If you make a habit of going to football matches over a period of many years, you will note that there are some games (quite a few of them, in fact) that do not linger in the memory. You know you went to them (perhaps because you’ve kept the programme or the ticket), but you can’t for the life of you say with much certainty what happened, or even who played. All those damp nil-nil draws and scratchy defeats have a habit of merging into one over time.
Surely this phenomenon is not confined to Watford fans alone.
Then there are the games that stick in the memory. These tend, in my experience, to be either away games, big games (cup semi-finals, etc) or the ones where something truly memorable happened on the pitch.
Away games can be memorable because of the journey there, and the fact that they offer a chance to visit parts of the country you otherwise wouldn’t go to; in my particular case, the cities of Birmingham, Cardiff and Sheffield are places that I have only been to for football-watching reasons. They’re also memorable because, well, away fans always seem to be having more fun. There are less of them, so they feel obliged to make more noise.
The famous games, of course, are the ones where you remember most of the action (usually, but not always, because your team not only wins, but wins well) and can, years later, be proud to say “I was there”.
Sometimes a game sticks in the memory because it is both a famous result and an away fixture.
Last week, I went to such a game.
Earlier this season, Dad and I agreed that we’d go to an away game. The options were, for the sake of convenience, quickly reduced to the London clubs in the Championship. Of these, I ruled out Brentford and Milwall on the grounds that I’ve already been to those two. Charlton Athletic was ruled out because, by the time we’d agreed to do an away game, that one had already taken place. That left Fulham, to be held on the first Saturday in December. Or, after Sky Sports had decided to televise it, the first Friday evening in December.
To be honest, I was not optimistic. Fulham, so I learned from the BBC Sport website, had a pretty good home record and, having previously seen a very lacklustre Watford get beaten at home by Derby County, I reckoned we’d do well to get a consolation goal.
Our journey to Craven Cottage was by Tube. As we got nearer to our destination, we started to notice more and more people who were clearly heading in the same direction; a couple of lads in Fulham tracksuit tops who took note of me in my yellow, black and red scarf and paid me no further attention; as we alighted at Putney Bridge, one of them commented to the other about the large number of Watford fans who’d evidently turned out for the game. As the relative silence of a large number of people filing through a Tube station was broken by a chant of “YOU ’ORRRRNS!”, it was fairly obvious who was going to be the louder contingent.
We made it into the ground a minute or so before kick-off; unusual for us, but such is the price of a second pint in the pub before heading out to the game (thankfully, the designated away stand, the Putney End, is the one closest to the afore-mentioned Tube station). Already, the away contingent was in the mood for a party. Whatever else happened, we were going to do our best to enjoy ourselves.
The usual chants of lacklustre home support are always a popular away fan target; the Fulham contingent, among whom empty seats were conspicuous, were the target of such ditties as “You’re supposed to be at home” (to the tune of ‘Bread of Heaven’) and “Your ground’s too big for you” (to the tune of the Italian national anthem).
Located right next to the River, Craven Cottage has something of an old-fashioned air, what with the triangular gable atop the Johnny Haynes Stand (itself one of the oldest remaining stands in the League) and the continued presence of what looks like an actual cottage in one of the corners – it’s called the Cottage Pavilion and houses the players’ changing rooms. A reminder of how football grounds used to be as so many of them – Vicarage Road included – continue to be redeveloped.
But never mind what was happening in the stands, or even the aesthetic quality of said stands; what about on the pitch? Contrary to my expectations, Watford were all over the home team. Three corners in the first ten minutes – surely it was only a matter of time before we scored?
Things happened quickly from thereon after – football matches can be like that, long and drawn out if dull, over too quickly if exciting. Watford score from an Almen Abdi free kick, and minutes later we got a penalty when Matej Vydra was bundled over by their goalie – who got sent off for his troubles. Captain Troy Deeney scored from the spot, and Watford were 2-0 up within the first 20 minutes. We away fans changed our tune, the tune of the Beach Boys’ 1966 hit ‘Sloop John B’ in fact:
We’re winning away,
We’re winning awa-a-ay,
How shit must you be?
We’re winning away!
Watford remained in firm control, with Deeney getting a second. He’s had quite the career, what with having done time for affray before becoming the first Watford player since Luther Blissett back in the Eighties to score more than 20 goals in two consecutive seasons (he was our Player of the Season for 2013-14).
As the players trooped off, Dad and I realised that we hadn’t made use of our seats; like everyone else in the away end, we’d been on our feet for the whole half. We’d be on our feet for the whole of the second half too. The last time I stood for an entire game, it was due to terracing.
For the second half, Watford were attacking in the direction of the away end and a mere five minutes passed before the goal of the night – Abdi again, the man who originally came to Vicarage Road on loan from our sister-club Udinese, with a stunning shot from outside the box. The (substitute) goalie didn’t even move. 4-0. Dreamland. Especially if you’re away from home.
Watford remained on top, with chances from Deeney and Fernando Forestieri (another one from Udinese!) going begging. Fulham had the odd shot on goal but their hearts weren’t in it.
Towards the end, the chants in the Putney End became more varied and took on a decidedly retro quality as we extolled the virtues of Elton John’s Taylor-made army, Luther (no surname required), Steve Palmer (who, so we used to allege, only smoked marijuana), Micah Hyde (he was here, he was there, he was every-f***ing-where) and Tommy Smith (he got the ball, he scored them all). All the while, the team were stringing together moves of over a dozen passes before an utterly demoralised home team. How long ago that Derby game seemed now!
Then, after the fourth official had announced how many extra minutes would be played, the passes moved forward, and suddenly Deeney was through with only the goalie to beat. He didn’t mess around, and the Putney End erupted once again. If you want to know what that sounded like, you can listen here.