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02/03: Reports:

FA Cup Quarter-Final, 09/03/03, 1.30pm
By Frances Lynn

Saturday 15th February: It is 9am local time and I am in an hotel room in San Diego looking at the Pacific Ocean under a clear blue sky. But there are tears rolling down my face as I listen to my breathless sister on the phone saying, "It was brilliant!" with the sound of the traveling Hornets singing their joy at the defeat of Sunderland. So the dilemma starts. Should I come home for the quarter-final? My last two games were Rotherham and Millwall, would I be a jinx? It was pointed out to me that I was at Macclesfield, so my cup run was perfect. By that time I'd already decided that I couldn't miss our biggest game in years.

Saturday 8th March: I arrive in England on Saturday morning, so have time to acclimatise myself before the big day. My first glimpse of my ticket was a reassurance that I would actually be going. Sunday morning, I get up and make coffee to drink out of my Watford mug, dress carefully in the yellow shirt as requested by Ray Lewington and put my two scarves on, one bought before my first game in 1979, the other from the play-off final. Cate comes in to collect me and we set off in nervous anticipation. Every glimpse of a yellow shirt or a Watford car sticker brings a smile and we arrive in Watford to see a crowd streaming off a recently arrived train.

The Estcourt Tavern is jammed. Full of colours, but a slightly muted atmosphere with most people suffering nerves the like of which we haven't felt since the play-off final. Although a number of people said they were more confident before the play-off final. There was a fear that this was a potential banana skin.

Then the walk to the ground, as we turn into Merton Road, we can hear the noise from the ground. The butterflies redouble. Then we are in the ground and Vicarage Road is a cauldron of noise and a mass of colour. Wonderful.

Before the game, two former heroes come on to the pitch. Luther Blissett and George Reilly. Luther, a Watford legend, and George, the man who scored the goal that took us to Wembley in 1984, many happy memories involving those two. Myself, and the girl next to me, tried to start a chant of "There's only one George Reilly," but it didn't take off as the faithful chanted their adoration of Luther.

And then the teams come out and we've kicked off. We started nervously with Burnley having the best of the first twenty minutes. Alec pulled off a magnificent save early on, tipping the ball over the crossbar, he wasn't to know that the whistle had already gone. At this stage, the middle section of the Rookery was still standing. Eventually we remembered to sit down, but there was lots of nervous leaping to our feet. Eventually, the nerves began to settle on the pitch and we started putting together some attacks. At one point there were five corners in a row, but we didn't seriously threaten the goal. Heidar had a long range shot which went well wide, but neither team had a shot on target. The best thing to come out of the first half was the performance of the defence. Marcus Gayle was absolutely immense, mopping up anything that came his way. Cox was having a good game too, but somewhat in Marcus's shadow.

Nicky Wright came on to make the 50/50 draw at half time and got a great reception from the fans with chants of "Nicky Wright Wright Wright" ringing out.

Start of the second half and Beresford comes out to occupy the goal in front of the Rookery. The Watford faithful applaud him and he looks baffled. He keeps looking back to see if the Watford team has emerged from the tunnel, finally realises that the applause is for him and acknowledges us.

Then the boys are out for the second half and we start as we finished the first half. We finally take control of the game, but we're still not making any chances. Then Heidar gets the ball in the six yard box and somehow can't get a shot on target when it looked easier to score. Tommy Smith gets a pass on the left with only the goalie to beat, but miscontrols it and then the angle is too narrow to get a decent shot in. Another turn and shot from Heidar, but he powers it over. And then the ball is poked to Tommy Smith who, falling, sweeps the ball under Beresford and into the net. The Rookery erupts. I'm leaping up and down and screaming. The rational statistician in me is saying, "Stop screaming, you stupid woman," but I can't. I hug Cate in the row in front and Mary and then turn to the girl next to me and we are hugging, leaping up and down and she's screaming too. It was a fitting release of all that tension. The confidence rose. They are not going to score two. But they could score one on the break and take us back to Turf Moor and I won't be able to go as I'll be at work in, surely not.

Tommy Smith, looking exhausted, goes off to rapturous applause and is replaced by Gifton, who was great. He was strong and powerful and held the ball up beautifully. He gets the ball on the right wing and would have powered away from the defender if he didn't have a steely grip on the Gift's shirt. Gifton played it well, not pushing back, but the linesman flagged and we all called for a red card, only a yellow was given. And then Heidar gets the ball on the edge of the box and tries to turn and is dumped on the grass by the same Burnley defender. No card, just a free-kick. The wall is set up and there are Glass and Gayle squaring to take it. Glass hits it and it is flying towards us and dipping and it's in the net and the screams start again. We've done it. No way will they come back from this. But suddenly the most important thing is that Alec keeps his clean sheet and his record of not conceding in the competition so far. And the last ten minutes plus four minutes of injury time are nerve-wracking, but Burnley didn't really look like scoring. And then the final whistle, and the cheers, and the absolute disbelief that we are in the semis. And the players are all celebrating, hugging each other and applauding the crowd. They go off the pitch and then return to take the plaudits again. And there is a small man in the middle standing back a bit with a huge grin on his face and the crowd starts with a chant of "Lewwwington, Lewwwington", and he acknowledges us. Mary turns to me with tears in her eyes. That's taken me back to another game against Burnley. And it's true. Ray has buried the ghost of GT. We are Terry and Ray's yellow army.

We leave the ground and bump into Nicky Wright with his wife and child. He can't get back to his car for all the hands being offered to him to shake. I wish him good luck and then it's back to the Estcourt, a much noisier place than earlier. We just keep grinning at each other and saying "We're in the semis!"

Back home and I watch 'Match of the Day" and then the tape of the whole game and enjoy every minute.

Monday afternoon, I'm going through security at Heathrow and the guard asks me if the draw's been made. "Yes, we've got Southampton, so I'll be back in five weeks." "Will you be back for the final?" he smiles.

Oh, I do hope so.