Twenty years on, Kevin Affleck speaks to key figures from Watford's historic 1998/99 promotion-winning campaign in a season-long match programme feature...
There was nothing lucky about Watford's penalty shoot-out victory over Birmingham City. Allan Smart will tell a story in a later edition of this series how the Blues never practised for the eventuality of spot-kicks. Graham Taylor, on the other hand, left no stone unturned. He was preaching from the Gary Player school of hard work when insisting the players rehearsed scoring from 12 yards after every session before the second leg of the play-off semi-final. The more they practised, he figured – just like Player – the luckier they would get.
“We did loads of practise,” said Alec Chamberlain. “Graham wanted it after every day at training. He made everybody walk from the halfway line. I know you can't replicate the same sort of pressure, but he wanted everybody to get in some sort of routine. And it worked. Apart from Stevie Palmer's, they were all immaculate penalties. They stuck to the plan, Graham's plan."
Chamberlain's penalty-saving heroics were also no fluke. There were no tablets around in those days and no performance analysts for the goalkeeper to tap into at the end of extra-time, so he had to rely on good old fashioned know-how.
“My penalty record was awful,” Chamberlain said, “so I was grateful to a guiding hand from Kenny Jackett. Ken had worked with Paul Furlong at Watford and knew which side he favoured, so I knew which way to go for that one.”
It worked a treat, Chamberlain thrusting out his big right mitt to push away Furlong's left-footed effort and give Watford the dream start. Palmer's miss straight afterwards meant Watford surrendered the lead immediately and Chamberlain failed to lay a glove on the next six. Even Kevin Poole, his opposite number, smashed one past him.
“I remember looking at the halfway line and wondering when I would be taking one,” said Chamberlain. “We'd gone that deep. I reckon I had to be taking one before Gibbo. I was relieved it didn't come to that, that's for sure.”