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"I have in my hand a piece of paper!"
The familiar yell resonates from the Rookery or relevant away end each week when Alec plays. In turn, this is greeted with the equally familiar half-wave from Watford's Number One. And that is normally that. A sort of greeting, a sort of wave, and everyone gets on with doing what they were doing previous to the minor breach of the peace.
There are very few certainties in life, but one of them is that Alec will always give me a little wave before each game. He knows it is me, especially since Rupe decided he was too cool to join in around 1999. I would like to think that he secretly wonders where I am if I'm a little bit late for the warm up, but realism tells me that if I were not there to yell at him, he probably would not be too bothered. Sometimes the tannoys are just too loud, it takes three or even four attempts. But it gets through sooner or later, despite the lads mocking me if I don't get a wave first time. "He's had enough of you, Pete. Give it a rest." No one, as yet, has suggested that, at forty, Alec has gone deaf!
Having joined the club in the summer of 1996 in nothing like the blaze of glory that his many appearances since have warranted, Alec was immediately the subject of much discussion. Of course, it was nothing to do with his goalkeeping abilities, or the huge transfer fee of £40,000 that had dragged him away from Sunderland. It was rather more to do with his previous playing career at Luton. Alec's transfer came only a few weeks after Kerry Dixon had left the club for his natural level of Doncaster Rovers, and there was a genuine fear that the powers that be had forgotten that we were supposed to be their rivals and superiors, not their veterans' team!
However, over the fairly dismal 1996-97 season, Alec won many fans at Watford following his outstanding debut at Crewe and regular heroism when Kevin Miller was injured. But then off trotted Miller to Palace, along came Chris Day, and another season in the reserves beckoned. But history goes on to show that perhaps the pre-season injury to Chris Day proved to be one of the most important factors in our 1998 Championship season. Alec was simply outstanding and finished the season as the undisputed "Player of the Season".
Day barely got a look in, until a pre-season injury to Alec at the start of our Premier League campaign. We'd had the small matter of a penalty win at Birmingham and Play Off Final success in the meantime! Herwig Walker then arrived as back-up and had a go at wrestling away the number one jersey. He didn't even get a game after arriving from Vorwarts Steyr. Last seen at Heathrow Airport..
Alec remained the last line of defence for the following two seasons. But then along came Espen Baardsen for a price, and with "veteran" still tagged onto Alec like some form of tattoo, the reserves loomed once again. Instead, he spent the season rewarding GT's loyalty, regularly turning in solid performances, despite the inconsistent and chaotic defending in front of him. Surely a man of his age was not entitled to make saves of that quality. By the end of the Vialli reign, he had forced Baardsen into retirement, such was the brutal hold he now had on the position. Baardsen was also last seen at Heathrow Airport, heading for a Thai beach to get over it all.
Under Ray Lewington, Alec had started to mentor the excellent Richard Lee onto great things. Then Lenny Pidgeley arrived - provoked by a sending off at Crewe and a bad injury to Lee - but his subsequent indifferent display at Portman Road once again meant that at the end of the season, despite the best endeavours of management to replace the old boy, Alec lined up between the posts.
After a remarkable performance against West Ham, the future for Alec was a little uncertain. But on BSaD I wrote the following:
".. While so many of our current playing staff will be looking for new clubs, it would be wrong of me not to say a special 'Thank You' to one player who looks to be off, and who I will truly miss. He has been an honest player, one who has been a part of everything that has been good about the club since the mid-nineties and a chap who never suggests for a minute that he was taken in by the laziness that so many of his colleagues seem to find acceptable at the end of each season. I would love to think that next season I will still be crying out that "I have in my hand a piece of paper" and that his special wave still heads in the vague direction that I am sitting. But for the reserve games at Northwood, the Lithuania experience, the unforgettable rise to the Premiership and for just being our unquestionable Number One, I'd like to raise a glass to Alec Chamberlain. A true professional, who for me belongs in any Watford Hall of Fame. If this was to be his away finale in a Watford shirt, it was an unforgettable performance."
Well, he is still here; and long may his association with my club continue. I continue to get the wave and have a growing list of memories. Has £40,000 ever been better spent?
Congratulations on your testimonial year, Alec. It is very well deserved, if just for putting up with ten years of my heckling!