I was planning to mark the end of the season with a cosy article running through my memories of the celebrations I’ve been lucky enough to be part of as a Watford fan, from our Division 4 title in GT’s first season to the Play-Off Final against Leeds in Cardiff. But, like most Watford fans, I don’t feel like celebrating right now.
I think it was the play ‘An Evening with Gary Lineker’ that made the point that watching football, uniquely among leisure pursuits, has the ability to affect your mood for days after a match has finished. I’m not usually too bad on that score: by the time I get home on a Saturday night, I’m more or less over the triumph or despair that followed the final whistle of that afternoon’s game. But the outcome of the Sheffield Wednesday game has soured my mood for the entire Bank Holiday weekend, and it’s all the worse because (like most Hornets fans) I was expecting a repeat dose of the euphoria I experienced at five o’clock the previous Saturday.
I texted a friend before the game that all the clichés of an end-of-season celebration were present and correct: flags, balloons, beach balls and other inflatables, fancy dress costumes, even giant trophies made out of cardboard covered with tinfoil. By the end, we’d witnessed another set of clichés, representing the dark side of football celebrations; from the harmless but moronic Mexican wave (something that has no place at any serious sporting event) to the equally moronic, and definitely harmful, pitch invasions that scuppered our slim chances of grabbing a late winner. And don’t get me started on the flares.
So I found myself, once the final whistle had blown, standing watching the heaving mass of fans on the pitch, listening to the plaintive appeals for them to leave so that the lap of honour could begin, feeling as low as I’ve felt all season (well, perhaps with the exception of the kick in the guts that was Ipswich’s last-gasp winner six weeks ago). Which is absurd, of course, given that Watford have achieved their goal of reaching the Premier League, and this in the most competitive Championship season in living memory. But that’s football fans for you, our emotions always governed by our most recent experience.
To judge by that lap of honour, the players are no different. I have fond memories of the equivalent tours of the pitch at the end of those seasons under Rodgers, Mackay and Dyche when we’d finished somewhere in mid-table, and when the lap of honour celebrated a communal feeling of joy and optimism for the future. There was precious little of that in evidence on Saturday, for all the stadium announcer’s laudable efforts to raise the mood. The players knew they’d blown it, just like we did, and it was pointless trying to pretend none of us cared.
So, we aren’t the champions after all. But we have been promoted, and as the days pass, it’s that fact that will come to take precedence over all the bad memories from Saturday. As a wise man once wrote: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” We got what we needed from this season. Bring on the Premier League.