By Julie Gibbens, South-West Hornets
9.30 pm, Monday 31st May 1999
I arrived home in Chepstow finally shedding the tears that had threatened
all day, the sounds of Wembley still ringing in my ears and with little
voice left. A frustrating end to the day, the only highlight as the M4 took
me further and further away, the dozen or so cars, proudly sporting their
Watford colours, faces lighting up as I hooted past them. I spent an hour
on the phone to Watford - ringing those I hadn't seen but knew were there,
and those who didn't go but would love to hear.
Tuesday 1st June 1999
I wear my Wembley T-shirt around Chepstow and into College. Nobody seems to
notice as I buy every newspaper and I wished it was possible to drive back
up today and join in the celebrations, the cars hooting and the fleeting
glimpse of the players and GT as they go past on the bus.
It got me thinking...
When I look back over the past twenty years, apart from the elation of the births
of my children, my wedding day and the traumas of family illnesses so many
of my memories belong to Watford Football Club. At times like this they
come flooding back...
...the elation of staying up in 1979/80, the joy of the long trip home from
Wrexham in April 1981 - the first away win of the season - when in the top
of the stand you felt like you needed oxygen - so steep and so high was it...
...the never-to-be-forgotten season of 1981/82, culminating in the 2-0 win
over Wrexham when we danced on the pitch thinking nothing could ever match
that feeling again...until the next game...
...suddenly we're in Division 1: Watford 2 - Everton 0, Watford 8 - Sunderland 0, the visits all over the
country with the Family Enclosure culminating in the runners up spot...
...the pride and joy of standing in Kaiserslautern singing our hearts out for
...the fear in the crush outside the stadium in Prague, rescued by Ted who
hauled me into the air as I began to be lost in a sea of bodies followed by
the sheer disbelief that - with the reputation of England fans gone before
us - we were split into groups of five - three or four hundred fans dotted around a thirty thousand
...celebrating my 21st birthday the very day we beat Luton 2-1 at Kenilworth
Road, totally ruined by Roger Milford sending off Wilf Rostron...
...that wonderful day at Wembley in part ruined by the result, but never
forgotten in the last fifteen years...
...getting married in October 1986 and listening to the radio between the
church and the reception - 1-0 defeat at Arsenal, knew I should have gone...
...watching GT as he waved to the fans at Steve Sherwood's testimonial, little
knowing that he was waving goodbye...
...greeting the news of Dave Bassett's arrival with trepidation but giving him
a chance.then watching as he sold the team and departed within six months
and down we went...
...the next few years become a little blurred - passionless displays, the
celebrations reserved for the days we stayed up. Still going as often as
possible in spite of three pregnancies in quick succession - men have no idea
how uncomfortable football stadium are for heavily pregnant women! All the
while watching with abject misery the abuse of one Graham Taylor...
...1994 comes round, suddenly I'm leaving the town where I was born and
brought up. Hubby's job calls us to Wales but I resolve to return as often
as possible. A highly emotional New Years Day January 1995 sees me in floods
of tears - 'It's okay, love...they won...' says one concerned onlooker...and we're
...a shock this - not just the moving away but being able to find out so
little about my team - waiting for Saturday morning when the Watford
Observer is posted through the door...
...and so to 1996 - the girls are used to Mum running around the house
shouting whenever we've won. Embarrassing them outside a TV shop in Newport
when a win leaves us needing to beat Leicester at home to stay up, but also
reliant on other results having to go our way. The emotions ran high - I
shouted so loudly at one stage that I think I burst the ear drum of the poor
soul in front of me. But even in this bleak game memories are flooding in -
as news comes in of Millwall fans rampaging, Watford's are singing "We're
going to Shrewsbury"...
...a year in Division 2 - still popping up and down the motorway - actually
getting used to home games being away games and knowing that I can hear at
least two matches a season on Bristol radio...
...and the Championship...GT back at the helm and I'm either at the game or
dancing in Chepstow with every win...
...the thrill of actually meeting GT at the Chepstow Joggers 21st Birthday
Party, I totally embarrass myself by telling him he's my hero...
...my birthday comes round again, 2-1 at home to Bournemouth - what a night -
Watford supporters suddenly show their true passion and the trip home flies
by. If we win at Fulham and Bristol City lose we've won the Championship
and so we do. I come up for the tour of the town - people in Chepstow are
beginning to think I am very sad...
...it's not quite as frustrating living in Chepstow in Division 1 - teletext
give pre- and post-match reports and I listen to the Swindon and Bristol City
matches on the radio...
...the catalyst - Tranmere - I take my eldest daughter for the first time. Ten
minutes gone and she asks "when is it half time?". Oh dear. Is she going to be
a supporter? Within the hour, she's shouting at the ref, cheering the
goals and singing along. Yes, I think she could be! And the joy the
following morning of being called 'a passionate' crowd by the Sunday
...suddenly I'm running up and down the motorway every week - or so it seems -
it's costing a fortune but I can't miss out...
...the Birmingham game ends and we're cheering the players off the pitch but
it doesn't seem like we're not going to see them again this season...
...on to the utter frustration of listening to a completely biased Five Live
commentary at St Andrews. I'm shouting at the radio because they've
forgotten we beat them at home, had a player sent off and had a passionate
crowd or perhaps they don't know...
...so to penalties - apart from being there, listening to radio commentary of
a penalty shoot out is one of the most nerve wracking experiences because
there's the split second delay before they tell you whether it's in or it's
missed. And then I'm jumping around the room and people from Watford are
ringing. Am I coming to Wembley? What do they think?!...
...ticket safely purchased, I drive up on Sunday afternoon listening to the Man
City - Gillingham game and beginning to feel sick. Monday morning comes and
I go with my Godson, his mum and brother and they want to know what it was
like in 1984 and I remember I was only twenty-one and yet fifteen years on I'm even more
passionate, excited and nervous and yet in a strange way calm because
everywhere are Watford fans who believe - really believe - that we are going
to win. We're not just here this time, we're going to win it! I predict
3-1 - okay, so I gave them a goal but I got the two clear goals right...
...and WHAT A DAY, WHAT A TEAM, WHAT A MANAGER...
...afterwards, still pinching ourselves in disbelief and slowly changing the
chant from "we're going up" to "we are Premier League", we make our way to
Wembley Park. One of the staff has a megaphone:
"Platform 2 - trains to Watford"
"Platform 3 - trains to Stanmore"
"Platform 5 - as if you care - trains to London"
and he was right, we didn't care because we were going home to Watford
(albeit briefly for some of us). Our beloved team are in the Premiership
with my Hero in charge. The M4 has been seeing a lot of me this season....