Really, the highest compliment that you can pay anything that looks back over football matches is
that it inspires daydreams. And "Four Seasons" does that in the most wonderful way.
Glancing through these pages is a marvellous experience. At each turn, a new image picks you up
and transports you to somewhere memorable. Whether capturing the ecstasy of Wembley, the crushing
misery of Boxing Day at White Hart Lane or the mixed emotions of Burnley, this is a book that allows
your mind to wander and dwell on past experiences.
Bearing in mind that the four seasons in question are those comprising the second and final Graham Taylor
era, a period that will be discussed and dissected and celebrated for as long as the first, there is no
shortage of experiences to call upon. Even so, there is much here that takes us away from the well-beaten
Indeed, it is perhaps in its coverage of the Premiership campaign that the book is strongest. While none
of us will ever grow sick of thinking about Craven Cottage or Wembley, too little has been written about that
long, gruelling season. It would be easy to add the word "crushing" to the list of adjectives, but that
would be inaccurate - it is precisely because we weren't crushed by it, because Graham Taylor
didn't allow us to be crushed by it, that we have our current new dawn.
Naturally, "Four Seasons" pays homage to the grand victories over Liverpool and Chelsea. But it never allows
us to forget that these were rare highlights, that much of what we experienced was deeply, deeply painful. Lionel
Birnie's gently opinionated, deftly-written commentary comes into its own here, striking a perfect balance between acknowledging
the agony of it all and yet remembering the sense of pride that didn't desert us.
And that's echoed by Alan Cozzi's glorious, lavish photographs. A jaw-dropping image of Allan Smart punching the air after scoring
at Goodison Park, the celebrating away fans in the distance; the enigma that was Xavier Gravelaine in innocent prayer
when denied by the linesman's flag at Derby; Heidar Helguson roaring celebration of his winner against Coventry. You
might think that most of our Premiership experience is best forgotten. "Four Seasons" makes you think again.
It makes you realise that we were there, just as last season made you realise that it wasn't our God-given right.
As in reality, the pages devoted to the most recent events are dwarfed by Graham Taylor's retirement. Reading
the story, you know what's coming...and it makes the matches themselves seem rather insignificant. Nevertheless,
there's a stunning image of Nordin Wooter in full flight, surrounded by white-shirted Norwich defenders and on his
way to scoring the goal of the season. In a sense, this part is for the future, for a time when it's not all so
fresh in the memory. Nevertheless, when you get as far as Burnley and the closing passages of the book, emotions
swell. Part of me still believes that it didn't really happen, that it didn't end there.
Of course, the first two seasons will attract the most attention, and there is both the familiar and the
unfamiliar in their portrayal. Too much to list here, and far too much for you to miss out on owning a copy of the book.
A couple of personal highlights, though. Predictably, but pleasingly so, there is Cozzi's defining image of
Wembley. In it, we see Nicky Wright in celebration of Allan Smart's winner. And he's literally screaming,
face contorted, fists clenched, veins bulging, arms stretching so far that it seems that they might split
his body apart. You just know that, if Cozzi's lens had been pointing in your direction at that moment,
it would've captured the same unbelievable out-pouring of joy.
Better still, there's a gigantic two-page picture of Steve Palmer. Sitting on the turf, socks down to expose
his shinpads, gazing off into the distance. Looking quickly, you could mistake it for the portrait of a beaten
finalist, dejected and broken. But the scarf around his neck doesn't quite hide the medal peeking out. And you
can follow his eyes, away towards the still-packed stands and the flags and the noise and the utter jubilation, and
see it all anew. A moment of silent contemplation in the middle of perfect pandemonium, it is one of the most beautiful photographs
you will ever see.
There is so much more than I've described here, so much more to put upon your shelf and pull out whenever
you need to remember that Graham Taylor was Watford manager more than once. In the light touch of the
commentary and the rich colour of the photographs, just as in the seasons themselves, there are countless
things to treasure.
For an interview with Lionel Birnie, click here. For ordering information, visit the "Four
Seasons" website at www.wfcbook.co.uk. For those wishing to buy
in person, "Four Seasons" is available from a stall in Vicarage Road precinct on matchdays. Additionally,
it can be bought from Watford Museum in the Lower High Street and from Waterstones in the Harlequin.