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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 25/10/03, 3.00pm
Franchise FC
Letting go
By Ian Grant

You know how it goes....

You're in the pub, after a game. As the latest round of drinks arrives, the recent ninety minutes is finally exhausted, no more joy to be extracted from a victorious performance and no more misery to be wrung from a hapless defeat. And so you move on, move backwards. To all of those memories, whether trivial, daft or emotional....

There are certain favourites, regular sources of inebriated delight, different eras and different themes for each circle of friends and each post-match mood. Keith Dublin. Devon White. Dennis Bailey. Barry Ashby. Xavier Gravelaine. Worrell Sterling. The two games against Torquay, one in the Auto Wotsit and another in the FA Cup, both absollllutelllly bllllooody frrrreeezzzzing. That mighty double header of festive nil-nil draws in 1996/97. Scarborough away. Sunderland away, on any number of different occasions. It's the wonder of nostalgia, how both misery and glory both become strangely enjoyable eventually....

Which is a good thing, as there's plenty of both to go around. Dave Bassett. Trevor Senior. That Darren Caskey/Craig Ramage midfield pairing, as toothless as a Werthers Original addict. Mick Quinn. The three-nil home defeat to Grimsby, when nothing but relegation awaited us. Countless local derbies. That Curcic dive. Rob Styles. The 1987 Semi-Final, when nothing whatsoever seemed to go right. That Ian Rush dive. The rain on an open terrace, wherever and whenever. The away end at Southend. The away end at Kenilworth Road. Selhurst bloody Park....

Plenty of both, though. Plenty of both.

And here's where you could spend all night, when breaking the spell to get the train home seems like the most dreary kind of necessity. Because there's Graham Taylor. Wilf Rostron. Andy Hessenthaler. Luther Blissett, Ross Jenkins. John Barnes. Nigel Callaghan. Les Taylor. Tony Coton. John McClelland. Paul Furlong. Colin Foster (always to be said in italics, somehow). Eight-nil. Runners-up. Seven-one. Four-nil. Two-nil. Darren Bazeley's specials. Steve Palmer. Ronny, a-Ronny Ronny, a-Ronny Ronny, a-Ronny Rosenthal....

There's Johnno, Robbo, Pagey, fearless booterers. Wembley, twice. Europe, only once, but spectacularly. Peterborough away. The sound of that rusty roof at Port Vale as we sang Tommy Mooney's name. God, Tommy Mooney. That goal against Bristol Rovers. The whole Championship thing, from Trafalgar Square to stumbling through the streets of Brighton. Did we do Wembley yet? Nicky Wright-Wright-Wright. Oh, Allan Smart....

It's all there, locked away, released by a couple of pints and some good company. St Andrews, 1999. The ticket queue, completely unnecessary idiocy. The party at Middlesbrough, those Winnie-the-Pooh balloons. The endless, marvellous, never-to-be-resolved discussion about which was the pick of Richard Johnson's goals. Red shorts, black shorts. Z-Cars. The East Stand. Jumpers for goalposts. All that...and more, for those who go further back.

The stuff of dreams, perhaps. The stuff of hangovers, more commonly. And as the cliché goes, the next result is always the most important one...but the next result only really means something because of the accumulated weight of that history, that shared experience. Our history.

When, as has recently become something of a trend, people talk about Wimbledon fans "letting go", now that the whatever-you-want-to-call-them's move to Milton Keynes has finally happened, they're talking about letting go of all that. All that history. Their history, no different from ours, except in detail. And why? Simply because someone bought it as a bargaining chip in a property deal...or perhaps, to choose the more romantic version, because a city wanted a cheap, easy, backdoor route into league football....

And you tell me that if the same had happened to us, you'd have been content, after a year of mourning, to let that other club, that bastard offspring of a supermarket, lay claim to the achievements of Wilf Rostron, Luther Blissett, Ross Jenkins, Graham Taylor? To Nicky Wight's wonder-strike? To the tears shed when Allan Smart drove the second goal home? To simply "let go" of all of that, all of the above, and so much more? No, sorry. Never. Never, never, never.

Last week, I wrote about taking memories of Richard Johnson's finest moments to my grave, and I meant it. They'll live that long, they'll be treasured for that long. Not just by me, either. And they belong to Watford, to the community, to us. To this club, right here. Not to be bought, not to be moved, not to be claimed by people who have no damn right to claim them.

You wouldn't let go either, I reckon. Not until the name, the badge, the colours, the history and everything else were reclaimed beyond dispute. Not while that miserable, wretched excuse for a football club maintained any claim of ownership at all. No, you'd fight on. I'd fight on. We'd fight on. And we'd win, eventually.

So, no guilt - or coach - trips this time. Cheer 'em on. Do your bit for the Hornet cause. It's still a fixture that we doggedly refuse to recognise...but, yes, there are three points available that we badly need to win. Just don't ever let Franchise FC become another part of the landscape, something to be accepted over time. Time doesn't make what's happened any more reasonable, any less fundamentally and absolutely wrong.

We'll let go, sure. Gladly.

We'll let go when Franchise FC let go, forever.