Saturday, 2 March 2013

Half a world away

Late last year, I turned 50, and my friend Stuart gave me a special present: the programme from the closest Watford home game to the day I was born. It was a Division 3 (or ‘Division III’, as the programme has it) fixture against Bristol Rovers on Saturday December 8th, 1962, which we apparently lost 1-0 on the way to finishing 17th in the table.

Not a particularly remarkable game, or season, then. But to modern eyes, the programme itself is a strange artefact. For starters, there are hardly any articles. The 16 pages include an editorial (matily entitled ‘Welcome Back, Lads’), a spread with pen portraits of the opposition and Odd Spots (‘A Soccer Believe It Or Not’), and a page of Supporters’ Club Notes. As for photographs, the only one is the aerial shot of the ground on the cover. The rest is statistics, fixtures, team line-ups and, above all, advertisements. I count 41 ads in total, ranging from national brands (Double Diamond beer, Senior Service cigarettes) to resolutely local ones, some for businesses that I remember fondly from my youth; Peter Spivey’s sports shop, Kirby’s coaches, Thirteens bike shop.

I could spend hours listing the delights contained in this slim volume, but I’ll limit myself to five things I find particularly interesting:

1) The supporters’ club notes are worth an essay in themselves, but what comes across above all is the key role the club played in fundraising for the football club in those days – it’s financial support we’re talking about here. The page lists key contacts for services ranging from away travel to membership to the purchase of “a Club diary or golliwog favour”, complete with their full addresses, and warns against bothering the club’s sole administrative employee, the legendary Ron Rollitt: “Please do not write to the Football Club for any of the following items. It only causes delay, and Mr Rollitt has enough to contend to with his own work.”

2) The list of ball donors (when did that stop?) for the season to date includes, among various gentlemen, The Brian Fredericks Dance Orchestra, and, for the Football Combination game against Portsmouth, an anonymous ‘Pools winner’.

3) In the days before football was a megabucks profession, players often bought local businesses when they retired. Among the ads, I spotted the names of Watford legends Ken Nicholas, who had a sports equipment and shoe shop in Harwoods Road, and Arthur Grimsdell, proprietor of a newsagent’s in Vicarage Road.

4) The ‘Odd spots’ include the fact that Newcastle’s team against Portsmouth in October 1951 included internationals of five countries (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Chile). Nowadays, in the Premiership at least, it would be more noteworthy if a club fielded internationals of fewer than that number of countries.

5) I know it’s childish to laugh at people’s names, but who could resist Bristol Rovers’ Esmond Million, “a goalkeeper of considerable merit and courage, who adopts complete command of his area”. As the programme lists the players’ vital statistics, I can also tell you that Mr Million weighed exactly 11st 8 1/2lb.

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