What it's really all about
By Philip Hernberg
I got on the plane in Belfast, the only yellow shirt amid a sea of white. "This is only the start of the adventure," I think to myself.
Ninety minutes later, I am sipping a cool pint of bitter whilst waiting for my chums to arrive in Bristol from Paddington. A mini pub crawl ensued until it was time to catch our train to Bath...where another pub crawl followed a hasty check-in to our lodgings. In the first pub we met, and had a great time with, a number of Leeds fans who happened to be sharing the same hotel as us. Going our separate ways, we next traded pleasantries across the breakfast room on Sunday morning. On arrival in Cardiff, each group wished each other best wishes and went their separate ways again.
The hotel was reached and the very amiable taxi driver offered to wait until we checked in so that he could take us to our rallying point. Given the monsoon conditions, we accepted his offer and we were soon on our way to the Cayo Arms.
For yours truly, every game is an away game, but one of the joys of following Watford is to walk into a pub, pre-match, and meet so many people whom I can call friends after commuting to games for twenty-five odd years...and Sunday was no exception!
A few (!) pints later and we were in the stadium, my previous visit being the World Cup 2006 qualifying game between Wales and Northern Ireland, where the sea of yellow an hour before kick off reminded me of Wembley '84 and '99.
Then, the texts and calls started.
So many friends from across the UK, although mostly from back home, were contacting me to wish me (and Watford) well. One, in particular, was from a Dulwich-based Palace fan who was with me at the infamous 1-5 game at the Vic. The teams took to the field and play started - we're doing well despite an early close shave, then...
1-0! A net-busting header from Jay Demerit!
The texts and calls started again. "Blimey," I thought to myself, "Will I ever get a chance to watch this game?" Anyway. Half time came and went, the second half started - the spinning, looping ball rebounded off the post, hit their keeper and crawled over the line... promotion looked a real certainity now.
Penalty! Cue another call from a Leicester City supporting mate who called because he wanted to hear the noise of the Hornets' fans when the ball hit the onion bag....which it did! Game over!
My wife (or was it my daughter?) called immediately after the final whistle. I simply couldn't tell who it was, such was the volume coming from the yellow end on the Mill Stad. By now, I was too hoarse to hold a conversation anyway.
What a game! No real rollercoaster this time, a-la Bolton in '99; Watford controlled the Leeds players (and the entire game) for ninety-plus minutes, promotion was ours...and didn't it feel great!
I left the stadium with the self-penned ditty, "Been there twice, never lost" spinning inside my head.
The celebrations went on well into the evening; I'm sure the GDP of Cardiff was well and truly increased on Sunday evening. Well, the pubs' takings were anyway.
Monday morning came. I bade farewell to my chums and returned to Bristol airport.
Again, I was the only yellow in a sea of white, but this time it was different, I was beaming from cheek to cheek whereas those in white had sheepish looks on their faces. Even though I kept my (proud) head down and read the match report in the paper, it didn't stop many dejected fans coming across and congratulating Watford (and me) on a well-deserved victory. On arrival in Belfast airport, many Leeds fans coming off other flights also came over to me and expressed similar sentiments. Isn't this really what football is all about?