I’ve been a Watford fan long enough to witness all but two of the club’s Football League promotions. So many memories: Dad not letting me stay to watch the Divison 4 trophy presentation after the Southport game in 1978 because he wanted to “beat the traffic”; the 4-0 win against Hull on a gloriously sunny May evening the following year; running on the pitch after the win against Wrexham that put us in the top flight for the first time; the bedlam on the terraces at Craven Cottage in 1998 when Jason Lee scored to secure the League 2 title; the emotional turmoil of the play-off final win against Bolton, just 48 hours after my father’s sudden death; the oddly straightforward (and hugely satisfying) dismissal of Leeds in 2006, indoors in Cardiff; and my anger at the way we threw away the chance to win the Championship in the final game of 2015, which almost soured the joy of promotion.
And where was I when the Hornets clinched promotion against Millwall a few weeks ago? Here in my back bedroom, of course, sitting in front of my computer, fending off the cat’s demands for yet more food. I think I yelled “Yes!” and punched the air at the final whistle, which at least got rid of the cat for a few minutes, but it’s not a day that will live long in the memory. I watched the post-match coverage on Hive Live, then went out for a walk and spent the evening watching TV. A few congratulatory texts from friends (including a grudging one from my Brentford-supporting mate) were as close as I got to a communal celebration.
And so this strangest of seasons is over, hopefully never to be repeated. The club have done magnificently on every level, from their support of the NHS to the intelligent recruitment policy, from the superb quality of the pitch to the brave decision to appoint Xisco that probably saved us from the play-offs (or worse). But watching it all on a TV or computer screen was a poor substitute for the real thing, even if I actually got to see more games than in any of my previous 50 seasons as a Hornets fan – I usually only get to half a dozen away games, whereas this year I was able to enjoy pretty much all of them (though enjoyment was in short supply for the first half of the season).
Watching the FA Cup final yesterday (the first for a few years that I’ve watched all the way through) just reinforced the difference that fans make to the football experience. Emotionally, I was there with those Leicester supporters as they celebrated Tielemans’ incredible goal, and then as they chewed their fingernails to the quick while the clock ticked down. And the noise they made – you’d never have guessed the stadium was only a fifth full.
So it was a pleasure to receive the email from the club inviting me to renew my season ticket for next season. By then I will have had my second jab (as will most of the country, with a bit of luck) and it ought to be possible for Vicarage Road to host a proper crowd again. Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away.