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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 2/5/98
Fulham 1(0)
Scorers: Beardsley (61)
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Bazeley 3, Kennedy 2, Lee 4, Millen 4, Mooney 3, Noel-Williams 3, Hyde 4, Palmer 4, Johnson 4, Hazan 2
Subs: Gibbs (for Palmer) 4, Robinson (for Noel-Williams) 0, Andrews
Scorers: Noel-Williams (35), Lee (71)
Report by Ian Grant

What a day. One extraordinary golden afternoon to banish any feelings of bitterness or anticlimax, both the culmination of a season's work and this almighty rush of unexpected exhilaration.

Promotion was achieved with a sense of satisfaction, little more. The Championship, something that most of us regarded as slightly incidental until Saturday, was won with pitch invasions and p!ss-ups and everything we'd imagined success to be about.

I've writing this with a sore throat, a hangover the size of Australia and a head full of jumbled, jubilant recollections. I'll tell you what really summed the day up for me - seeing Kevin Birdseye, even more disillusioned and disgusted by the price rises than me, wandering happily around on the pitch, sporting a big fat f***ing grin from ear to ear. Whatever the future holds, Saturday 2nd May can't be taken away from us, can't be cheapened or soiled by anyone. It's ours.

I'll go back to the beginning. There was this feeling of confidence before kickoff, as if at long last some of the pressure had been lifted. From the spring sunshine by the Thames to Steve Palmer starting in the number nine shirt to complete the set, it was all smiles and relaxation. I don't really believe in fate but....

What followed was your classic smash 'n' grab away win. As news of City's demise at Preston filtered through, the sense of anticipation spread around the away end. On the field, we did all we could, fighting so hard against a Fulham side that possesses some style but lacks that crucial sense of 'all for one'. Whatever the outcome of the playoffs, the story of Fulham's season is a cautionary tale - there are certain things that money can't buy.

The first half saw the home side dominate. Watford were hampered by an early, Moody-inflicted injury to Steve Palmer (fortunately, Nigel Gibbs - more than capable of playing anywhere at the back - was waiting on the bench). In addition, a heavily watered pitch left players slipping and sliding - Gifton Noel-Williams was particularly unlucky to end up losing his feet as he rounded the last defender.

For all Fulham's fluency, two of the best openings were created by defensive errors. After only five minutes, Micah Hyde failed to clear and Peschisolido fired over the bar. Later on, a cross-field ball hit Darren Bazeley on the heel and the resulting cross flew just over the same striker's head. The worst scare came just before the opening goal, Bracewell's mis-hit shot getting a flick and hitting Alec Chamberlain on the knees before Tommy Mooney thumped the ball away.

The Hornets had struggled at the other end, playing with the lack of effective width that so often characterises our more stuttering performances. That was illustrated by the fact that the the goal resulted from our first truly cohesive move and that the move was based around Hyde's burst into space on the right wing. From the terrace, Hyde's low cross seemed rather hasty - that is, until poor defending allowed Noel-Williams to steal in and bundle the ball home.

If the half-time lead flattered us, nobody on the away terrace cared. One-nil to the Golden Boys. Two-one to the Preston. The Championship was just forty-five minutes away.

A lot can happen in forty-five minutes, though. Fulham came out and gave us something of a mauling, to the extend that the big prize seemed liable to slip from our grasp at any moment. We coped well for the most part, demonstrating that resilience is as much a part of a successful team as anything, but that didn't make being a spectator any less nerve-wracking.

Other teams might've been swept aside. But we're better than that and we emerged from the battering having conceded an equaliser but no more. Peschisolido, who remains a cheating little asswipe, had had a goal disallowed for a foul on Chamberlain before Beardsley made his only telling contribution, collecting a pass and shooting decisively from the edge of the area to level.

At that point, we started to worry. The margin of error was too small - just a City equaliser or another Fulham goal to send the Championship to Bristol. Worse, there seemed little prospect of a Watford goal. With both Alon Hazan and Peter Kennedy shrinking away from an increasingly intense contest, our attacking was scrappy and hesitant.

It remained so. But the desire won through - the energy of Hyde and Johnson, the leadership of Lee - and the tide turned. Aside from a couple of fairly routine saves by Chamberlain, the panic subsided and, for the first time, it was Watford creating the chances. Mind you, seeing Lee recklessly scrape a shot wide from the edge of the box didn't do the nerves much good.

That was to be forgotten, though. The winner wasn't a classic but it'll be replayed many, many times on my video. Hazan's cushioned header down to Lee from Bazeley's cross to the far post was perfect; Lee's shot bounced its way slowly towards the goal. I lost sight of it as the terrace erupted - somehow it had squeezed between the keeper's out-stretched hand and the post. The celebrations were wild - the nerves were gone, Lee was a hero once more, Watford were going up as Champions. Kennedy came close to sealing it a few minutes later, curling a magnificent shot against the post - I can scarcely imagine how mad we would've gone if that one had hit the net.

From the final whistle onwards, it's all just a triumphant blur. The players had a few moments to themselves, bounding about like a troupe of caffeine-enhanced Tiggers, before the pitch was invaded by hundreds of Watford fans. The stewards gave up, the players were swamped, Robbo was heaved up onto shoulders to conduct the celebrations. I stayed on the terrace, surveying the incredible scene and savouring the occasion, trying to tattoo the picture onto my mind's eye.

From Craven Cottage (eventually) to Trafalgar Square, joining a couple of Sunderland fans in tribute to Super Kev on the way. Central London greeted us with curiosity and amusement, tourists gathering round to get a look at some authentic English mad people as some took a dip in the fountains and others found the off licence. A happy hour of drinking and singing later, we moved off as the cold set in and planted ourselves in a nearby bar for the evening to work on the next day's hangovers. Then, finally, the staggering journey back to good ol' Brighton in ridiculously high spirits and a wayward walk home through deserted streets that echoed to the sound of one very tired and emotional Watford fan bellowing "WE'RE GOING UP AS F***IN' CHAMPIONS!".

My head hurts, my throat's knackered, my bones ache...but the stupid grin remains. Like I said, this can't be taken away from us. Nostalgia is made of days like this.

Report by Nick Grundy

If you're looking for coherence, try my Luton report - that one was better.
If not -
What a game.
Quiet opening few minutes, Bristol City one down. Massive cheer, "One-nil, to the Preston boys" goes up.

City equalise ten minutes in. Groans.
Preston go ahead again. Cheers.
City have someone sent off (or at least, I thought so. It now turns out this was total rubbish, and probably due to my hearing "Blackburn" as "Bristol". It nonetheless made me very happy).

I may be wrong, but a ball is cleared down the right hand side, where a lovely touch from Hazan puts Hyde away. His cross is slid home by Gifton. We all go mental.

Half time, and all's well. Several 'Orns take their tops off. Rupe gets abuse for wearing some very strange underpants - "Rupert's got a nappy, Rupert's got a nappy, la-la-la-la".

Fulham look quite good for a while. Beardsley scores a very good goal. Bugger. We keep singing.

Jason Lee fires in a low shot from the edge of the area. We watch it as it heads for the post. It inexplicably fails to hit the post, hitting the very corner of the net instead. We all go absolutely spare again. Pete wins his ten-goal bet, not that I imagine for one minute that this will in any way spare the Fulham constabulary from his wrath.

We start to look a bit better. Moment of second half: quite good build up, ball gets played in from the right hand side and someone (no idea who, sorry) is seen to arrive in the box in an "I'm bloody well going to score this" sort of a way. I may have imagined it, but I thought everything went totally silent as whoever it was lofted the ball over the blocking defender and the keeper and inches over the bar.

We look a bit crap again. Robbo comes on for Gifton, and we look a lot better. Despite my willing him to cripple Brevett for an earlier filthy tackle on Bazelli, he fails to do so.

The Bristol City game ends. We go nervously spare.

Our game ends. We go absolutely berserk. A few people get onto the pitch immediately. I have to work my way down the front, where I cross the wall directly in front of a policeman. He tells me to get back over. I say "but there's no room". He says "get back over or you're nicked" rather sheepishly, given that there are several hundred people behind him. I sit on the wall until he goes away watching Robbo singing on top of a crowd of about fifty-odd.

We all chant "Bring on the champions" and so on. The Fulham PA person produces the most amusing lines I'd heard in a footie stadium since his "excited" half time score announcements (You know the voice that bloke on the BBC does when the score is "Man Utd 0, Man City 48" and you're a Man City fan and so is the bloke on the BBC? Our man at Craven Cottage did this for Grimsby v. Accrington Stanley (possibly) when it was 0-0). He says "The Watford team will not be appearing on the balcony" in his best official voice, followed by "because - errrrr - it's not safe." This would doubtless have passed unnoticed were it not for the presence of half the Fulham coaching staff and most of their reserves on said balcony. Alan Smith seemed particularly amused as he disappeared inside laughing.

Then lots of us went to Trafalgar Square, having phoned Tony-who-decided-not-to-go-to-the-game to tell him how amazingly good it had been first. Much singing and shouting and chanting on the trains. I meet the man in charge of security for England games because he sits next to Steve on the train and gives us the full-times. Weird, huh.

Another amusing moment (why is winning the title so much more amusing than finishing 13th?) - the inimitable Rupe leans out of a train at a station to shout at someone sleeping on one of the benches. He shouts "WAKE UP! You'd fallen asleep.". The man, rather sportingly, asks what team we support. Rupe tells him "Watford", and the gentleman - even more sportingly - says "Oh. Well then, what do you think of Luton?" This is too good an opportunity to pass up, and we give him a cheer as the doors close.

Then, lots of us go in the fountain. It's very cold, I ruin a perfectly good pair of shoes, spend the next six hours in sodden shoes and socks, and get water up my nose which will probably give me some vile disease related somehow to dissolved pigeon-shit. Oh well.

Next up, we all go and sit on one of the lions for a photo, and while on this raised platform, Rupe (again) decides to bare his posterior, which had been painted yellow and red in the pub, to the assembled crowds of photo- and video-ing tourists....

And, to almost universal amusement, an officer of her majesty's Police Force. Rupe is called down from Nelson's column ("Boooooo!"), but escapes with a caution ("Rayyyyy!").

We all go and get drunk.