Report by Adrian Pearl
It was a spur of the moment decision to take a few days off work and taste history in the making as Watford were to play in Europe for the first time. Drawn against the mighty F.C.K - a team who had played consistently in UEFA matches for the past umpteen years, Watford were already being pronounced dead on arrival. Our long-ball game, the pundits claimed, was about to be exposed and we, the upstarts who surprised the First Division the previous year, were about to get our come-uppence. Even the faithful had doubts as, with both Blissett and Jenkins having moved on, we had no established or settled strike-force with which to attack the dreaded Krauts. If truth be told I guess I went because I thought it would be the one-and-only European away match Watford would ever play.
A quick call to the Away Supporters confirmed my spot on the coach and we headed out late that night for Dover and the ferry into Europe. The coach atmosphere was subdued, with a few drinking schools at the back. The entertainment consisted of some video footage of goals from last season, but most, tired from a day's work, opted to sleep. I stayed awake most of the crossing quaffing overpriced ale in the ferry bar till it closed before moving onto private supplies. A card school here and there and the obligatory drunkard unable to handle his intake provided some light relief from boredom until we rejoined our coach and headed into the French countryside, bound for Metz.
The authorities had deemed we were not to cross the border into Germany until shortly before kick-off, so the away fans had to amuse themselves around Metz for a couple of hours. I remember everywhere you looked, in the bars and cafes were little clusters of yellow and black. The locals didn't know what hit them. Schoolboy French made a few friends, and one owner gave me a complimentary glass of the local spirit after acting as unofficial interpreter for a bunch of lads unable to understand the menu. Then it was time to move on.
In Kaiserslautern itself we were left to find our way into the ground. With 90 minutes to kick-off I opted for another beer-run in some local cellar. Here I bumped into some local supporters who at once switched into English and proceeded to supply all sorts of free schnapps and beers for me to quaff while telling of the exploits of Messers Jenkins and Blissett. They escorted me to the ground and I made it to kick-off with minutes to spare.
As the team emerged the sight of dwarfish Ian Richardson and Jimmy Gilligan gave no cause for renewed confidence, and I settled for how few goals we would concede. There was little of the Watford style to the game as I recall, it was more of a rearguard action to keep them out, but the youngsters performed brilliantly at the time keeping the Krauts at bay. After the first goal went in the heads didn't even drop. The midfield continued to fight for everything, and the defence was solid. It was as if we knew we could take them at Vicarage Road whatever the score. As the match progressed the Watford contingent gave great vocal support. We didn't care if we lost the game, we were going to give the team all we could muster and blast the ball away from the net.
More goals followed - I couldn't see much of the game from the bad position we were given in the ground, but I got to see (at distance) Watford's first ever goal in Europe - it was soooo sweet! Worth every penny spent. More importantly, we all knew it was an away goal, and how much that can affect the final result. When the final whistle went we gave the team one long ovation. So we lost 1-3 - we didn't care. The odds had been against us, but we came away feeling like winners - and as we showed in the return leg, we were.
Report by Steve Freedman
From my early days of following the Golden Boys through the dregs of
the Football League, I vowed that if they ever reached the (old) First
Division, I would endeavour to see them play at every First Division
ground (a feat I did accomplish), so you can imagine the promise I made
to myself when it appeared likely that during their meteoric rise they
would one day, quite possibly, grace Europe's finest.
Well, the draw for the First Round was kind; I was anticipating an
horrendous trek to some Eastern European outpost (which on a salary of
£2500 p.a. would not have been easy) but was relieved to have a
relatively short trip to southern Germany.
Still, as mentioned, money was extremely tight but I managed to
convince four friends that the best way to Germany was to drive! And one
of them offered to do all the driving!
We planned a route that would take in Holland, France, Belgium,
Luxembourg (for the cheapest hypermarket in the world) and into Germany.
The day of departure duly arrived and it was only when we reached
Dover, I realised I'd forgotten my coat! Fortunately, my passport and match
tickets were in my jeans pocket. I just hoped it wasn't cold it Germany.
The most incredible thing about the journey was not only passing cars
on foreign autobahns with Watford scarves fluttering but seeing Watford
fans trying to hitch from the most obscure places!
Arriving in Kaiserslauten we headed for the nearest bar and spent a couple
of hours drinking with other Horns and the locals. The atmosphere was
terrific - no grief, no aggro, plenty of laughing and joking - and this was
at a time when English fans abroad had a lousy reputation. It made me very
proud to be a Watford fan.
The tremendous atmosphere continued throughout the game, where along
with 1,500 other Horns we sang ourselves hoarse.
The game was enthralling, attacking football from both teams - at that
time Watford knew of no other way to play. Jimmy Gilligan's equalising goal
brought a roar that I can still hear.
Despite the eventual 1-3 scoreline, Watford, with what was pretty much an
under-strength side, played their hearts out and scared the wits out of a
very experienced European side (as proved in the return leg).
The journey home was not without memories. None of us had any money for
a hotel, so a short drive up the motorway to an empty service station car
park for a few hours kip in the car was the order of the day. Now, if
you've never slept in a car with four of your mates and are planning to do so,
a change of clothes and plenty of deodorant might come in handy. Of course,
none of us had any of this. The next morning, not to mention the remainder
of the trip, was not exactly a bed of roses!
But I'd kept my promise to myself. I saw Watford's first game in Europe.
See also: Second leg report