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Famous Defeats:

FA Cup 4th Round Replay, 2/2/69
Watford 0
Team: Watford: Walker, Welbourne, Williams, Hale, Eddy, Walley, Scullion, Garbett, Green, Endean, Owen
Manchester United 2
Rain, diarrheoa and George Best
Report by Colin Wiggins

This was the biggest match in the history of Watford Football Club to date. Watford, or rather 'gallant little Watford' of the Third Division, were taking on Manchester United, mighty Champions of Europe, in a 4th Round FA Cup replay at Vicarage Road. And this was the great United side, embellished by the likes of Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles, George Best and Denis Law. It might sound unlikely to younger readers but this magnificent team was genuinely popular and had won the hearts of virtually everyone in the country, unlike today's overpaid and dim-witted posers, so good at getting sent off for England. Equally unlikely, the FA Cup was then considered, by the FA itself, to be a worthwhile competition.

To salvage a draw at Old Trafford, United had been forced to rely on a mix up between Brian Garvey and goalkeeper Mike Walker that allowed Law to poach a second-half equaliser, after the now mythical (to us older supporters) Stewart Scullion goal after two minutes. My mum would not countenance her two precious boys travelling to the battleground of Old Trafford, so I had kept in touch with events via an incredulous David Coleman on BBC Grandstand.

Next day we dragged my dad out of bed at crack of dawn to drive us to Vicarage Road to get tickets for the replay. The queues were enormous, the spirit of optimism palpable with a genuine expectation that we would 'do' United on Wednesday night. And maybe we would have done, had not torrential rain intervened. I remember that sickening feeling on hearing that the match was postponed, the realisation that the momentum had gone. United had been on the ropes and the extra week may well have been crucial to them in regaining their composure. Had we been able to tear into them while they were still reeling from Saturday's shock, the outcome might well have been different.

But at last the day came. Me and my brother, two friends from school, Roger and Paul, and Roger's Dad. Plus 34,094 others. This is, of course, a record that will never be broken at Vicarage Road, a spectacular crowd. And in that crowd, a small drama independent of the match was beginning. Unable to move forwards, backwards or sideways, arms pinned to our sides and some thirty yards from the nearest toilet, my friend Paul decided that this would be the perfect time for him to suffer from a spectacular attack of diarrheoa.

I shall refrain from detail, save to say that at the back of the Vicarage Road terracing, towards the tumbledown shack known as the Shrodells Stand, was what can only be called 'a brick shit-house.' There had been occasions when I had ventured into its dark and stinking interior but only for the quickest of 'number ones' and, desperate for air, straight out again. No-one lingered there for longer than necessary, and it had never crossed my mind to enter into one of the foul and fetid pits that passed for cubicles.

Yet there, through the packed mass of humanity, Paul somehow forced his leaking frame. And disappeared. What nightmarish torments he suffered in there I do not ask. We recovered his pale and pallid (and very smelly) body after the game and took him home. The next day, his ghastly fate was the cause of much merriment, as we recounted his story at school with undisguised glee.

That was really the highlight of the evening, because Manchester United recorded a routine 2-0 win. In manager Ken Furphy's words, 'One flash of genius from George Best resulted in a cross to the far post. Denis Law was on hand to give them the lead and another Law goal in the latter stages of the game clinched it for them.' I remember Duncan Welbourne hitting the bar with a late volley but despite having much of the play (in Furphy's opinion, seventy-five percent) that was the only time Watford came near to seriously worrying United. I would wait for almost another ten years before finally seeing Watford overcome United, in the great Blissett/Rankin inspired night of October 1978.

But back to 1969. It was terrifying. I remember watching Grandstand when news of the Ibrox disaster of 1972 came through but that was quickly glossed over by the authorities. How similar disasters were avoided until Hillsborough in 1989, I will never know. At the United replay a crush barrier (remember those?) collapsed under sheer weight of people. At least thirty people were hospitalised and, frankly, were lucky to escape with their lives. But in those days these things were blithely accepted.

Indeed, they were part of the excitement of a 'big match.' Nobody then realised that they were risking their lives and trusting to sheer good fortune to return home safely. When I hear various people of today bemoan the passing of the packed terraces and their great atmospheres, I wonder at their sanity.

But I am still proud to say that on that record night of 34,099, I was there.