Breaking the Nationwide habit
By Pete Fincham
Come August, Watford FC will revisit the grounds that have predominated in my footballing away days. Returning to Prenton Park and Deepdale may not be up there on my absolute wish list in life, but for more seasons than not these trips were part and parcel of life as a Watford fan. Maybe fewer away fans go to Prenton Park than Old Trafford, but the loyal still go; you just tend to question your sanity more regularly.
So this year, instead of getting depressed about how poor performances have been, I prefer to quantify it in terms of how much better it has been than the past. Like the dreadful Colin Lee and Glenn Roeder seasons in the early '90s, or how bad a spectacle it was in 1997 when we finished 13th in Division 2! We might have got relegated this year with am embarrassingly low points total, but at least we did not get wet at Saltergate on a Tuesday night.
The Watford faithful have regularly brought atmosphere to a succession of Premier League morgues; we have played against the best, and very occasionally beat them! The team itself is now considerably stronger than when we got promoted with the Mooney-inspired run at the end of 1998-99; but let's face it, our promotion was more through luck than judgement, and those who predicted our downfall must be laughing all the way to the bookies.
We have had a chance to test the myth of whether Old Trafford really was the inspiration behind "Sounds of Silence", or if The Dell is indeed something that should have been condemned by now. We got to see whether Uriah Rennie really is as appalling as has been suggested for some time, and found out whether "Match of the Day" really do edit out the crowd noise if it gets too controversial. In short, we got to witness the whole stage-managed pantomime at first hand, and have answered 'Yes' to all of the above.
Not that we would not return, mind you!
But when we do, it will be as a team and a club much better equipped to deal with the challenge ahead. Graham Taylor may be accused of being na´ve and Old School, the club of being short sighted, and the fans simply foolish for getting behind our own footballing Titanic! But I would counter these accusations by suggesting that, while on the face of it our Premiership campaign was not a success, it has been more successful than most other teams' league campaigns this season. We have not just taken the money and run, and the fans have not been fanatically supportive because we are simpletons. Because now we can see that there are strong plans in place for the future, plans that are more attainable than those many of next seasons illustrious opponents will put into action year on year. These are plans that have been created because of this season, a season which was the piece of luck we needed to break the habit of Nationwide football, and give the stability that means the forthcoming seasons may see us break it for good.
Back as Champions? Maybe! More importantly, as someone who does mean "I'm Watford 'till I die", be it Anfield, St. Andrews or St. James' Park in Exeter, I'll see you there!