The Viking Warrior
Mark Evans on the Icelandic legend that is Heiðar Helguson
A Watford fanzine cartoon once depicted Heiðar Helguson tucking into the Icelandic delicacies hárkal (treated shark) and puffin (an elusive sight on my holidays to places where you might even spot one, let alone catch and scoff one!) I have no idea what Icelandic folk eat these days, but the residents of WD18 seemed to treat Heiðar at the time as if he had just jumped off a longboat – an exotic but fierce visitor from far away – whereas nowadays we are accustomed to a multinational squad. Our first million-pound purchase (the record signing until Nathan Ellington arrived), Heiðar was signed halfway through the 1999/2000 season, and I am sure anyone reading this will have positive memories of our Icelandic import. Whatever he did eat pre-match it must have given him high energy levels and extreme courage – he was willing to play with a bandage over a bleeding cut to his head in one memorable lionhearted display, and will always stand out as a player who truly gave his all for our club.
What also marks him as one of the all-time greats is the fact that he was playing for a struggling team at times. He was to earn Player of the Season in 2004/05, scored 66 goals over two spells, and enjoyed a career after Watford that included two promotions with QPR and Cardiff, and 57 Premier League games for Fulham, where Brian McBride edged him out of the team too many times for my liking! He was welcomed back to Vicarage Road on loan, and was still as popular as he had been in his first spell. He also had a short stopover at Bolton, and despite being dogged by knee and ankle problems he still managed a few goals.
To us he became a modern-day Viking warrior, with his ability to outjump defenders and non-stop running being accompanied by the rousing ‘Heiðar Heiðar Helguson’ chant, and his style of play would make him an all-time favourite for many Watford fans.
Heiðar was able to play as a lone striker when required, although he could see red at times – I remember him running across the pitch to boot a West Brom defender who was showboating during a heavy defeat (Robbo must have been elsewhere to allow those sorts of shenanigans), but fans always respond to players who never give up, and a few bookings and the odd red are part of the make up for number nines.
Modern tactics seem to be phasing out players like Heiðar. He certainly wasn’t a false nine, he was an out-and-out old-style centre forward, although he could play a bit too. I remember how he could play on his own up front and still occupy a couple of defenders. At Anfield in the League Cup semi-final, Ray Lewington played him as a one-man attack, with Neal Ardley deployed just behind him. Although we were chasing shadows, a narrow 1-0 defeat gave us hope for the return leg. We all have things that stick in the memory banks, and the way he ran constantly, without much support, on that extremely windy evening at Anfield is still in my ageing brain years after.
At just under six feet, he had the aerial ability to outjump taller defenders, and clever movement allied with the sort of aggression that too many of our recent strikers seem to have lacked. I remember Mathias Ranégie, who partnered Zlatan Ibrahimović for Sweden a few times, getting roughed up on a cold night at Yeovil and looking fed up; Stefano Okaka being wound up by a few fouls at the New Den despite being a big unit; and Isaac Success being a deceptively tough-looking character who never seemed to have his heart in the job here – mind you, he had exhausting hobbies away from football, so maybe no surprise really.
Younger readers (do we have any?) may want to look at his overhead goal against Coventry at the end of the 1999/2000 season on YouTube, as it shows that he wasn’t just about heading.
An unassuming personality off the pitch, and scandal-free, he is my all-time favourite Hornet, as he never let us down. After the season we experienced last year, we need these sorts of characters to restore our faith in our club.