We always win three-nil
By Mike Smart
"Not ready yet," I thought to myself as I trudged through the rain, back to my car after the three-nil win at the Britannia Stadium, my five-year-old daughter on my shoulders, my ten-year-old son by my side. Michael, a veteran of some fifty games, at a guess, is used to such walks, if a little unfamiliar with the smug warmth a convincing win brings. For Jessica, it's her debut.
It's not that she's hated it; at the outset, I think she felt quite honoured to be involved. She's a big girl now. Cameron doesn't get to go; "I want to go to football natch when my bigger," he announces on a regular basis. Truth be known, though, she's only there because of a babysitting crisis.
She's fine at first, but as the goals go in and the few hundred travelling Hornets shout in delight, the imprint of her fingers in my arm bear testimony to the fact that the noise is too much for her.
So, maybe next season, then. I was six when I first went; a home game against Norwich City in 1981. Perhaps there's something in this: we won three-nil.
Well, that was the plan. Trust our boys to go and ruin it! The place at Cardiff clinched, I started to put plans in place, and it occurred to me that this could be the moment to take Jessica to her second match. There are worse venues, and if all goes to plan, she'll be an avid follower of the Hornets in the years to come. I'd like her to be able to say "I was there". Also, I wanted to buy yellow, red and black ribbons and tie them in her hair.
I had no idea how well it would turn out. Tears from Cameron at the realisation we were going without him were not matched by tears from Mandy, my wife. As we drove down to Gloucester (thinking that we were very clever, and that no-one else would have thought of that route; "Everyone does that", we are later informed) to catch the train, Jessica starts to sing: "Hey Springy, Springy, he used to be a scummer but he's all right now". Michael's look is that of a satisfied tutor, whose student has remembered all she has been taught.
Fast forward, then, and we're walking the long walk round the stadium to find Gate One. I outwardly marvel at the magnificence of it all - the occasion, the stadium, the colour, the rain. The look on Jessica's face says: "You can shut up, Dad, it's okay, I'm impressed." The first test of the Intimidation Factor comes as we're strolling by the River Taff, past a pub full of Leeds supporters. In an attempt to undo Aidy Boothroyd's efforts to prove that there is civilised society in Yorkshire, some of these Neanderthals scream obscenities at anything in Yellow. Anything. Even if it is only five-years-old. "Those men are very noisy," Jessica innocently observed.
When we finally got into the stadium, I have to confess that the welfare of my children went out of the window for a moment. I had a complete "Bloody Hell" moment. Then, I closed the page of the programme featuring a picture of Matt Rowson and started to take in my surroundings. You have to say, the Taffs know how to build a stadium. Even our position in the lower tier offered a splendid view. Or at least, it would have done, had we not been in one of the sections where everyone stood up throughout, and had my children not both been below five foot. Helpfully, the Millennium Stadium boasts two big screens and large televisions all around the lower tier. Michael and Jessica are happy enough with this.
I won't go into detail about the game; others have done and will do a far better job than I could. Two viewings of the ITV highlights and one of Sky's coverage confirm that I missed nothing of significance during any of Jessica's six toilet trips. Indeed, it was during one of these that she inquired, like a Mailing List veteran, "Why are they wearing red shorts?" My main worry, thinking back to the Stoke game, was that the noise would be too much for her. When Jay's header hit the back of the net, then, my second (look, at least I'm honest) thought was to look at Jessica, and see how she was handling it. To my delight, a big grin was on her face. Later, I lied: "I'm sorry it's so noisy, princess."
"That's the best bit," she happily replied, munching a fruit pastille which, no doubt, was the second best bit.
Even the tiredness factor didn't kick in until we were on a crowded train back to Gloucester, and she didn't understand why I couldn't ask the big man in the white shirt to move, so she could sit by the window. We were able to stay and enjoy the celebrations, Michael running down towards the front of the stand. I was later to apologise to him for the fact that Jessica was getting most of the attention. "That's all right," he explained. "I've hardly noticed you either."
The twenty-first of May 2006 is a hugely significant day in our family history. Not only were four of us (Michael and Jessica's Grandpa, the chap who took me to the Norwich game twenty-five years ago, being the other one) there to see Watford's amazing triumph. More significantly, for us at least, I think a seed was sewn. I think that little girl had that moment. You know the one, where suddenly you've made a lifelong commitment. That however passionate and committed a supporter she is or isn't in the future, Watford will always be her team.
On Monday, before I left for work, Jessica said: "When you and Michael always go to football, can I come?"
Magic. If nothing else, it makes finding babysitters that much easier when it's only for one.
Somehow, though, I have to get the message across that we probably won't always win three-nil....