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Division 1 Playoff Final, 31/5/99
Watford 2(1)
Team: Chamberlain, Bazeley, Kennedy, Page, Palmer, Robinson, Ngonge, Hyde, Mooney, Johnson, Wright
Subs: Hazan (for Wright), Day, Smart (for Ngonge)
Scorers: Wright (38), Smart (89)
Bolton Wanderers 0(0)
Fifteen years
Report by Adrian Spender

I was eight years old when Graham Taylor led a Watford side out onto the hallowed turf of Wembley for the first time. Neither of my parents were active Watford fans, and the fact that I lived in Luton meant that I rarely got to see the team play. My cousin also rarely saw them, but had an aunt who was good enough to buy a matchday programme for her every week. Jayne queued at the ground one morning to hand over the tokens that she thought would guarantee her two tickets. She was wrong, and my chance of going to Wembley was gone.

I watched the game on television, flicking between BBC and ITV who if I remember rightly both showed the game live. My most vivid memory is of an interview with Graham Taylor in which he told how he would be wearing his worn out old football boots as a lucky charm (I looked, and they weren't evident this time round). I remember little of the game, except for the fact that I was distraught at the prospect of going to school the Monday after.

Irony had it that two weeks before the 1984 final our local newsagent had organised a Wembley tour on which my mother took myself and my cousin. Up until Monday 31st May 1999 that tour had been my only ever experience of Wembley. I had vowed never to return until I could watch Watford walk out of that famous tunnel.

Fifteen years later and an amazing end of season run capped by a trip to Birmingham for the most amazing footballing experience of my life (then!) had made my dream finally come true. I was at last destined to experience what I had missed out on all those years ago. A feeling made even sweeter as I had all but given up hope of visiting the stadium before it was redeveloped.

This time around, and thanks to the superhuman efforts of Andy Stocks and Rupe, my seat was secured. And what a seat! Irony again played its part, because as a season ticket holder I bought two tickets, the second one being for my cousin Dave - Jayne's younger brother - who despite being born in Luton has been bought up the right way.

On the Sunday night, I was at a gig in Kentish Town with Simon Devon. We were fortunate enough to have aftershow passes, and eventually left at around 1am. The only topic of conversation between the five of us there who supported Watford was of course the next day's game. On leaving I turned to Si and said 'How about a little trip up to Wembley?' After a short debate as to whether this would somehow be a jinx we shot round the North Circular and arrived at a deserted stadium. We spent the best part of half an hour walking around, and we weren't the only ones. It was an almost religious experience to savour the twin towers and to imagine what scenes they would witness as 70,000 supporters descended on them in just a few hours.

Needless to say, sleep was hard to come by that night, and I had no trouble in waking up ready to head down to Watford to meet up with the others for breakfast. As I live in Southampton I had not had a chance to visit the Hornet Shop the week before. However I did have a Watford banner, and my mother has painstakingly sewn in a seam and decorated a bamboo cane with red, yellow and black ribbon to make a pretty amazing flag. Walking down St. Albans Road waving said flag was amazing as cars beeped their horns and workmen offered us all the best. We probably also met the only person in Watford who didn't know what was happening as a woman came up and asked us if Watford were playing at home today?

Eventually, after meeting up with the others we made our way to the Junction and our train to Wembley Central. The station was buzzing with enterprising individuals selling all manner of flags and scarves and, amazingly, Gary Porter standing outside. The short train journey ended and we were drawn towards the nearest pub, filled with Yellow shirts and the odd Bolton fan. Good natured banter was flying about and drinks were bought, although personally my stomach refused to take the beer it was offered. Perhaps the busiest person in the pub was a girl who was offering free face painting. I had mine done but then decided against the idea of spending the rest of the day with grease streaming down my face and washed it off (not before the photos were taken mind.) I was growing increasingly impatient and encouraged everyone to drink up and move on. We made our way towards the stadium, getting lost along the way and therefore starting a chant of 'It's only been 15 years'.

We eventually wound up at the end of Wembley Way, and it formed an amazing sight as a sea of Yellow and red made its way up to the ground. We joined in, stopping for regular photo calls, and we even had one with some Bolton supporters. Arriving underneath the towers I spent a good ten minutes looking for my contribution to the good luck banner produced by the Internet Horns before again growing impatient and entering the stadium. At last! A glimpse of the hallowed turf, although with an hour and a half until kickoff I could afford myself more than a glimpse. We took up our seats adjacent to the Royal Box area and savoured the atmosphere which was already building up as the players were out on the pitch taking a look around.

Time passed incredibly quickly and soon my moment came. Graham Taylor led his troops out to a cacophony of noise and the sight of thousands of yellow flags. The introductions came and went. The national anthem was sung. It was time for business.

Although I dared not admit it to myself, I was always confident that we would win. I knew that the spirit of the players would mean they wouldn't allow themselves to fail. It was an impossibility. My faith was shaken by Bolton's start but somehow it seemed destined for them to remain goalless. Much has been written about the game elsewhere, and I'm never the best at remembering detail, but suffice to say that Nick Wright's goal is indelibly marked on my brain, as are the thundering challenges made by Robbo who showed huge character to perform so well on such a massive stage after being sent off for sheer recklessness against Birmingham. When Smart scored I lost all senses and just went crazy. I wish now that I'd just remained still; been able to remember hearing the roar the Bolton fans have since said was deafening, been able to see the reaction of the players, and been able to just look around me and take in the scenes of jubilation just so I could vividly recall them in years to come.

It didn't matter though because when the final whistle blew there was plenty of opportunity to just stand; partly in disbelief, partly in awe, and mostly in streams of tears. I still wanted to take it all in, but one pair of eyes proved not enough. Eventually the players made their way up the steps towards the Royal box, and us. I hadn't even registered if the Bolton players had gone up to receive losers medals, but there was my personal Watford hero Robert Page about to lift the cup aloft. As he made his way down the steps I passed my flag along to him and he took my flag out onto the pitch. Okay so it broke, but he wrapped it around his neck and you could see my mum's stitching on the back page the the next morning's Daily Mail!

The players then took centre stage once again - flitting from one side of the pitch to the other. I didn't notice that Graham Taylor left the party early to head back towards the tunnel, or that he paused to look around at the 37,000 hornets gathered under Wembley's roof. But when he was later quoted as saying that looking at them knowing that he had played a part in making them that happy, I was just glad that this time I was one of them.