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  • Writer's pictureTim Parks

Brandon Mason on playing against Tottenham and Manchester City

FOR a long time (probably in the wake of the ill-fated groundshare at Vicarage Road in the 1990s) Wealdstone and Watford kept their distance. But there are so many crossovers between the Stones and the Horns these days it’s almost incestuous!

The Hornets played a friendly against Southampton at The Vale in 2022. Our home ground also become the home of Watford's Women's team.

Then there are the players who have played for both. Just think of the former Watford juniors who helped us to promotion four years ago: Dennon Lewis, Ashley Charles, Connor Smith and Connor Stevens.

Then there has been Andy Eleftheriou, David Sesay and Sam Howes, Dante Baptiste, Mason Barrett, Dom Hutchinson and Toby Adeyemo who have all worn the yellow & black. You can also add Brandon Mason to that long and impressive list.

“I’ve been to watch a lot of games at Wealdstone in recent years as I’ve had so many ex-Watford friends with common links,” says the 26-year-old left back who signed for the Stones in October. “And of course the (previous) gaffer (Stuart Maynard who signed me at time) has a Watford background and I’ve got him to thank for giving me a chance after being out of the game for a while."

Brandon’s story is a familiar one. How many of our talented and youthful players have found the path to first team football blocked at their EFL clubs?

It started so promisingly when he came off the bench for his Watford debut against a rampant Tottenham team in the Premier League on New Year’s Day 2017.

“That season I had been training with the first team every day and had the chance to try and impress the manager Walter Mazzarri with my dedication and intensity," Mason said. “The very first day he said he liked me a lot and that I’ve got something – and that he wanted to work with me and that I’d be a top player. He didn’t speak much English but used an interpreter to get that message across.”

The game with Spurs was the pinnacle of Brandon’s career. “I was one of three academy players involved with the squad that week which narrowed it down. We knew we would all be on the bench, and maybe even get a chance to play.”

Brandon’s chance came with 25 minutes to go, replacing the injured Jose Holebas at left back and with his dad Sylvan’s advice ringing in his ears ("Make that first tackle, complete that first pass”) the 19-year-old did exactly that to spark the home crowd.

“I was up against Kieran Trippier and the thing I’ll always remember was how Premier League players think so far in advance," he said. "I’d be shaping up to tackle him and he’d already be thinking of the next movement, the next pass. Spurs had Son Heung-min, Harry Kane and Dele Alli and I was just hoping Sonny wouldn’t come across to my side. They were some of the best players in the world."

Spurs were 4-0 up after 46 minutes (Kane 2, Ali 2) so Watford won 1-0 while Brandon was on the pitch. He kept his place for the next game thanks to Holebas’ injury - an FA Cup Third Round tie against Burton Albion. Watford won 2-0 and Mason laid on the opening goal for Christian Kabasele with a low ball across the six-yard box. He was fighting for a regular slot in Mazzarri’s team but the pressure was all on the manager to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

Mason was named in the side to face Millwall at the New Den in the next round of the FA Cup. "We lost 1-0 but I got the impression that the club were more focused on staying in the Prem above all else,” he said.

With the club finally safe from relegation, Mason made what turned out to be his final Watford Premier League appearance against mighty Manchester City at Vicarage Road on May 20, 2018.

Mason performed heroically in a bizarre starting XI. Shorn of several defenders, Mazzarri’s last line-up before facing the axe included two full backs (including Brandon) and a midfielder named in the back three. He even had two goalkeepers on the bench, but even that wouldn’t have saved Watford from a mauling.

City were 5-0 up after an hour and that’s how it finished, with Eleftheriou also playing all the second half.

“That was memorable!” says Brandon. “Andy is one of my best mates but he’s stopped playing now - he’s assistant manager at a club in Greece. He’d suffered lots of injuries and decided to go down a different route. He’s very into coaching and tactics and I’m sure he’ll do well."

Brandon knew his days at Watford were numbered once Mazzarri was the umpteenth manager to be sacked at Vicarage Road.

“It was horrible for me”, he said Mason.

New boss Marco Silva almost gave him a chance early the next season against Brighton when Holebas was injured

“I got told a day before the game I was starting. I called my family," Mason said. "I couldn’t believe it. But I was at the hotel on the day of the game and the gaffer pulled me aside and said I wasn’t going to play.”

The reason? Watford deduced that old foe Anthony Knockaert would be starting for Brighton on the right, and Silva had decided that he wanted a more experienced player on that side to deal with the threat.

“Then, I got to the game and my kit wasn’t laid out and I was told I wasn’t in the squad at all. It was tough, especially with all my family there," said Mason.

To compound his misery, he watched on as Miguel Britos, his replacement, scythed down Knockaert with a knee-high tackle that saw him sent off.

A loan move to Dundee United was next in store. Nursing an injury, he was given less than 24 hours to prepare for his debut by manager Csaba Laszlo. The upshot was a 6-1 defeat to Falkirk.

Watford then decided not take up the option of an additional 12 months on his two-year contract, severing his nine-year association with the club. His four Watford appearances may seem insignificant but, at that point, they were the most games played by an academy graduate of the Gino Pozzo era at Watford.

A move to Coventry followed. He played 30 games in two years and won promotion to the Championship, It was the Covid-disrupted 2019-2020 season and the Sky Blues pulled off the same trick as the Stones did when winning the National League South title: Coventry won League One on points-per-game.

“Yes, we had a really good side that season,” says Brandon. “The standout for me was Dom Hyam, who’s now at Blackburn. He was the centre-back and the unsung hero really, so consistent every week. “But then there was Jordy Hiwula, the winger/ inside forward who’d roll inside and I’d overlap. We had a good understanding. Callum O’Hare and Zane Westbrook too. Top players."

Brandon had a few assists that season but has yet to score in senior football, although he very nearly tucked the ball away when Jack Cook popped up with his winning header in injury time against Rochdale at The Vale last season.

“Yes! I could have got my foot on it but I had got beyond the defender and might have been offside," he said. "But I was right in line with the ball and knew it was going in ... I didn’t want to steal his glory!”

He spent time at Crawley Town, MK Dons and St Mirren after the stint at Coventry. He is the latest promising player in his early to mid-twenties looking to relaunch his career at Wealdstone.

“My consideration now is simply to help Wealdstone,” said Brandon. “I left Crawley with a year on my contract as I wanted to find a family club where I can enjoy my football ... and I think I’ve done that now. I was brought up in Acton and my mum Angela did all the ferrying around to my youth games. I owe her a lot. I moved away when I went to Coventry but now I’m back at the original digs I stayed in when I was at Watford: it’s like a second home and I love it there!”

Brandon has also found a promising career outside the game having just dipped into property management - and very soon development - since the turn of the year.

“It’s something I’ve always been interested in," he said. "My dad is retired but he was a painter and decorator and is very keen to give advice. And to give advice about my performances when he comes to watch me play!”

Mason now also has a former and fellow Premier League left-sided player in new manager Matt Taylor to give him expert advice as he enters the second season of his deal at The Vale.

*Pictures by Jon Taffel


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