Sunday, 26 October 2008

The benefits of amputation

When I drive to Watford games, I always park in the same place: a school playground in Watford Fields. For as long as I’ve been parking there, the bloke who takes the money at the entrance has had something wrong with his left foot. It’s invariably been in bandages or plaster, and sometimes he’s needed a stick to help him walk.

When I arrived yesterday, he didn’t have a stick – he had a wheelchair, and a bandaged stump where the bottom half of his left leg used to be. As I wound down the car window, he greeted me as he always does: “How are you today?”

“Oh, I’m all right,” I replied. (Actually I’ve got a touch of ’flu at the moment, but it didn’t seem appropriate to mention it.) “You don’t look so good, though.”

"No, no – I feel better than I have done for years,” he assured me. “Don’t worry about me. I’m still alive and kicking – well, maybe not kicking,” he added with a smile, nodding down at his stump.

As I was walking up Occupation Road a few minutes later, it occurred to me that this wasn’t such a bad metaphor for what’s happened to Watford in the last few months. The limb that we initially thought was indispensible was the piles of filthy lucre we were promised when we won the play-off final. But as it turned out, it was diseased from the start, riddled with raised expectations and pressure to succeed at all costs. The ultimate result was the creeping ossification that was last season [apologies if I’m muddling my medical terminology here; I’m a writer, not a doctor].

Then, over the summer, came the amputation, as signalled by the sales of Darius Henderson and Danny Shittu and the admission that we needed the money more than we needed decent players. For a few weeks we all fretted and wrung our hands and wondered where all the money had gone.

Then the season began, and what do you know? It’s the most fun we’ve had in years, with entertaining, incident-packed games, a committed squad full of spirit, and a general sense that anything could happen at any time. Unfortunately, you get the feeling that Aidy won’t be happy until we grind out a succession of efficient but dull 1-0 wins, but I doubt he’ll get his wish any time soon.

Of course, this feeling of joyous unpredictability will probably only last until the transfer window opens in January and the asset-strippers move in. I doubt we could survive a second amputation quite so cheerfully. So let’s enjoy it while we can. I know I am.

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