Saturday, 24 March 2012

We’ve done it again

Done what? Well, beaten Ipswich, for one thing, though that’s hardly news. Today’s victory stretched our unbeaten run against them to 15 matches, of which we’ve won 12. Fair play to the large number of Ipswich fans who filled the away end, but did they really expect things to turn out any differently? Maybe it’s become a much-anticipated badge of honour, to be able to say “I was there when we beat Watford”, much as Hornets fans treasure the memory of being present on the occasion of Lloyd Doyley’s goal.

We’ve also passed the 52-point mark, which makes this officially Championship Survival Day (and no, I haven’t thought of a better name in the past 12 months). I know some have had us down as safe for a while – Jeff Stelling said as much a month ago on Soccer Saturday – but I’m not prepared to relax until those 52 points are in the bag. Seasons can have a funny way of spiralling out of control.

Amid the celebrations, I can’t help reflecting that Watford really haven’t played very well for most of this season. The last few home games in particular have made for painful viewing, with the wins against Burnley and Ipswich achieved by grit and determination rather than skill and guile, as if the players need the challenge of being a goal or two down before they’re prepared to really give it a go.

In this respect, Troy Deeney has become the emblematic Watford player of the season; not necessarily the best (though his technique is improving, as his goal today illustrated), but the one whose never stops running and harrying the opposition. It’s just a shame it seems to take his teammates until the middle of the second half most weeks before they follow his example.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Throwaway comments

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’d never done before: I threw away some football programmes. Well, actually I took them down to the local recycling centre, but dumping them in the skip there felt like throwing them away. And it felt odd.

Programmes are funny things. I’ll go into WH Smith’s sometimes, browse the shelves for a magazine to read, and then see the cover price (£4.50, say) and decide to give it a miss – and yet I will unthinkingly hand over £3 at Vicarage Road for a ‘matchday magazine’ that I will read before kick-off, and again for a few minutes at half-time, before taking it home and filing it away. Chances are I’ll never look at it again. Earlier today, I was up in the attic at my Mum’s, where there are boxes of Watford programmes from the 70s and 80s, just sitting there, unmissed and unloved.

Of course, I tell myself I will look at them one day. One mythical day, when I have lots of time on my hands and no distractions, I will gather these historic artefacts and peruse them at my leisure, wallowing in the nostalgia and the period details (much as the features in this season’s programme allow you to do, in fact). I did actually do this a couple of years ago, on a very small scale; you can read about what I found here.

The programmes I recycled, though, were much more recent, covering the past 12 seasons; thick, glossy publications, not old enough to stir the blood. (Mind you, there was one whose cover, featuring the messianic-looking trio of Boothroyd, Ashton and Simpson, shook me for a moment.) They were taking up a lot of shelf space that I could ill afford, so I decided they had to go. After I’d established that there was no market for them on ebay, and offered them in vain to the good folk of the WML, the tip was my last resort.

I did save one programme from each season, though, as an exemplar of that year’s design, and to preserve a memory of a significant match (though there were seasons where I had to stretch the definition of ‘significant’ somewhat). Long-term, the plan is to do the same with the older programmes, though I fear it will be harder to part with them. And I’ve got to get them down from Mum’s attic first.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Hammer in the family

With tomorrow night’s fixture in mind, it’s an appropriate time to make an admission: my younger brother is a West Ham fan.

So why would an eight-year-old boy (as he was when he embarked on this reckless course) growing up in Bushey Heath want to support West Ham? It certainly wasn’t in his genes: Dad had grown up in Lincoln and occasionally mentioned fond memories of standing on the terraces at Sincil Bank, but that was as far as it went. As for me, I’d already been going to games at Vicarage Road for five years by that time, and was firmly hooked. Chris had come along with me and Dad a few times, but watching the Hornets obviously didn’t have the same effect on him.

And then, on the day of the 1975 FA Cup Final, he suddenly announced that he intended to support whichever team won that match. History records that West Ham United beat Fulham 2-0 that day, and so Chris became a West Ham fan. (He recently reminded me that he’d fallen off his bike that morning and had been ordered to rest, so I suspect some kind of traumatic brain damage may be at the root of all this.)

To his credit, he followed through on his promise and has been a West Ham fan ever since that day. Mind you, he’s what you’d call an armchair fan; I’m pretty sure he could count the number of Hammers games he’s attended on the fingers of one hand. And that’s probably why, whatever the result tomorrow night, there won’t be any brotherly gloating or goading going on.

In football supporting terms, we simply don’t meet on equal terms. I’m a fanatic, whereas he’s just a follower. In the tribal world we football fans inhabit, I’ve earned the right to respect by attending somewhere in the region of a thousand games over the course of 40-odd years, while he’s just watched some footy on the telly. Which means that, when our teams meet, I may not always support the winning team (hardly ever, if I’m honest), but at least I have the moral high ground.