Hornets Head Out Into Community
The Hornets continue to ensure the community legacy created and left by the late Graham Taylor lives on by sending out members of the first-team squad on a series of player appearances yesterday afternoon (Friday February 16).
Fans snaked out of The Hornets Shop and down Occupation Road for the chance to meet and greet new signings Tom Cleverley, Mauro Zarate and M'Baye Niang, while other Hornets were out and about attending Trust holiday courses.
Younes Kaboul and Rene Gilmartin were at Harpenden Rovers; Giedrius Arlauskis was at the Watford FC Community Sport and Education Trust's Meriden Community Centre; the Cedars Youth and Community Centre got a visit from Isaac Success and Under-23 keeper Charlie Bannister; Nathan Gartside and Carl Stewart made the short trip to St Paul's School in Chipperfield while Rhyle Ovenden, Connor Stevens and Charlie Rowan were at Westfield Academy in Tolpits Lane.
The major event, however, was at Vicarage Road where 20 lucky youngsters were given the chance to pitch their best questions to Stefano Okaka and Heurelho Gomes in a Junior Hornets Press Conference in the media room in the bowels of the Sir Elton John Stand. Harry the Hornet was also there for good measure.
"It was a great afternoon," said mum Alex who brought her three boys, Harrison, Zachary and Mackenzie, to the event. "It's fantastic the club do something like this. The boys loved going behind-the-scenes and meeting the players they only usually get to see on the pitch or on the TV."
William, 10, from Hemel Hempstead, kicked off the Press Conference by asking why Okaka and Gomes opted to sign for Watford. "I didn't choose Watford – they chose me," said Gomes. "It was the best option for me and I have no regrets." Okaka said the club's reputation as a family club was partly behind his decision to move from Anderlecht last summer.
In answer to a question from Rickmansworth resident Zach, seven, Okaka said he started playing football at the age of six with his brother. Gomes, meanwhile, revealed he started off his career as a striker and didn't switch to being a goalkeeper until the age of 18. "You should never give up on what you want to achieve," said the Hornets' No 1.
Alfie, six, asked the duo how long they train for each day. "We train hard for two hours but I have to look after my 36-year-old body," said Gomes. Okaka, who is nine years younger, added that "training is much harder in England than Italy". "It's more tactics in Italy," said the Italy international striker. "If you don't run and work hard in England then you won't do well here."
Joshua, eight, wondered how the pair react when they come face-to-face with a big-name opponent in the tunnel. "It's important not to be scared," said Okaka. Added Gomes: "I never focus on names – I just focus on my team."
Another Joshua, this time a 12-year-old from St John's Wood, asked which players the duo looked up to. Gomes said he followed the career of Romario during his early days as a striker before turning his attention to Brazilian national team keepers Taffarel and Dida. Being a striker, Okaka said he paid close attention to Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano during his seven years at Roma.
Hayden, seven, went all tactical and asked about the merits of the 3-5-2 formation Watford used earlier in the season. The keeper and striker were then asked what they thought about each other as players. "Stefano showed what he can do against Everton," said Gomes. "Gomes looks and trains like a 26-year-old," said Okaka.
After the Junior Hornets sang a belated Happy Birthday to the Watford No 1, who turned 36 on Wednesday, Okaka revealed he uses some of his free time playing on his PlayStation while Gomes said his spare time is taken up helping his two sons with their homework.
Both Gomes and Okaka responded in similar fashion to a question from Adam, six, about what they have for breakfast – eggs on toast – before Finlay, 11, wondered how the team celebrate the birthdays of their teammates. "We bring in cakes but at Spurs we used to crack eggs on each other's head," said Gomes to much laughter.
Young fan Harrison had Gomes and Okaka laughing when he asked which game he should go to next as the Hornets had lost the previous six he had been to, while both players agreed that being able to provide for their family was the best thing about being a professional footballer.
As for the perks of the job, William, 10, rounded off a very entertaining 45 minutes Q&A by asking which cars the players drive. "I got a sports car for the first time this season," said a modest Gomes. "It's a Mercedes GTS. I got a good deal." Okaka revealed he drives a Mercedes GLE.
Okaka and Gomes then gave up more of their time to pose for pictures and sign shirts before rounding off an unforgettable day for the lucky 20 boys and girls by giving them a guided tour of the home and away dressing room. You just can't put a price on some things.