By Jeff Dell
The tennis tournament in Dhaka saw the Brits playing the Americans. I was playing doubles with Jim, a man I much admire for his scowling sarcasm and mocking irony. Wonderful as these traits are, what I particularly relate to is his contrition in the mornings after the nights before. There are many in an ex-pat society who do not know the rules until they've broken them or who don't like the rules in the first place but don't know how to handle them. There are others, those who know the rules, despise them, break them and don't give a toss - and who show no contrition. These are the people I most admire but cannot emulate because giving a toss is deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Giving a toss cripples me: it makes me bite my tongue, tells me my place and makes me fear for my future.
And this is why I could relate to Jim - the struggle not to play by the rules and the self-doubt the next day demonstrates the hold the rules have over us. Contrition: the struggle made manifest.
We arrived at the Club early but played late, giving us plenty of time to drink double vodkas and orange. Had we been drinking gin and tonics we could at least have claimed a medicinal justification for this excess - the quinine in the tonic being part of the cure for malaria, or so red-nosed colonialists would happily kid themselves. We were less concerned about malaria - there being no reported cases of anyone contracting it in Dhaka itself - than the prospect of a sound beating by the Yanks. It was a given that we'd break the dress code - something so stupid that I won't waste my time talking about - but good company, some nerves and too much time on our hands conspired to lead us to the bar.
After falling behind we levelled and then pulled ahead. At one point I had a bout of giggles so wonderfully crippling that I lay on the court for the fit to pass. One of our team, a British military advisor to the Bangladeshi government, called out "You're losing it, Geoff" but he might have said "The rules, Geoff, think about the rules - what's the bloody point of winning if we've broken the rules!". In finally winning 8-6, we'd beaten our opponents but lost the plot. By breaking the rules we'd won in a very losing sort of way. Class!
And in the morning? No contrition. Vodka and tennis, game, set and match. Doncha love it?
And so to Watford. We know the rules that say clubs our size have no business in the Premiership but they're not our rules, we despise them and we don't give a toss. In breaking the rules we set ourselves free. If Derby can do it, we can do it. If Leicester can do it, so can we. And even if they can't, we can. Next time.
We judge ourselves not just by the quality of our football but also for the quality of our character. We defy convention: we are magnificent in defeat, not preferring it, but accepting it and dealing with it, learning from it and moving on. It is our Club, it employs our Manager on our behalf and it is our team, which plays for us. And for this, and for the winning manner of our losing we are beaten but not defeated.
And in the morning? No contrition, not a bit of it. No apologies. No self-doubt. We are Watford and we are free. We are class, and we'll be back.