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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
FA Cup Trail:
FA Cup Fourth Round, 25/01/03
Farnborough Town 1(0)
Team: 1. Tony Pennock 2. Micky Warner 5. Nathan Bunce 24. Darren Annon 3. Justin Gregory 20. Gary Holloway 16. Danny Carroll 7. Steve Watson 10. Christian Lee 18. Ken Charlery 22. Rocky Baptiste
Scorers: Baptiste 71
Arsenal 5(2)
Team: 13. Stuart Taylor 12. Lauren 18. Pascal Cygan 23. Sol Campbell 16. Gionvanni Van Bronkhurst 28. Kolo Toure 4. Patrick Viera 15. Ray Parlour 7. Robert Pires 9. Francis Jeffers 25. Kanu
Scorer: Campbell 19, Jeffers 23, 68, Bergkamp 74, Lauren 79

Referee: A. Wiley
Crowd: 35,108 (official)
Conditions: Mild, occasional blue skies with intermittent sunshine

Entry: 26.50 adults, 13.50 concessions
Programme: 2.50 for 68 pages in full colour with 2 staples
Refreshments: Lager 2.70, Coffee 1.20, Crisps 70p
Distance travelled: 87 miles to Oakwood and then Tube (8 stops, 3.70 return)

"Fond memories"
By Baz Barry
 
I have fond memories of three Watford games that I didn't see.

Back in 1979 I suffered my first bout of reverse superstition that afflicts all football nuts from time to time. I had convinced myself that I had become an unlucky omen at away games. Pushing for promotion the Hornets had lost at Southend, Swindon and Carlisle, and all because I had been to the three games. So reluctantly I decided not to travel away to the penultimate game of the season at Sheffield Wednesday. Of course, my absence meant we won a 3-2 thriller, the coaches were bottled before and after the game and if pushed I am sure I could give a decent summary of a game I didn't attend. (Goals from a Bolton penalty, Jenkins and Blissett.)

More vivid in my mind's eye is the afternoon at Oxford in 1990 when the Horns avoided relegation. No elaborate excuses this time, I just didn't go for a long forgotten reason, but again I can conjure up strong images of a packed away terrace, Wilkinson bundling the ball in for the only goal and the players waiting after the game for the other results, then Gibbs and Porter leading the celebrations as word spread that we'd escaped the drop.

And then there's the 1987 FA Cup Quarter Final away to Arsenal, on the day I was traveling back from my one and only skiing holiday. Earlier in the season, Tony Coton had been sent off for swearing at the linesman and GT pulled a clever one by complaining that the same referee was in charge of the Cup tie. Leading 2-1 and with minutes to go, the Arsenal players stopped for what they saw as a blatant hand ball. The ball rolled through to Luther who turned twice to check if the ref had allowed play to continue, before sprinting unopposed from the half-way line to score at the Clock End with his trademark second attempt after the first was saved. All hell broke loose and rumbled on for days after.

Okay, I'll come clean. The recollection is a fraud because I have a tape of the highlights shown on "Match of the Day" and it's the tape I will always watch when in need of a Watford fix. But it was my favourite game that I didn't attend and it was the game when I realised that Arsenal and I would never get on. Believe me, I have tried to give them the benefit of doubt, or at least tolerate their foibles...but it's no good. They will always be pompous, pretentious and peevish. Saturday was no different.

As you approach the away turnstiles at Arsenal, you walk under a sign that proclaims "Welcome to Highbury - The Home of Football". Personally, I thought "The Home of Football" was Wembley or better still Stuart Clarke's marvellous photographic exhibition in the Lake District, but by half time Dave and I realised the sign should read, "You Should Feel Privileged To Watch Arsenal at their Home of Football".

You would think a thirty-five thousand crowd and a streaker would generate some noise and a 5-1 victory with a sending-off would create some passion but, no, the afternoon ambled by like a trip to the cinema. No wonder Highbury's called the library. I dare say the occasion wasn't helped by four and a half thousand of the five thousand Farnborough followers (I still can't call them fans) not knowing any of the Farnborough songs, or at least feeling too embarrassed to declare their hatred for Aldershot, but the Arsenal crowd seemed to turn up to be entertained and greeted each goal with a polite round of applause. Bravo.

And it seems I am not alone in my views. Arsenal even acknowledge they have a problem with the atmosphere at Highbury by dedicating a page in the programme to trying to "inspire a more passionate match day experience." A series of 'atmosphere' meetings have been held (I wonder if Arsene Wenger is in the chair?) and their next Fans Forum is dedicated to the issue. To start the ball rolling they've decided to let the fans choose what music the players run out to. Hot on the list of options are "Go West", "The A Team" and "Good Old Arsenal". Need I say more? Apart from how tempting it would be to hijack the e-mail poll (song@arsenal.co.uk) with multiple suggestions for "Z Cars".

There were four moments of interest during the game, three getting ovations from the whole crowd and two involving Francis Jeffers. He's a weasel of a player who seems to be at odds with the rest of the team. It was revealing to watch his teammates' increasingly exasperated faces as he once again tried to beat the Farnborough team on his own. It was also significant to see that it was his tumble that brought about the sending-off of Christian Lee after the faintest of touches. Whilst Parlour clearly pleaded with the ref not to apply the letter of the law, there was Jeffers scuttling around getting the ball to line up the free kick. The Arsenal crowd gave Lee a patronising ovation as he went for his early bath.

Later a Boro' player missed his tackle and kicked Jeffers by mistake. He responded with a blow to the head and the pair carried on their spat momentarily. Both should have been sent off or censored by video jury but apart from being replayed that night on "MotD" the incident has been glossed over.

The streaker made his appearance in the second half with birthday greetings to "Millie" scrawled on his sizeable torso. He was happily led away to another ovation but missed the Farnborough goal. Ken Charlery, ex- of Watford, put Rocky Baptiste through after a slip by Cygan and the ball was bundled in on the second attempt. No diving from Baptiste when the first shot was contested. The goal was greeted with much joy amongst the Farnborough followers and much applause from the Gooner fans. Bless them.

Having endured a second half performance from the Farnborough branch of the bronchial society sitting directly behind us, with a father and son coughing away in alternate bursts, we left early to beat the rush and miss any more pomposity. We agreed it had been the least enjoyable outing on the Trail.

After the game, Graham Westley - the Farnboro' manager, Chairman and owner - was grilled by the press on the decision to switch the game to Arsenal. A great deal of stick had been flying around. Instead of admitting they had cashed-in, he re-invented history by changing the original reasons (police advice, perimeter fence too low) to a brutal dishing of his Club Secretary, who wasn't able to cope with arranging the arrival of SKY television, the press pack, the extra security and the distribution of tickets.

It seems that I wasn't alone in thinking Westley is a real life version of David Brent from "The Office", particularly when Westley starts to talk about himself in the third person. The name of his company and club sponsors, AIMITA, stands for "Attitude Is More Important Than Ability" and they have News International as one of their clients. It was no surprise to see the shirt sponsorship for the Fourth Round had been sold to The Sun newspaper.

It will also come as no surprise that the AIMITA Corporation has a list of Ten Commandments. Number three on the list is "We constantly seek and seize opportunities". Number ten is "We value loyalty".

Two days after the Arsenal game, Westley left Farnborough to become manager of Stevenage.

Stevenage had sacked Wayne Turner when they dropped to the bottom of the Conference and not that long after their FA Cup defeat to Darlington. Westley will act as manager only and is prevented from having a financial interest in another club, so has promised to hand over his Farnborough shares to the other directors. Rumours soon appeared on the Farnboro' message board that it was more than coincidence that Farnboro' had been thumped 5-0 at Stevenage after Christmas, with several players strangely playing out of position. There was also speculation that the best Farnboro' players would follow their mentor and very soon four jumped ship. It shall be interesting to see if Stevenage avoid relegation.

Arsenal are away to Manchester United in the next round for what is already being billed as "the game of the season". Dave has the same feelings towards United as I do to Arsenal, so it should be an interesting day - if we can get tickets. We had been lucky for the Highbury game because Farnboro' gave priority to anybody who produced a ticket stub from the visit to Darlington. They didn't seem bothered that our stubs were for the home end. We've had no joy yet for tickets for the Fifth Round but we'll keep trying. (Can anyone help?)

Otherwise, our FA Cup Trail will come to an end and it could be another memorable game that I didn't get to see....