Monday, 31 October 2011

In it to win it!

Mike explains why he is looking forward to seeing Watford in less glamorous surroundings...

Here's a question I thought I'd never ask. What have Watford FC got in common with Leavesden Mental Hospital? (And yes, I will avoid the obvious gag about us poor Hornets fans needing our collective heads read.) Give up? I thought you might. The answer is that both clubs have won the illustrious Herts Senior Cup. It's probably a tournament that you have picked up in your peripheral vision from time to time, but know little about. Well, seeing as along with the Great Wall of China Cup and the Cope De Ibiza, it is pretty much the only Cup competition we have ever won, I for one am going to start taking it a bit more seriously.

Having won the tournament for the last time in 2003/04, Watford's latest quest for Herts Senior Cup glory begins on Tuesday 8 November at Woodside Park, home to Bishops Stortford. And you know what? I'm going to be there. As I sit writing, a seemingly endless week of banal European football is reaching its conclusion, whilst fellow football league fans have been left reeling by the decision to approve the Elite Player Performance Plan (a decision with potentially devastating consequences for Watford), so a trip to a non league ground to see a bit of keenly contested local cup football feels like the perfect antidote to my jaded view of the beautiful game.

Apart from my selfish reasons for wanting to go to the game, should we all be taking time to support our club in these, their less publicised endeavours? I recently took part in a debate in which I defended the Carling Cup, arguing that despite the media's constant attempts to devalue the tournament, I would always prefer my team to be involved with it than not. If my team is playing, I want them to win was my staunch standpoint. I'm sticking to my guns. It may be Bishops Stortford instead of Burnley or Bristol City, but I want that win just as much.

What about the club, the players? How important is the HSC (as I'm now calling it) to them? Well, with the absence of a Watford team in an official reserve league, chances to keep the squad fit and fresh should be embraced. We've a big squad, but with games coming thick and fast as we move into winter a fit and hungry squad is going to be vital as we bid to get our season back on track.

I mentioned our last win in this tournament was back in the 2003/04 season, beating Bishops Stortford 4-2 in the Final. The pictures from this momentous occasion reveal another reason the tournament deserves our attention and respect. Instead of receiving medals, players from the winning team were presented with commemorative tankards! Winning the Herts Senior Cup? I'll drink to that.

Come on You Horns!


UPDATES: FTRE will keep you up to date with the clash against Bishop Stortford via and our twitter accounts - Jon, Mike and Jason.

Friday, 21 October 2011

WFC in 100 Objects - #12 - Gerard Lavin's Boots

This weeks object come from Watford writer Lionel Birnie (who has a new book out - see the bottom of post) and it does mean that we can't have anymore football boots in our list of Watford in 100 Objects. Well not unless someone else can come up with a better reason to put in different pair.

WFC in 100 Objects - #12 - Gerard Lavin's Boots

SOME goals are the stuff of legend. In my mind’s eye, Gerard Lavin’s strike at Peterborough United on April 5, 1994 was from at least 65, possibly 70 yards.
Let’s set the scene. Glenn Roeder was the manager. There were seven games to go. Watford were third from bottom, three points adrift of safety, Posh were bottom. This was a relegation six-pointer no one could accuse of being a cliché.
Defeat would spell the beginning of the end, so it was typical that Watford were a goal down in the first five minutes.
As we would see later, particularly in his third and final season, Roeder was not a lucky manager but he did make some excellent signings that spring. Somehow he managed to prise Jack Petchey’s bony fingers off the club’s piggy bank.
One of those new players, Colin Foster, was injured for the trip to London Road so Roeder went with the two Keiths – Millen and Dublin – and the 19-year-old Robert Page.
“Keep it tight for the first 15 minutes lads…” said Roeder.
Oh bugger.
Five minutes in and Watford’s defence was sliced open. One-nil to Peterborough. Division Two (League One as it’s called now) here we come.
Furlong levelled before half-time but a scrappy, nervous first-half gave few clues of the drama to come.
The second half was scrappy, nervous and absolutely exhilarating. This was heart-stopping, panic attack-inducing stuff. The football was abysmal. The pitch was a barren plough field, rutted and rough. The ball bounced about as if it had been swapped for a rugby ball and no one had noticed.
This was a comedy of errors. A clown show. You wouldn’t have been surprised if one of the defender’s shorts had fallen down round his ankle as he attempted a clearance or if the ball had suddenly exploded in a puff of smoke. Had it not been so important, so tense, it would have been genuinely funny.
Peterborough scored a penalty at the start of the second half and Andy Hessenthaler missed an incredible chance before Keith Dublin equalised by bundling the ball over the line.
The Watford supporters crammed into the away terrace went bananas. The surge through us and spilled over the wall and onto the pitch.
Then came the only moment of sublime clarity in an error-strewn match. Gerard Lavin drove the ball in from 30 yards. The ball skimmed across the London Road dust that passed for a pitch and into the corner. We were cheering before it had reached the six-yard box. It was a goal the moment it left his boot. It must’ve been from all of 40 yarrds. Maybe even 50. Three-two to Watford. Not long to go.
The terrace erupted and tumbled and jumbled together. We were still straightening our jackets and turning to face the right way when Peterborough made it 3-3. I didn’t see it but Perry Digweed made a howler.
In the dying minutes Dennis Bailey forced a mistake and claimed a goal and this time we held on.
It was epic stuff.
Watford stayed up, although it was touch and go at times. Peterborough went down.
We were still singing “We are staying up” when we got back to the car.
By then legend had already decided that Lavin’s shot was from at least 60 yards, possibly 70.
And that is why Lavin’s boot has to be among the 100 objects that define Watford’s history.
Postscript: As an aside, I’d like to claim a minor role in the sale of Gerard Lavin to Millwall. I was working at the Watford Observer and the sports editor Oliver Phillips was on the phone. I needed to have a word with him so waited for him to finish.
He broke off his conversation to say to me: “If you were offered £400,000 for Gerard Lavin, what would you do?”
“For that money I’d offer to drop him off at his new club’s training ground.”
Oli relayed this to the person on the other end of the phone, who happened to be Glenn Roeder.

To be fair to Roeder, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that represented an excellent deal.
Even at that price his goal at Peterborough that night in April 1994 was worth 10 Gerard Lavins.
PETERBOROUGH 3 WATFORD 4 features in The 100 Greatest Watford Wins, along with 99 other days when it was great to be a Hornet. The book is available now from - order before November 15 2011 for a £4 discount.

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Friday, 7 October 2011

WFC in 100 Objects - #11 7-1 Pen

After his fantastic book "Enjoy The Game", Lionel Birnie is coming back with a new book "The 100 Greatest Wins" which runs down the Top 100 post-war Watford wins. For more information look at his website. And this week Lionel writes about an object that is is synonymous with one of those historic wins. 

WFC in 100 Objects - # 11 7-1 Pen

My search for a Watford 7 Southampton 1 commemorative pen goes on. The quest has been so long and so fruitless I am beginning to doubt they even existed.

I was not at that barmy game on a balmy early September evening in 1980. It was way past my bedtime and Watford FC featured only briefly at the edges of my life. I was still a couple of years or so away from full-on addiction.

My bedroom then was decorated with posters of Tom Baker. Television’s time travelling genius, Doctor Who, was my hero. My appreciation of the omniscient brilliance of Graham Taylor would come later. I would soon form the opinion that GT, like the Time Lord, knew the answer to everything. In fact, wouldn’t Graham Taylor have made a brilliant Doctor? Initials on his tracksuit top, long scarf, ability to confound alien enemies with long, slightly-rambling team talks…
But back to the point of the pen. As any Hornets fan knows, Watford lost 4-0 to First Division Southampton in the first leg of a League Cup tie at The Dell.

(For those under the age of about 20, a small glossary of terms. First Division = Premier League. League Cup = Carling Cup. The Dell = St Mary’s Stadium. Sadly the idea of a 4-0 defeat at Southampton is something we are all too familiar with this week).

Improbably, Watford won the second leg 7-1. If you were at the match, you won’t need reminding of the details. If you weren’t, check out my forthcoming book, The 100 Greatest Watford Wins. It’s in there. Probably. Shameless plug over.

How did Watford FC’s marketing department choose to celebrate this monumental result? That’s right, they got on the phone and ordered a batch of pens bearing the score. Pens. Truly, the early 1980s were a more innocent time.

What would it be these days? An App, probably. Something flashy and gizmo-y that appeals to our shrinking attention spans. With just the right combination of flashy graphics to be fleetingly attractive yet instantly forgettable.

But a pen. Who wouldn’t want a commemorative pen?

As I slowly immersed myself in all things Watford FC in the early 1980s, I read voraciously. Programmes, yearbooks, newspapers, Match magazine. I learned quickly but, in contrast to today, not at my own pace. Information was not flying at you from all angles. You had to work at it. These days, you can get on the internet and find out who won the 1972 League Cup immediately. (It was Stoke City). Back then, you had to buy a book, or wait for a magazine to print a roll of honour. Ridiculous. So there were great gaps in the young football fan’s knowledge. Our understanding of past football seasons you hadn’t witnessed was only partially complete.

So, in 1982, when I got my hands on a copy of the 1981 Watford FC annual handbook, I scanned the results, soaking up the information, and can still remember the double-take as I saw the score of that match. 7-1. Must be a misprint, so I checked with my dad.

Then I bought a bundle of Watford programmes from late 1980 at a car boot sale and saw adverts for the commemorative pen. Not only was the result real, they made a pen? Dad didn’t have one.
Scroll on 13 years. I’m working at the Watford Observer, on the sports desk. A lad comes in on work experience. Older than me, first went to Vicarage Road in early 1978. I am insanely envious. He was there at the start of the journey. I arrived midway through, out of breath and flustered asking: ‘What’s going on? Have I missed anything?’

He’s brought with him a shoulder bag that looks like a girl’s satchel. And a pencil case. Loser. This guy’s just graduated from university and he still has a pencil case?

And then he pulls out a pen. I see the seven and the one on the lettering first. I can feel myself hold my breath.

If I had one of those pens, I think to myself, I’d keep it in a decorative stone sarcophagus. This wally is willing to risk it rubbing against other ‘ordinary’ pens in an unpadded pencil case?
He explains that the centre bit, the ball point and the ink, has been replaced several times over the years with those from regular un-seven-one pens but that does nothing to lessen my desire to have it.
For the rest of the week, I think about pinching it but simply cannot go through with it. How would it work? I can see the chain of events. The moment he realises it’s missing. My cheeks flush red. My unconvincing attempt to say “Er, no mate, I’ve not seen it.” The pen falling out of my pocket and lying at my feet. My pathetic claims of innocence. “I’ve no idea how it got in my pocket, honestly.” The police being called. Hours of nice cop, nasty cope under the glare of a harsh anglepoise lamp. A tearful confession. The humiliation of telling my family I’m a thief. The court case and inevitable prison sentence.

Years later, eBay came along and although I’ve bought all manner of Watford-related nonsense at stupidly inflated prices, I’ve never come across a 7-1 pen. Not so much as had the chance to bid up to £50.01 for it. Where are they all?

Anniversaries have come and gone and the club’s marketing department has inexplicably failed to produce a replica. How about a range of ‘epic scoreline pens’. Watford 8 Sunderland 0. Watford 3 Kaiserslautern 0. Luton Town 0 Watford 4?
No, no, no. Stop it. You’ll ruin it. You can’t just issue a pen willy-nilly every time Watford thrash someone.
And so the search goes on. Someone out there must have a Watford 7 Southampton 1 pen. And if you do, can I just borrow it for a sec? I’ll give it back. I promise.

Lionel Birnie

Cheers to @putajumperon for sending us the photos of the pen

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