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.