Report by Graham Walker
Long time ago, I'm still on my first wife and still at college! August
'78. Warm August sunshine, a new season, optimism by dint of these two
factors alone. Precious little else. Here we are in Division Four, the
seventies have been a decade of grinding mediocrity to a degree staggering even
by Watford's standards. Abject failure to look the part in Division Two
and then years of failing to impress in Division Three, with the exception of
"the Billy Jennings season" which was actually rather average but seemed
bathed in sunlight compared to the seasons which sandwiched it. Now here
we were, our third season back in the Fourth Division.
All right, so we now have Mr. E. John as Chairman, and a new manager in a
Mr. Taylor. Okay, so Taylor had managed that massive Lincoln side that two
years previously had stomped all over the Fourth Division by a record
margin (1-5 and 1-3 against Watford) but, hell, why should we expect the
same? We only have a couple of close-season signings to change things
around, Taylor's old captain Sam Ellis, now approaching veteran status,
and some bloke called Bolton from Notts County.
Ah well, old habits die hard and here we are at Stockport on a sunny
afternoon, watching the usual scapegoats and the two new boys. There is
Andy Rankin, who surely deserves to keep goal for a better team than this,
there is the mercurial Mayes, there is Ross Jenkins, taken to our hearts
because he epitomises the club - enthusiastic, clumsy, continually
under-achieving and just a little embarrassing, bless 'im! He is taller
than everybody but "aerial dominance" are two words that no reporter has
ever yet written regarding the Watford front line.
Same old song then. We hope for the best but expect the worst. As usual.
We take an early lead as Ross nods in a free-kick. County then equalise and
press hard. Half an hour gone and Mayes is put through in a one-on-one with
the 'keeper. Lovely skills sometimes, Alan Mayes, but always seems to come off second-best in a one-on-one
situation...but he rounds the keeper and is whacked from behind. Free-kick, we think. Penalty,
the referee decides and in one rare moment of poetic justice, we get our just desserts, a penalty, despite
the fact that the foul happened at least a yard outside the area.
What's going on? It isn't so much that Sam Ellis converts the
penalty.....but that he then stands in front of the Watford supporters with
arms aloft and fists shaking. It has been years, literally years,
since a Watford player actually acknowledged the presence of away
supporters. Not since Barry Endean, the durable Durham dynamo some
eight years previously. So we are all in this together then? This is
weird and encouraging.
Half-time comes and we still lead. Second half and Watford, not to put too
fine a point on it, do the business. Professional, they stop County from
doing anything much, close them down, strong, hard and determined. When
was the last time Watford were not a soft touch away from home? And
then, to crown it all, a towering centre from the right and there is Ross
again at the far post. 3-1! What the...? Not just because it is 3-1, but
because for some years we seem to have suffered from a pathological failure to
manage to cross a ball as far as the far post!
And that's it. All wrapped up. We leave the ground smiling but stunned,
avoiding the local hoodlums as we go (this is the seventies, not even
segregation as yet). Normally our first away win of the season comes
around November time against no-hopers like Southport, Workington,
Rochdale. Here we are in August and already we have won an away game!
Ross scores two goals...usually late September before he amasses such a
total and we have only played for ninety minutes. We did not flatter to
deceive, we went out to get a result and, bloody hell, we got one.
Strange days. What's going on?