By Jeff Dell
I'd been asking people for a few days if they had any idea whether the Playoff Final would be on TV and those who cared – not many, I have to say – thought probably not. They were right, but I kept the TV on right up until kick off, just in case. I'd already found out that it would be on Radio 5 Live but this isn't always reliable since matches I'd listened to before had sometimes been interrupted by a recorded message saying that they were sorry but contractual issues meant that broadcasting had to stop. If you're thinking that this is odd, and why would they have started transmission in the first place, then you're right, it is odd, but I can't explain it. And so I was a bit anxious. I'd considered flying home. My brother could get a ticket and how many games like this are there likely to be? I've been supporting Watford for forty-five years and the answer is 'not many'. But I couldn't really do it and I resigned myself to being in India as yet another moment of Watford history passed me by. I tuned in at 6.30, an hour before kick off India-time. We listened through the computer. When I first went overseas it would take me until Monday morning to find out the results, and only then if you were lucky. I'd pretty much instructed my kids to be home too. They've never lived in Watford and are going through hormone-induced psychosis and have a million other distractions like girl friends, exams, sleeping, being awkward and moody, spilling worn-once but dirty clothes over perpetually open drawers, making a mess in the kitchen and grunting. But they're good kids and they came home. Just before kick off I phoned my brother in the stands at the Millennium Stadium and asked that he give the Golden Boys a shout for me. I could hear the atmosphere, but that's the closest I came. 'I'm outside the bloody gates,' I lied. 'Where's my ticket? I came all the way from India – where are you?'
My boys joined me in the study as the match started. I called out 'Come on you Horns', but it sounded contrived. I know wireless freaks say that radio coverage is more evocative and gets you to work harder to imagine what's going on, but I didn't want to work hard. I'd wanted to watch the match not just listen-imagine it. My wife reckoned 2-1 to Leeds. I reckoned 2-0 to Watford. The boys were equally confident. From what I'd read we'd had a good end to the season and Leeds a poor run of form. And they're not much, really, nothing to be afraid of at all. And we have our own special one. What confidence he exudes, even outside the kidology.
So the four of us listened to Watford, sitting around the computer in the study of our home in Safdarjung Development Area in South Delhi, praying there wouldn't be a power cut. You really have to pay attention if you're not to get distracted. My eldest son lasted about twenty-five minutes before tuning into MSN and - until my nerves got the better of me and I told him to stop - we had to endure that banal 'poppadom' sound of incoming MSN messages over the commentators. The radio cut out for a minute or so just after the first goal. It seemed to me that Leeds might nick an equaliser just on half time but some Nimbo Panni (or lemon water) calmed the nerves and I thought we'd be okay. Half time; toilet break and cup of tea. I called my brother again but couldn't get through. Talked to my son about coming back next year to Sheffield Untied v Watford, since he'll be at Uni there. A sideways glance told me that this wasn't on his agenda.
Second half. My wife's distracted, asks me questions about her tax form and I'm irritated. My younger son's on MSN and that poppadom is back. The chowkihdar puts the water pump on and the noise is deafening. Water's at a low ebb in Delhi these days and it takes about two hours of pumping to get half a day's water. Pain. I was struggling to make this an occasion and not just an event but it's difficult. I don't even know what the players look like. I've not seen this team play a single game. I haven't been to the Vic for two years. It's difficult. You can stage an event, but not an occasion. And not around a computer, worrying about a power cut, dealing with the water pump, the bloody Inland Revenue and that blasted poppadom sound from MSN. Come on you Golden Boys.
I'd tried to persuade a mate of mine to join the other Sydney Watfordians and watch it together. But twenty-five years of living in Australia had given him other things to do. He was going to a meeting to demand a bridge be built over a stretch of road near his kid's school. Well, what could I say? Disappointed, sure, but he had the chance to watch it on TV with other Horns, and, well, he didn't take it. Take some public humiliation – IAN FLOWERS. Did he not realise what I was going through?
The water pump is off but the overhead fan is causing a racket. Income tax form's done. Looking at the computer. The screen has now gone blank. Try to imagine what's going on. My two brothers there. My Godson, nephews. That stadium I've never been to. Warm plastic hot dogs in stale rolls with cheaper by the ten gallon tomato sauce. The programme. Arriving at Cardiff Central. Finding your way. A sea of yellow and red. Mates. A warm pint on a cold day. The Golden Boys. Something that's always been there, whatever I've done, whoever I've done it with, wherever I've been. Watford. Come on Watford.
The commentator didn't know what to make of the second goal and I couldn't really picture it that easily. But it was a goal, and we were almost safe, almost there. I gave a quiet pneumatic sideways punch. "Yeess!" You Golden Boys. Some more Nimbo Panni – we hadn't turned the air conditioning on because it sounds like a tractor, and we were sweating. Another cup of tea. A quick dart to the loo. My son frets about his exams the next day. That noise! We're going to do it. And then the penalty. I know we'll score. I normally expect the worse – the line being that I won't be disappointed if it turns out bad, but can be really chuffed if it turns out well. But not this time. I'm totally confident. I could take it myself. It's in. It's over. We're up.
'Excellent' my wife says. 'Now; you've got to revise,' she says to our youngest, 'and you' – this to my other son who's just completed his international baccalaureate – 'can tidy your room before you go out.'
And me? I look at the computer. I don't really know what to make of it all. We're up and a new future dawns, and for those of you who get to Watford games this future is unconnected to any part I might play in it. I feel disconnected and a little sorry for myself. Life in Safdarjung Development Area goes on and exams have to be sat and rooms tidied, and income tax forms filled in, and the dishes washed, and, well, all that stuff. But what I'd give to be in the Millennium Stadium with my brothers. Oh blimey, what I'd give....