I’m sitting in front of my computer, seething with impatience. Our regular Tuesday afternoon all-company Teams call, which was supposed to end at 5.30, is overrunning – today, of all days. I’m already prepared for a rapid departure; in anticipation of a chilly evening I’m wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, a denim shirt and a chunky sweater, and I’ve donned an extra pair of thick socks. My Watford scarf and woolly hat are sitting on the desk beside me.
Finally the CEO wraps up the meeting. Without even bothering to shut down the computer, I grab my stuff, put on my warmest winter coat and head out to the car. Vicarage Road, here I come.
Given that we’re in the ninth month of a pandemic and everyone who can is supposed to be working from home, I had naively expected the evening rush hour to be less busy than usual. But after crossing the Uxbridge Road, I’ve joined a stationary queue of traffic heading north towards the A40. In 20 minutes I’ve only moved a couple of hundred metres, and I’m cursing my unthinking obedience to the club’s request that fans avoid travelling to the game by public transport. I could have been sitting on a train now, reading a book.
It’s time for that decision all drivers in a traffic jam have to make at some point: stick or twist? Several cars in front of me take the latter option, doing a U-turn and heading back down the road to find a different route to wherever they’re heading. But I don’t know this part of town very well, and several minutes spent on the Maps app on my phone don’t convince me that any of the possible alternatives would be any better. I decide to sit it out, and finally the traffic starts moving again.
It’s taken me an hour and three-quarters to travel the 18 miles from my home in south-west London to Watford, but finally I’m here. Normally I need to reach the car park on Wiggenhall Road over an hour before kick-off to be sure of getting in: tonight there’s no queue, and only a few more cars inside than there are men in hi-vis jackets at the entrance.
Walking up Occupation Road in the dark is a surreal experience. Large mounds of earth loom behind the fences of what used to be the allotments, while ahead of me I can dimly make out just two figures. It doesn’t feel like 15 minutes before kick-off on a matchday.
Having got into the ground with minimal fuss, I finally make it to my seat in the Vicarage Road Stand. I haven’t sat here for 20 years, or whenever it was that the ‘new’ Rookery Stand was opened and we all moved over there. I’m just a few rows back from the pitch on the side by the Sensory Room, along with the other singletons, while groups of fans have been accommodated in the middle of the stand.
Because of the parking situation, I’m usually in the ground nearly an hour before kick-off. Tonight, I just have time to get my bearings before the Watford players emerge from the tunnel, to a raucous reception from the 2,000 of us in the ground. It feels good to be here.
It feels even better now, with the Hornets two up inside 15 minutes. Both goals have come at my end, too – the sort of scrappy close-range strikes that have been all too rare this season, as Watford generally seem determined to score only elegant, beautifully crafted goals. I rub my hands (physically, to ward off the cold, and metaphorically) in anticipation of a goalfest.
It’s midway through the second half and a goalfest is looking increasingly unlikely. It’s very generous of the Watford team to spend the majority of both halves at my end of the ground, but I’d really rather they ventured over the halfway line occasionally. The next time I have difficulty falling asleep, I’ll simply picture Foster rolling the ball out to Kabasele, who passes sideways to Troost-Ekong, who sends it out to Kiko on the wing, who gives it straight back to Kaba, who passes to Troost-Ekong, who sends it sideways to Ngakia on the other wing... Zzzzz.
This mindnumbing routine (regularly punctuated by frustrated cries of “Forwards!” from the crowd) is only interrupted when Rotherham decide to stop watching and start pressing, at which point they induce mistakes which, on another day, could easily have got them a point, or even all three. The most comical occurs when Ngakia, in his own penalty area and under pressure, tries to flick the ball over an opponent’s head. Unsurprisingly, he fails and the result is Rotherham’s only shot on target, well saved by Foster. None of this makes for enjoyable watching.
Somehow, Watford have made it to full-time without either conceding or scoring another goal, the latter mainly due to a flurry of offsides when one of our strikers looked to be clean through – impossible to tell from the far end of the pitch how close any of these decisions were.
Nevertheless, unlike on Saturday, the team are cheered off the pitch, and we only have to wait a couple of minutes before the stewards give us the sign that it’s okay to leave. Outside, a light drizzle is falling on Vicarage Road, which is busy enough to give the illusion of a normal matchday.
I head back to my car, knowing that at least I won’t have to queue to get out of the car park for once, and reflecting on the simple fact that Watford have won and I’ve been there to see it. All in all, despite the traffic, the cold, the rain and the frustrations of the second half, it’s been a good evening. I hope I’ll be back again soon.