IN a series of extracts from Captains, the latest volume from Tales from the Vicarage, we hear from Robert Page on the pressure of taking penalties, Neil Cox on difficult times under Gianluca Vialli and Gavin Mahon on leading his men out at the Millennium Stadium.

Page was by no means a regular in the goalscoring department, but the skipper was not shy when volunteering to step up for a penalty.

All well and good in theory, but in practice the Watford man reflects on a daunting experience which offered its fair share of challenges, some of which were truly unique to say the least.

“It’s fair to say I was not a prolific goalscorer, as the boys would often remind me over the years,” says Page recalling the shootout against Birmingham City in the 1999 play-off semi-final. “But we had been practising penalties in training – the boss told us to pick which square of the net we were aiming for, and to go for it with conviction – and as captain I was happy to take on the responsibility. I was definitely up for it – until I looked at the penalty spot.

“It was like a crater with a two or three-inch dip, and when you placed the ball it nested there like a golf ball lying in a divot on the fairway. And when I looked up there was one particular distraction among the hundreds of Birmingham supporters trying to put me off.

“Behind the goal one fan had dropped his trousers and pants round his ankles. He obviously wasn’t very impressed with our performance on the night.”

For Cox, meanwhile, his recollections of his time at Watford inevitably intertwine with the tenure of Vialli.

Here Cox looks back on a golf course discussion with the ex-Hornets boss and the turmoil which followed his departure.

Cox said: “I got on well with Luca, and I like to think I won him over by knuckling down when I could have made a fuss. His style of football was easy on the eye but our results were inconsistent, and one day he pulled me aside, over a round of golf, to ask my opinion.

“I told him we needed to get the ball forward a bit quicker, because we had the quality to do more damage in the final third. But my team talk obviously went down well – three days later he got the sack!

“That was when a few chickens started coming home to roost about the club’s financial position, and Ray Lewington took over, knowing the squad was going to be decimated and he would have to slash the wage bill by around 75 per cent.”

Finally, Mahon took the chance to recount a pre-game team-talk from an unlikely source which helped inspire the Hornets to play-off final victory in Cardiff.

Mahon on that promotion winning day in Cardiff: “The last thing I remember, before we went out into the tunnel 10 minutes before kick-off, was Aidy asking Bob Oteng, our kit man, to give the last pep talk. Bob was very good at speaking, a good motivator, and it was a different voice for the boys to hear after they had been listening to the captain, a bald git with a Brummie accent, all season.

“Fans have often told me they thought Leeds were beaten in the tunnel that day, and to an extent I have to agree with them. I was at the front of the line, because I had to lead the team out, but I could hear Jordan Stewart shouting the odds behind me.”

Captains is available to order here.