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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)
Report by Steve Harris

"But there's a thought that I can't shake... a nagging voice which says that it won't take much, just a ball to bounce our way in the box, to turn things around. A turn of fortunes... and then sixth place is there for the taking" wrote our Matt Rowson, previewing the Tranmere game. "A bit bloody optimistic, that" I can remember thinking at the time, after a dire run of results looked to have taken us right out of the reckoning. But with the benefit of hindsight, of course, it now reads like the works of Nostradamus.

One John-Aldrige-jumping-up-and-down-trying-to-get-Jonno-sent-off later and we were on our way (at least he'll be able to tell his grandkids that he once inspired a team to gain promotion to the Premiership, ha ha!).

After the most wondrous and exhilarating run I can remember in twenty-odd years of Hornetness, we arrived at the playoffs with a bit to spare (fifth place, Matt - better get that crystal ball serviced!). Now if only we could avoid Ipswich....

Any footy fan will tell you that when they get "That Feeling" about a know the one - you just KNOW you're gonna win/lose a particular game ( you can even see the headline from the next day's papers in your mind's eye). It never fails.

Well....I KNEW WE'D BEAT BIRMINGHAM! And we did. No amount of chances for Brum in the second leg were going to change that. Some things are just meant to be.

Bolton at Wem-ber-lee. YES!

Getting a ticket was never going to be a problem for my mate Mick and I, as we were fortunate enough to have enough dosh to acquire a season ticket at the start of the campaign. We still had to queue for about an hour to get 'em mind, but I've never enjoyed queuing for anything as much in my life.

It's a funny thing. I've only ever had two season tickets in my life and in both cases I've needed to use a voucher from the back to get to a Wembley final. My only two season tickets and Watford's only two Wembley visits EXACTLY coincide. I mentioned this fact to Harry Hill the other day and all he could say was "what are the chances of that happening, mmm?"

So, come the big day. Mick and I were to be joined by Mick's little West Ham and part time Watford supporting nephew Bradley, and Paul, a Hornet friend of mine from work.

The journey to the grand old place, like the rest of the day, passed like a lovely, cozy, soft-focus dream. The north circular from Bounds Green where I live was unusually clear and we breezed into Tesco's car park at the bottom of the stadium industrial estate.

Everything was going right.

Another floating-on-air journey on foot this time and we were all soaking up the sun and the atmos. In the shadow of the Twin Towers with time to spare before the gates opened. A decade and a half suddenly seemed like a blink of an eye and the memories of exact same sights, smells, sounds flowed like wine. However, for me there was one big difference this time round.

Fifteen years ago, "That Feeling" was one of impending doom. This time round, I was sure...convinced...certain even...triumph was to be ours!

All the omens were good. We'd already done the double over Bolton, Mick was still sporting his lucky beard and I, of course, was wearing my tatty baseball cap as I had all season.

Everything was going right.

The thing that really convinced me was the way the current crop of players and the supporters had teamed up to produce an unstoppable yellow and red express train to the final. I've honestly never known a fan-player connection like it. I didn't doubt for a minute that it'd be there to pull us over the last hurdle.

But making a run from mid-table for the playoffs, only dropping two points on the way, then winning at Wem-ber-lee to reach the Premiership?! Things like that just don't happen outside of comic books! Surely not!!!

The noise in the ground was unbelievable, most of it from our end. My spine went into overdrive and shivered like something very shivery indeed. Seated where we were, we had a good, close up view of the Bolton fans, I have to say they looked sheepish, nervous and just plain scared.

Everything was going right.

I already can't remember anything else about the build-up - an hour passed by in a minute and before I knew it the ref had blown his whistle and we were on our way.

For half an hour we held our own but Bolton had the chances - one of which looked easier to score than miss, as Robbo completely miss-timed his covering tackle. PHEW!

Then it happened.

How fitting that the first Wem-ber-lee goal in the history of Watford Football Club would STILL have been remembered ten years later by those that saw it, if it had gone in on a wet Tuesday, in a second division game against Torquay.

And what more fitting player to score it than Nick Wright. The big hearted and talented spark that has lit so many blue touch-papers for us this season. An audacious bicycle kick that was in from the moment it left his foot. Are we going to wear out that particular piece of video tape or what?!! (I've got a tear in my eye again just thinking about it.)

The Waford end went mad, the Bolton end quiet as a morgue.

Everything was going right.

Now though, time was expanding and half time arrived about two hours later. Quite an even half and even though Bolton had the chances, we had the goal. Bradley looked to be having the time of his life, the rest of us were already nervous wrecks.

Would Bolton come out and play us off the park? Would we crack? Would Alan Brazil be coming out with phrases like "Bolton's class told in the end"? NOT A CHANCE!

The second half was Watford's. Bolton spent twenty minutes trying to find a way past Palmer and Page (this was when they could get the ball off Jonno and Micah in the first place). As the men in white shirts wilted, the men in yellow went from strength to strength. Kennedy and Wright were attacking at will down the flanks, and a second goal could and should have come several times. We looked in control.

Smartie replaced the willing Ngonge for the last quarter. "Good move. He'll hold the ball up and waste some time". NO!

Thankfully for us all, Allan Smart had decided to bin the football boots that his nice Auntie Flo had bought him for Christmas. Instead he dug his old shooting boots out from under the bed and scored to take Watford into the Premiership.

A couple of minutes left and a sweeping move starting in the Waford half ended with the ball buried in the back of the Bolton net for a second time. I screamed like I've never screamed before. Ecstasy...pure pleasure...basically, Heaven on Earth. My nails had been saved from a very nasty fate, because the moment I saw the net bulge, I knew it for sure. Triumph was ours! I didn't care how much time was to be added, we were not going to be denied...Bolton had given up.

Everything was going right.

Final whistle. YEEEESSSSSS!!!!!! Much celebration followed.

As each player raised the cup, I couldn't help but wonder how many of those faces will be in the starting eleven come August. The romantic in me wished GT would field the same side - team spirit like this is something money just can't buy, and these boys bloody deserve it. At the same time, the realist in me knew this wouldn't be the case. Never mind, for this was THEIR DAY, THEIR ACHEVEMENT and, whoever may come in during the summer, nothing can take THAT away from them.

Half an hour later and everyone in yellow was still in the stadium enjoying the party. I didn't want it to end, but GT and the boys had one last look at the fans as they headed for the dressing room and it was time to go.

I tried real hard to wipe the stupid grin off my face as we floated back to the car so as not to p*ss off the Bolton fans too much, but the force of my smile-muscles proved just too great to resist. Sod it!

The journey out of North West London proved as effortless as the journey in and we were soon back at my place having a celebratory brew or two.

The boys were magnificent (I had to watch the game four more times on video into the early hours to be sure, and each time the performance looked better than the last!), the fans were magnificent (great work, boys 'n' girls), but most of all...well, we all know none of this would've been possible without Graham Taylor, don't we? He lit up our lives for a decade once, and now he's doing it again. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude I think. Unfortunately, there's not enough thanks in the world to pay off a debt that size.


Best day of m' life, mate.