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Visiting the Vic
Watford v Burnley, 1st December 2002
By Robert Parker
1. Why you were looking forward to going to the ground (or not as the case may be)?

This would be my first visit to Vicarage Road and also my first 'new' ground since my conscious decision to 'do' the 92. Both clubs were well placed in the play-off race in the First Division and were right next to each other in the league. With well-known players with good reputations on both sides this promised to be an entertaining match-up.

2. How easy was your journey/finding the ground/car parking?

With a computer map printed off the Internet and knowledge of the roads of the south end of Watford, we were able to locate the ground in the west side of the town without great difficulty. Driving down Vicarage Road from the town centre, the ground appeared on the left hand side, so no trouble there. However parking was more of a problem as clearly the local residents had been at work, making sure that nowhere within fifteen minutes walk of the ground was available for free match day parking. Having found a quiet road some distance away, there was no horde of supporters making for the ground to follow, so it was up to us to retrace our car route back to the ground.

3. What you did before the game pub/chippy.... home fans friendly?

There was no sign of trouble on our day out at Watford. To be fair Burnley didn't bring a huge following and I didn't see much evidence of their supporters outside the ground, but on the other hand I didn't feel 100% at ease. I got the feeling that whilst nobody was ready to be hostile, away fans weren't embraced with open arms. There didn't seem to be a great array of catering available outside the ground, so we proceeded to take our seats in the lower tier of the Rous Stand with just under and hour to go before kick off.

4. What you thought on seeing the ground, first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground:

Looking out from my seat across the spectacle that is Vicarage Road, I struggled to picture it as a Premiership venue, which of course it was a couple of years back. It is in fact a very tidy ground with a capacity of just over 20,000, but I couldn't really imagine the place playing host to some of the bigger clubs in Europe week in week out. Behind both goals were two (almost identical) fairly large single-tier stands: the Rookery and the aforementioned Vicarage Road Stand, half of which was given the visiting fans. The Rous Stand, where I was sitting, was a smart two-tiered structure, perhaps around fifteen years old, with one of the more unusual roofs I have seen at a ground. Beware: if you get a seat in the first five rows of this stand then be prepared for a great view of a whitewashed wall, because the pitch has at some point been raised above ground level and the lowest seats are sunken below this. With three impressive sides, Vicarage Road was let down by the ancient East Stand opposite me. This seemed to be more like four stands cobbled together, and looked very ramshackle. It would greatly improve the overall look of the ground if this stand were redeveloped. With Watford in dire financial straights this may not happen right away but the presence of some huts and signs bearing the name of a construction firm located not far away gives a clue as to the club's intentions for this side.

5. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies, toilets etc:

The attendance was around 7,000 below capacity and to be honest for most of the game the atmosphere was rather flat. There was one amusing moment however when, after what seemed like an eternity of bad decisions, the linesman finally got an offside right. The ironic applause he received was deafening and would have graced an FA Cup winner! There wasn't a great selection of refreshment available from the one outlet that was open, so I gave it a miss. Queues were moderate at half time for food and drink from this outlet, perhaps not as bad as could be expected. The same could not be said for the gents' toilets, which had an M25-style tailback snaring halfway down the concourse at one point during the break. However this was cleared up quite quickly, so one must assume that whatever the blockage that was holding up the line was, it was flushed out eventually!

As for the game itself, Burnley could have won 6-2 but somehow contrived to miss a string of glorious chances and the home side ran out 2-1 winners. Perhaps Burnley had one eye on their cup-tie with Manchester United during midweek. Neil Cox had a blinding game for Watford with some great defending, and together with Tommy Smith was probably the difference between the sides. I encountered no problem with the stewards who made their presence visible whilst not impeding anybody's day out.

6. Comment on getting away from the ground after the game:

Perhaps due to the low attendance, the roads didn't seem to be too busy and we were out of the town centre and back on the M1 within ten minutes, a refreshing change after crawling away from grounds like Old Trafford and Britannia Stadium at an agonisingly slow pace recently.

7. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out:

As a neutral, a visit to Watford was well worth the trip. The game was entertaining, the venue smart and tidy, and the crowd trouble free. Quality of facilities will probably vary depending on the size of the crowd but at least the stewarding wasn't as aggressive and rigorous as somewhere like Loftus Road where upon entering the visiting end you are searched and sometimes questioned. If you can get a parking space sorted out (or if you go by bus or train and don't have to worry) then there is unlikely to be any major distraction to your afternoon's entertainment, leaving you free to enjoy the game!