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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)
Wembley glory
Report by Matt Bunner

I suppose the first tingling and pangs of apprehension about the day out at Wembley appeared in the early hours of Sunday morning because I kept waking up thinking of Wembley; thinking of the colours; thinking of the game; last minute winners; unimaginable ecstasy; the emotion of the lap of honour; the camaraderie..... The aura of Wembley was beginning to intrude on my life.

However, Sunday night I slept like a log that had taken sleeping pills. That in itself was a good omen, because if I wasn't nervous then the team wouldn't be and thus we should be on our way to the Premiership! I'd already decided what I was going to wear a good few days ago: blue trainers, black jeans, white T-shirt, Watford top, Watford scarf and the piece-de-resistance, the large floppy black and yellow hat. So what if I looked silly? I certainly wouldn't in amongst the other 70,000 people in Wembley!

I left my flat at 9.00 to get to my Dad's place for 9.15. The plan was to pick him up (seeing as he had the tickets!) and then use his Escort to drive to the stadium to pick up the coaches set for the twin towers. The only slight change in that plan was that we took my car because I felt inside (a feeling!) that it was right to take mine! Dad insisted on wearing a tie because he always does - even if the temperature pops the end off the thermometer! We'd packed some provisions for the day, namely a couple of cans of Coke, two pasties, two pies, two packets of crisps and a few bits of chocolate; vital supplies for the day as it turned out.

As we left Guildford, my car was decked with our two scarves draped out of the window, flapping frantically in the wind, coupled with our 1984 Cup Final flag filling the back window. Nothing was on the radio at that time in the morning, so I had to make do with Dad's mundane rambling about this and that - I wasn't really concentrating on the conversation as all good drivers channel all thoughts into driving! Somewhat disappointingly I didn't see any Hornet fans on the A3 and only about three on the M25 - were we too early for everyone? The one fan I did see was a cute girl driving a dark blue F-reg Renault 5, but that wasn't immediately obvious as she was devoid of colour; I only knew she was a fan when she vehemently acknowledged our scarves! She proceeded to tailgate us all the way to Junction 17 of M25 and then waved as I cleared off the motorway.

The road into Watford brought more yellow, red and black people. The Wembley 'thing' was starting to happen....... Just as I quipped to Dad about seeing any houses decked in Hornet regalia, we saw one house covered in Hornet gear!!! We saw some fans ambling towards to the tube stations, to friends' houses, etc. It was 1984 all over again.

After parking the car, we walked to the Vic and were met with a few more fans, as you may have expected! A lot had replica shirts on and many had face-colours, silly hats, flags, the full works. Street traders were flogging commemorative flags, scarves and hats that no doubt had been printed 24 hours before, with some declaring, "Get yer souvenir flags 'ere. Last few. Cmmon!". Last few?!?! There's about a hundred in yer hand mate!

Some fans had popped in to the pub for a swift five or six before the game started, but we decided, being considerate and responsible citizens that we'd skip that malarkey and head for the quieter surroundings of the coach and its queues! Fortunately there were bags of coaches, except most looked as if they'd been stolen from the set of "On The Buses"! Once on the coach, Dad told me that they weren't leaving until 11.30 (time now 10.35, I did wonder where everyone else was!), so I thought to pass the time and to stop Dad talking me lobes off, I'd go to the newsagents and purchase some rags to read up on the previews.

On the banger of 11.30 the coaches revved up and we were on our way to destiny....

Travelling to a game of such magnitude can almost be as fulfilling as the game itself. The expectation when allowing yourself some minutes to think about how the game is going to go, can we score, how will be play, can we win on TV, how will I be feeling in a few hours can lead to some butterfly moments. You almost wish that you can fall asleep and wake up knowing that you've won, but in saying that, it would detract heavily from the whole Wembley occasion!

Seeing the Watford coaches lavished in Golden Boys colours on a convoy to the Twin Towers was a soothing sight to behold. Members of the public in the town centre who had no intention of following the game gave us the thumbs up, knowing that we were supporting their town and our club. Most people seem to sense the joyous occasion and the celebration of reaching Wembley - after all, Wembley doesn't come around every year for a club of Watford's stature, so we all embraced it as almost a public holiday within the bank holiday, determined to enjoy the day out and treasure every moment come what may.

On joining the M1 the first coaches we saw were those from the Reebok Stadium, lightly sprinkled in blue and white; in fact the M1 was awash with blue, white, yellow, red and black!! There were some light hearted moments between the two sets of coaches, each gesticulating that the other is a 'poor team' and 'you're staying down'. The Bolton fans did seem a trifle more nervous than our supporters - perhaps they looked in the bottom of their tea-cups this morning to see that the leaves had spelt 'LOSE'?

It wasn't long before we saw the bright, yet dirty, white of the famous twin towers, raising a light-hearted cheer from coach. The Wembley occasion thus was raised another notch. We passed hoards of Wanderers fans on the way into the stadium - most disconcerting when you consider that two teams were playing that day - but eventually we saw loads of Hornets fans once we'd circled into our allotted parking bay. They seemed to be a hell of a lot of people at the stadium considering it was only 12.30 and yet on reflection, it was only right that all these people should grasp as much of the atmosphere and occasion as they could.

My first port of call after alighting was the loo - the coach didn't have one and thank God we weren't really stuck in traffic. As exiting the loo, the sun appeared from behind a cloud (the weather was dull and overcast a few hours earlier) and suddenly all the Watford colours seemed to piercing through, nudging you on the shoulder and saying, "Ere, take a look at me".

So what do you for a few hours to kill time? Take a walk around the stadium, take in the atmosphere, look and wonder at the attire that some of fans had taken time to create, sing a few "Youuuuuuu Ornnnnnnnnns!", try and pick out people you know. People who were there can relate to this! By this time I'd realised that the WML were meeting at 1 pm at the Olympic Gallery, only to find that it was 1.20, so I did a quick dash (through 1000's of fans you realise!) only to find hundreds of fans milling around at the proposed meeting place (as it turned out I was too late and just caught the end of it). Still, next time, eh?

By this time the doors were open and after they, the Wembley stewards, had confiscated the oh-so-dangerous plastic bottle top off our plastic bottle, we took our seat in the famous stadium (B126, R16, S46-47). There were noticeably more Hornet fans in the ground (stadium?) than Trotters fans and the atmosphere was starting to build - it wasn't a tense atmosphere, it was one of joyous expectation. I mean, I had strangers smiling at me, telling me "It's great isn't it?", or, "This is unbelievable, brilliant!". I could only nod in agreement. If I could feel it, then surely the players would too.

Looking at the stadium, it does need to be upgraded. The seats are pleasant, if a bit small and yet there are areas that have wooden foundations and the canopy looked like corrugated plastic from B&Q. It looked smallish, but when you consider that it houses nearly 80,000 and thus is nearly three times the capacity of St. Andrews it makes you wonder why it wasn't called the Tardis. However, you just can't help but be in awe of the history that Wembley exhibits. It commands respect and you do feel humble in its presence - for the football fraternity, the stadium is Heaven on Earth.

Pre-match entertain on the splendid pitch was in the form of an Under Elevens competition between the youths of Bolton and Watford. Bolton won 1-0 with a goal not too dissimilar to that 'scored' by Adebola at St. Andrews a couple of week ago. The standard of football from these kids was, in a word, excellent. They have been given excellent schooling and I've no doubt that some will make the grade.

It's ten minutes before three and the players are just about to come on the pitch. The stadium is nearly full, with some gaps in the Bolton end and either side of the half-way line, presumably where the most expensive seats were. I think I caught a glimpse of the WML banner next to the royal box just as the players took to the pitch in a blaze of fireworks and music.

I still can't believe that I'm here at Wembley, watching Watford - it doesn't cross my mind that the winners go to the Premiership. When you've been in Div 2 for a couple of years, Premiership stuff is the Holy Grail that is only viewed from afar - on a different planet maybe - it just doesn't happen to you, does it???

The teams are hailed over the tannoy, the ref is ready, I'm ready and we're about to start a quest for glory.....

The game itself was carried along on a tide of emotion generated primarily by the magnificent singing of our end, coupled with the majesty of the occasion. The sun was now almost a permanent fixture on the pitch, but it only illuminated the good start that Bolton made. They forced some earlier corners which had Watford twitching nervously as Hyde managed to sweep the ball clear from the six yard area as all players stood in a frozen manner gazing solidly at the ball. We found it hard going in the first fifteen minutes, perhaps nervous and a little unaccustomed as opposed to Bolton who had played under the spotlight here several times. Sure, we did a lot of harassing and chasing but Bolton were creating most of the opportunities. Firstly Taylor was expertly found and was a yard ahead of Page, but the youth (!) of Page forced him into a shot from the edge of the area that was dealt comfortably by Chamberlain. Later in the half, Page cut out a ball destined for Chamberlain from under the nose of Gudjohnson straight into the path of Michael Johansen and under pressure from the diving body of Robinson, he arrowed the shot past the post. At the Bolton end Mooney had a speculative volleyed effort from the left edge of the area that sailed a good mile over and Wright ran at the defence to no avail.

The singing from the Watford end was incessant. Multiple renditions of "Derrrrr, de de derrrrrr...etc Watford!" and "EJTMA!" echoed around the stadium, overhauling the minimal efforts from the Bolton end. They did start a "Stand up if you're...", but that was soon hijacked by our good selves. There was still a warm, confident, ebullient feeling coming from the crowd - we could have become quiet due to the good start Bolton had made, but this is where we proved our 'extra man' as the energy from the stands began slowly to diffuse into the Watford players. Sure, Bolton were creating the better chances, namely a sitter missed from Gudjohnson after a lovely ball from Gardner (taken from a rolling ball after a Watford offside, I may add) and a simply stunning save from Chamberlain, parrying away a Gudjohnson effort hit with venomous power after the ball fortuitously ran to him off the Watford wall. One could say that save transformed the nature of the game. The players knew it and the crowd knew it, that it was going to be Watford's day.

Todd was caught dawdling on the half-line by Nicky Wright and sprinted down the left channel. He played Ngonge in, but unfortunately the Zairean took too long and his shot on the edge of the area was blocked by Elliot. Smart work from Bazeley down the right channel took him ghosting past Gardner and Elliot, but his delivery was disappointing from such a good position. These were the signs that something was special was going to happen.

We'd been dangerous from set plays for most of the first half when Elliot scrambled the ball for a corner after a goalmouth melee and Cox headed Johnson's effort away from the line just as it appeared the ball may have a chance to go in. From another cross from the dependable Kennedy, the ball was hoofed over the deadball line for another corner. Kennedy delivered an inch perfect cross that eluded all players within the six yard box. The ball seemed to hit Andy Todd accidentally on the head and was heading away when Super Nicky Wright instinctively overhead kicked the ball....

From my position low down opposite the Royal Box, the effort looked unspectacular for the first 50% of the ball's journey; however, unlike the majority of overheads, this ball actually seemed to dip and curve! No-one could quite believe it when the ball hit the back of the net....some people, myself included, were waiting for a blast (you wouldn't have been able to hear it, believe you me!) on the whistle, but it never came and 37,000 Hornets were going absolutely mad. The scoreboard confirmed our dreams, that after 38 mins: Bolton 0 Watford 1.

The rest of the half was a celebration, a carnival, a sheer sense of elation - if I had more room I would have danced about three miles. There was however a nervous moment before the break as Chamberlain produced (later to be academic due to the referees's insistence that the kick be taken again) a wonderful save from Frandsen's free-kick. You could tell the atmosphere was one of a party when we cheered that Robbo had blocked a Bolton cross and went for a corner!

Two minutes of injury time and referee blew to confirm our 1-0 status. On reflection, Bolton played the football in the first half and had better chances, but there was a feeling that we were growing in ascendancy throughout the half and thus it would be mighty difficult for Bolton to score. We were 45 minutes from Premiership.

The second half was all about character and heart. If we played to our potential and stifled Bolton, then there would be no way that they would penetrate - and so it proved. Bolton tried, but could not produce a worthwhile effort on goal. In fact, the better chances came from us: Mooney had a fantastic header that was just past the post after excellent work from Hyde on the Royal box side; Wright roasted Elliot again and was unlucky to see his good cross evade both Mooney and Ngonge; Wright again caused mayhem in the Wanderers area by running and running and then electing to play a one-two with Mooney that saw Mooney's cross-shot inches away from being turned in at the far post by Wright.

Nearing 80 mins, from an excellent position in our area, Gardner tried to square the ball to an awaiting team-mate, but Super Johno intercepted and delivered a sparkling 30 yard pass to Wright who was hovering just shy of the half-way line, on the right. He collected the ball and ran forward, playing an inch perfect ball to Kennedy on the left edge of the area and electing to strike first time, he hit an electrifying shot just past the post. No question that we were not sitting back; we wanted that crucial second goal to take us to Heaven.

The last ten minutes were nail-biting. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be (perhaps I've no experience of being 1-0 up at Wembley!), but the sweat coming from hands was a sight to behold! It wasn't assisted when Palmer and Chamberlain fooled each other, allowing Gudjohnnson to toe-poke the ball towards the goal. The way that Page seemed to be running and the screams from the Bolton end indicated that it was only a matter of seconds before it was confirmed as 1-1. However, Page guided the ball past the post for a stress-relieving goal-kick. Phew!

It's now 88 mins and the tension is winding up. The length of Tom 'n' Jerry cartoon separates us from immortality. I'm begging to the ref to mis-read his watch and blow early, but judging by recent matches, it seems the referee has evil streak and a morbid fascination to see a team robbed at the last.

Smart is on now and unbelievably the chap's being lambasted by a few f***wits (excuse my language, but NO-ONE has a pop at a player at this stage in the game). Oh, and didn't he ram those words down their throats....

Only a few days before the play-off final, there was a match in Barcelona where Man Utd won the Euro cup in last few minutes. I was caught up in occasion of the last goal, but after that had subsided, I wondered if I'd ever feel as a Man Utd fan did then. I said I loved to have that feeling Monday.

Smart tackled the substitute Sellars in midfield and as they both got off the ground, Hyde took over possession of the ball and moved into the Bolton half. Spotting Kennedy free on left, Hyde produced a perfectly weighted pass. We were now 2 on 1 with a minute to go. Kennedy wasted no time in putting Smart through on the right side of the 'D'......would he control then shoot?, before we could take a breath, Smart unleashed a devastating finish low to the keeper's left and we'd scored!!!! Because the attack was so swift, none of us had time to take it in.......the outpouring of relief and scenes of immense joy could be seen from the Moon; could seize the National Grid; could be heard in California - it was that great. To me that moment was worthy of living. Football is life and today we came alive. Mine and a good many people's ambition had been realised, and NOTHING will ever surpass it - Roy of the Rovers came to Wembley!

Moments later, the referee signalling our return to the Premiership, bringing tearful scenes everywhere. The players were on their knees. We would have been, given enough room. Flags were waved furiously. Hands were clapped until red raw. Fans hugged strangers. My face was aching because I was smiling so much. I just kept shaking my head in disbelief and then chuckling. We'd only gone and done it! The huge scoreboard said, "Congratulation to Watford". The word "Premiership" was underneath - cue another shake of the head.

Minutes later, Page and boys went up the steps to collect their hugely justified prize to a tumultuous reception from a sea of yellow. Needless to say that the Bolton end was nearly empty. The players and staff danced around the track, handing back some of the praise and support we'd given them. This was all a bit of haze, but I made damn sure that I took it all in because this could be the last time we play at Wembley.

After what seemed like hours we left the stadium. The atmosphere was strangely quiet, almost surreal. I expect many couldn't believe the outcome. Occasional "Youuuuuuuu Ornnnnnnnnnsss!" pierced the atmosphere, prompting me that I wasn't dreaming. The coach journey home was sedate, apart from the encounters with numerous Bolton coaches and cars; most being friendly and some indicating that we like to 'feed the chickens'. Isn't it ironic that all the cars (and one coach!) that were broken down were Bolton fans - when it's not your day......! Getting off at the Vic, the cars were streaming around with colours and flags and horns (!) ablazing, just like you see on the telly. People punching the air - all people's troubles had been forgotten in that instant: the party was truly beginning.

So. What a day. The day we all dream of. Your team reaches Wembley and wins. Not only that, your team scores a last minute goal to seal the game and you then dream of Anfield, Old Trafford, etc. Except that it isn't a dream for much longer - two months anyway.

If someone questions why you like football, just point them to these reports on BSaD and they'll tell them all they need to know.

Thank you football. Thank you Watford.