Out of exile
By Revd. David Rivers
For us exiled fans, match days are a mouthwatering prospect. I mean, match days that really do mean attending a game of football, free from work pagers or a menacing family committee hellbent on visiting Ikea. As a man of the cloth, I would suggest to anyone wishing to know what a definition of hell is, to visit their nearest Ikea store. You can't even pop out to the car for an update fron Radio 5 without having to run round the entire building.
Exiled sometimes really feels exiled. Sitting in the car at 5.45 last Saturday, willing Watford to keep out what one imagined was a rampant Wolves side, while outside the rain poured incessantly, felt a lonely experience. The news of the equaliiser coincided with the family returning from a jolly shop, to find me bellowing for quiet and displaying an irritability which only served to heap more derision from the non-sporting members, i.e. all of them.
So it was that driving south on the A1 to Rotherham (yes, SOUTH...how exiled is that?) was a pleasurable experience in the extreme. There were three players this correspondent had never clapped eyes on before (Doyley, Dyche and Ardley), while there was also the prospect of seeing Johnson playing some part in the game.
All of this was slightly tempered by the knowledge that Rotherham at home were going to big and strong, full of arial bombardment and that our defence were going to have one hell of a game.
Quite how big and strong was still something of a suprise. Watford did not seem capable or imaginative enough to something about it. Oh sure, class showed but in small cameo touches, mainly emanating from the skill of Micah Hyde. But if our defence was kept busy, theirs looked happy to clear up anything we could throw at them. We were being sucked into their gameplan; we were doing what they wanted us to do. One had the feeling that if we could actually beat the man, turn the man they would panic, but it happened all too rarely. There was an unwillingness to take players on or shoot on target. Halftime approached and Rotherham had not really troubled Chamberlain; Watford supporters around all agreed, the game was there for the taking, even though worringly, too many players were clearly off their game.
And then Rotherham scored. A corner that Chamberlain seemed to lose...at least, he never came for it. We watched as in what seemed like slow motion, the ball was headed through a forest of limbs and in.
There was still this feeling we could recover from this. There was still the nagging doubt we were not going to...it just was not flowing, especially down our left where Robinson seemed unwilling to push forward.
Our equaliser, a looping header from Foley from an Ardley precision cross restored our spirits, the away end upped a gear and we wondered and hoped.
There are in football matches certain moments that seasoned supporters recognise either as significant moments. Against Wolves, I understand that fans were chanting "we're going to score in a minute" before actually doing just that. It works the other way too. A sensation I can only refer to as foreboding began to grow the moment Robinson pulled up with an injury. There followed a pantomine of "should I come off or not?" which was greeted with jeers by Rotherham fans around us, but resulted with the player vacating the pitch. But there was the sub? Johnson was still peeling off his tracksuit. Play restarted, and we were down to ten and under pressure. The ball pinged about for several moments while Johnson still stood beside the fourth official. The moment we just KNEW disaster was about to happen occured when Dyche found the ball at his feet near the touchline in front of the bench. I'm not sure what they were shouting, but as one man (and one woman) the small Watford contigent sitting in the main stand rose to our collective feet and bellowed to Dyche to welly it...anywhere would do,but for God's sake put it into touch.
Somewhat suprisingly seeing that this aspect of his play was well to the fore in other moments, he ignored our advice. Possession was lost, a couple of passes later and we were losing. Stunned silence as Johnson trotted on for the restart.
Johnno is clearly some way short of match fitness and his confidence did not look great either. Smith and Vernazza were soon to join him at the expence of Nielsen and Ardley. As the last seconds ticked away, there was a flurry of determination which never quite looked it was going to make amends.
To be truthful, we looked cumbersome and disjointed, not what us exiled fans were expecting after reading the exploits of previous performances. Glass seemed subdued and of the three players I had not seen before I was impressed the most by Doyley; Ardley's fine cross that led to the goal was not repeated often enough and Dyche seemed to me, well, like Robert Page with tonsils.
My next door neighbour Henry is manager of our local Rugby Union team. Henry was bemoaning bitterly the other day ater an unceremonious defeat that his team had not played with their heads. I think I know what he meant. After watching Watford at Rotherham the same thought occured...a goal thown away because no one was thinking quickly enough. But perhaps that is being too critical. It was still great to be there. To see the team that for most weekends mean sitting in a car with the radio on or remaining resolutely glued to Teletext page 305 for ninety minutes and being moaned at.
Being there was what mattered, to belong again....until the next time.