By Geoff McPherson
Friday morning in Denver, Colorado at work and all my normal avenues to watching the final were disappearing and getting slim. Same story everywhere: "Sorry, not enough interest to show the game live at 8am on a Sunday", and knowing my nerves could not handle listening to a another playoff game over the internet, a solution had to be found.
So it was back to the internet for more research to make this happen. Every Irish pub on the east coast seems to showing this game, still no luck in Denver; double-checked my cable company..."Let me check the game, it's Leeds versus who? No sir, no live soccer Sunday morning, but we have a special on the MLS soccer package." This is driving me nuts, then BINGO, out of nowhere like Bangura’s goal against Derby in injury time (the one game I could attend this year). I need the following: someone with a different cable company (Direct TV), who had the special international sports package (Setanta), and who wanted to be awake at 8 am Sunday morning. Who would be this person in this non-football nation? Jim! Across-the-street Jim, would he do it? Hell, that guy would do anything for beer!
So after emails, cell phone calls, beer bribes, I got home on Friday and Jim had it all ready to go on his big Yankee TV. Brilliant, just brilliant...so I spent the evening watching NBA playoffs with Jim, giving a US translation of what the game meant on Sunday - it's like if the Chicago Cubs did 'X' but with no money or the Denver Nuggets did 'Y' with no named players - while he went through his own sporting highs and lows in a do or die game which his beloved Pistons won.
Now I had the game locked in, I had to make sure I went through my normal routine of superstitions. Ask my wife who would win and by what score: 2-1 to Watford, my wife is one of the jammiest people you would ever meet and she mostly gets the winner correct when I ask her. Get my mate in New Zealand to put a bet on Leeds, reverse psychology thing; yep, born and raised in New Zealand, first Watford game I went to was New Zealand vs. Watford in Auckland in 1982, Watford won 2-0, but I digress.... I made the decision not to wear my Watford jersey, too many conversations in my head to try and explain that one without being admitted to an institution. Purchased the amber liquid Saturday, as there are no alcohol sales in Colorado on Sunday.
Then it was trying to stay occupied the rest of Saturday with anything other than football, otherwise I'd be like a kid in a candy store with a hundred dollars trying to determine all the possible alternatives. Had we peaked too early with our win over Palace? We had been lucky all season, had our luck run out? What if we won? What if we lost? The different emotions had me going round in circles.
Sunday morning, I wake up at 5am after an exhausting dream: Watford had lost 5-3 in extra time. It's just a dream, relax. Manage to get some more sleep and then before I know it, Jim and I are watching the Sky Sports pre-show with Noddy from Sheffield and Chris Coleman from Fulham giving their so-called wise perspectives, but I felt like they were missing the details, that we had pushed Leeds with nine men in our previous encounter. We had learnt a lot from that game, which showed later in the season.
After the Americanised pre-game fireworks, it was the game that we have replayed in our head a million times since Sunday. After twenty minutes, as the game went on, I was thinking we could quite well win this (I'm always on the half-empty part of the pint when it comes to feeling we can win), but we need the first goal, it always seems to settles us down and gives us a lot more confidence. Then the guy from Green Bay makes a fantastic job to lose his marker...OH BABY! BRING IT ON! We go up another level like we have so many times before but the differences from playing Leeds the previously time - Aidy's continuous learning culture, 'Good to Great' business books and all the rest - kick in as we don't lose our cool, we stay focused and are controlling the midfield. There were seven or eight minutes before half time when Leeds had their first constant wave of possession, but we make it to the break ahead. It's 8:50am in Denver and I need a beer to settle the nerves. Forty-five minutes and we're in the Premiership; as a fan that's where we want to be, but it doesn't feel right, not in a bad way but it just feels odd. Jim is now on board, my Friday night explanation is now making sense and he's now part of the emotional rollercoaster.
The first ten minutes of the second half, Leeds put the ball on the deck and start to put some passes together and build a little momentum. This was short lived. As Mr. Grant states in his review: 'put the ball on goal and things will happen'; Chambers, who is having a great game, does a Marlon King spin and shoot and we are up two-zip, thirty-three minutes to go. Watford's team unity is getting stronger and Leeds look fragmented; grab another beer as this is the same Leeds team that came back from 3-0 against Southampton with fifteen minutes to go. The nerves turn into excitement as the minutes tick away, Henderson slots the penalty - I would have Ashley Young taking the penalties, but what do I know, and Aidy seems to have the golden touch at the moment. 3-0, and words can't describe what I am struggling to comprehend, an absolutely fantastic performance.
Then it's over and the yellow sections in the stands are going nuts. Amazing, just absolutely amazing.
After getting back home, I listen to BBC Three Counties Radio's post-match analysis online while reading all the updates on various website as I try to comprehend what had just happened. Five days later, I'm still in Watford football frenzy fog.