By Mike Parkin
"How do you think you'll get on?" they'd ask. Colleague after colleague,
friend after friend, text message after text message. "Do you think
you'll do it?"
They were all genuinely interested and excited for me, but I couldn't
answer. Hand on heart, I really didn't know. Of course I knew what I
wanted, what I desperately wanted, and like all of you reading this I
had pictured it. Aidy and the boys jumping around on the podium with the
trophy, our Premiership status secure. "Rockin' All Over The World" over
the PA. However, I had also pictured the reverse...
I don't know if it makes me realistic or pessimistic, but I'm never
outwardly confident about Watford's chances. I'm afraid I'm a firm
believer in tempting fate, and even after twenty-eight years' worth of life
experiences I'm still trapped in the childish and slightly mental
mindset that if I say something, if I wear the wrong clothes, if I move
my hand from my left pocket to my right - it could adversely affect what
happens on the pitch.
What am I saying? Well, I'm saying I'm superstitious. Where is this
going? Why, to Cardiff, of course...
The day started well, the team was assembled (including cardboard cut
outs bearing my brothers image - he was stuck in Cyprus and couldn't
make it, and my amazing girlfriend who had left one of her best mate's
thirtieth birthday party and driven home from Dorset in the middle of the
night to make sure we'd be ready to leave on time) and we were on the
7:56 out of Amersham.
Paddington was already awash with yellow and "that" feeling starts. The
feeling that tells you this is a big, big day. "It's bubbling..." was
how a beaming Andy summed it up.
Paddington was also the first sighting of "real live" Leeds fans. It,
and I, was indeed bubbling.
We were on the charter train, which proved to be a master stroke. The
minor inconvenience of queuing for a short time was vastly outweighed by
the pleasure of seeing a whole train completely decked out in excitable
yellow. Seats for all, a quick read of the papers and an entertaining
discussion about whether any of our party could take a point off tennis
ace Rafael Nadal and bang, we were in Cardiff. Deep breath. Here we go
We poured off the train and into Cardiff - the streets instantly
recognisable from envious TV viewing of pre match drinking and revelry,
as other clubs prepare for their big day out. I afford myself a little
smile and make a mental note to take it all in. This was our big day
Into the Millennium Stadium, and to a sea of familiar faces. Folk who
haven't seen each other for ages talk and gesticulate - reunited by a
common bond - the indescribable feeling that is two parts excitement, one
part nerves and topped off with a healthy dash of pure fear. I almost
envy the cardboard cut-out of my brother - perched atop an advertising
board he is serenely taking it all in, unable to feel the chaotic
emotions the rest of us are enduring and enjoying.
And so, finally, to our seats and the match. The first thing that
strikes me (apart from the 700,000 Leeds fans obviously) is that it's a
bit weird with the roof on. Oddly enough it doesn't seem to hold the
noise very well, and although the atmosphere is electric, it's tough to
get songs going. The acoustics are ignored though, and everyone is
singing screaming and shouting with all they've got. Now it is really
The teams come out, and so do the yellow pages. There are flames and an
awful lot of noise. It's just brilliant, "this is what it's all about"
as they say. Looking back at the TV footage, it could be argued that the
game was won at this stage - as Eddie Lewis and Liam Miller nearly jump
out of their skin, scared witless by one of the loud pyrotechnic bangs
that greeted the two teams. Pansies. At the very least, some great
Soccer AM footage.
The game begins and it's a blur. The first incident of note, or at least
the first incident I can recall, is a shot from Derry, seemingly goal
bound until Ashley Young of all people deflects it wide. I am obviously
delighted that we are still level, but the fact that it was Shaun Derry
that didn't score made it all the sweeter. I don't have much time for Mr
The game thundered on and Watford started to enjoy a bit of pressure. A
corner, a throw deep in the Leeds half. Promising. Promising soon turned
to perfect, which of course quickly turned to pandemonium. A corner from
the left, a flash of blonde hair, the ball is in the net and 28,000
Horns go ballistic. Hugs, screams and shouts abound - we're one nil up.
My excitable, optimistic, positive side surfaces briefly - "We're an
hour away from the Premiership" - and I allow myself the briefest of daydreams
- Rockin' All Over The World...
Half time arrives and everyone exhales. Nervous smiles and excited
chatter is everywhere. Everyone is thinking it, but no-one, least of all
me, is saying it. Instead I listen patiently to complaints from Andy
that there is no beer available at half time. It is a welcome
distraction from the chaotic, nervous and frantic thoughts running
through my head.
After what seemed like an eternity, the action was underway again.
Although I can recall absolutely no detail of it until the second goal
This was one of those hold-your-breath-and-grab-the-person-next-to-you
moments, the ball was bouncing around in the area, you could clearly see
that it was going to drop to Chambers who was ready to strike. Strike it
he did, but made one of the poorest contacts possible. It cannoned into
the (presumably still shaken) Eddie Lewis, up into the air and towards
the bottom corner (I'm still holding my breath). Sullivan scampers
across, the ball hits the post, his elbow, then the net.
Since the game, my girlfriend has told me that it took me an age to
start celebrating, and was momentarily slightly concerned about me.
There was nothing wrong with me, it was just that this particular
celebration started in my feet and worked its way through every part of
my body before erupting in a roar of delight and a mass of hugs. I'm
ashamed to admit it also manifested itself in a stream of expletives,
directed at a group of Leeds fans that had got tickets near us, but hey,
I guess we all have our moments.
My superstitious side rears its head shortly afterwards as I refuse to
allow Lee-Anne to take her hoodie off ("But Mike, I'm boiling") and
demand that Andy puts that loans.co.uk clapper thingy "Back where you
bloody well found it!" We may be 2-0 up but there is a long way to go,
and I don't want any mishaps to be my fault...
The game continues to unfold, it's not a classic by any stretch, but I'm
gripped. With hindsight, Watford bossed the second half, they were never
really in any serious danger, but I only really started to feel safe
when Shaun Derry was finally booked. This had a most soothing effect on
me, and within minutes Mr Derry had given me and tens of thousand
Watford fans further cause to be very, very happy.
As you all know he upended Marlon, stonewall penalty, and Darius duly
did the business. 3-0 and we've cracked it. We've done it. Watford had
beaten Leeds and all those millions upon millions of fans, and we're
going up. The feeling was indescribable, but describing it would be
redundant anyway - you will have all felt it for yourselves. Amazing,
Anyway, the clock ticked down towards the inevitable. I hugged my mates
and my girlfriend, I jumped up and down. I shouted, I sang, I slapped
backs and shook hands. I grinned like a loon. The final whistle went and
I did it all again, but louder. We all did.
I also had a (rare) moment of clarity. As the team celebrated on the
pitch in front of us, it occurred to me that I had been foolish to be
superstitious. There was really no need. None whatsoever. We have in
Aidy Boothroyd an amazing bloke in charge of our amazing team. He is
meticulous, he is knowledgeable, he is passionate, he is ours.
Nothing Leeds or the rest of the Championship could do could stop him, I
was stupid to think that anything I did (or didn't do) could get in the
way. He knows what he is doing, the players know what they are doing,
and what do you know, they just went out there and did it.
So. Perhaps next year I'll be that little bit less superstitious, and
won't have to park in the same place each and every home game. Maybe I
won't have to wear the same tired baseball cap to every fixture. Maybe
I'll try Pepsi instead of Coke on the way to the ground. Superstitions
are well and truly redundant when you have a club, a team and a boss
Lee-Anne, get that hoodie off, and Andy, pass me that clapper thingy. "We
are Premier League!", say "We are Premier League!"