Monday, 9 March 2009

The best trip I’ve ever been on?

As someone who generally only manages to get to two or three away matches a season, Saturday’s game at Charlton gave me the relatively rare experience of witnessing an away win, and an entertaining one at that. But when I got to thinking about my most memorable awaydays as a Watford fan, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they all occurred in my youth...

5) Southampton, 26/8/80
A balmy August night on the south coast, and a comprehensive 4-0 defeat in the League Cup 2nd round, 1st leg. The main thing I remember is a defiant chant of ‘Elton John’s Taylor-made army’ that seemed to last for the entire second half, long after the game, and thus presumably the tie, was lost. That, and the fact that my friend and next-door neighbour Nigel, who drove me to most of the away games I attended in those days, couldn’t make the 2nd leg the following week – not that he was going to miss much...

4) Hillingdon Borough, 11/12/76
Coming a week after my 14th birthday, this FA Cup 2nd round tie at Yeading’s ground in west London must have been one of my first away games, if not the first. It was absolutely perishing, and where we stood behind the goal we had a perfect view of Andy Rankin letting a goal through his legs. For a time it looked as though the Hornets were going to go out to non-league opposition, but in the end they scraped home 3-2. Fat lot of good it did them - they lost by the same score to Northwich Victoria in the next round on an even colder day. I wasn’t in Cheshire to see it, but I remember sitting in my bedroom in Bushey Heath, huddled against the radiator, despairing as the final score came through on the radio.

3) Luton, some time in the early 80s
I don’t remember the date, or the score (though we probably lost – we usually did). I do remember being squashed onto a primitive terrace in a dump of a ground, and afterwards, standing trapped among hundreds of Watford fans as bottles and bricks started raining down on us... One of my more seasoned companions led us on a breakaway down a side street and then an alley that, miraculously, led us back to our car and the chance to escape back to the M1 without further drama. I’ve never been back.

2) Arsenal, 14/3/87
A rare example of an away game I actually remember for the football. This was Graham Taylor’s Watford in excelsis, beating one of the great teams on their own ground and deserving to do so. But mainly I remember that astonishing third goal, when the entire Arsenal team stopped playing in expectation of the referee’s whistle while Luther Blissett galloped towards us, the ball at his feet, and duly scored the goal that secured the win. What a moment.

1) Coventry, 9/12/80
Nigel and his mates picked me up straight from school for this Tuesday-night fixture, a League Cup 5th round replay following a 2-2 draw at the Vic the previous week. We had high hopes, but somehow it all went horribly wrong and we lost 5-0 - still the (joint) worst defeat I’ve seen the Hornets suffer. On the way home we stopped in a lay-by, where Nigel retrieved some cans of lager from the boot. We drank them as we made our way back down the motorway, listening to John Peel on the radio. John Lennon had been murdered the day before and Peel played nothing but Lennon and Beatles songs all night, which we sang along to, at first mournfully, and then with growing gusto. I was just 18 and I’d never felt so grown-up – so alive.

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