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97/98: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 25/4/98
Watford 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain 3, Gibbs 3, Kennedy 2, Palmer 3, Millen 3, Mooney 3, Bazeley 2, Hyde 3, Lee 3, *Easton 4*, Hazan 3
Subs: Robinson, Foley (for Hazan) 0, Noel-Williams (for Lee) 0
Grimsby Town 0(0)
One man and his high horse
Report by Ian Grant

If you're after the match report, you're going to have to do some scrolling - this is going to be a long introduction....

Flicking through Ed Horton's apocalyptic "Moving The Goalposts" on Friday night, trying to find the stomach for a fight, I came upon this:

"What good to us are football clubs who charge outrageous prices for their tickets? None. But what use, either, are football clubs who look upon their fans in the same way as a loan shark looks upon his clients? It sours our pleasure in the game. The more our football clubs insist on taking from us, the less we feel inclined to give. Nothing, however high the prices, can ever stop us from being football supporters. But once our football clubs decide to treat supporters as their enemies, being a football fan is never quite the same again. It is a lousy way for football to turn out. We always knew our hopes in football clubs would end in disappointment. But we did not expect that they would end in bitterness."

That's extreme stuff, I know. But if you wanted a summary of how I feel about last week's price rises, that's pretty much it. Because my views are extreme, because they come from a rather dogmatic opposition to this brave new world, I'd welcome any other contributions to the debate as a balance, preventing BSaD from becoming 'one-man-and-his-high-horse'. In the meantime, I'll do the only thing I can do and write some personal reflections.

The essential joy of watching a football match as a supporter (rather than a spectator) is the creation of an artificial but believable 'us' against 'them' scenario. That's a wonderful simplification of everyday life, an escape into an uncomplicated world. The game is the focus, sure, but I could watch basically the same thing within walking distance of my house. So why do I travel from Brighton for every home fixture? Because it's us, my team, my club, the Horns.

I'm intelligent, I know that much of this is a sham. But break that spell and you've lost everything. A football club that openly flaunts its rotting innards is very difficult to support. All I ask for is a respectful maintaining of the pretence.

There's been no pretence at Watford during the last week. No respect, no loyalty.

There are two issues here, both equally important. The first concerns the English game itself. In a nutshell, if all supporters of small and medium sized clubs have to look forward to is a Sky-sponsored hyper-inflationary rush over a cliff-edge, then that is not a future to be celebrated.

What better example is there of bad business practice than an unaffordable wage bill? And what better example is there of an unaffordable wage bill than one that requires imposing substantial price rises on your most loyal customers? If the money isn't there for expensive signings, it isn't there FULL STOP. Supporters cannot afford to finance absurd levels of wage inflation within football's comfortable, self-interested cocoon. To demand that we do so is to show extraordinary ignorance and arrogance. (Yes, fans must also learn to see the consequences of shouting for the manager to get his chequebook out at the first sign of defeat.)

The second issue relates directly to Watford. If price rises were inevitable this summer, then hitting renewing season ticket holders hardest of all is simply inexcusable. We are the lifeblood of Watford, we are its soul. Once that soul is seen only as a source of revenue, you have a football club in name only.

If you announce such controversial measures with what amount to insults (we are neither 'sponsors' nor 'investors'), with no prior consultation and without even having the common courtesy to write to those affected individually, then you deserve all you get. Personally, I was sickened to find that the directors were met with applause as they walked around on Saturday.

That the new board is not controlled by Jack Petchey is not cause enough to greet them with blind sycophancy. They'll do just fine out of their involvement with our club, they're not likely to walk away if we object to some of their more dubious plans. By quietly accepting price rises, Watford fans achieve nothing but absolute loss of control. I bet the directors can't believe their luck. Speak up, for Christ's sake.

If all of this sounds as if the shine has been taken off my promotion celebrations, that'd be about right. Nobody likes to find a turd in their birthday cake. When the illusion of 'us' is dispelled, there is simply much less to rejoice in.

All of which leaves me approximately thirty seconds to write the match report. Conveniently, this was a total non-event - had I had a postage stamp to hand, my notes could quite easily have fitted on it. This was a game of defensive stalemate, midfield squabbling and attacking inadequacy. Miles summed it up more eloquently than I ever could by spending much of the first half playing a computer game.

Mind you, I'd be lying if I said that the bluntness of this Watford side kept me awake on Saturday night. For one thing, in the grand scheme of things, this really wasn't a very important game - the Championship would just be the icing on the cake (the same cake with the turd in it, natch). For another, we weren't at full strength - even if we kept the current squad, this wasn't the side we'd be hoping to field next season.

Most of the football did nothing to bring me out of my generally sulky state of mind. Neither side had a cutting edge. For Watford, the attack was subdued, leaving Micah Hyde and Clint Easton to make things happen. Both gave it their best shot. But neither is really capable of opening the game up, of exerting their influence to change the pattern.

It took over half an hour for the game to provide a noteworthy moment - Jason Lee hitting the underside of the bar with a header from a left wing cross. Such potency was rare, yet we still created just enough to have won the game by the odd goal.

Fifteen minutes later, something else happened. Easton was the instigator, surging through midfield to feed Alon Hazan. The Israeli scored but the linesman's flag intervened, just as the Vicarage Road PA was preparing to drown out our celebrations. So, erm, that's the whole of the first half condensed into two short paragraphs....

Much of the second was little better. Grimsby managed to waste their only real opening of the game with a wild effort from an unmarked striker that actually ended up going away from the goal. Apart from the keeper's intervention to take a Hazan cross away from Lee's head, the other end was similarly quiet.

For some reason, the last ten minutes saw Watford transformed. First, Steve Palmer struck a shot into the keeper's chest. Then Peter Kennedy, perfectly positioned inside the six yard box, volleyed agonisingly wide from Keith Millen's knockdown. Kennedy missed a more difficult opportunity four minutes later, picking up a Noel-Williams flick and touching the ball over as the keeper advanced. And finally, in injury time, Hyde smacked in a shot from a tight angle that was well saved at the near post.

So, yeah, we should've won. We were well below par without ever being cataclysmically awful and the chances nearly all fell our way. That some chose to boo at the end just strikes me as being hilarious - at Watford, loyalty clearly extends to being willingly shafted by the directors but not to showing a little generosity to a promoted team. I despair, I really do.