It probably happens every year (but probably not next year, as this article will remind me!), but this December I didn't feel remotely festive. The probable explanation for this is that I am growing older (as many people are these days). No longer does December represent one big long build-up to the most fantastic, most wonderful day of the year. However, I do suspect I have felt this way since about the age of seven (because I was a cynical old bastard even then). I wouldn't say I have come to hate Christmas, as I suspect this happens when one leaves home and actually has to buy more presents than those for your parents. But yes, during this yuletide, I did feel a strong sense of ambivalence towards Christmas, and felt rather disappointed that I felt this way.
In many respects this has been something a disappointing month for Watford as well. As you may have guessed (I have been going on about them since about September), Watford's fixture list during November was rather challenging. Having coped with it somewhat better than we thought we would, I feel that Watford fans expected us to breeze past less difficult teams like Stoke and Gillingham. But more on that later, as we had to finish off the good teams first.
Except Forest aren't really a good team any more, are they? Perhaps a month ago, a draw with Forest would have been considered a good result. Instead we left this game with a distinct feeling we should have done better against a poor Forest side, having once again let in a late equaliser. Of course, the most significant moment of this match was the return of "The Mighty H" (as I call myself on MSN Messenger - on reflection, that's rather sad). Heidar was only on for ten minutes but hurled himself at the Forest defence with huge vigour. Obviously not the sort of player who is cautious when coming back from injury.
A week later and it's Sheffield United. I was feeling cautiously optimistic as I sat down in the pub to watch the game. And why not? Watford played pretty damn good. Not only did they outplay Sheffield United but when they took the lead we actually managed to equalise and - get this - go ahead! And they were both bloody fantastic goals too. I bet Tommy's wishing he could score as many as his brother does. Unfortunately, a late penalty got United an equaliser. This is really becoming a curse....
I open my advent calendar on the 20th. Who do I see? That's right, it's Stephen Kelly! Why Kelly had returned was a mystery to me, especially as Brown and Smith had been playing competently and we had Doyley for cover. He's disappeared again, so that's okay. I won't beat around the bush any longer. We were bloody awful. But I won't focus on the bad points.
Good points of this match:
Gillingham on Boxing Day. I've always hated Boxing Day fixtures ever since that dreadful experience at Fulham in 2000. Thus I'm pretty glad that we haven't had a home one for the past millennium, as that would compel me to go out of a sense of loyalty. For those who were interested, we lost 1-0 and it was crap.
- Nick Hancock sitting directly behind me.
- Lovely mince pie at half time (not lucky though).
- Return of Johnno, whose warming up in the first half consisted of talking to Micah and Bruce for forty-five minutes.
- Return of Gifton - who was awarded the captaincy for the day.
- Good brawl at the end of the game.
- Distracting myself for a lot of the second period by thinking about what "plus points" I could put in this review.
Having witnessed/heard about the previous two performances, I didn't hold out much hope for this game, especially as it was against Cardiff, who I've always classed as a team "better than us" despite the fact that they've only just come into our division. But never say this Watford team doesn't surprise you, as a much changed side beat Cardiff 2-1 exactly two months to the day since we lost to them at Ninian Park. In a display similar to the one at Sheffield United, this game's highlights were not goals of beauty but ones of sheer determination. Scott Fitzgerald literally steamrolled two Bluebirds to stab home and Lee Cook's diving header in a windmill of legs and heads should be greatly admired.
Perhaps one of the most significant moments of December was Macca going out on loan. Having only made two substitute appearances this year, and indeed making little contribution last year either, I had concerns about Macca's future at the club. When I had seen him in the reserves he had looked awkward and sluggish, a shadow of the player we called "the next John Barnes." Hopefully going to Barnet will toughen him up a little and help the defensive side of his game.
Then of course there was the FA Cup draw. When Chelsea came out of the hat I was a more than a little disappointed. Admittedly, it'd be a payday but I had enjoyed the FA Cup run and didn't want to go out at the first hurdle. If only I'd known....
There was also the club AGM and annual financial reports this month. I often forget that Watford are in still in financial trouble, as compared to clubs like Notts County and Oldham, we're positively cruising. I'm sure for a lot of people this was a harsh reminder. Yet the positive outlook of the board remains encouraging.
Another bit of good news this month was the draw for the qualifying groups for the World Cup. England have ended up in the same group as Wales and Northern Ireland, which should lead to some good games. We're also landed the average Austria and Poland and the dreadful Azerbaijan. The probability of progressing from this group is high, one feels.
By far the biggest footballing issue in December though was the Riogate fiasco. I'm afraid I have very strong views on this. I find it ridiculous that Ferdinand misses a test and is banned for nine months, yet Man City's Christian Negouai is fined a mere £20,000. Perhaps what is more ridiculous is that convicted drugs takers Stam and Davids served nine months between them. Blatter's meddling in British football has gone far enough and the sooner he is removed the better.
So on that revolutionary note, I say goodbye to 2003. It's been fun. Now let's see what 2004 brings....