Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood club

ADRIAN MARIAPPA yearns for football’s lost traditions, when youth players cleaned the first team’s boots before tidying the gym.

Equally, here is a 32-year-old happy to embrace new ideas — even if they are not everyone’s cup of tea. Or in his case as a vegan, basket of vegetables.

Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubAlan Cozzi7 Adrian Mariappa yearns for the days of cleaning the boots of senior players

Mariappa is, therefore, the perfect fit for FA Cup finalists Watford — a club which is a slightly eccentric mix of old and new.

Unusually, Watford’s Italian owners, the Pozzo family, are heavily involved in recruitment.

Yet until the arrival of Javi Gracia, who has served for longer than the previous nine managers, they did appear to love a good old sacking.

Despite all this upheaval, several of Watford’s first-team players have long-standing links with the club.

And in a nod to the past, the club has built a statue of legendary boss Graham Taylor outside their Vicarage Road stadium, where he also has a stand named in his honour.

BOYHOOD TEAM

Defender Mariappa was born two years after Taylor led Watford to the 1984 FA Cup final against Everton.

The Harrow-born youth prospect stayed at the club until the age of 25, returning three seasons ago after spells at Reading and Crystal Palace.

He is relishing the prospect of Saturday’s teatime clash with Manchester City, even though he faces Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling.

Mariappa said: “This is one of those occasions you can only dream about.

“I’m playing for my boyhood team. I came here at nine. It’s an unbelievable achievement to get this far and I am looking forward to this.

Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubAlan Cozzi7 Mariappa is in dreamland ahead of an FA Cup final for boyhood club Watford
Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubAlan Cozzi7 Mariappa sat down with SunSport's Football Editor Charlie Wyett
Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubGetty Images – Getty7 Mariappa began his career at Vicarage Road before returning three years ago

“One of my first coaches was Jimmy Gilligan, who was the first person to score for Watford in Europe, and I played with his son.

“It would certainly mean so much to get Watford into Europe again.

“As an apprentice, I was a ball boy for two years and loved it. I used to clean boots for players such as James Chambers.

“We used to clean both boot rooms, then clear the gym, and we thrived on it.

“We took care of our responsibilities. Now it has gone.

“I feel for the lads now as it is seen as a chore, but I am glad we had those experiences. They are life lessons.”

“We used to clean both boot rooms, then clear the gym, and we thrived on it.

Watford's Adrian Mariappa

In contrast, Mariappa is one of a growing band of players who has turned vegan.

He said: “I tried it in pre-season about 18 months ago and have stuck at it.

“The club have been really brilliant with me and for lunch, they always have everything prepared for me.

“When I was at Palace, we did tests and two of the things I was intolerant to were eggs and dairy.

“When I first turned vegan, the old nutritionist here thought it was a fad — but it is a lifestyle choice and I have felt the benefits.

“I see no reason to go back. There are also environmental issues with being vegan and I’m mindful of that.”

Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubAlan Cozzi7 Mariappa is now a vegan after trying it 18 months ago

While Mariappa thinks being vegan is helping him, he also found himself in a good place at Watford, thanks to Gracia.

At 16 months, the Spaniard is Watford’s longest-serving boss since Malky Mackay in 2011.

Mariappa said: “I had my first year as a pro under Aidy Bothroyd and he gave me my debut.

“It was a good upbringing and helped me make the transition from young player to senior. Not going out on loan at first really helped me.

“Brendan Rodgers had a totally different style of play and was a totally different manager. I had a really good time under him — even though it was short.

MAKING OF MARI

“Then I had Malky, who made me vice-captain at a young age and had a lot of faith in me.

“I feel I thrived under him. Then there was Sean Dyche, who also had a lot of faith in me, and then I moved on.

“Fast forward and I came back here. Walter Mazzarri was manager when I signed. At the time I don’t think he knew too much about me.

“He did not speak much English but was always respectful.

“Marco Silva was similar and I was not in the reckoning when he joined — but injuries saw me come into the side.

Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubAlan Cozzi7 Mariappa has seen plenty of coaches come and go at Vicarage Road
Mariappa dreamed of FA Cup final when he was a ballboy for his boyhood clubReuters7 The defender is in dreamland ahead of Saturday's final against Man City

“Javi took over at the back end of the season and, from day one, has always shown a lot of faith me. I have tried to repay that faith.

“I don’t think anyone is getting complacent — but I think he has managed the group really well.

“He is very calm but passionate about football and great detail goes into the training sessions.

“He is a genuinely nice guy off the pitch and very humble.”

'HAVE TO BELIEVE'

As for the current crop of Watford players, even though many are relatively new, many have been at the club for some time.

Mariappa said: “Ben Foster first came here on loan 14 years ago, Tom Cleverley ten years ago, Craig Cathcart on loan ten years ago.

“And there have been players like Capoue and Gomes who have been here a long time.

“Then here is Troy Deeney who came in 2010. He knows what the club is about — on and off the pitch. A lot of us are all very close.”

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As for champions City, Mariappa is upbeat. He said: “We know we can beat them. We are focused on winning.

“They have a great squad and lots of attacking talent.

“They can score from everywhere — but you have to believe. You really do.”

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