Sunday, 28 September 2014

Nineties nostalgia, pt. 1 – Silky skills

Clearing out a cupboard recently, I found a box containing what appears to be my entire collection of Watford programmes from the 1990s. Following my ruthless rule, I’m going to chuck most of them out (if you’d like them, by all means get in touch, though I suspect the 90s aren’t long enough ago for programmes from this misfit decade in Watford’s history to be collectable), keeping just one from each season as a representative example.

I do like leafing through old programmes, though, so I plan to share highlights from the ‘keepers’ over the coming weeks. We start with Tuesday’s opponents, Brentford, and a programme from August 23rd, 1997. It’s a colourful publication with a computer desktop theme; titles in tabs at the top of the page and  other design details I vaguely remember from the PCs of the period.

Among the standard fare, one unusual feature is ‘Herts of sport’, a page devoted to sporting news from around the county. The headline story is the performance of Danielle Sanderson in the marathon at the World Athletics Championship, where she finished 35th, and there’s also news from the worlds of swimming, bowls, cricket, umm, karting, and a story simply headed ‘Watford Royals’, who I think must have been a basketball team, given the reference to the signing of a 6ft 8in forward.

The Watford manager is a certain Mr Taylor, freshly reinstalled in the hot seat after Kenny Jackett’s unsuccessful attempt to get the Hornets out of Division Two at the first attempt, and he’s not happy about fans chanting “Taylor, Taylor, give us a wave.” As he complains in his notes, “I thought we were on first-name terms!”

In the news section, GT is pictured shaking hands with new signing Ronnie Rosenthal, and the Brentford game saw his first start in yellow, after coming on as a sub in the previous two games. It’s a curious line-up, comprising a mixture of bona fide club legends – Alec Chamberlain, Richard Johnson, Tommy Mooney, Steve Palmer – and bit-part players such as Dai Thomas and Lars Melvang. More remarkably still, the Danish full-back was one of the scorers in a 3-1 win, along with Jonno and Keith Millen, netting against his former team.

The other picture that caught my eye was on the ‘21 and under’ page, where an almost unrecognisable Tommy Smith, with a truly awful hairstyle, is praised for his ‘silky skills’ in a youth team game against Millwall. Funny to think that, 17 years later, he could potentially play against us on Tuesday night.

The Brentford line-up for the game is unremarkable, with only Marcus Bent ringing any bells; a former Bees trainee, he would go on to play for another 13 clubs. And that result is also unremarkable. As my long-suffering best friend Stuart, a Bees fan, ruefully reminded me recently, Brentford haven’t beaten Watford in a competitive fixture since 1977. Here’s hoping the run continues on Tuesday.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The least worst option

As I mentioned a couple of years ago, in middle age I’ve adopted a ruthless policy with regard to matchday programmes. At the end of each season, I select one specimen to add to the archives, and the rest go in the recycling. That specimen is generally the programme from a particularly memorable match, or one that is significant for some reason.

So, a few weeks ago I finally got around to clearing out the box where I’d stored last season’s programmes. Which one to keep? It turned out that it wasn’t an easy decision. I should explain that assorted commitments meant that I missed our biggest home wins of the season: the 6-1 against Bournemouth in August, the 4-0 against Millwall on Boxing Day and the defeat of Blackpool by the same margin in March.

Instead, most of the programmes I leafed through commemorated the increasingly desperate series of autumnal defeats that led to Gianfranco Zola’s resignation, or the limp conclusion to the season. In the end, I was left with a meagre shortlist: the Capital One Cup 3rd round game against Norwich, where our second string came so close to beating a Premier League side and Javier Acuna briefly looked like a top-class striker; the FA Cup 3rd round tie at Manchester City, where we once again went 2-0 up against a top-flight team, only to have our hopes cruelly dashed; the 3-0 home win against Leeds in April (because, let’s be honest, beating Leeds never gets old); and the league game away at Reading in August.

I finally plumped for the Reading programme; partly as a silent protest against the meagre quality of the football I saw at Vicarage Road for most of last season, and partly because it represented the honeymoon period of the season where it seemed our hopes might actually be realised. Okay, we didn’t actually win the game, but in coming back from 2-0 down, and then 3-2, to draw 3-3, we showed a spirit that boded well for the rest of the season. Diego Fabbrini came on as a substitute and changed the game, and Davide Faraoni scored as well. I also remember that afternoon for the superb support from the Watford end (complete with flares), an early example of the 1881 in action.

I remember walking back to my car on a high, thinking that if we could come back like that against one of the leading clubs in the division, at a time when our team was still getting into its stride, the future looked bright. Which only goes to prove, once again, that football fans know nothing.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Overtaken by events

Over the past couple of months, life has got in the way of my writing nonsense about Watford. My job has taken up an indecently large proportion of my time (as ever), and when I’ve come home from work, I’ve been helping my better half with some academic work (an 8,000-word dissertation, to be precise). During the summer, that wasn’t particularly an issue, but once the season started, I kept having a vague idea about writing something about the Hornets, only for my half-formed notion to be superceded by events.

And then it all went completely nuts. In the space of barely a week, we had the dispiriting League Cup defeat to Doncaster; Troy Deeney’s new contract; the astonishing end to the Huddersfield game; Beppe Sannino’s resignation; the appointment of Oscar Garcia; and the departure of Technical Director Gian Luca Nani. I’d barely formed an opinion about one event when the next one came along.

You’ll have worked out by now that I’m not one to rush to judgement. Years ago, I did a postgraduate journalism course where you could choose to specialise in ‘newspaper’ or ‘magazine’ journalism. Those who took the first option would quite literally chase an ambulance or fire engine up the street to see where it ended up and try to get a story out of it; those who took the second were sat in the pub watching them dash past, airily discussing the 3,000-word features they were going to write some time soon. I was, naturally, in the second group.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that if you’re looking for up-to-the-minute commentary on the latest goings-on at Vicarage Road, you’re better off going to Vital Watford, say. I’ll chip in when the mood takes me, but otherwise I’ll be going off on tangents, as per usual.

Since we’ve got this far, though some quick bullet points to bring us up to date:

  • Troy’s new contract is a Very Good Thing in every way
  • I feel sorry for Beppe, but if the stories I’ve read about the rifts between him and the players are true, then his departure is also (probably) a Good Thing
  • Oscar Garcia seems like a decent appointment
  • Lloyd Doyley is still my official Favourite Player, and the sooner he is reinstated in Watford’s defence, the more secure it will be