I’ll be honest, I struggled to find a programme worth saving from the 1991/92 season. In the end I plumped for the January 1992 fixture against Newcastle, purely because it was one of the few games from that season that sparked any kind of memory.
A couple of years earlier, I’d done a one-year postgraduate journalism course, and one of my friends there was a bloke called John Mulvey, whose sole ambition was to write for the NME. His admirable single-mindedness had paid off, and by 1992 he was firmly established at the country’s leading weekly music magazine. What’s more, for reasons now lost in the mists of time, he had decided to bring a band he was interviewing to Vicarage Road for the Newcastle game, to add a bit of colour to the piece I suppose. This would be a much better story if I could remember who the band was, but I can’t. Presumably they were Newcastle fans, or maybe they just happened to be in Watford for the weekend.
Either way, I remember meeting John and a couple of guys from the band (and I really wish I could say they turned out to be Blur or the Stone Roses or someone) on the Vicarage Road End terrace before the game and standing with them as the Hornets dashed into a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes. As you do, I was rubbing my hands in anticipation of a record scoreline, but the Watford team of the early ’90s wasn’t so obliging, and the game ended 2-2.
The programme is a thin thing of 32 pages, with a rather old-fashioned look and feel. For all the bright colours, it feels very parochial, and two items epitomise this. One is a paragraph on the supporters club page about unclaimed prizes from the Junior Hornets New Year Raffle, which include Scalextric, a bottle of sherry and a half-bottle of whisky. The other, on a page of miscellaneous news, is an apology for the directions to Cambridge United printed in the previous programme; apparently “they were in fact a good route to Cambridge City!” So near, and yet so far.
Dominating the programme, as indeed he did the era in some respects, is Andy Hessenthaler, who is pictured on the cover, on the centre spread (as part of an interview) and on the news pages. He’d only been at the club since the previous September, but had quickly made an impression. It’s no surprise to learn from the interview that he did a lot of cross-country running as a boy, though I wasn’t aware that he was a self-employed ceramic tiler before Watford gave him the opportunity to play football for a living.
What else is there to say of this underwhelming era, when we were expected to get excited about a team including Trevor Putney, Peter Nicholas, Keith Waugh and Jason Drysdale? Well, one thing that’s noticeable is the number of products of the youth system who featured that season. Apart from Drysdale, Nigel Gibbs, David Holdsworth, Gary Porter and Luther Blissett (in his third and final spell at the club) all started that day, while Darren Bazeley came on as a sub and David James was missing his first game of the season. Richard Johnson had just broken into the first-team squad, Jason Solomon and Barry Ashby had played a few games, and Robert Page was a fixture in the youth team. Whatever else happened during the dog days of the 1990s, we never stopped bringing young players through into the first team. I wonder if we’ll ever see that many Academy products in the starting line-up for a league game again?