"Mrs Watford, I've Got Balls"
By Frances Lynn
In all my years of following the Horns, I've never been to a game abroad (Wales excepted). I was an impoverished student during our UEFA cup run and our more recent pre-season tours to foreign parts coincided with my living in the US; the combination of few vacation days and lack of proximity meant that this was not a viable option. So a Monday evening pre-season game in Denmark was irresistible as a new experience for me.
The guidebook that I bought had good things to say about Denmark's second city, although the list of attractions was noticeably small. My first impression was not that positive, but a short spell of sightseeing marked it out as a pretty and appealing city.
On the advice of the guidebook, Sunday afternoon found me in AroS, Århus's modern art museum. Now, I am not a great fan of modern art per se, but in the spirit of Betty's revolution, I determined to believe that anything is possible and open my mind to the new experiences. I was eased in gently with a Gilbert and George (who doesn't love Gilbert and George?). And I have to say that the rest of the museum provided plentiful entertainment for the afternoon. The most memorable piece was a video installation located on a landing between floors. Entitled "Construction in Space" this involved a model aircraft, a naked man and a piece of string. After my first snorts of derision, it occurred to me that this was truly a work of art. My reasoning was that my eyes had been attracted to various elements of the piece before discovering the true implications of the whole. I found myself feeling disappointed that the leaflet accompanying the installation was in Danish, as I was unable to share the artist's version of their vision. Or maybe the mixture of weissbier for lunch and the hot Danish sun had made me completely delirious. I went back to my hotel room for a lie down.
My companion for the game on Monday was to be the ubiquitous Don Fraser. Given that Don's artistic ideal consists of eleven men in yellow and a football, he eschewed the opportunity to soak up the culture of East Jutland and arrived Monday morning. After a quick spin around the town and lunch at a waterside establishment, Don turned on his phone to find messages informing him that kick-off had been brought forward to 7pm. We headed for the railway station and bought tickets for the trip. On asking whether anyone would help Don from his wheelchair on to the train, we were told that he should have requested such help three days in advance so we would have to take our chances on finding someone in an orange vest (surely not!!!) on the platform. We saw a local train come and go, and were encouraged that it appeared easily boardable. Then our train arrived and the doors opened to reveal three steps up to the carriage. Don sat in his wheelchair on the platform side of the door until some kind person offered to help us. Between us, we lifted Don into the train and I then had to go back for the wheelchair. I accosted a guard on the train requesting help at our destination and he duly came through, although it appeared that we were going to have to leave Don propped up against a pillar until I turned to see that some kind man had carried his wheelchair out for him, so we were all set.
On arrival, we determined to locate the ground and took a taxi through the suburban streets until the floodlights appeared. The stadium was completely deserted, but the gate was open, and we'd been informed that the game was free, so we entered. The pitches next door were hosting a training session, not involving anyone recognisable. Then I emitted a squeal, totally out of proportion with the excitement of the event, on spotting the scoreboard reading AC Horsens 0 Watford 0. At least we knew we were in the right place. Given the obstacles to wheelchair movement, we found our optimal position would be on the terrace behind the goal.
Having settled into our position on the terraces, I looked at my watch and a horrible realisation dawned. It was 4:30pm. Almost two and a half hours before kick-off. We had arrived ridiculously early for a pre-season friendly. It occurred to me that I wasn't in Cardiff two and a half hours before kick-off! I mentioned this startling fact to Don, who wasn't in the least bit perturbed. Seeing my irritation, he half-heartedly suggested exploring the town, but given that we'd seen nothing resembling a town on our journey from the station to the stadium, we decided to stay put, much to the amusement of the Horsens staff, who cheerily greeted us as they started setting things up for the game. It was about another hour before other Horns started arriving, followed soon after by the coach bearing the Watford players. Game on!
A Horsens official was handing out team sheets. Apart from typos for "Cloyd Doyley" and "Dominie Blizzard", they'd done a good job. So the team was to line up with Lee in goal; Doyley, Stewart, Mariappa and DeMerit in defence; Francis and Mahon in central midfield with Chambers and Young on the wings; and Marlon and Doris upfront. Although it has to be said that while the game did not contain the number of substitutions seen in some of the other pre-season games, there was a fair amount of experimentation with positioning. The named subs were Loach, Mackay, Blizzard, Spring, Bouazza, Priskin and McNamee. One thing of note on the team sheet was the Cheftræner for the Horns, David Hockaday! Was there something we hadn't been told? As it transpired, Hockaday was in the technical area giving instructions for a period at the start of the game, but Betty couldn't resist joining him.
I have no idea how strong the Horsens line-up was, likely not a first team given that they had played out a 2-2 draw in the league the evening before, but this was all about practice for the Golden Boys.
As the crowd trickled in (including some neutrals), we found that the Watford fans had gathered by the half-way line in the two stands, but access issues meant that Don and I stayed in our position half way up the terrace behind the goal. This was a gathering place for the Horsens fans and we quickly became accustomed to quizzical looks from locals being followed by a single word. "Welcome".
As the players came out, I determined to avail myself of another beer and visit the Ladies. Thus, having been in the ground for two and a half hours, I managed to miss kick-off. Pathetic.
After seeing us concede early goals in all the pre-seasons so far, it was encouraging that we were the team that started strongly, and we were ahead within six minutes. Doyley fed Chambers on the right wing, Chambers put a cross in, which eluded the Horsens defender and reached King, who finished clinically.
Horsens then had a very good spell culminating in a cross-shot that Lee, looking sharper than he had in earlier games, did very well to push onto the crossbar.
On the half hour, our company on the "home" terrace, which had consisted of a group of kids chanting HORSENS in our direction and banging the advertising hoardings when we dared to encourage our lads was supplanted by a rather lairy, older crowd, clutching beer bottles. One guy came up to speak to me, repeating a single word. When I shrugged and said that I didn't speak a word of Danish, he said, "My name is Allan." Blush!! In mitigation, I will say that while the Danish speak English with a very gentle, appealing accent, their own language is perfectly described by the Norwegians of my acquaintance as sounding like they are speaking with a potato in the throat. Anyway, Allan and co took up their places and started challenging the equally lairy element of the Watford supporters with their own chants, the most striking of which involved grabbing their crotches and thrusting à la Michael Jackson.
The eye was, happily, drawn back to the pitch as Sule beat Mariappa and put in a weak shot that Lee comfortably saved. This was turning into something of a midfield scrap. Then Mariappa put a throw in to Doris on the byeline, he headed it on to Marlon, but his shot was easily saved.
On thirty three minutes, Marlon received the ball from a throw. He turned, but appeared to be held back by the defender until he broke free and fired into the far corner. A beautiful goal.
On forty minutes, a Horsens attack was foiled as Lee came out to save at the feet of the attacker, Lawan.
The chants had been coming thick and fast from our neighbours and it was quite amusing that they chose to wind us up by chanting for Man Utd. Having listened for a while to the racy sounding chanting, I decided to ask Allan what they were singing and was disappointed to learn that it was something along the lines of "There's only one Steffen Ernemann". Be careful what you wish for, though, as my desire for racy banter was satisfied soon after with the sudden cry of "Mrs Watford, I've got balls." Not sure how you respond to that, but my retort that he was obviously very fond of them judging by the time he spent clutching them went down well with his companions.
Just before half-time, Henderson went on a good run and put a pass in to King who found Young on the wing. Young beat two players and put in a good cross cum shot, which unfortunately missed both the target and the inrushing Henderson.
Five minutes after half-time, Horsens had another chance with a shot that was initially cleared by Mariappa, but was fired back in for Lee to make another save. Watford were immediately on the attack as Mahon got the ball in the middle of the park and passed to Young on the wing, his cross was met by Henderson, who headed powerfully in to the far corner.
A couple of minutes later, Horsens were on the attack again and put in a powerful shot that Rich had to stretch to parry, the ball broke back and the second shot was saved. Then Horsens got a free-kick on the left, which looked dangerous until DeMerit took the sting out of it and it rolled weakly back to Lee.
On sixty one minutes, Doyley pulled back Avci, who had a taste for theatrics but deserved this decision, on the edge of the box. A powerful freekick was met by a great save by Lee. Four minutes later we made the first substitution with Bouazza coming on for Chambers.
Soon after, Stewart seemed to foul a Horsens player on the left, but was allowed to continue and crossed to Marlon who powered well over. Then, Horsens had another good chance with a close range shot that Lee did very well to keep out, the ball broke to another Horsens player and it looked like the Watford stopper would be beaten, but he was quickly up to complete an impressive double save. Horsens were having a good spell and this was soon followed by a defensive scramble allowing a close range shot that Lee again kept out. The next attack from Horsens involved Johansen breaking from what looked like an off-side position, but Mariappa put in a great saving tackle to avert the danger.
On sevety six minutes, Priskin replaced Henderson. Seven minutes later, the young Hungarian was on the scoresheet as he rose to meet Stewart's cross and headed Watford into a 4-0 lead.
With four minutes to go, McNamee and Spring replaced Young and King. This just left time for Macca to get on to the end of a pass from Doyley, beat three players, add a stepover and then pass to Francis who lost out to a defender's tackle.
A pleasing win. Particularly gratifying for the clean sheet and the tremendous performance that Richard Lee put in, blowing away the cobwebs from his exile in Morecambe. Afterwards, the Horsens fans, with whom we had shared the terrace, all came over and shook our hands and wished us luck in the Premiership. There was then time to chat with some of the Watford fans including Jacob, a Danish Hornet who I had never met but "knew" through his contributions to WML and time on IRC.
A very kind half-Danish Watford fan then called a taxi for us that didn't turn up. I eventually flagged down a taxi-van that was passing by that just happened to be adapted to take a wheelchair. Once we set off, the driver asked what we were doing there. Having answered that it was to see a football match involving our team and then naming the team, it was somewhat disconcerting to hear, "Watford? From the Premiership?" "Er, yes." He mentioned Elton's involvement and said that no Danish team apart from Copenhagen or Brondby would have fans traveling the way that we had. He then went on to praise the Horsens manager, Kent Nielsen, who had unexpectedly kept Horsens in the Superliga in their first season following promotion. He said they were lucky that they had a great young manager. I said that we were too. And the parallels in their progress were not lost on me. He then questioned Don on the reason why he needed a wheelchair and revealed that he only had one leg (his knuckles rapping on the prosthesis left no doubts as to the veracity of this statement). We arrived on the platform just in time for the arrival of the train to Århus. On asking a couple of fans in last season's home shirt their destination (with the ulterior motive that they would help me lift Don on and/or off the train), we discovered that they were Danes. Unbelievably gratifying to see support for the Hornets in far flung places.
And my hope for the season now is that we can "Do a Horsens". Having examined the table from 2005/2006, I see that they avoided relegation by one place and 9 points. I know that does not match Adrian's ambitions for us, but it would suit me just fine.