"Ooh, it's a corner!"
By Jeff Dell
Does anyone still sing that? Well, I suppose not. I've been a Watford supporter from the age of nine when I first went to Vicarage Road and got smitten by a fandom that has since been a sort of ballast to a peripatetic life of wanderlust. I'd like to say that I was born to be a Watford supporter - and I suppose you could say that being born in Herts was a pre-determining indicator - but I wasn't. I was born to be a football supporter, a disciple of that blend of poetry, dance and drama that is still more than a game of two halves. I was also born to be a fan, a belonger, a member, an affiliate.
I didn't truly belong to Watford until my first home match - though I have no idea whom we played nor what the result was. I wore a top hat and carried a rattle in days when there was no 'away end'. I have a collection of disparate memories: I was at the testimonial to George Catleaugh, I can still see a fabulous tackle from Ken Furphy playing right back. I remember a freak goal from Brian Owen on a foggy winter evening, the ball ballooning into the sky and passing a goalkeeper who was dumbstruck - in the days before keepers grew despairing arms and the work 'gobsmacked' gained currency. I was there for the return of Cliff Holton - not to the heavens from whence he came (peace be upon him) - but to Watford which had been in mourning since his departure. I posted a team photo to Charley Liversey and I like to think that the autographs that covered it when he sent it back were not all his own work.
I remember promotions and relegations and in-between seasons of 'if onlys' and 'thank Gods' - though I couldn't pin them down to years. I still feel the cold bones of a November Wednesday evening kick off and the long walk home to Bushey. Then I was away: Israel, India, Nepal and Australia, backpacking - the pursuit of an alternative life-style in an alternative setting. I was on a Kibbutz in 1973 with a mate who had the Watford Observer sent to him - long before the days of the Internet and BSaD. He now lives in Sydney where he still receives the odd copy - that I send him. In Pakistan and India, down to Malaysia and Singapore, it was always Monday papers that carried the results. Where there was life there was football and where there was football there was always a tangential link to The Vicarage. In Morocco, one afternoon, crashed out in the bedroom of a doss house, I heard the faint chorus of "If you've all f***ed Tina, clap your hands" from the football match on the downstairs TV, a ditty that must even now make Peter Shilton cover his head in horror.
I was back for our greatest days - so far - of Taylor and Elton, of Wemb-er-ley (saw every match in that cup run including the win over Birmingham and Barnes's wonder goal and, of course, the final) and then I was gone again. Via a circuitous route that included Saudi Arabia and New Zealand (where I saw Taylor's England draw with the Kiwis), I found myself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Here for four years I jousted with the Spurs fanatic who spent some of his time as Director of the British Council. It was getting awkward because by this time I couldn't tell him the name of a single Watford player. And then we were relegated. Finding it difficult to put a positive spin on this turn of events, I could only say that Taylor would be back, aided and abetted before long by Digger who would eventually inherit the mantle of player-manager and then manager, with Taylor 'Director of Football'. Come the moment, come the fan.
Now I'm in Bangladesh, I've formed the BWATSA - that's the Bangladesh Watford Supporters Association. I am the one full-time member, though I've given an honourary membership to a Bushey woman who's here as Director of Save The Children US. Full time members have to have a WFC sticker on their car. I'm expecting a rash of orders at the end of the season.
It doesn't really matter that I wouldn't know a Watford player if he lay on the ground in front of me dribbling like Stewart Scullion, or towered over me like Ross Jenkins or ghosted ephemerally about me like Digger Barnes. Fandom doesn't need such detail, belonging is a concept, not a name. As I walk along Gulshun Lake in Dhaka, on my way to work in Dhanmondi, I can still hear that spine-tingling cry of the newspaper seller as I'd leave the ground at the end of a Saturday match - "all ya'rarf times, free firty winnas." Do they still say that? I still belong to Watford, not the town, certainly not Herts and maybe not even England. I belong to the club as much as it belongs to me. I am its and it is mine, indivisible, symbiotic, umbillically joined at the memory gland. You can take the boy out of Watford but you can't take Watford out of the boy. Somewhere, in a corner of a foreign field, there'll always be a Watford.