From New York to Cardiff
By Radley Moss
It is the evening of Monday, May 22, and I am sitting in my apartment in New York feeling slightly dazed. It's partly due to jetlag as I took flew out of Heathrow early this morning but it's much more to do with the realisation that we really did beat Leeds 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium yesterday afternoon and that I was there to witness what was a truly unforgettable occasion.
I have been a Watford fan since I was ten years old, when my dad took me and my brother to a handful of matches during Graham Taylor's last season of his first spell in charge. We got season tickets for the 1987-88 season (thanks, Bassett!). Over the next decade, I had a season ticket and followed the team up and down the country until moving to the U.S. shortly before the start of the 1998-99 season.
For reasons too complicated to get into, it was impossible for me to get back to England for the Bolton match in 1999 but as soon as we completed our triumph against Palace in this season's semi-finals, I couldn't even bear the thought of not being there for the Playoff Final this time. It was tough enough not to be at the Palace games as I had to pretend to work while listening to the second leg over the Internet!
I booked my flight to arrive a couple of days before the game but then the real struggle began - finding a way to get match tickets! It wasn't easy but after a couple of highly stressful days, I very happily managed to snag a couple of very precious tickets (a big thanks to those fans on the Watford Mailing List who offered to help me out).
I arrived in Paddington early on Sunday morning to take the special train. It was fantastic to walk into the the station and to see yellow everywhere. As the train got closer to Cardiff, I grew increasingly nervous about what lay ahead. I'd had a good feeling about the outcome of the match all week but the thoughts in back of my head about how it would feel if we ended up on the losing side were almost unbearable!
Once we got to Wales, I walked around Cardiff for a while and soaked in the pre-match atmosphere. Upon getting into the stadium, the tension seemed to increase more and more as we edged towards kickoff. The noise made by the Watford fans was truly incredible and the sea of yellow was a sight to behold. Not that I'd ever had a doubt that I'd made the right decision to travel from New York for the match but as I took in everything that was going on as we got closer to three o'clock, it dawned on me that no matter how faraway I live from England, Watford Football Club will always have a piece of my heart.
The game itself was in many ways a blur. The stakes were so high and the whole thing was incredibly nerve-racking. But the Hornets made a good start and looked threatening from set pieces and physically stronger than Leeds - trends that were to continue for virtually the entirety of the match. It was definitely heart in the mouth time when Ashley Young narrowly deflected Shaun Derry's shot wide of the goal after about ten minutes. However, with twenty-five minutes gone, Jay DeMerit crashed home a magnificent header, which brought scenes of joy among the Watford fans. We had a couple of minor scares before half time but certainly went into the dressing room as deserved leaders.
We continued to look good in the second half and after fifty-seven minutes came the next truly glorious moment as James Chambers' shot deflected onto the post before the ball bounced off Neil Sullivan and trickled behind the line. It was still difficult to relax as Leeds enjoyed their best period during a ten minute spell in which they won a series of corners and Chambers had to clear a header off the Watford goal line. But after failing to score during that time, Leeds seemed to run out of steam and then came the crowning moment.
Watford worked the ball into the Leeds penalty area. Marlon King was brought down as he seemed ready to pull the trigger. Up stepped Darius Henderson and he put the penalty away with aplomb! Pure and utter delirium erupted among the Watford fans. It had been difficult to truly enjoy the match until the third goal because even though we always seemed to be quite comfortable, Leeds still had a chance of changing things round until then. At 3-0, we were definitely Premiership-bound!
Then came the final whistle and scenes of celebration on the pitch and in the stands that will stay with me forever. It sank in even more that we really are in the Premiership when the PA guy stated that our local derbies next season will be at Emirates Stadium and White Hart Lane.
Living in America, I don't typically make it back to more than a few games a season. But as I walked back to Cardiff train station, I started thinking back to a home match against Brighton that I went to in October 2002. It was around that time that we learnt about the truly dire state of our finances. I remember walking towards Vicarage Road and was shocked to see people holding out buckets for donations for the club. At that time, I wondered if Watford would survive, let alone ever make it back to the Premiership.
Many thanks to Aidy and the team for turning Sunday into such a memorable experience and making some of the dark days from recent years seem like such a distant memory.
Hopefully, we can now make some noise in the Premiership and upset some of the big boys. Nothing would surprise me with Aidy at the helm and the amazing team spirit that he has fostered. Now my only concern is being able to get tickets when I visit England next season but I'll bask in this particular glory for a long time before worrying about that!
Without a doubt, the money I spent to get from New York to Cardiff provided a truly priceless return on my investment. Here's to many, many more glorious days for the Golden Boys!