Apologies for the lack of posts in the last three months. While it might be understandable if Watford’s recent run of poor performances had put me off football altogether (and believe me, some very dark thoughts crossed my mind on the walk back to Norwood Junction in the rain after the Palace game), the banal truth is that I moved house in October, and when I haven’t been working or watching football, I’ve been too busy to write about it. But I did have two contrasting football experiences in that period that I wanted to write about.
First, for the West Ham game in November, I treated my brother and four of my closest friends to the full-on Watford hospitality experience; partly to celebrate my birthday, and partly as a thank you for their support during what’s been a difficult couple of years for me. We dined in The View – that’s the restaurant on the middle floor of the block in the corner between the Rookery and the Graham Taylor Stand – and a very good time was had by all.
I’m not going to review the experience, other than to say that the service was excellent, the food good but not exceptional, and the atmosphere buzzing. We also got a couple of exclusive interviews staged for our benefit (the whole room, I mean, not just our party); one with Richard Johnson, a version of the pre-match preview he does out on the pitch, and one after the game with Odion Ighalo, who was one of Sky’s match summarisers.
What you miss out, though, is all the stuff that happens outside the 90 minutes of football. You’re only ushered out of the hermetically sealed room a few minutes before kick-off, and with allocated seats on the halfway line that take an age to get to, you don’t see much of the pre-match build-up. At half-time, we’d barely managed to return to the restaurant and have a swig of our drinks before it was time to head back out. Afterwards, enjoyable as the experience had been, I found I missed watching the players warm up, the first reading of the teams, the half-time penalty shoot-out and all the other familiar parts of the matchday routine.
Bottom line: it’s an expensive day out for what you get (especially as drinks weren’t included in my package), but if you get a chance to try it, you should, if only to see how the other half live.
By way of complete contrast, a couple of weeks later I was in Dorchester, down in Dorset, and with nothing better to do with my Saturday afternoon, I went to watch Dorchester Town play Hitchin Town in the Evostik Premier League.
Dorchester’s ground, The Avenue, is about a mile from the town centre. It’s a modern stadium, clearly built as part of a deal with Tesco, whose giant superstore is part of the same complex. It’s a neat and tidy little stadium. With no obvious hard core of home fans to join, I picked a crush barrier beside the goal at one end and watched as the struggling home team shipped three goals before half-time. The standard of football was okay, though not helped by a muddy pitch, and I enjoyed being so close to the action. There’s something about hearing a tackle or a shot, rather than just seeing it, that brings a game to life.
In the second half, the noisy Hitchin fans (all 20 of them – I counted) having occupied the end where I’d been standing, I moved round to the side opposite the main stand. Once the sun went down it got properly cold, and without a team to root for, I seriously considered leaving long before the final whistle. As a Hertfordshire lad, I was secretly pleased with the result – 4-1 to Hitchin – and only annoyed that they didn’t score more. About 10 minutes from time, one of their strikers had a free run on goal, only to divert towards the corner flag and do the old ‘shielding the ball’ routine. I wondered if that was on the manager’s instructions, or whether it was just something they’d seen the pros do on TV and thought they should copy.
So, two very different football experiences, both enjoyable in their own way. If I had to choose one to repeat week in, week out, I’d like to think I’d pick the non-league option. But knowing myself as I do, I’m not sure I wouldn’t plump for the luxury of hospitality. Especially if someone else was paying.