Division 1 Playoff Final, 31/5/99
Team: Chamberlain, Bazeley, Kennedy, Page, Palmer, Robinson, Ngonge, Hyde, Mooney, Johnson, Wright
Subs: Hazan (for Wright), Day, Smart (for Ngonge)
Scorers: Wright (38), Smart (89)
Bolton Wanderers 0(0)
Can life get any better?
Report by Stuart Cowan
We had managed to get to the first leg of the semis - had to drive over from Germany on the Thursday before the match to get tickets as they were only available from Vic Road. Anna came down from college so we all saw the match. We all thought that was amazing...but little did we know what was to follow! We were back in Germany for the second leg and watched on Sky. We feared the worst when we went one down after a few minutes and got more and more nervous as the game wore on. We could hardly bear the tension of the penalties and when Alex Chamberlain made the crucial save, Matt and I were just rolling around helplessly on the floor!
Tickets for the final would also only be available to personal callers and, as I couldn't drive all the way back a second time, we got ready to watch on Sky again. Monday was not a holiday here, so we cancelled all appointments and booked leave. Then, last Wednesday, I logged onto the Watford website and saw that a few tickets were being made available direct from Wembley by credit card. Fantastic! I called immediately and managed to book two tickets. I knew that I would have one of them but there was an agonising decision on whether Gilly or Matt would get the other. Gilly decided that it would probably be her one and only chance to see Watford at Wembley - so Matt had to stop at home, go to school and hope that it's not another fifteen years! Luckily he gets home at 3.30 local time so he could watch on Sky!
Luckily we could get return flights on Monday - hugely expensive, but what the hell! As we travelled from Heathrow (wearing our Watford shirts, of course) there was a growing sense of excitement as the trains became ever more crowded with fellow Hornets. Approaching Wembley was superb; red and yellow everywhere, flags, singing, beer, silly hats and perhaps a shade of disbelief that all this could really be true.
After a frantic search to find the ticket pick-up point we could relax with a beer, join the singing and really enter into the party spirit. There was such a difference in moods between the two camps. Bolton fans had the 'been here, done that' attitude and seemed to lack any spirit, whereas the 'Orns were just overwhelmed by the occasion and we really let ourselves go. And this was before a ball was kicked in earnest!
After a hesitant start, we all began to believe that this could be the day of days. The team worked so hard for each other and the Bolton team gradually began to lose confidence. Like their fans, they seemed to have the attitude that Watford had no right to be here and Bolton would cruise through and regain their rightful place in the Premiership (just like Wolves and Birmingham before them!). Bolton made some good efforts, but Chamberlain responded magnificently in goal. Then, on 38 minutes, the world changed forever. We had no idea how sensational the goal had been as we were too far away. We just saw the net bulge and pandemonium ensued. I just remember picking Gilly up in a great big hug and jumping up and down with her deliriously. All around, similar scenes occured - it was just amazing. The singing just never stopped after that and, as we saw later on the video, Bolton fans were just drowned in sound.
The tension grew and grew in the second half, with the spectre of Man City on Sunday's performance always lurking. But the Hornets just got better and better. They really believed they could do it - and it showed. Five minutes left, the wall of sound now deafening, fingers bitten, legs shaking. Could we hang on. Two minutes left, Peter Kennedy makes another incisive run down the left. The Bolton defence had disappeared, this can't be real, there's Smartie in the middle, unmarked, it can't be, perfect cross, it is.......GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLL. The hugs, the tears, the screams, the shouts. I never imagined life could have moments like this. And all around the passion was amplified. We've done it, we've bloody well done it! Keep up the spirits with more choruses of 'Are you watching Luton Town?', all eyes on the ref's right arm. And then it happens. A defining moment in Watford's history and confirmation of Graham Taylor's magic. The final whistle.
More tears, more songs, more jumping but, above all, 38,000 Cheshire cat faces in a sea of red and yellow. The dream fulfilled!
The return to Germany was equally amazing. On the tube to Paddington we were chatting to a Bolton fan who had only visited Vic Road once - when they were 3-0 up at half time and we came back to win 4-3 in the last minute. How we enjoyed re-living that game as well! It seemed that everyone wanted to know how the Hornets had done. Three enquiries on the up-escalator, a detailed account to the ticket office staff at Paddington, then a blow by blow account to the guard on the Heathrow Express. Everyone seemed so pleased that the underdogs had bitten back!
We checked in at Heathrow only to find that the check-in lady was also a Hornet and her husband and son were at the match. Another full account - she gave us the best seats on the plane and kept all the other passengers waiting while she heard the stories. They didn't seem to mind, the faith is spreading! More enquiries from the security check people and more smiles. Then, waiting in the departure lounge (naturally still in our Watford shirts), a guy came up and asked us if we had enjoyed the match. It turned out to be Colin Barnes, who works for the Watford Youth Academy. He had been on the pitch with the youth team before the match and was en route to Mannheim on a 'secret mission'. We got a fantastic insight to the match and, as we chatted, folk were gathering round to eavesdrop on the stories of Watford's memorable day - it was just brilliant. But it wasn't over yet. On the plane the stewardess wanted to hear the stories as well and just before we landed she brought us a 'little present to help celebrate, courtesy of British Airways'. Four bottles of champagne - brilliant, can life get any better?
We arrived home at midnight. Matt had recorded the match and he had left us a note before going to bed....'switch on video, press play and enjoy!' We did - he had set it to play as the corner was taken for Nick Wright's goal. We just hadn't realised how sensational it was. We replayed it twice and fell into bed, the end of a perfect day.