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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 11/09/04, 3.00pm
Brighton and Hove Albion
By Tim Walklate

After spending a week hearing constant pathetic criticism of the England team from the media, I was looking forward to a happy, cheerful, relaxing match. It was unfortunate that two hours after I had entered the stadium, my optimism had been transformed into sheer anger, astonishment and frustration. The irony of it all was that we squeezed a point out of the match, and yet I was feeling such negative emotion.

At one o'clock I arrived in Watford, and one could smell the whiff of optimism around the area, predictions that it was three points in the bag for the Hornets due to the fact that Brighton had been labelled "relegation candidates" this year. Almost fifteen thousand tickets had been sold, ensuring the game would have an electric atmosphere. And both sets of fans were in good voice, obviously keyed up for the day's game.

However, the first half of the match did not live up to its high expectations. The game had been uninspiring, lacklustre and dull, with little for the fans to cheer about, due to the fact that few chances had been created and possession had been evenly shared between the two teams. The whistle was blown at half time and little reception from the fans was heard, neither clapping nor booing, showing how little had happened in the first half.

In the second half, Watford picked up the pace, stringing some good passes together, dominating in most areas in the field. Then, around ten minutes after the break, Webber receiving a through ball from Cox, beating the offside trap, slotted the ball home past the defenceless Brighton keeper.

Renewed positivity filled the stadium and the Rookery sang their hearts out with "Super Dan", and things started to look brighter. Unfortunately, soon afterwards the team started losing possession of the ball more often, and that's where it all seemed to go wrong.

What followed, for the last half hour was something I had never experienced at a football match: something disgraceful and outrageous, and an incident I'd never have thought possible at Vicarage Road.

In my block, around twenty fans behind me started to criticise the players for petty errors, a thing you sometimes expect occasionally at a match when your team is losing, but never when we're one nil up. One player who came under severe scrutiny was Richard Lee, accused of poor kicking by some of the fans, whilst not complimented for various outstanding saves he had made.

The abuse continued, until one man told some of the offensive fans to shut up, which they thankfully did, until Adam Virgo volleyed an equaliser into the top corner, leaving Richard Lee shocked beyond belief at the super strike. Criticism after criticism was hurled at the players, leading to some of the positive fans trying to silence the abuse coming from the critics. This did not help, and the criticism made the last ten minutes of the match unbearable.

But what shocked me the most was when one of the fans who had told some people to be quiet got up to leave early, he was cursed at, sworn at and also verbally abused as he left the stadium. I have never seen such an appalling thing happen at Watford since becoming a supporter. Comradeship should flow between the home fans, not disgust, it was the sort of incident you’d expect between home and away fans. And it was a great shame to experience such a thing.

What I experienced from a couple of rogue, cold, unworthy fans was sickening, and I hope I never have to see it again. The final score was 1-1, a creditable result with little to talk about from the match, moving Watford up to eighth in the table. But for me, a disgusting performance from a few negative supporters made it feel like Watford had been relegated, making the day unworthwhile and upsetting.

So I ask of you this. I sit in the Rookery, and am used to chanting excessively till my throat can't take it anymore. Get behind the players; clap, cheer, encourage them. Watford are a team that rely on the fans to support them through bad times, it's what pulled them through last season. Remember the Derby match last year? The electric atmosphere there inspired the players to come back from 1-0 down to win the match, saving us from relegation. As long as the fans are behind the team, the team plays well. Please get behind the boys, and less of the negativity, less of the abuse, they get that from Ray Lewington afterwards! In two weeks' time against Reading, compliment instead of criticise the players for the things they do, and I'm sure it'll make a difference.