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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 20/12/03, 3.00pm
Stoke City
Somewhere in the North Atlantic...
By Tim Tweddell

When you first get to your seat in the UR, and the first thing to catch your eye is three small bald blokes jogging round the pitch, you have a feeling it's going to be one of those days. The three in question were the match officials, Messrs Butler, Ives and James, of whom more later.

The game started, and I had a first chance to see Pidgeley and Kelly, and a nostalgic viewing of GNW. We scored after four minutes, and the one of us who had predicted a 1-1 result before the game, settled back for an eighty-five minute snooze before the equaliser went in. How wrong he was!

An hour later, we were 3-1 down, thanks to three errors, committed by Pidgeley and Gayle and a linesman - Akinbiyi was offside for the third goal, but since he ran half the length of the field without any significant challenge before scoring, and it was academic anyway, no-one seemed to care.

It seemed to us that the referee had put on a wig for the second half, but we later determined this was the fourth official; Mr. Butler having taken up duty in the technical area, where he once had to escort Ray Lewington from the furthest corner of the area allocated to Stoke, back to his own side, as the manager lost his bearings while ranting at the players.

Only two events sparked any emotion in the second half; firstly an injury to Cook, who lay on the ground for some time, but fortunately wasn't too badly injured, and secondly the appearance of Johnno in a Stoke shirt. A subdued Rookery came to life, and "shoot" echoed around the stadium the first time he got the ball, before they resumed their slumbers.

With five minutes to go, we decided we'd seen enough. "When did you last leave the game before the final whistle?" I asked a twenty-year season ticket holder as we walked back to the car. "Can't remember - a long time ago," came the sullen reply.

If United Airways flew their planes as badly as Watford played today, I'd have spend Saturday afternoon in a rubber boat somewhere in the North Atlantic, which wouldn't have been a lot worse, come to think of it.