By Dan York
As most Hornets fans gathered round their transistors to tune in to the Aidy and Simpo Show, a hardy few gathered in the drizzle and gloom of Champion Hill, East Dulwich, to watch Watford pay the last remaining dues for Omari Coleman. And it really was a hardy few, consisting of two blokes from Clapham, a slightly odd man who I recognised but attempted to avoid, and me (and my Norwich/Fisher Athletic supporting flatmate Ben, but he was mainly there to witness former Fisher fan favourite Richard 'SuperBrades' Brady turn out for Hamlet).
It was fairly clear that Watford had designated this as a contractual obligation match that they didn't really need to bother about. Aidy wasn't there, of course, so Keith Burkinshaw was in charge for the evening. No-one from the Watford camp managed to hand in a team sheet before the match, which didn't impress the Dulwich PA man. It also made life rather difficult for the travelling Hornets, as when the team finally emerged from the tunnel it appeared to consist of ten young lads plucked from the checkout counter at the next-door Sainsbury's, plus Paul Devlin.
That wasn't the case, of course, and peering through the gloom it was possible to make out the unique gait of Dom Blizzard in the midfield. But beyond that, I was really struggling. Our extremely fresh-faced right-back endeared himself to the home crowd by slicing his first two passes into touch. Hmmm. Maybe the lads from Clapham could help:
Me: "Any idea who any of these are? Apart from Dev and Bambi, that is."
Clapham bloke 1: "Nope. They keep calling number 10 'Gilly' though."
Me: "Hmm. Doesn't Jimmy Gilligan's son play for us?"
Clapham bloke 2: "Does he? Is that Alec in goal?"
Me: "No, far too young. Think we'll be all right this year?"
CB1: "I've got a tenner on us to go down."
Well, at least it wasn't just me. The Dulwich fans were making the best of it, imploring the referee to book our players at any opportunity "just so we can find out his name". The game itself meandered along with very little happening. The Burkinshaw masterplan appeared to be to win possession, then pass to Dev (so much for giving youth its head...). A plan not without merit, but unfortunately the part-timers of Dulwich saw through it and doubled-up on him every time he got the ball. Hamlet were looking the more dangerous, and former Wycombe front-man Miguel de Souza provided the highlight of the half with a run from the halfway line, through a couple of half-hearted challenges, to get through on goal. Sadly he ran out of steam and the ball trickled over the by-line. Shortly afterwards a couple of dangerous crosses flew across the Watford box from the right-wing, and only good fortune allowed the Hornets to escape unscathed. Watford's best chance of the half came when the impressive 'Gilly' worked himself an opening on the edge of the box, but blasted over when he should really have hit the target.
And with that it was half-time, and a trip to the bar. By this point it was obvious that Dulwich really, really don't like us. The protracted signing of Omari Coleman last summer had left them more bitter than a pint of Best with added lemon, and more twisted than the David Cronenborg back-catalogue. To add insult to injury, we'd apparently sent along the youth team, didn't bother submitting a team sheet, and our fans had added approximately £35 to the gate receipts. They weren't happy. But at least they hadn't lost their sense of perspective, merely hoping, when a Watford player went down, that it was just a season-ending injury.
Perhaps it was that pint of XXXX, but things improved in the second half. The PA announcer had a Watford team sheet, and it turned out that the mystery floppy-haired midfielder was in fact Jamie Hand. Ben Hoad was in goal, and our number six was Aussie Adam Griffiths. Martin Devaney was on the left, though didn't make much of an impression. 'Gilly' was indeed Ryan Gilligan. The rest of the names floated away on the wind, so number nine had to remain 'Big Man', as Dev had christened him earlier (perhaps he didn't know his name either).
And then, twenty-five minutes into the second half, Dulwich scored. The aforementioned 'SuperBrades', going nowhere in the right-hand channel, was up-ended by a clumsy challenge from, er, one of our defenders. The linesman - perfectly placed to judge the incident - flagged for a free-kick. The referee, possibly as bored as the rest of us, pointed to the spot. Brady picked himself up to slot the spot-kick away to Hoad's left, and the Dulwich fans were delirious. And to be fair, they deserved to be in front.
Burkinshaw responded with a rash of substitutions, and the Hornets began to exert some pressure. The equaliser came with ten minutes to go, as Dulwich failed to clear a cross and Griffiths got a touch to steer it home. From then on, there was only likely to be one winner, and the Hornets duly got it through an excellent twenty-yard half-volley from number seventeen ('Abdul', reckoned the Clapham lads, though that seemed unlikely).
All-in-all, a thoroughly uninspiring evening. Watford did not want to be there, Dulwich didn't really want Watford to be there, and a second-string side turned in a workmanlike performance. It's difficult to make judgements after games like this, of course, but if these really are our reserves then it is to be hoped that we don't suffer too many injuries this season. Oh, and we'll have to improve on the 'just give it to Dev' tactic, too.