By Dharrip Derhesch
I don't do creative writing, as you will, I am sure, agree. Me, I'm an Engineer and write concise, succinct technical facts (many colleagues may disagree) and am in general pretty easy going. Recognising that some football fans have a partisan view bordering on total blindness, one expects a degree of bias in many reports. However, I was absolutely incensed at a so-called match report posted to the 606 noticeboard by an apparent Luton fan, more of this later. Thus I am moved to make a contribution to BSaD, for a first and possibly last time. Names have been changed/omitted to protect the innocent, especially my family....
I'm a Watford supporter, man and boy, having been introduced at an early age to the Red Lion corner and the delights of (an albeit ageing) Stuart Scullion by my father. Through the Taylor days (first term), I rarely missed a home game and occasionally made the odd away game. It was during this era that I made a Boxing Day trip to Kenilworth Road; I think the chronology is correct but then it doesn't really matter. I forget the result, possibly a draw, but to be honest, I can't be arsed to check. You see, the abiding memory was of the poisonous atmosphere emanating from the home contingent. We are talking of the days when away support was caged as a rabid animal might be on an open terrace, asked to pay, even then, exorbitant prices for obscured views. And the most abiding memory: being retained in the cage after the final whistle by the local constabulary to allow the pitch-invading home fans to pelt us with all available missiles.
It wasn't at this point that I determined never to visit Kenilworth Road again, though the thought had been sown, I suspect. It was, however, as I (we? My father claims to have attended this match, though I doubt this since I had long since questioned his devotion to the cause following a row with his then-adolescent son over transportation to a Preston fixture which would allow me to see the retiring legend that was Bobby Charlton play) walked beneath a multi-storey car park whose upper floor was lined by the menacing live ramparts of further marauding Luton supporters.
So imagine my surprise, some (twenty plus) years on, after a period of consolidation in my life, having two children, my sister marrying a Luton season ticket holder (also twenty-odd years ago), accepting an offer to attend (in the absence of the regular ticket holder) the first local derby in the league for eight years. My father reminded me of the previous pledge never to return but I figured that, given the passage of time and festive spirit and goodwill that had engulfed the household, that things must have changed; at least I would not be in the away fans' end, so therefore would not be detained at the end of the game.
As previously mentioned, the brother-in-law has been a Hatters supporter (and indeed, season ticket holder) for as long as I can remember and is a generally mild mannered, quiet, unemotional fish. So when he makes the initial offer a few days before the game, I raise a metaphorical eyebrow as he also offers apologies for the behaviour of the crowd in the area in which he sits. By way of an excuse, he suggests that they come from Stevenage and adding that indeed I may know some of them from my Stevenage Sunday League playing days. Rather than arousing further feelings of caution, this intrigues me and I arrange for him to collect me on the day.
Travelling to the game with BinL, who makes further crowd behaviour apology, we stop to collect, and I am introduced to, Tim, who is another regular and long time friend of BinL. Tim is a man of few words but has previously travelled to Ipswich for the Hatters' unfortunate (honestly) defeat, and is evidently still smarting. The conversation in the car is generally mild and relates to newspaper rumours of transfer deals and the like. Tim seems a bit of a spoiler and seems convinced that Mr Boothroid will be snapped up in the near future.
BinL has a well established routine as most regulars to any game have, we park in an obscure side street with no trouble and are apparently within ten minutes' walk of the ground. For me, there is no routine, I check nervously the current playing strip to ensure that my earlier neutral wardrobe selection had been correct, avoiding where possible (in order of priority) reference to yellow, black, red, white, orange. I would never consider myself sartorially elegant but Monday's outfit was probably a biscuit-taker.
And so the game. Well, it should first be understood that our tickets provide a front row "perch" maybe five metres from the halfway line in the direction of the home end. We are, as to be expected, surrounded by Hatters; a quick survey reveals a former Sunday League (same team) centre-half, but I think I get away with it. So we kick towards the home end, Ashley Young lining up almost literally within touching distance, though our almost subterranean position would mean touching calves or lower.
Then it begins; an incessant stream of foul abuse, not even witty, certainly not creative nor indeed fit for reproduction in any way shape or form here. The main target is Ashley who, I think, initially in surprise throws a half glance towards the stand then proceeds to ignore it. I cannot (dare not look around) identify any single culprit, it seems the whole area to my left, right and behind (Tim and BinL excepted) has erupted. Including one character behind me who is making a more than passable impersonation of the Spitting Image Roy Hattersley character (thank goodness for the waterproof coat), and why not, as I have just noticed the irony in the surname....
Meanwhile, Darius has put away a peach of a goal - well, looked good from below - and Al Bangura is playing a monster game. I am now amused that the pre-match abuse also included the fact that the Watford team comprised a large proportion of midgets with spiders legs and that "we won't even have to jump". This takes partisanship to a new level: surely this, collectively, is the tallest Watford team for a number of seasons? Anyway, the Luton players seem to have adopted the advice not to jump for any aerial balls. At some point, Ashley and Macca swap flanks, Mr Hattersley fails to observe (interpret) the change in the writing on the players' shirts and continues to accuse "Young" of all sorts of crimes from birth onwards....
Watford continue to dominate, and the linesman (chequered flag) starts to divert some of the attention away from Ashley with some rather late decisions, reflecting BinL's earlier comment in the car that officials have been instructed to "dwell" on their decisions as by way of improving their accuracy. I'm not sure of the validity of this comment but give lino the benefit of the doubt. Then he gives a free kick for a foul on Ashley following his picking the ball up on the corner of the area and being forced wide. Seemed like a not unreasonable decision to me, more harsh would have been a penalty, which, from where I was, it arguably could have been as he crossed the corner of the box. Macca lines up the kick, Malky makes his touch and, yep...must sit tight on these hands!
My surroundings predictably explode, this time the target being the lineman (who could do a passable impersonation of a young Vinny Jones). At half-time young Vinny legs it to the dressing rooms, not waiting for his colleagues in the centre circle.
Lucky half-time anything? Well, still alive and retaining anonymity - pretty lucky. Decline offer of tea since this will require visit to tea hut and help carry cups, with risk of recognition. Oops, too late...former Sunday League colleague seeks me out, he whispers conspiratorially that "it's okay, he won't say anything just yet". I try faint-heartedly to divert the subject to our previous Sunday Football exploits, but he continues to ask which matches I've seen at the Vic this year....
Second half and Luton up the ante, predictably. There is some uncertain defending and their man puts away a rather gifted chance. The pressure mounts and the next notable event (or event noted by me) was Ben Foster pulling off a remarkable save from a header. He lands heavily on his hip which he clutches but presses on. Young Vinny is being told that he still "owes us a goal", though surely that level of abuse is not going to sway him in the direction of sympathy; a bottle wings its way by his ear and onto the pitch.
Ben Foster pours more oil on the fire, calling Chambers back to take a goal kick which incenses my surroundings. Alec has been warming up for a while now, which is ignored by the massed ranks, and Foster gets treatment. At this point, we see Aidy's so called "management of the game" begin, although I am pretty sure that Al Bangura was decked by a white shirt and Ashley had someone try to kick a slice out of him; he did, however, retaliate following treatment when fouled and was therefore up for the red card. Though if I were him I might have been up for a Cantona, the shit he had had to take.
Young Vinny did miss a couple of throws down our line while seeming to spend too much time looking for offside potential and hence attracted more attention. Last word on the time wasting thingy: Mr Newell, get some ball boys. No professional footballer is going to walk (let alone run) down the touchline to retrieve a ball at 2-1 up away from home. Cries of "cheat" ring out around me but then where's the difference from claiming the ball did not cross the line for Malky?
On a slow news day a few months ago, there were reports that the most successful dinosaurs were the descendants of today's birds, since they were capable of adaptation (they grew feathers). On Monday's evidence, bring on a localised meteorite strike and hasten the end, surely there is a limited future for this type of support? Or do I have a rose tinted view of the Vic?
I had a good long bath before a late lunch, but I still feel unclean, Mr Hattersley.