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Football League Division 4, 14/8/78
Stockport County 1(1)
Watford 3(2)
The beginning
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. But wait................

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?