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Ten thousand miles
By John Blake
I've never considered myself to be much of a John Lennon fan. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my memory, there is a link between the day he got shot being the day we got beaten 5-0 at Coventry in a League Cup quarter-final replay. Clearly in my sub-conscious I blame him for the defeat, and the humiliation heaped upon us a by an unlovable Sky Blues side inspired by that arrogant git, Peter Bodak (whatever happened to him ?).

Nonetheless, having reached the mid-point of a self-imposed two year exile in Singapore, my recent trip home allowed me to renew my love affair with the Golden Boys.

"(Just like) Starting Over".

Would I still feel the same way about them? Would I even recognise them?

Having arrived back in the UK ridiculously early on Saturday morning, the televised evening kick-off against Man City offered me my first chance to watch the Hornets "live" since the away trip to Portsmouth in the heady early days of last season.

The game represented the first real taste of the "Vialli revolution" for all fans and a chance to assess the five debutants in the starting line up. For me, it was also the first game for Paolo Vernazza in a yellow shirt. Even relatively established players like Allan Nielsen and Espen Baardsen were novelties, having seen them only the once before at Fratton Park.

So many changes - where was Brian Pollard? What, no Eric Steele ? And Keith Mercer had a very quiet game.... Thank God for the familiar faces of Robbo, Micah and Tommy Smith.

A few telephone enquiries established which of the local pubs had On-digital, whatever that is, and so off we went. The bar was packed with the new, rather-stylish-in-a-minimalist-kind-of-way, shirts. We got a beer and a good vantage point, but unfortunately the TV was on the blink, so we spent the first ten minutes of the season listening to Radio 5 Live. We downed the beer and legged it to another pub.

Even more unfortunately, this was getting a picture and so we were subjected to one of the worst televised Watford performances in memory, and, as we all know, that is up against some pretty stiff competition. I had travelled ten thousand miles to witness not a single crumb of comfort or encouragement.

The first home game of the season just had to be better, and it was, although probably not in the way most of us had expected.

The match day ritual for my first visit to Vicarage Road since the last match of the Premiership season against Coventry was reassuringly familiar. A couple of beers in the Happy Hour, followed by a walk to the ground through disappointingly empty streets.

That's where it began to depart from the script. The match day programme now looks like the kind of glossy magazine you get from WH Smiths before going on a long train journey. My old season ticket seat had not been "retired" by the club in my honour, but was instead occupied by I know not whom. Consequently, I was shunted off to the bottom corner of the Rookery, near the corner flag and the old East stand.

Even more of a culture shock followed during the warm-up, as it became clear that three of our back four (sorry, Robbo) looked like they had just stepped out of an FHM photo shoot. I mean to say, I was brought up on a diet of Andy Rankin, Tony Geidmentis and Roger Joslyn for God's sake.

As an attempt to maintain some control over proceedings, when we did finally get "Z Cars", it went on and on and on. And on. Literally right up to kick-off time, in fact.

With hindsight, I cannot really remember what I had actually expected from the game, but it certainly wasn't the slapstick we got. In fact, the game was worthy of (whisper it quietly) GT himself : five goals, two missed penalties (all right, one and a half), a comedy collision between goalkeeper and centre back, some predictably awful refereeing decisions and a hatful of missed chances.

In between...a bit of a mixture. We played some good stuff at times - Vernazza and Hyde looked good coming forward, as did Blondeau and Robinson. The defence looked comfortable when they had the ball, less so when they didn't. It was all a little like another pre-season friendly - we let them play and they let us play. Other teams won't be so charitable.

The lack of cover from a midfield consisting of three attack-minded players was the biggest problem - hurry back, Johnno.

In the meantime, if you can get a spread bet on the aggregate of goals (for and against) in Watford games this season, go long.

So, after the barren dustbowl of Maine Road, a few green shoots emerged, not least the three points. It looks like it will be a slow process - slower than many of us had initially thought.

For me, the first part of the season is over. Back in Singapore now, I shall be watching the Wolves / Walsall / Millwall games on Football 365's live scores page in the middle of the night (and have you any idea how boring / frustrating it is to watch a whole season like that? And why is the Watford game always the last to finish in the entire country?).

A carefully planned work trip in September means that I will be able to get to the Wimbledon and West Brom games, for My Season, part 2.

It will be fascinating to see whether the shoots have grown up or died off.


I am still totally smitten.