I remember the defining moment of our first attempt to get out of Division Two after relegation. I was in Derby seeing an
old University friend for the weekend in the early spring of 1997 and
the same day Watford were away at Millwall. On paper a very tough game
considering, if my memory serves me well, Millwall won at our place, but
at that time all games were tough. Anyway, when I came back, the
television immediately went on and, as I watched the results filter
through, I saw that we had won 1-0! Together with the other results, we
were level on sixty points at the TOP of the table! I suppose then, I took
the rest of the season for granted because after all we were very hard
to beat and I just couldn't see us throwing away this opportunity....
People who don't know me must realise that I follow my local (errr...
within 10 miles then) side Aldershot Town FC. You know the one: got into
Division Two (as it is now) after beating Wolves in the play-offs;
relegated next year and then spectacularly folded in 1991. Then came our
'saviour', the 17 year-old whizz kid, property dealer Spencer Trethewey.
There was great publicity about his 'fortune' that was being ploughed
into the new club, Aldershot Town FC 1992. Three months later and no
cash injection, he was banged away for fraud. Cheers, mate. Anyway, the
point I'm driving at is that I have followed both clubs since the late
70's and the commonality between the two clubs is astounding. Aldershot
Town had to start at the grass roots level after reforming. The club has
gained three promotions in six years and is only two away from league status -
this activity of rising through the leagues is very familiar with us
At the same period in the season as the aforementioned Millwall result,
Aldershot were near the top of the league. I thought that both clubs
were going up and what a season this would be, but unfortunately both
Watford and Aldershot dropped too many points at crucial times and were
left stranded in Division Two. So that lead nicely into this season....
A change of personal at both clubs saw a new direction and perhaps a
refreshing change in the clubs' fortunes. We had Elton John and his
merry band of chirpy directors running the club; Graham Taylor back in a
tracksuit, months after saying he'd never do that again; and a good
source of income to the club via the Saracens Rugby Union outfit that now
share our ground. Things were looking perky. For the first few months,
Watford were unstoppable, winning an unprecedented amount of games in
the first ten league games. Our first mini-test of the
season was after the drubbing (okay, 2-0) at Preston. I was expecting us to go on a standard draw-a-
few-and-win-one-occasionally period, but no, we picked up straight away and
won the next game. My first visual signs of encouragement was the first
half bombardment against Wycombe, where we played to the potential of the
side of the 1980's: there was width, flair, character, invention and
we hit the bar more times than Tony
A few months into the season and Watford were well clear at the top of
league. It took at little bit of believing, but considering the way the
Boys had been playing, it was well deserved. I'm right in saying that
most fans didn't fall for the old "we'll blow it by May" syndrome -
there was more of an air of confidence through the club - more like "we
deserve to be top, so we'll take that". Interestingly, Bristol City were
nineteenth at the time.
Aldershot, meanwhile, had achieved a near club record of seven league wins in
row to catch up on the league leaders Grays, who took had taken thirty-one
points from a maximum of thirty-three (but DIDN'T get promoted!), so football all
around was looking good for yours truly.
Not being able to be in two places at one time, I have to make the sacrifice
for one club on a footy day: it came down to distance. Watford home
games all the time and, if the Golden Ones are away from home, then I
follow Aldershot T. It may seem like divided loyalties but, because I
love footy so much, I have to do it (having said that, Aldershot v
Watford and I'll be in the away end!). I suppose the good thing that
comes out of this is that when you watch one match you always have one
thought on what is going on in the other. The feeling I get when I jump
in the car after watching Aldershot to find the Watford have won away is
an immense rush - it sets up the rest of the evening! And, let's face
it, we've won a lot away!!!
A good indicator of how well a side is doing is at the New Year time. A
benchmark that I use is that if a club has around or over fifty points
during the first week of the New Year, then that side is going very well
indeed. Watford had fifty-six points. Enough said. Then came THAT Sheff Weds
equaliser, where the whole Sheff Wed end was very loud because they had
just scored, but eleven seconds later, the Kennedy screamer lifted the
'needle off the record' and a 'pin drop' moment was created (I know, I
was with them!!! Couldn't get in anywhere else).
The month after a 'Manager of the Month' award is always the club's worst.
GT was awarded the accolade for January and then saw our side not win a
sausage for February. We were nineteen points clear of third place and just
about keeping Bristol City away, but we were suddenly back into draw
mode again. A little bit of frustration and dare I say complacency
(after all, isn't that what success breeds?) crept in and we found it
hard going. Grimsby put a good run together and looked like that may be
able to catch one of the front two until they met Luton who did us a
fantastic favour in winning away. Despite being miles clear, it's still
nice to have promotion confirmed to eliminate any doubt (despite what GT
said) and thankfully the occasion was not too far away.
Meanwhile, Aldershot were streaking clear of the rest....
I was a bit miffed that Bristol City confirmed promotion before we did,
but we all knew that we should have wrapped it up a few weeks before.
Silly home results cost us, but it wasn't for the lack of effort. I
mean, the Walsall game was a case in point: we played them off the park
and they had two shots and won. Some of the crowd reaction was
unbelievable at the end: I will remember this shout for a long time, "Go
on piss-off back to the changing rooms. You're not getting any clap from
here". No wonder Mooney stormed off. It's good that we're all behind the
team as we're about to get promoted. That's by-the-by. Back to Bristol.
We got our tickets in February for this huge occasion - thanks to John
Abbott (City fan, ha! ha!) for that - City v Watford. We could confirm
promotion as well as getting ahead in the Championship race. Although
Bristol had seventy-five percent of the possession, it was all side-to-side stuff:
Watford had the better chances. When Jason Lee put us ahead, we (Dad and
I) nearly lost it, until we realised that we were surrounded by seven thousand
not-so-happy farmers! Magic moment! By then, we knew that Grimsby were
losing at home, so the party could begin!
On last day of the season, it was going to the wire. Surely Bristol
wouldn't lose at Preston? Watford to win at Fulham when they desperately
need a point? Aldershot had guaranteed promotion by winning the league
by 11 points, so where was I? Fulham? No. Aldershot? No. I was at Valley
End playing league cricket (have to - I'm skipper). Hmmm. That afternoon
I spent more time in the car listening to the radio than in the field.
Eventually the half-time scores came through: City down, Watford up. Way
hey! With a perfect stroke of genius, I managed to time the tea interval
EXACTLY as the results were filtering through. WE WERE
CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!!!! Only then did it sink in....
Well, that was a football season and a half. Our team Watford went up as
CHAMPIONS. My other team, Aldershot, went up as CHAMPIONS. Rangers
didn't win the league. Man Utd won f*ck all. Crystal Palace got
relegated. Luton are going nowhere.
DOES A FOOTBALL SEASON GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS?