Up the sprout
By Barry Endean's Fancy Sideburns
When I first came to live and work in Brussels in 1986, keeping close tabs on the 'Orns was a piece of cake. We were still big-time then, so the Sunday and Monday UK papers (the south-east editions, to boot) always had match reports a plenty for a newly-exiled Hornet to happily mull over.
Even better: in those pre-Five Live days, BBC Radio 2 long wave was still home to Saturday Sports Special, and so easy to pick up here. There was even the occasional bonus of a live match commentary featuring the Golden Boys. Perfect for soothing Saturday afternoon hangovers, at a time when my body still had zero-tolerance to strong Belgian ale yet zero-resistance to local opening hours.
The only blot on the horizon came when ITV snaffled coverage ("live and exclusive!!!") of the old Div. 1 - annoying, since we only get BBC on the local cable feed. But even that was OK, because weekend trips back to London every four weeks or so meant I could still get a regular fix of hot action at the Vic' before some serious strutting in one or other swanky West End club on the Saturday night. (Like my team, I saw myself as a bit of a flash interloper back then, effortlessly mixing with the beautiful people and putting their noses seriously out of joint.)
And then it all began to go so horribly wrong. None of us will ever forget season 87-88, the coming of Bassett, and how the wheels came off in such a big way. For ex-pat 'Orns, though, the bloody engine fell out as well: as relegation turned to disappointment, then to frustration at failing to make it straight back up (ha!), and as Harrison-gave-way-to-Lee-gave-way-to-Perryman-gave-way-to-Roeder-gave-way-to-dour-relegation-struggle-after-dour-relegation-struggle, events conspired to make following Watford from over here nigh-on impossible: for one thing, Radio Two vanished from long wave, leaving us poor unfortunate continentals with only Paddy Feeney and jolly old World Service - the place where live footie commentary is interrupted to take the listener over to Lahore for news of England's flanneled fools losing yet another wicket. Just as a scoreflash from the Vic' is coming in.
Worse followed: quite inexplicably, the Sunday and Monday papers metamorphosed into the Welsh and West Country editions. Quelle catastrophe! Suddenly, even the rudimentary tabloid coverage we were receiving by that time seemed a relative luxury, as my disbelieving eyes were treated to reports from soccer deathbeds as grim and as distant as the parks of Ninian and Twerton.
The nadir came one evening back in '93, in one of Brussels's more unbearable ex-pat watering holes: that night, the follower of a blue-and-white-sporting Yorkshire club asked me who my team was, then sprayed beer over all and sundry, such was his considerable merriment when I told him. And that's the last time I'll reveal the name of my favourite eleven to a bevvied-up Halifax fan ...
Of course, as we became even more crud, the fact that I'd spent all this time thinking I was The Only Watford Fan In Belgium didn't help one jot. So I was grateful when, on a rare pilgrimage home, "Sacked Bearded Bloke" from the Hornet Shop slipped me the name and address of a chap in Gent who, I was assured, was also a devoted long-distance Golden Boys follower. I was not alone!
Just as Kennedy and Kruschev once did, so Brian and I forged our very own telephone hot-line - now in intensive use for several seasons - with each of us seeking instant solace whenever news of the latest non-victory versus "Les Ordures" from Befuddledshire, or whoever else for that matter, filters through to the Grandstand teleprinter, or when Ceefax page 312 conveys hot poop about of our latest big-money signing. (Did you know, for instance, that the signing of Ken Charlery actually made Ceefax page 305, and was top story on there for several hours? We lead life at a hectic pace here, you know.)
Like Beirut hostages, we'd seize on the tiniest scrap of news from "home", then spend hours contemplating its significance. What was the team? Why wasn't so-and-so playing? All we had was conjecture and our Duvel-fuelled imaginations, until my battered subscription copy of the WO arrived (usually late) to confirm or deny our match fantasies.
Then, this year, salvation! As a new era dawned, and GT and Elton - that was Reg at the press conference, wasn't it? - came galloping to the rescue, I finally caught up with the 1990's and bought myself a modem.
In one fell swoop, the pain of imminent relegation (repeat after me: one step back, two steps forward) was eased one memorable April night by the happy discovery of that shade-wearing BSaD moose on my PC screen.
The boyish feeling of excitement I enjoyed was something akin to the one I experienced at Christmas 1970 - the year I got not only the biggest box of Scelextric you ever did see, but a Golden shirt with a Barry Endean giant number nine neatly sown on the back for good measure.
Joy turned to ecstasy with the discovery of a fellow Hornet right here in Brussels, in the shape of Andy B. Together, we managed to dispel memories of relegation and thoughts of impending Tuesday night visits to Walsall, all in a summery haze of barbecues, tanned local beauties and gallons of fine Spanish red wine on the South East Brussels Hornets sun terrace. Besides which, Andy's flat-mate was a Leeds fan. And if you thought you were depressed ...
I've been in Brussels for over ten years now. When I first came here, I desperately missed two things: Channel Four and the Golden Boys. Brookside's Karen Grant has long ceased tugging at my heart-strings, yet my cross-Channel love for the Golden Boys refuses to wane.
And now they're no more than four to five hours' drive away, courtesy of that big hole in the ground between Folkestone and Sangatte - the one you and your neighbours only use to go and buy crates of shitty French beer (next time, try driving a few extra kilometres up the coast into Belgium, then buy some proper ale).
So gawd help Mrs Kevin and the kids if the 'Orns ever become good again: exiled part-timer I may be, but even I might then be sorely tempted to re-take the plunge and buy a season ticket.
And, naturally, I'd have no choice but to bring son Luther Ross with me for company on such long trips: after all, if he's going to follow in his father's footsteps he'll need to work on his Watford accent. And there's noooooooo bloody way I'm ever going to take him along to watch the Brussels Purple Scum ...
A few random aspects of Belgian life - both Watford ('ray!)and L***n (grrr!):
1) Watford = Belgian architect Victor Horta and his breathtaking art nouveau masterpieces.
2) L***n = the property speculators who managed to demolish vast swathes of the historic centre of Brussels - including, unbelievably, a fair few of Horta's finest works - all with the stunning complicity of corrupt local politicians. Hanging's too good for 'em!
3) Watford = fine Belgian beer and superb Brussels restaurants - like Craig Ramage on a good day, both can be different class.
4) L***n = frequent disappointment at the quality of the food when on holiday in ... France! The land where you often enter a hostelry expecting the gastronomic equivalent of Michel Platini, only to end up with a dish as exciting as a Roeder press conference.
5) Watford = the mighty KV Mechelen - Belgium's very own, surrogate 'Orns (for the uninitiated: Mechelen lies halfway between Brussels and Antwerp). Not only do KVM wear the Holy Trinity of colours; they even had a golden era not so long back, under a go-ahead manager and wealthy chairman, but are now seriously crap again. KVM, along with Racing Club de Lens just over the French border, would make worthy soccer twins for Watford.
6) L***n = Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht a.k.a. "Brussels Purple Scum", as Andy B is fond of calling them. And rightly so. Imagine a league in which one club stifles any threat to its dominance simply by buying up leading talents at other clubs before they might cost "Sporting" (as they're laughably known) the league or cup out on the pitch. Belgium's finest? Me bollix!
7) Watford = seeing Brussels by tram. This is the city where trams were invented. You can even travel by tram to go and watch Brussels's other team, Racing White Daring Molenbeek (try thinking up a song for that lot). I can't think of a better way to view the nicer parts of the Capital of Europe; the ones the developers and politicians somehow overlooked.
8) L***n = travelling around Brussels by car. Put it this way, Brussels is the place to which many Parisians and Romans come to see how real bastard motorists drive.
9) Watford = living in a country with a tri-colour Hornets banner as its national flag. The national holiday (21st July) is a veritable feast for Watford eyes!
10) L***n = the corrupt Belgian establishment lurking behind said flag - witness the stream of revelations this year ('96) about high-level involvement in paedophile rings and political assassinations. And they're still only scratching the surface. They say a nation gets the politicians it deserves; in which case, the apathetic Belgians' communal cup verily runneth over ...
Ten tell-tale signs that you are an exiled Hornet who's been living abroad for too long:
1) You find yourself inexplicably liking the latest hit song by crap Euro-groups like France's Indo-Chine or Spain's Mecano.
2) Despite the absence of conductors and only sporadic roving spot-checks on the buses and trams, you always,
but always, stamp your ticket, whereas ten years ago you always, but always, bunked the fare.
3) You think that people who don't like to eat garlic mayonnaise with
their snails are utterly weird.
4) You no longer convert all local prices into pounds sterling.
5) It suddenly dawns on you what a daft concept cricket is.
6) You begin to take more than a passing interest in one of your
country of residence's crappier footie teams.
7) On a rare visit to the UK, you discover that you no longer know the
name of a single character in Brookside (apart from Sinbad, of course).
8) During that same visit, you have no idea what anyone down the pub
is talking about.
9) You think that the infamous British TV commercial for Carling Black
Label - the one with the Germans by the pool and the bouncing towel - is
unfunny in the extreme, whereas you used to think it were just a bit of a
laff at the Krauts' expense.
10) Like the rest of Europe, you haven't the slightest idea who William