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Ho Chi Minh City
Everybody hates change...don't they?
By [name removed]

Eighteen months ago I stood on a bed in Ho Chi Minh City with a shortwave radio to my ears, a grin on my face and tears in my eyes. I had left England two and a half months previously with dreams of far off lands, accompanied by a guy I hardly knew, memories of a sobbing girlfriend and faint hopes of a miraculous promotion which seemed too faint to actually believe. Since then everything has changed.

Alan Green’s voice sounds familiar even on a crackly Ko San Road Tranny and, throughout the months of snow and sun and rice and rain and beaches and temples, I found myself occasionally transported back home, by half a match commentary on the world service, or a telephone conversation, or a score-line buried deep in a strange newspaper. Even, if I was very lucky, an internet café or hut.

For me, Watford have for a long time now been a major constant in my life - friends fluctuate, families grow up and girlfriends change (this isn’t a lonely hearts ad, by the way!) but Watford will be there: yellow, red and black always have and always shall belong at Vicarage Road. It’s so selfish of them, therefore, during the most changeable part of my life so far, to be so bloody undependable - and I mean that in a good way. For the past ten or so years they’ve floated around, had the occasional good season and if I’m going to be honest here, lived on the glory years of their recent history. Why then, when I’ve just left school and just gone travelling and just gone to University and just changed so much, do they have to change too? It’s not fair. I want them to be normal. I want to wander in and watch us draw with Tranmere and wander out satisfied with avoiding relegation and hopefully having a bit of a cup run along the way. I wanted, if I’m going to be consistent in my honesty, to go away, leave the Hornets for a few years, maybe pop back occasionally to say hello, make sure they’re well and then go back to preparing my own life for a while, as Watford simmer on a back ring.

I was travelling with a Forest fan and an Arsenal fan when I heard the news - Watford had beaten Fulham and were Champions. Jason Lee had scored the goal and Taylor had masterminded the season, by the skins of our teeth we made the First Division. I was over-joyed, obviously and drank many a bottle of Singha beer in celebration with the other promoted fans, but I couldn’t quite appreciate it properly. I’d seen half of the season, actually more, the game at Kenilworth Road, Lee’s wonderful left foot goal at home to Wycombe and some of those fantastic Kennedy free kicks. But, unlike all the mates I’d left behind, Fulham was a sound on the radio, two syllables followed by a "one" and another two followed by a "two". I had no blade of grass or picture of face paint or memories of the pub or the train home. I missed out. Sure, I still have amazing memories of the promotion night, or a couple of hours anyway, but I celebrated as a Hornet alone, amongst slightly drunk friends and very bewildered strangers.

Anyway, despite the tinge of jealousy and hint of resentment about the bad timing of it all, I was quite happy. We’d just been transported back a season to Graham on the pitch telling us that Elton was coming home, without the nightmare of relegation and all that horrible stuff in between. I’d only missed a blip in the continuum and that was all finished, sure enough, 98-99 would turn out to be the same as all the other nineteen ninety-something seasons that I’d seen before.

The summer seemed to confirm that: we bought a striker who couldn’t really shoot and a winger who didn’t really seem to beat defenders and the most exciting signing at the time was Daley - an England international, at Watford. But then we’d had Steve Hodge and before him Kenny Samsom so over-the-hill internationals were part of the parcel really, par for the usual hornet course. The start of the season confirmed my hopes, everything was going to be normal. All right, we’d beaten Pompey. It looked like we should stay up, a beautiful sunny day, a lucky break but nothing spectacular, the security of mid-table mediocrity had returned. I could go away to University safe in the knowledge that there wouldn’t really be anything to miss out on this year. Then expectations began to change, we were top ten, then top six, then top ten again and just when everything seemed to be heading back to normality along came Mooney - usually the master of averageness - and changed it all again. We were in the play offs.

This was all a terrible nuisance really. I’d established myself in the college football team and had to keep nipping home to watch Watford. Every time I did, the team seemed to win and my place became less and less secure. I took to playing rugby instead to utilise the pounds that all these post-match celebrations were putting on my belly but even this didn’t stop the unusual course of the Watford bandwagon. I went to the Grimsby game and had to sit in the Lower Rous for the first time in about twelve years - getting tickets was never usually a problem. I got a ticket for the first leg against Birmingham thanks to a lucky break which put me in touch with a guy also on the Watford Mailing List who had a spare ticket. I sat on my own, for the first time ever at a first team game, in the East stand. Never before had this been so hard - usually a group of ten or so of us would wander up Vicarage Road, pay our money and take the seat we fancied on match day. I didn’t like this business at all. Except of course I did, this was my dream come true, some success at last, unexpected but still success, bloody bad timing, but still success, an unusual and hard to cater for expense, but still success.

Then came St Andrews. This was the football match of my life. A fight against adversity. A swift changing, heart breaking, stomach churning, voice losing, tear crying, scarey, horrible, wonderful night. This was the peak of Watford’s Everest, this is where we proved our worth, earned our spurs and raised two fingers at the years of nineteen ninety-something mediocrity which had preceded. From Adebola’s lucky goal, to Holdworth’s sending off, to Chamberlain’s wonderful save the night was a constant up and down, side to side affair. I have to admit that I love penalty shoot-outs in football, not when Watford or England are playing of course, but I love the thrill of the moment, the thin, thin line between hero and villain, success, or failure when the two teams hold no emotional stranglehold on my life.

On that night however, it was very, very different. I saw live cup-tie shoot outs at Bournemouth and Sheffield Wednesday before this season but I have never had such a long ten minutes in my life. Every second seemed like a minute, every minute like an hour. Each time a Watford player stood up to take their turn, headlines filled my head – "Player of the season turns Turnip", "Courageous Captain loses bottle", "Hazan has Hornets Horror". I knew the players too well, or so I thought. In the end Graham Taylor proved that he knew best. Hours of practice turned what could have been the worst night of my life into an exhausting, thrilling, emotional peak in my football watching career. There was only one thing that could follow.

Enough’s been written about Wembley already, everyone’s seen those goals countless times - I see them on my screensaver every time I leave my keyboard for three minutes. Suffice to say, for anyone reading this who wasn’t there, who hasn’t replayed them in their mind time after time after time; the winger who couldn’t beat a man, beat men time and time again and boy did he beat the keeper. And that striker who couldn’t shoot? He’d been doing a bit of practice by all accounts.

So now we’re on the verge of the start of our first Premiership season. To be honest we’ve scraped our way there taking the wildest route possible along the shortest cut imaginable. Who could ever have guessed that the five year plan would turn into a two year miracle? Whilst the team is strong in spirit and the supporters greater in number than they have been for a long time, the foundations are by no means firm. There’s a lot of work to do if we’re going to fulfill the most important requirement of that original plan - "SUSTAINABLE Premiership football". I think we can do it. Forget about the press, the rotting Main stand and the ‘jouneymen’ footballers. Remember those penalties, player after player beating the diving Birmingham keeper and fighting the seemingly inevitable defeat; Johnson, Page and Bazeley blasting the ball hard and high and Smart and Hazan calmly slotting home. Remember Nicky Wright, running and running and running.

I hate the fact that my season ticket costs three times what it did three years ago, that I’m in the wrong end and that I can’t decide to travel to an away game the day it is being played but I’ll live with that. Maybe I’ll have to see a few embarrassing defeats and not see us score a lot of goals, but I’ll tell you now if we stay up this season, and I’ll say again that I think we can do it, this time I'll be there standing in the Rookery with a smug grin on my face and a glint in my eye, wondering if change really is all that bad.