford off the pitch too."

Luther Blissett, a former Watford striker and a coach when Alec joined the club, has compared him to Peter Schmeichel. " Quite simply, he's Watford's Schmeichel," said Blissett. "He's rock solid, just like Schmeichel was for Manchester United in the 1990s - year in, year out, whenever you needed Alec he was there for you, as a last line of defence, and, more recently, as someone who's answered the call, come into the team and been Mr Dependable as ever."

Plaudits galore, and richly deserved for a player who always has time for supporters and reporters alike. Charlton manager Alan Curbishley said he didn't need to think twice when approached about providing the opposition. "A credit to his profession," said Curbishley this week.

In an era when the reputation of professional footballers is one of greed and self interest, it is comforting to know that there are plenty who still stand for all that's good about the game. Alec Chamberlain represents the very best!

Written by Peter Jones, of the PR consultancy Red Alert Media.

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