By Jeremy Marshall
My earliest memory of Watford is watching a game at Vicarage Road with my late, beloved father - it was 1-1 against, I think, Sheffield Wednesday sometime in the late 1970s. As far as I know that was the only football match my father ever attended in his 'three score years and ten' but I can still remember the players and the atmosphere, the even then old, rickety and cramped wooden seats and the creaky terracing underneath, me worrying if we would have 'fruity' language which would annoy my father (not that I can recall!).
Fast forward perhaps thirty years or more. Now I was the father as we left Kent in the early morning with my two boys aged ten and six in the back seat. How would they remember their - in the words of Wallace and Gromit - 'Big Day Out'? Even if we lost it would still be memorable. If we won....
Pretty much as soon as we were on the M25, we met heavy rain which did not stop until the edges of Cardiff. Grey leaden skies with wave after wave of endless clouds and rain. 'Terrible drought we're having,' says Nat. Once we join the M4 we see loads of Hornets fans all the way, kept the boys amused by putting scarves out of the windows, taking them in to dry, generally waving and giving thumbs up to the other fans. Watford is above all a friendly club, as were most but not all of the Leeds fans we had the pleasure of meeting during the long day.
Got to the stadium, which is very impressive, had a look round, still raining, so went inside, took our seats ready for the pre-match festivities. Good pre-match singing of 'Yellow Army' although during this I noticed we had in front of us about a dozen or so guys who did not join in this well known chorus and turned out to be 'charming' Leeds fans, who took the opportunity to stand up and wind up everyone else with a few choice phrases as soon as the match kicked off. Super efficient stewarding saw them evicted in a few seconds at lightning speed, leaving us with a nice space to stretch out in - plenty of room for jumping for joy later, thank you very much Millennium Stadium for your prompt reaction.
The key thing for me about the match was that Watford's back four had the Leeds attack (Hulse plus support) totally under shackles. As a former (twenty years ago and slow as a snail) centre back, especially impressive were Demerit and Mackay's performances, seemingly effortlessly soaking up Leeds' rather aimless long balls so that Watford were able to keep up the pressure with the hardworking Mahon snapping up anything loose. The first twenty minutes seemed to be all Watford, with every fifty-fifty going our way. Then, we scored. To be honest, we couldn't see much of Demerit's goal at the time (apart from the beautiful sight of the ball in the back of the net) but watching it on the TV screen at home in the evening, Demerit's hunger for the ball was obvious while his marker Hulse had completely lost concentration and focus - the difference between the sides. Leeds came into the game a bit more nearer half time and there was one awkward tangle between the superb Foster and a couple of Leeds players which the ref waved away.
Half-time lucky chocolate (in the best BSaD tradition): Mars Bar Duo (half each for the boys - sorry mum, we will suspend nutritional norms for one unbelievable twenty-four hours)
Effect: As the Americans say, 'Awesome!'
While Leeds looked better balanced in the second half by bringing on Blake, the flow of the game was still in the Hornets' favour and again Leeds never really looked like scoring. They key moment which pretty much settled the game was the second goal. As the ball came to Chambers from a Mackay flick on, we were pretty much level with him and could see clearly him scuff at the ball, it spin up off Lewis' leg and then almost literally hang suspended in the air for seconds before lazily describing an arc - sort of like a cricket ball from Shane Warne - and settling neatly and decisively in the back of the Leeds net via Sullivan's back or arm. Clean bowled, sir! Cue massive pandemonium from all sides. There was no way Leeds were coming back from that and the third goal was the last rites - an obvious penalty, the icing on the cake, slotted home confidently by Henderson who had worked tirelessly all afternoon, together with his partner the amazing, seemingly tireless, Marlon King.
At the final whistle, the sheer emotions from the players, the genuine affection and loyalty to each other and to the manager was obvious. Congratulations from all sides to the manager and the chairman - you had the belief and you made it a reality. There is something basically decent and likeable about our club - no, it's not perfect, any more than any human institution - but for a small town tucked away in no man's land between London and the M25, it's worth a lot of loyalty. Aidy Boothroyd seems to personify many of those qualities which the fans love about the club. Which brings me finally to the crowd. Yellow and red everywhere, a simple bedlam of noise and passionate support. Yes, outnumbered by Leeds supporters - who have a fan base their team did not deserve on the day - but not out-sung or out-supported.
A great experience, without doubt the most memorable football match of my life. Much better than the '84 FA Cup Final (which we lost!). The boys and I emerge out of the stadium. The clouds are gone. The sun is out, the air is fresh and feels as if it has been washed nice and clean just for us. Everywhere joyful 'Orns singing and chanting as they stream homewards. Leeds fans come up and congratulate us. Everyone is floating back to the bus - which will take us to the car - about six inches off the pavement.
'Well, Dad,' said Sam as we made our way onto the bus, carefully clutching his scarf and his half eaten packet of Maltesers, 'that was really a great game.'