Thursday, 26 September 2013

Main Stand memories

So the old Main Stand (no Watford fan who started going in the 60s or 70s has ever called it the East Stand) is finally going to bite the dust. Not before time, to be honest, but it will still be a sad day for those of us who spent our formative years at Vicarage Road missing large chunks of the action because a pillar was in the way.

When I started going to Watford games with my dad, the Main Stand Extension (that’s the bit nearest the Rookery, for younger readers) was where we sat. Just getting to your seat was an adventure. Once through the turnstiles on Occupation Road, you unexpectedly went down a flight of steps, over a bridge that spanned what seemed to be a dry moat (but was probably just a path running along the outside of the lower level of the stand) and up a few more steps. Straight ahead, there was a room under the stand which was used as a makeshift snack bar, where you could buy Mars Bars and cans of Fanta from a trestle table. Thus equipped, you then made your way up yet more steps into the stand itself, resplendent with its orange seats.

My abiding sensory memory of those early years is of Dad’s pipe smoke. Over a decade before the Bradford fire, smoking was freely allowed at football grounds, and Dad (who didn’t really like watching football, and was just humouring me) would alleviate the boredom by lighting his pipe. Invariably, the breeze would blow the acrid smoke into my eyes. Sometimes I’d complain, and we’d swap seats – at which point the wind would change direction and I’d get another eyeful of smoke.

Luckily, I wasn’t missing much excitement on the pitch. This was the early 70s, when the Hornets struggled to stay in the old Second Division – in my first season, I didn’t see us win a league game until the end of February. When we finally went down, the misery continued, and before you knew it we were in the Fourth Division, where we won a few more games, but still not enough.

Of course, that was the point at which Graham Taylor arrived and everything changed. Suddenly there were goals galore, from Alan Mayes and Keith Mercer (my hero) and the previously rubbish Ross Jenkins, and the novelty of Watford actually topping the league.

The last game of that season was a 3-2 home win against Southport, after which the Fourth Division trophy was going to be presented. Unfortunately, despite my protests (and possibly, I’m ashamed to say, tears), Dad insisted on leaving before the final whistle, “to beat the traffic”, and it was many more years before I finally got to see a Watford team lift a trophy.

That was when I decided it was time to go to games on my own, and from the following season until it was demolished I called the Vicarage Road End terrace my home. I can’t say I ever missed sitting in the Main Stand, and it has become a bit of an eyesore in recent years. But we football fans are nothing if not misty-eyed nostalgics, and its demolition will represent the demise of an important part of my childhood – the place where I discovered one of my life’s abiding passions.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Is that it?

So I finally got to go to my first home game of the season yesterday. Just like every season since 1970, my excitement mounted as I traced the familiar route over the railway bridge, along Cardiff Road and up Occupation Road, past the allotments.

Inside the ground, nothing much seems to have changed. There’s a big banner at the back of the Vicarage Road stand, and the half-finished block in the south-west corner has been blocked up in such a way as to suggest it might actually get finished at some point. That’s about it.

There was certainly a bigger crowd than you’d expect for a regular league game against Charlton (I’ve rarely seen the Rous so full), and I was expecting more atmosphere, what with the much-heralded founding of The 1881. I thought there were going to be giant flags, constant noise, new songs? True, a persistent drumbeat and attempts to keep the singing going wafted over from the south-west corner of the Rookery, but it hardly turned the Vic into a cauldron of noise. Early days, I suppose.

To be fair, the action on the pitch was hardly conducive to a great atmosphere. It’s early days for the team as well; it still has the look of a group of players who are getting to know each other, with occasional flashes of genius punctuating long passages of ponderous passing. It was the same at this stage last season, of course, and we know how that turned out, so I’m not overly concerned yet. At least we didn’t lose.

Just to put the tin lid on a rather disappointing day, my Official Favourite Player (for the 23rd season running, or something of the sort), Lloyd Doyley, wasn’t even playing – presumably rested after his international exertions, rather than dropped, which would be madness. One day I’m going to have to pick a new favourite player, but let’s not hope it’s for a few more seasons yet. On the evidence of yesterday, we still need his speed and nous at the back.