A magnificent obsession
Report by Frances Lynn
As I stared at the flight confirmation one detail stood out. 'Distance: 3267 miles'. I was travelling 3267 miles for a football match. No. I was travelling 3267 miles to be part of an occasion.
I packed for my journey. The black polo shirt that had been worn for the Tranmere match and all games since had had its trip to the launderette. The home shirt was packed. The Champions t-shirt. My twenty year-old scarf was worn proudly around my neck for the journey home. On the plane, I read the Birmingham semi-final programme from cover to cover and then Ian Grant's accounts of the semi-final games. My heart pounded, a lump came to my throat. It was clear to me why I was making the journey, why I had no choice.
Saturday I made the pilgrimage to the Hornet shop. Despite having been assured that there was no memorabilia left, I had to go if only to gaze upon the hallowed stadium. Needless to say, I managed to spend a fortune, buying everything in sight.
In total contrast to the barely suppressed hysteria of the previous week, a strange calm had descended upon me. They say that, in war, adrenalin acts as an anaesthetic so that horrible injuries cause no pain. I think that my body had arranged for something similar as the stress of the previous week was totally unsustainable.
Monday morning I rose late (jetlag). Some butterflies as I dressed. It was like dressing for a wedding. All the details had to be observed. Nervous goodbyes and good lucks from the family as my sister and myself set off. We went to pick up my Hammers-supporting brother-in-law, scarves out of the windows (it's probably fifteen years since I've done that). My sister managed to get my three year-old niece to sing 'Come On You Horns' - great stuff.
12:30pm, the car park at Stanmore station was packed. Loads of people in the glorious colours intermingled with some rather drab looking people with strange accents. As we pulled in towards Wembley Park station, there were the twin towers and suddenly it was real and I'm squealing with excitement like the twelve-year-old schoolgirl that I am at heart. Out of the station, we looked down Wembley Way, it was a sea of colour. Got to the Olympic Gallery and spotted the WML crew. Smiles and hugs from these dear friends most of whom I've met maybe once or twice. A kiss from Don - somehow no game is the same without a kiss from Don. The banner was magnificent, congrats to all involved. Miles, incredibly excited - 'I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe Tommy Mooney is going to walk out onto the pitch.'
Got into the ground at 1:30. The players were on the pitch, all with yellow and red flowers in their buttonholes. They all looked very calm, as I thought I was. These were the guys who were going to take us to the Premiership. The last time we were promoted to the top flight I was a delirious teenager besotted with my team. The last time that we were at Wembley, the whole game passed in a daze of pain and pride and I have little memory of the game itself which seemed like a postscript to the occasion. Lowly Watford had made a meteoric rise through the divisions to the heady heights of First Division football and the FA Cup Final. This time, somehow, it all seemed right and proper. The Messiah has returned and we were on the brink of our return to the big time.
Hearing 'Z-Cars' broke me in pieces. Then the balloons went up, the fireworks exploded and there were our Golden Boys.
The game started nervously, but I knew we'd be okay. There was no way that we were going to freeze this time. The game was exciting and entertaining with chances at both ends. The time passed quickly, thirty minutes were gone. Then the breakthrough. I didn't see Nicky Wright's overhead kick, but I saw the ball in the net. Cue bedlam. I heard this strange sound, it wasn't a cheer more like an animal howling and it was coming from me. A good time to score, just before half-time.
The second half was much the same as the first, my unshakeable belief that Bolton would not score keeping me together until the ball was in Alec's hands or over the line when the sharp expellation of air made a liar of me. We had some great chances. How did Mooney miss that header? Why didn't Kennedy pull the ball across instead of trying to slot it? Then, one minute before the end, Kennedy comes powering towards us down the wing, Smart running onto the cross, that ball was in all the way. The howling started again and this time we knew we had done it. Forget the great escapes of the Manchester teams, this was destiny.
The final whistle went and we were all on the seats. Cheering, crying, waving flags. Players celebrating in their different ways. Alon Hazan's jig was a sight to see, but Tommy Mooney moved me. In contrast to his usual bravado, he was standing apart, completely out of it, trying to take in the enormity of the situation. Then our hero appears. GT with a broad grin on his face acknowledging the fans. This is why I love Watford so much, we all played a part in that game. We all shared that victory in a way that no Man U fan ever could. We sang and cheered and waved our flags until the last player disappeared up the tunnel.
I flew back to Boston the next day wearing my Wembley 99 t-shirt. Having reached home, the first thing that I did was to break open the whiskey and put the highlights video on. At last I could savour the occasion and watch it dispassionately. Oh no, I couldn't. The broad grin on GT's face as he led his team of heroes on to the pitch. The passion with which every player played. The chances coming at both ends. I cried as each goal went in and sobbed like a baby at the end. I've watched it again and again and still await the time that I can watch it all the way through without crying. A week later, my heart and mind are still with the Golden Boys at Wembley. The obsession is twenty years old now and I can safely say 'I'm Watford till I die'.