Southern League Division 1, 10/4/15
Scorers: Edmonds, Waterall, quite a few disallowed as usual
Norwich City 1
Tommy Waterall's finest hour
Possibly not quite utterly true and maybe slightly confused report by Nicholas Ralph
This was an unspeakably critical day for the Magpies (as we were then known). The previous weekend - Easter - had been a complete disaster. Four matches in five days had produced a lone victory against the Hammers, while Luton Town did the double over us (4-2 at Watford - ring any bells ?) and we had looked less than championship calibre the previous Tuesday in losing narrowly at Swindon, 0-6. For statistics freaks - of which I am one - the situation immediately before this match, with each club having three matches to play, was:
Watford - 46
Reading - 45
Cardiff City - 43
West Ham United - 42
Northampton Town - 41
Swindon Town - 41
You can imagine how fed up we all were after losing at Swindon, can't you ? And Reading were to meet Cardiff on this day, too. So it was with a heightened sense of occasion and anxiety that we all jumped on the train from Croxley to Watford Met station, so handily located for Cassiobury Park. There was an additional level of excitement in the air, too, since we had read that Royalty would be in attendance (although we knew that HM the K would not be there - something about a conference on long trees in St. Helier). We were, then, a bit disappointed to find out that the reference to the 'Duck of Gloucester' in the Watford Observer had not been a misprint after all: the animal in question waddled out to entertain us at half-time and was a surprising improvement on the 150-piece bands we normally got back in those days.
The boys took the field to the strains of the club's theme tune of the day - the second movement of Rachmaninoff's Trio Elegiaque in D Minor (Opus No. 9) - played with great aplomb by the ladies of the WFC Tea Circle. If I may take a slight detour here, for a moment, I would mention to all of you latter-day supporters that Watford has always had very strong musical connections. Tchaikovsky and Skriabin were both known to be football daft, and would hop over to Cassiobury Park at every opportunity. Glazunov, as you know, actually played on the wing during the halcyon days of the 1870s, scoring a record seven symphonies for the club during 1876-77. Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bortkiewicz, and Balakirev - sometimes accompanied by Lyapunov - were regular visitors at the Crookery (as the west end of the Park was known). But it was the great Rachmaninoff himself - with no less than six season tickets - who could not stay away from Watford matches. But for his personal intervention during the boardroom crises of the early 1900s, the club could not have continued. It was only fitting, then, that one of his compositions should be so warmly embraced as the club's own. Happily, the musical connection continues to this day - why else do you think that Watford is twinned with Novgorod, the town nearest to Rachmaninoff's birthplace ? Anyway, enough of all that.
In the match programme (price one farthing, and a rip-off at that), we were - all of us - alarmed to note that the referee would be a Roger Elflord. This gentleman, though he denied it vehemently, seemed to have a penchant for awarding penalties against us - for example, in the game at Exeter, where he had given nine in the first half alone. In the event, he had a 'quiet' game, and the story was that Nobby Venables, the Watford groundskeeper, had put a little extra gin in Elflord's tea just before kick-off. It was certainly refreshing to see the man drifting around the pitch with a twinkle in his eye, dropping the whistle, and generally behaving like the complete berk he really was.
We pressed forward relentlessly from the off. Using our by now trademark 0-0-10 formation, with Harry Bulling playing in the centrifugal role, we looked both graceful and likely. How could this same team have disgraced itself so, and in Wiltshire for goodness' sake ? Anyhow, Bulling stroked the ball about, with short and long passes beyond critical reproach (let's face it, none of us really understood a thing about the game back then). Hastings, Green, Edmonds, and Waterall ran and ran till their legs nearly fell off, such was their work-rate. And in the middle of the park, Kennedy, the Gregory twins, Stewart, and White locked into Bulling's scheming like parts of a jigsaw. We were absolutely brilliant.
It came as no surprise, then, when Norwich opened the scoring with an utterly unfair goal by Flock, their team horse - he used to deputise quite often for Norwich even though he usually pulled their bus to the game as well. Skilly had no chance as Flock leaped fourteen feet in the air and used the 'hoof of God' to nail the lead for the Budgerigars (they didn't become the Canaries until 1950, I believe, and used to wear green, yellow, blue, brown, white, and red strip - garrish, even by 1915 standards).
We refused to let this get us down and immediately set about getting an equalizer. It didn't come until the 88th minute, though, and there was much wailing (the Russian composers having found the vodka again) and gnashing of teeth in between times. Not even cries of 'There's only one Jabez McMorran' could rouse the team to stick the orb in the appropriate place and feeling in the crowd began to rise to dangerous levels. Would there be another outbreak of hooliganism, as there had been in 1902 when two youths ran riot and stole tuppence from the main turnstile ? Or would the crowd keep its head ?
Peter Ronald broke the tension by scoring from a direct free kick, although this was - inevitably - disallowed by Elflord in one of his more lucid moments. On the hour, manager Harry Kent would have liked to send on a substitute, but of course he couldn't. Instead, he stood up (you should know that this was considered an extreme gesture by a manager in those days) and pointed his finger at some distant object. We all took this as a sign for a change in tactics but Fred, a self-professed expert on the game, told us that he was simply pointing to where the Watford Observer clock would one day be, on a ground yet to be imagined.
Norwich somehow dodged every bullet. Their goalkeeper, the inestimable Mike Walker, had a truly amazing game. Sadly for Norwich his absence, after a collision with Flock, was the key to a Watford comeback. Eddie Edmonds latched on to a fantastic cross from some bloke in the crowd (the referee by now, you understand, being somewhat out of it) and stuck it away for the equalizer. Two minutes left ....
The BBC called on my cell-phone to say that the Reading-Cardiff game had kicked-off late, so the tension grew still more. We didn't want Reading to win that one: their team was made up exclusively, under an early sponsorship deal, of the British Olympic Diving squad - the 'Flying Nogans'.
Could we eke out a winner ? In the last minute (the 104th - Elflord had lost his watch, and the linesmen had been co-opted into the crowd) Fred Gregory rose majestically above the crowd in the Norwich goalmouth - he used to do this sometimes, none of us understood why. But he was fouled in the process, and up came Tommy Waterall to take the resulting very direct free kick. Actually, we were a bit nervous about this, because Eddie Edmonds used to take all the penalties. But for some reason he was lying in the middle of the pitch, with his hand over his eye at the time, so Tommy got the job he'd always wanted.
Shades of Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce as he sent it flying over the bar. But Elflord, completely out of character, said that Norwich's replacement goalie, a certain W. Churchill, had moved and ordered the kick re-taken. This produced much the same result. Elflord, now reclining on the turf behind the goal, berated Churchill for his antics, and sent him off.
The next bit's rather fuzzy, but there was definitely a pitch invasion. British Tommies, led by Rowan Atkinson, stormed on to meet the challenge from a brigade of blokes wearing elaborate pointy hats, one of who was called Franz Beckenbauer, and the football that ensued was utterly horrendous. Elflord had completely lost it at this stage, and allowed the game to go on for four years, by which time neither team had many players left.
The Football Association then ordered that the penalty be retaken one last, final, absolutely ultimate time. Norwich were allowed to use their new 'keeper, a certain A. Brick-Wall, but he was no match for our Tommy who blasted the winner: 2-1, and we could go home at last. On Sportsnight with the Coal-Man that evening (God, the BBC had the strangest ideas back then), Rachmaninoff was interviewed by Frankie Buff, and made it clear that this was the greatest night of his life, at least since the premiere of his Piano Concerto #2 which he fervently hoped would one day be played in Watford Town Hall (it was, in 1988, by Evgeny Kissin).
Watford's victory was matched by Reading's loss. West Ham also lost, so Watford were now three points clear with two games to go. We won them both (at Gillingham, 3-2, and at Brighton, 2-1) and took our first ever really major important fantastic trophy, the Southern League. We didn't do anything worth writing about for another 45 years.
I shall always treasure the memory of this great game and for posterity's sake herebelow record the details of our magnificent team that day:
Skilly Williams(There's only one ...): a finer goalkeeper we had never seen at Watford. In all team photos he looks as if he needs to eat a lot of green vegetables, but his service to the club was, well, great, really. Had the largest hands at the club, except for all the other players.
Harold Bulling (There's only one ...): at seven foot nine, one of the smaller players of the day. Reputedly ran the dressing room, and was a part-time railway policeman. Never cautioned in his entire career, he was eventually transferred to Southend United in exchange for Keith Dublin. Went on to write romantic novels.
Eddie Edmonds (There's only one ...): the main striker, with a left foot equal to his right. Meant that he was the only player whose boots were the same size. Scored bezillions of goals that year (17 actually) and was rated by Shankly. Should have played for England, or even Wales. Became Euro-MP for Pinner in 1924 before taking up ski-jumping.
Arthur Green (What are we going to do with Uncle Arthur ?): a central player - look, there really weren't any 'systems' back then, you know - who went on to fame and fortune in 'Upstairs, Downstairs' where he played the part of the Arsenal central defender in a match attended by Mr. Bellamy, Hudson, and a couple of cheap tarts (the episode they never showed) - there was no score, of course.
Fred Gregory (There's only one ... look, I'm not going to keep on putting this in, and who dreams up this stuff, anyway ?): a great player, with silky skills and great ball control. The originator of the banana kick, the cucumber corner, and the tricycle shot, he kept his cows on the pitch during the summer to save the club the cost of mowing.
Val Gregory: sister to Fred. Played a blinder on a regular basis. While Eddie Edmonds, or Tommy Waterall, would move up for a cross, Val would take the opposition centre-half for a walk. Most games, you never saw them again, but I remember against Millwall (Home, 4-0) their man came back about twenty minutes later just dripping with perspiration, and never did wipe the silly grin off his face. He didn't play much of a game, either.
Wild Willie Hastings: what can be said about this man ? Any ideas by e-mail, please.
Jim Kennedy: the only member of the great American family to play 'soccer'. He was the engine room, or you would think so to look at the state of his hair. His speeches inspired the boys to tremendous heights at times- 'ask not what Watford can do for you, get an agent to do it'. He was a fanatical golfer - and grandfather to Lee Trevino - and appeared regularly on the 'Two Ronnies' throughout the 20's.
Jabez McMorran (Now there really WAS only one Jabez ...): didn't play that day, but should have done. He'd have seen off their horse in the first minute. Had a chapter of the Bible named after him, starring Charlton Heston.
Peter Ronald: not the only member of the team without a surname. Born we don't know where or when, he developed into a fine tactical player whose ability to read the game, and control ball distribution, was always a reassurance to the rest of his team-mates. More meaningless drivel about Peter available on request.
Alex Stewart: a born actor, who eventually achieved world renown as Captain 'Roses' Picardy on 'Start-Wreck'. On the field, a great something-or-other without whom we could not have managed. Played for Scotland in their drive for the 1910 World Cup where they beat Brazil, drew with Spain, but went down in a heartbreaker 0-8 to Nyasaland, and missed the quarter-finals on goal difference.
Tommy Waterall: perhaps the best forward in the team, aside from a couple of others. Scored some beautiful goals, including the clincher against Norwich that day. Had a chain of supermarkets in the town, as well as Hertfordshire's only Cadillac dealership. Many other clubs showed an interest in him, and he eventually moved on, to Gillingham. As usual, Watford got a fantastic fee for this departing talent - I think it was twelve guineas and a couple of goats, the equivalent of at least eighty quid today.
Charlie White: a fantastic winger who could play left or right, but usually played up the middle. Nick-named 'Chalkie' (now there's a surprise) he was a crowd favourite for his ball-juggling, and the way he tormented opposing full-backs, usually with toasting-forks. In later life, changed his name and became an international rock star with such potent hits as 'Luton seems to be the hardest word', and 'Red Eyes'. Still involved with the club in some unknown capacity.
Luther Blissett: one of the best strikers ever to don the Watford green and red hoops, he eventually moved to AC Bournemouth who were for some reason in the Italian league that year. Hit nineteen goals against Sunderland some years later. Even today, all these years later, supporters wonder what possessed the club ever to let him go. Would and could have graced a professional basketball court, and might yet.
John Barnes: spotted during the tour of Jamaica in 1907, he became one of the club's most loyal servants, eventually getting his long-awaited transfer to a 'big' club eighty years later to the day. Played so well for England in Brazil that he was effectively refused entry to the 1986 World Cup until it was too late and England had been fully cheated by a certain person whose anagramatic name would be 'Ada Norma'.
Tony Geidmintis (There's only one ...): played for Workington that day, thank God.
On the bench, if you squint hard enough, you will be able to recall Harry Kent. Actually, it wasn't so much a bench as a plank in those days, although Harry got the cushion. Also on the bench were a young Jim Bonser, figuring out the financial mechanics of the game although not actually watching the football, and Stanley Rous, dreaming of having a stadium named after him but making do with teaching maths to the ignorant oiks at Watford GS.