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What the Professionals Say

Polite, co-operative and a pleasure to work with, says Hornet's former media chief

By Andrew French

Let's be honest, getting a player to see out an entire contract is hard work these days. So, to stay at one club long enough to be considered for a testimonial is an achievement in itself - but anyone who has spent a fair amount of time in Alec's company will know that commitment and dedication are his watchwords, both professionally and personally, so the granting of a season in his honour is as unsurprising as it is utterly well-deserved.

Dealing with footballers isn't always easy. In my case, much of the time I have found myself asking players to face the media in situations where they would far rather have disappeared down a back-alley.

Being interviewed by the press isn't something everyone takes to, and it is far easier to deal with an array of microphones, TV cameras and flash-bulbs when you are talking about a great victory or a successful season. Yet even then, I've dealt with many footballers who go to any lengths to avoid interviews, or others who simply clam up at the sight of a tape recorder. Alec is one of a decreasing number who you can rely on - on and off the field of play.

I can't ever recall him refusing to do an interview, even when the circumstances would make other players try to give you the slip. And what's more, he is always lucid, always polite and always ready to give an opinion.

I think nearly all of my generation of Watford supporters will have an Alec memory. For me, it was that moment just after he had saved the decisive penalty at Birmingham in the 1999 Play-Off semi-final. That wild, jubilant run back down the pitch to his teammates. There's something quite rare about seeing a goalkeeper wheel away in celebration, and Alec's utter delight is like a moment of videotape that I can readily play back in my mind: the smile lacking a couple of teeth, the gloves curled into clenched fists.

It was fitting he should play such a crucial part in getting Watford into the Premiership. His performances in that promotion season were rightly recognised, and that night at St Andrews encapsulated so much about Alec's contribution to taking the Hornets to the promised land.

Let's not forget, also, just how well Alec played at Wembley. He made some crucial saves before we finally went in front. Nick Wright's peach of a goal rightly took centre stage, but we may never have been able to enjoy it had it not been for a number of top-drawer stops from Chambo when the score was still 0-0.

That Play-Off Final will be a six-year-old memory this year. How many of us then expected Alec to still be pulling on the gloves at Vicarage Road in 2005 - and beyond?

I'm delighted he has now got the chance to pass on all he has learned to others with his coaching role at Vicarage Road. You can't buy the sort of things Alec has learned in the game, and the young Watford keepers will not get a better tutor.

Aside from the public memories of Alec, I'm fortunate enough to have worked with him on a level that allowed me personal memories as well. I travelled with the team throughout the Premiership season, spending Friday nights before away games in various hotels around the country.

Of course, such athletes need a combination of sleep and healthy food - I required less sleep and a more substantial diet. Many players tended to opt for a lay-in rather than a breakfast on the day of a game, and those that did surface tended to just make it down in time for breakfast which was little more than a bowl of fruit or Cornflakes.

Unfortunately for me, Alec was an early riser - and it became something of a standing joke that he would walk into the restaurant just as I was attacking a large plate of fried everything, while he sat down with a bowl of cereal and a banana. I always explained that I saw it as my duty to show the players how their bodies would react to large intakes of stodgy substances, but Alec was having none of that and so I spent several months trying to clean my plate before he arrived.

I'm thrilled my current club are providing the opposition for Alec's testimonial game. I'd like to think we'll keep him busy on July 30, although I'll settle for an honourable draw on the day! I'm proud to count Alec as a colleague and a friend, and I'm so pleased to be able to add my own, small contribution to his testimonial season. I wish he, Jane, Natasha and Ryan the very best, not only for the next 12 months, but beyond.

Andrew French is Charlton Athletic's Communications Manager, and the former Media Manager at Watford FC

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

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