With no Watford games to look forward to for a couple more weeks, there’s an opportunity to think more philosophically about the season so far. And if there’s one thing a philosopher loves, it’s a thought experiment, so try this one:
The day before a Premier League season starts, a genie appears and grants you the power to determine how Watford will fare. The catch is that there are only two options:
A: Watford will stay up, but they won’t win a single home game
B: Watford will be unbeaten at home, but they will be relegated
Now if you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly a Watford supporter, so obviously you’d choose A, right? Supporting a club means wanting the best for them at all times, and staying in the Premier League is the best thing for Watford; it means more money to spend on buying better players and to invest in the stadium, the training ground, youth development and community schemes. And it means we get to see some of the best players in the world at Vicarage Road for another season. It’s a no-brainer.
But the thing is, most of us don’t think like that. Human beings are inherently selfish, and what we want from our football-watching experience is the elation of seeing our team scoring goals, the shared experience of cheering on a winning side and the satisfaction of leaving the ground with three points in the bag. I strongly suspect the only people who would realistically choose option A are that dedicated band of fans who go to every away game, and who would reap those benefits anyway.
I’ve been thinking about this, obviously, because of the contrast in Watford’s recent home and away form:
Last five home games: W 0 D 0 L 5, GF 3, GA 13
Last five away games: W 2 D 1 L 2, GF 3, GA 6
Moreover, the two away games before that were draws at Burnley and Newcastle, while the two previous home games were comprehensive defeats by West Ham and Manchester City.
Roy and Ray have clearly managed to tighten up our leaky defence (apart from the suicidal performance at Wolves, which accounts for four of the six away goals conceded), but it doesn’t seem to work at home. And I’m beginning to wonder, a bit like David Mitchell’s Nazi in the famous sketch: are we the problem? Do the team crumble under the weight of the fans’ expectations at Vicarage Road? Does the perceived greater need to win home games (even though the points are the same wherever you win them) force Roy to compromise his defensive principles, with disastrous results?
I’ve written before about my conviction that the concept of home advantage is a myth – or at least, it only exists in so far as managers and players believe it does. (I’m sure the philosophers have a term for that, too.) Last season was an interesting experiment in that regard: the Hornets’ home record – 19 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats – was outstanding, it’s true, but it was achieved in the almost total absence of home fans. Indeed, the three games where fans were allowed to attend saw one of the two home defeats and one of the draws. The players may have made regular statements about how it wasn’t the same without the fans there, but when they were, they performed worse.
Clearly, promotion and the return of proper crowds means we can’t properly compare this season with last. The fact remains that Watford have performed miserably at home for the most part; take out the first 70 minutes against Villa, the Man United game and the dogged – but ultimately unsuccessful – resistance against Spurs and you’re left with precious little from which to construct a highlights reel.
So bearing all this in mind, while we’ve got a string of potentially winnable home games against teams from the bottom half of the table, it’s probably best not to get our hopes up. The tension in the stands at those games will be almost unbearable (unless the unthinkable happens and we dominate our opponents and win with ease), and it will be transmitted to the players. It would probably be better if we were playing Leeds, Burnley, Brentford and Everton away and Liverpool and City at home.
As for me, I’m trying to view the whole situation philosophically.