By Frances Lynn
After watching Doctor Who on Saturday, I know all about parallel universes. There exists a parallel universe where Adrian Boothroyd is still picking up bibs and balls for Kevin Blackwell, where Ben Foster is a chef, where Jay DeMerit is a Phys Ed teacher in Wisconsin, where Malky Mackay is languishing in West Ham's reserves, where Al Bangura is not on the turf on his knees giving thanks for escaping unbelievable horrors. Thankfully, according to the good doctor, it is impossible for any of us to visit that universe.
Sunday was one of those days that makes you so glad you fell in love with an unfashionable team all those years ago. The weekend started with the Play-off Party at the museum. Despite the small amount of publicity that had preceded it, there was a constant stream of children through the museum having their nails and faces painted before visiting the craft tables where some incredible banners were produced. Sarah even laid on yellow, red and black refreshments and the 'helpers' went home with yellow roses. The attention to detail would have made Betty proud. And the creativity of the younger generation of Watford fans was quite inspiring.
Sunday, it was a relief to arrive in Cardiff and find my seat in the stadium. Just as at Wembley in 1999, the banks of yellow looked wonderful in contrast to the drabness of the white at the other end. The build-up to the game was painful, and not just the awful attempts to rouse the fans into song. The countdown was torture. When the announcer shouted "ten minutes to go", Don responded, "Oh, just get on with it." I knew exactly how he felt. And then the TV screens showed the players in the tunnel and the roars started in earnest. And the Golden Heroes appear on the pitch led by their besuited general resplendent in a gold tie.
I have very few recollections of the game itself. You wait so long for these occasions and they just pass in a blur of tension and emotion. The brain is not really engaged as it is concentrating on keeping the breathing even...ish and the clapping (sort of) coordinated. Every time we were on the ball I was clapping and shouting encouragement. When Leeds were in possession, the fear muted the shouts a little until the roar of relief as a pass is misplaced or a shot goes wide or is safely in Ben's hands.
But I do remember twenty-five minutes in when we got a corner. Ashley floated it to the far post. A hopeful cry of "It's in" escaped my lips. And then it was in and all hell broke loose as the Watford faithful were leaping in the air and screams of joy and relief could be heard. Then the screen showed the goal and we saw what had not been visible from our vantage point in the stand at the opposite end. Hulse has been criticised for losing his man, but nothing was going to stop Jay DeMerit getting to that ball. He shot through the air and powered that header past Sullivan. Anyone or anything that got in his way was going in the net with the ball. And then "One-Nil to the Golden Boys" and the clapping and shouting and anxious checking of the watch started again.
The half-time whistle went and I felt exhausted. I was not sure I could take another forty-five minutes. But we were looking good. 1-0 up, can't complain.
The second half kicked off and we are attacking our end. All the better for roaring the boys on. And on the hour mark, the ball is looped towards the goal by Chambers and seems to come off a post but hits Sullivan and trickles into the net. If it wasn't so important, you'd be embarrassed to celebrate such a goal, but it was that important and we're leaping around like mad things and screaming till the lungs feel like they'll burst. Two-nil to the Golden Boys.
Soon after, the friendly steward who was looking after our section said, "Looks like you are going to win this." Despite the evidence in front of my eyes on the pitch it felt way too early for such a statement. "Yeah, we're doing all right," is all I can muster in response. "The second goal was a bit lucky." "A bit of luck never hurt anyone."
Leeds then have their best spell of the game, but we repel everything they throw at us and the clock is ticking down. Then there is a ridiculous (and lengthy) delay due to an injury to the linesman, so the agony is extended. But time is running out for Leeds. Our friendly steward has taken a look at the clock and said seven minutes to go. With an estimate of five minutes of extra time, that means twelve more minutes. Will two goals be enough? Remember what Man City did in 1999. No, please no. And then Marlon gets the ball in the box and looks odds on to put the game beyond Leeds. But Shaun Derry hacks him down and Mike Dean points to the spot. Penalty! Young master Salisbury in the row in front tells Don he'll stand out of his way to watch it. Don replies that he needn't worry, as he won't watch it anyway. Doris gets the ball and steps up and it seems an age before he coolly slots it past Neil Sullivan's stretching fingers. YESSSSSSS! More leaping up and down and screaming, which was much more a final release of tension than a celebration. I hug Don and say, "I think we've won it." And then I'm imploring the lads to keep a clean sheet, but they don't need my encouragement as the Leeds players will not be allowed to score. More checking of the watch, but a calm has descended.
And at last the final whistle goes and there are celebrations both on and off the pitch. And the PA tells us that our derbies will be at the Emirates Stadium and Stamford Bridge instead of Kenilworth Road and that is greeted with a roar of joy and approval. But the reality of what we have achieved today hasn't set in and won't for some time yet. The presentation follows. The signs are up saying Watford are in the Premiership. And you know it's true, but it doesn't seem real. Then Gavin lifts the cup, and it still doesn't feel real. And then the players are all gathered for the photo call and the yellow and red streamers go off and the young manager is there beside his captain holding the cup and they are celebrating with joyful abandon. Hearing Adrian's interviews after the game, I derived great pleasure from the fact that he was as hoarse as I was. It seemed strangely appropriate.
I traveled back on the train in a complete daze. Texts of congratulations from friends and family and then my phone rings and it is my boss calling from the US. Having instilled a love of the Golden Boys into him through sheer indoctrination, he is absolutely delighted. Then home in time to watch the highlights and a chance to actually enjoy some of the game. Not a classic, but job done. And to finally take in the celebrations and post-match interviews. And there is Al Bangura, 'Zero to Hero' indeed. And, for all the talk of how much money this will mean to the club, this is what is really special about today. A young boy who has left his family in a war zone and endured terrible hardships to have this moment. From the prayer on the turf to that beautiful smile of delight when he received the medal and then parading the flag of Sierra Leone. For a soppy old woman like me, that is the icing on the cake.
What an unbelievable season this has been. I was so angry and fearful at the start of the season about what was happening at the club and, while I still have strong misgivings about off the pitch activities, I can have absolutely no complaints whatsoever about our manager and players. Early on in the campaign I declared that Betty was the bastard son of Dave Bassett and Gianluca Vialli. I hang my head in shame. Adrian Boothroyd is truly a football genius!