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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 20/09/03, 3.00pm
Wigan Athletic
A punch in the stomach
By Rupert Licht

It's now the early hours of Sunday morning. I should go to bed, after all I have spent eight and a half hours driving to Wigan and back to watch the equivalent of having hairs pulled out of my nose for sixty-five minutes, but this is a match report that demands me to write it. Let's call it an exorcism.

It all starts at 9:30 at Euston station as our party arrives to catch the train to Wigan. There appear to be hundreds of people sitting on the floor, a bad sign which is confirmed by Peter Fincham declaring that the trains have all stopped and we are going to have to catch four different trains to get to Wigan for 2:30. About half the group are sceptical about this and decide to drive up to the game. In the end, I leave Chelsea at about 10:30 with a car containing four passengers. It takes two hours to get from Watford to Northampton due to rubberneckers - people who deserve nothing but misery and torment to visit them. At 3pm we are still five junctions from the ground, so we scan the airwaves for local commentary. Then comes a dark moment of the soul - a few seconds of Sheffield United v Cardiff in Welsh followed by interference, then 'News from the JJB Stadium where Wigan have taken the lead against Watford…'. With our record of not coming from behind to win an away game going back seemingly to the dawn of civilisation, a mist of dank depression begins to overwhelm the car.

We manage to get into the ground at 3:25pm to be greeted with howls of derision from those who made the journey by train. As I said at the time, 'Do you think I deeply wish with all my heart that I had seen the Wigan goal?'

Apparently, Wigan had been well on top and could have scored another two, with Watford having one effort in our absence.

I then witnessed a 'performance' so utterly disgraceful from Watford that it ranks with some of the worst I have ever seen in twenty years of support. After five hours of travel, the sixty-five minutes of football that I bore witness to resulted in not one single shot on goal. Let's make this quite clear, this did not include even a desperate effort from far out that ends up in the back of the stand. Again - NOT ONE SHOT. We were a spineless, punchless, ragtag outfit. Passing was slow and deliberate and never penetrating and movement was desperately ponderous. Wigan could and should have scored another three or four goals.

It was sickening. Where was the urgency? Where was any Watford player raging at his teammates demanding an improvement? Where was the bite in the tackle? Where was the hunger in the eyes? Where was the passion?

I'm not going to single out any particular players. Those at the game and the individuals in particular know who they are but really this was just a collective abomination.

I can take losing. Hell, in twenty years I have seen enough of it supporting Watford. What I can't take is being made to feel like a stupid deluded fool for believing in something. It hit me hard in the stomach today at the final whistle. The players came over and clapped but it meant nothing. There was no hurt in any of their eyes, none of them appeared to be particularly upset, and none of them had the decency just to hold a hand up to say 'I know it's not good enough.'

Another three and a half hours of driving and I was home. Eight and a half hours of driving to see sixty-five minutes of football without a single shot. It hurt me. Does it hurt the players? Do they even stop for a second to think about the people who travel all these distances in their names?

It means something to us.

Without that, it means nothing.