Tuesday, 28 December 2010


There’s no other word for it: this afternoon’s demolition of Cardiff City was simply stupendous. Add in a similarly stylish performance against QPR and the win against Leicester before that, and you have to conclude that this Watford team is in the middle of a purple patch.

There was so much to admire today: Will Buckley’s speed and trickery on the wing, leading to Lee Naylor’s humiliating substitution with less than half an hour gone; the strength and movement of Graham and Sordell up front; the tireless running and challenging of John Eustace and Jordan Mutch that stopped Cardiff ever dominating the midfield; and a solid 90 minutes from the whole back four, even if the Cardiff goal did highlight their unfortunate tendency to give opposing strikers too much room at times.

All this and not one but two penalties for the Hornets – and we even scored one of them, which is frankly remarkable. (Cudos to Danny Graham, too, for having the balls to take the second after making such a hash of the first.) Oh, and they actually scored three goals at the Rookery end, equalling the total for the season to date, I believe.

All in all, I haven’t enjoyed a football match so much in ages. As with last season, however it ends up (and I’m still not taking anything for granted), you have to give Malky credit for making Watford so damn good to watch.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Get with the programme, pt. 4

And so, finally, to Stamford Bridge for Chelsea v Watford on Saturday November 1st, 1986, a Today League First Division fixture. I have no memory of Eddie Shah’s long-since vanished newspaper sponsoring the league, but I remember the match. A 0-0 draw on a cold, grey autumn afternoon. A dull game, made worse by being forced by the police to wait inside the ground for ages afterwards, supposedly for the home fans to disperse – though we suspected it simply gave the local bovver boys time to get in place for an ambush. It was raining by that time, and then they switched the floodlights off, and I vividly remember a sense of over-riding grimness that corresponds to so many accounts of football in the dark days of the mid-80s.

This may well have been the first Watford game I travelled to from my own home, as opposed to my parents’. Having graduated the previous summer, I’d moved into my first shared house in the autumn, a few weeks after starting my first job. I suppose I still used my parents’ house in Bushey Heath to store stuff, though, which is why this programme was there.

Like I say, Stamford Bridge was a grim place in those days, and Chelsea were anything but a glamour club. Some of the names that lined up against the Hornets that day mean nothing to me at all now – Tony Godden, Darren Wood, Keith Jones. There are no fewer than three who would go on to play for Watford (Keith Dublin, Joe McLaughlin and Kerry Dixon), but the most impressive name on the team sheet to me is that of Pat Nevin, the punk rock-loving, NME-reading exception among professional footballers.

Both teams were near the bottom of the table at the time, but the most striking statistic is the average home attendance listed there: Watford’s was 17,009 (close to our best ever), but Chelsea’s was just 15,528. Chairman Ken Bates’s column is full of phrases that suggest a beleagured club: “John Hollins [the manager] has my full support”; “I want the players to know that I am totally behind them”; “We have enjoyed the good times, let’s stick together in the rough”; “As for the knockers – stuff them”. You tell ’em, Ken.

Instead, it’s the Watford team that is healthily stocked with internationals – Barnes, McClelland, Jackett – not to mention classy players like Tony Coton, David Bardsley and Kevin Richardson. Indeed, I remember that we were disappointed not to win that day. Yet when Watford were drawn away at Stamford Bridge – now the closest ground to my home – in the FA Cup 3rd Round last season, I didn’t even bother to go, so certain was I that we would be soundly thrashed. It’s ironic to think that we were the club that used to get slated for buying success through our millionaire owner…