Category Archives: Rookery Ramblings

Reasons to be cheerful: 1, 2, 3.

1. Caring and sharing.

For a little while now, Watford fans have felt that their club was slowly returning to the community centric, caring, family focussed roots that served it so well during the rise to prominence in the 1980’s. Now it’s not just Hornets fans that know Watford is a special club again. Thanks to a unique and special gesture, the footballing world know it too.

On Saturday 8 January, Watford entertain Hartlepool in the FA Cup at Vicarage Road and in a fabulous show of generosity, the club have agreed to donate their profits from ticket sales on the day to Marie Curie – the chosen charity of the Football League for 2011.

With ticket prices reduced to £10 for the fixture, seats are reported to be selling fast, with the club optimistic that they will be able to make a sizable donation to the cancer charity. As a fan, this makes me immeasurably proud. Once again, my club is seeking to make a difference and in doing so is itself being different – this is the first time the proceeds from a competitive fixture in England have been donated to charity.

In addition to the gate receipts, Watford’s players have agreed that if they slip up against Hartlepool, to waive their fee. In an age where players are willing to engineer scenarios and stories solely designed to boost their already astronomic earnings, this show of support from the Hornets team is a welcome and refreshing addition to the story.

It is perhaps cause for regret that with all the money washing around the English game, no club has made a similar effort (Aston Villa’s reverse sponsorship deal with Acorns perhaps the exception) and the fact that Watford’s finances remain precarious makes the scheme all the more admirable.

If you can’t support the fundraising effort by attending the game, you can donate online by visiting http://www.justgiving.com/watfordfootballclub

Well done all at Watford, for once again recognising that it isn’t just what a club does on the pitch that is important.

2. Enjoying it while it lasts…

In my experience, there are two kinds of football fan. The first type is epitomised by my partner in podcast crime, Jon. He is the football fan who can find the positives in a game that saw your team beaten 0-4 at home, your star striker breaking his leg and your captain wrongly sent off. He is unrelentingly, unswervingly and admirably optimistic.

I on the other hand represent the other side of the coin, the second type. I’m the supporter who at 3-0 up with 2 minutes to go, will still be thinking ‘we really need a fourth here…’ I don’t mind admitting it, when it comes to football, I’m a dark, tortured and pessimistic soul.

That is until recently, and at present even I, the Rookery’s personal raincloud, have to admit that things are looking pretty good at Vicarage Road. We’ve won five games in a row including the clinical dismantling of the divisions top two sides, we are the top scorers in the Country, Danny Graham is the leading scorer in the Championship and we’ve got an awesome away shirt again. It would take an effort of Victor Meldrew-esque proportions not to be at least reasonably content with where Watford are right now.

One of the common themes we have discussed on the podcast has been the youth set up at Vicarage Road and due to the financial climate, the club’s current reliance on it. Despite being heavily tipped for relegation by those supposedly in the know, those of us with Watford in our hearts always had a sneaking suspicion that actually, the kids may be alright.

Listening back to those early season podcasts there was a definite sense of hope and confidence…even from me.

Apart from the obvious fun to be had watching Watford at the moment, it is also rewarding to note that the wider footballing community is having to sit up and take Watford seriously. Those who wrote the Hornets off as broke and hopeless are having to quickly reassess and review their opinion. With media coverage of Watford historically woeful, nothing gives me greater pleasure than lazy pundits having to backtrack and give us credit where it is undoubtedly due.

Of course the season hasn’t been without it’s hitches and with Jordon Mutch and Andrew Taylor back at their parent clubs and the treatment room looking alarmingly busy, there may be tricky times ahead. Staying in the division remains the only realistic target, but for now it’s nice to know that the confidence we had in our club wasn’t misplaced. It’s nice to know that our faith and support is being repaid. It’s nice to know that the system at Watford works and it’s nice to know that money isn’t everything.

Being a football fan has far more downs than ups, so whilst Watford’s stock is high I’m taking a leaf out of Jon’s book and am just going to sit back and enjoy it. That is of course until Malky Mackay leaves for Burnley and we lose at home to Hartlepool!

3. Australian humiliation.

Not strictly related to Watford this one, but it won’t have escaped many peoples attention that England have won the Ashes on Australian soil for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. In doing so they handed out one of the biggest spankings the cricket world has seen and the fact that Watford FC supporting fast bowler Steve Finn played such an integral part in the series gives me just cause to mention it here. Another Hornet that we can all be proud of! Well done Finny and well done England!

 

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From the Rookery End with thanks…

Being a football fan isn’t always easy. It’s an expensive, time consuming way of life that more often than not leaves you feeling drained, disappointed and depressed. Sometimes though, it all goes to plan and you remember just why you do it. For me and two of my Watford supporting cohorts, this weekend was one such occasion.

Watford fans across the world will have got their weekend off to a flying start having witnessed the Hornets thoroughly outclassing previously unbeaten

From the Rookery End - 10,000 and counting

 QPR on their home patch, but for me and my fellow ‘From the Rookery End’ co-presenters the news that our podcast had been downloaded for the 10,000th time made sure the day was a truly unforgettable one.

Having hit this landmark and taken time to reflect on the six podcasts we’ve done to date, I have been able to make a few observations.

Firstly, people are obviously listening to our little podcast. That’s definitely good news. Taking into account our singing voices and questionable attempts at comedy, it’s surprising, but is both reassuring and rewarding nonetheless. If you are one of the fabulous people to have taken the time to download and listen to our efforts so far – thank you!

Secondly, what fun we’ve had. We’ve been incredibly lucky to forge a decent relationship with the club and as such have been able to interview players, visit the training ground, meet the Chief Executive – we have even been allowed to risk our lives by recording a podcast in the out of bounds East Stand. Oh the glamour!

We’ve giggled uncontrollably as we have each taken turns to write and sing songs about our heroes, marvelled at Jon’s seemingly unbreakable optimism, realised with some horror that all the women in my family have crushes on Watford players both past and present, and been staggered at Jason’s ability to recall random statistics at the drop of a hat. Let’s not forget that for most of the time we’re doing all this in a pub. What’s not to like!

My third observation is perhaps the most important. It is that the podcast experience to date has reinforced what I think a lot of us already knew – Watford is a very, very special club. In an age where football club and fan seem to be living an increasingly separate existence, Watford are once again bucking trends and showing that the opposite can be true. The club have put a lot of hard work into community events, but it has been their attitude to us and ‘From the Rookery End’ that has reaffirmed just how lucky we are to be Hornets.

When Jon originally had the idea for the podcast, we had a vague idea that once established, we might be able to swing a couple of quick interviews with the players, or failing that a word with the kit man. How wrong we were. The team at Watford have been absolutely fantastic and having heard the first podcast, willingly responded to our requests for interviews and access to key personnel. How many other clubs would take three blokes, armed with an iPhone and singing Barry Manilow songs about Lloyd Doyley seriously? Not that many. It’s a real mark of the club and its commitment to doing what they can for us, the fans that set them apart from so many of their contemparies. Now more than ever, I’m proud and privileged to be a Watford fan.

Of course, it is a two way process, we give as much as we take. After all, I don’t think it can be a coincidence that shortly after being interviewed by Jason, Jon and I, both Scott Loach and Lee Hodson received their first full International call ups. Don’t mention it lads – just happy to be able to give something back.

In talking to Jason and Jon about our first six podcasts, we’ve each managed to identify a favourite moment so far. Jon’s was a surprise. Both Jason and I assumed he would have been keen to never speak of his singing debut again. Not so.

“I missed the Lloyd Doyley goal against QPR and it hurt. For centuries people have found solace by expressing their hurt through song and I felt that was the best way to deal with my anger, frustration and pain. “Oh Doyley” was straight from the heart and proved to be a great help in dealing with missing one of the most important goals ever to be scored at Vicarage Road.

My recovery was complete when I met a Watford fan in the Rookery who had heard the podcast whilst on holiday, and had spent his week singing my song with his friends in the Spanish sun. Lloyd, if you are reading – I’m sorry. Oh, and that goes for Barry Manilow too.”

The most, ummm, how can I put this, experienced member of the team is Jason and despite being the eldest, his 2010 highlight is all about youth.

“The day we spent watching the Under 18s beat Reading and talking to Nick Cox (Assistant Academy Director) about the work done at Harefield was a great experience. The positivity, passion and belief in what they are trying to achieve was clear to see and it was hugely encouraging. On the pitch, the youngsters really looked the part and I went home that day safe in the knowledge that the future of our club is in safe hands”

Here here Jason. So what of my favourite podcast experience? It’s pretty simple really. A bit like me.

As you will hopefully recall, we interviewed Lloyd Doyley in the second podcast. As you’d expect, Lloyd is a great bloke, but the thing that will stick with me is that we had the same trainers on! As we took time to congratulate each other on our impeccable taste in sneakers, I felt a connection with Lloyd – a common bond that will now never be broken. As a Watford fan, what more could I ask for?

So. Six podcasts done so far,10,000 downloads, lots of fun and some decent football along the way too. Thanks to all of those who have contributed or played a part so far and a massive kiss and cuddle to anyone who has taken the time to download the podcast and listen to us – we really, really appreciate it! Please carry on listening and spread the word!

The next podcast is the Christmas special, featuring an interview with the mighty Malky Mackay. It will be available to download from iTunes or at www.fromtherookeryend.com on Christmas Day.

Come on you Horns!

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Let’s all laugh at Robbie…

I’m not quite sure why I did it. I think I was a bit tipsy after spending a day at a birthday party with friends. The fact that it was a third birthday party had made the need for a few drinks more urgent, so when I got home in the early evening I was well on my way. Combine this with an exciting day’s golf at the Ryder Cup and yet another superb away win for Watford, it was fair to say I was feeling pretty happy with my lot. With my daughter asleep and my long suffering girlfriend tired of my incessant eulogising about the job Malky Mackay is doing, I had to find a different audience with which to share my sense of satisfaction.

I called 606.

After what felt like a rather rambling explanation of what I wanted to talk about with the BBC researcher, I was promised a call back. Aware I was a bit worse for wear and that after too much Peroni I probably sounded worse than I felt, I wasn’t holding my breath. Moments later however, the phone burst into life and I was told I’d be on air shortly.

I tried to get my thoughts into some sort of credible order but quickly realised it would be more fun if I just went with it and said what I felt. So, after saying hello to presenter Mark Chapman and co-host Robbie Savage, I launched into what grandly (and misguidedly) refer to as my address to the nation.

In short (it was anything but short – I rambled on for what felt like half an hour) the point I wanted to get across was that as a Watford fan, there is real pleasure to be gained from supporting a team that isn’t constantly going for glory and silver-wear. There is satisfaction to be gained from being a fan of a team who works hard on the pitch as well as off it, organising events for the local community and being accessible, open and honest with the fans. I wanted to make the point that not all football supporters are obsessed with the Champions League and multi-million pound signings and for many of us, supporting a well run, family and fan focussed club was something to be proud of.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what reaction I’d get. I certainly didn’t expect what I got.

After an initial “Mmmhmm” of approval from Chappers, in ploughed Robbie Savage, with this well crafted little nugget:

“I don’t like Watford fans”

Oh. I see. I’m not your greatest fan either Robbie, but I wasn’t talking about the fans; I was talking about the club. I certainly wasn’t talking about you…Anyway, Mr Savage went on to back up his outburst:

“I broke my leg at Vicarage Road and as I was stretchered off, all the fans were laughing”

Personally, I would have thought laughter would have been a more welcome sound than the aural delights he is normally greeted with at away grounds, but there you go. His statement was obvious poppycock. I was there and I didn’t laugh. I have to admit, I didn’t shed a tear either, but I certainly didn’t laugh. I don’t recall anyone near me laughing either. So Mr Savage, not all Watford fans found humour in your demise. You’d be lucky (should that be unlucky?)  if you found more than a handful that did.

Apart from the obvious factual flaw in his crass statement, of greater concern was Savage’s complete inability to grasp the point I was making. He immediately made the connection between Watford and his injury and from that moment forth used it as a chance to talk about himself. Again. There was fleeting recognition for Watford being well run, but he clearly felt that the nation would rather hear his personal and small minded opinions about Watford fans. It was pathetic.

Luckily it became clear that Chappers had experienced altogether more pleasing dealings with Watford and was quick to say so, readdressing the balance with altogether more constructive and relevant comment. Savage wasn’t having any of it though:

“That may be the case Mark, but I just don’t like Watford fans”

Thanks Robbie, I think we get it.

The frustrating part of it is that not all players have this self obsessed, short sighted and arrogant attitude. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several Watford players and they have been pleasant, humorous, approachable and friendly. I’m sure there are hundreds of professionals who are equally agreeable (Ashley Cole being the obvious King of the exceptions) and just as able to speak eloquently on the wireless. So why stick with Savage?

Admittedly, Chappers does a good job of keeping him in check and his forceful rebukes often make good listening, but this isn’t enough to warrant his continued place on the show.

Robbie Savage has managed to earn a good living. I don’t begrudge him that. It’s not easy to become a professional footballer and he will have worked hard to achieve what he has. In my opinion he is now damaging the profession that has treated him so well. With his consistent ill thought out and self centred comments, he’s making footballers look daft.

In a way, his strange outburst helped illustrate my point further. The range of virtues possessed by Watford that originally prompted my call? Well, Robbie Savage is a shining example of the polar opposite.

 

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When Mike met Jacqui…

Whilst the opening Friday night of the season was memorable for a number of reasons – John Eustace scoring the first goal of the entire season, Danny Graham’s splendid brace and of course a Watford away win, it was also a big occcasion for the From the Rookery End podcast, on which I am a co-presenter.
We got our very first national plug!
It came on BBC Radio Five Live when Jacqui Oatley, providing commentary for the game, explained that she had listened to a “rather good podcast” before the game called, yep, you’ve guessed it, From the Rookery End! 
After the excitment had died down, I managed to track Jacqui down for a quick chat – mainly to congratulate her on her great taste in podcasts, but also to ask about her views on Watford, the World Cup and life as a Commentator.

I spoke to Jacqui as she was preparing for her trip to cover Wolves V Stoke for the BBC last weekend…

Mike: Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the podcast and subsequently securing your place in the ‘From the Rookery End’ hall of fame by mentioning it in your commentary last weekend.
 
Are podcasts and blogs something you and your fellow broadcasters and journalists are using more of as part of your work?
 
Jacqui: Different people prepare for games in different ways so I can only speak for myself. But, if you are doing live commentary your prep would be more in-depth and take longer than if you are providing updates.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, often in the car. They provide a really well informed view of what is going on at a particular club. The people responsible for them generally go to a lot of games, so are able to provide a real insight as to what the feeling is and what expectations are. They can be really helpful.

You commentated on Watford’s away win at Norwich on the opening day. Were you surprised by the result?

I was. Paul Lambert has brought in some good new players after winning the league last season and with a big Carrow Road crowd guaranteed, it looked a tough start for Watford. Malky has lost a number of experienced players, the financial situation is well documented and it looks like a young squad.

What impressed me was how confident and organised Watford looked from the first whistle. I had picked up a sense of optimism amongst Watford fans and had heard that Danny Graham and Marvin Sordell had been linking up well in training and pre-season, but I didn’t think they would perform together so well so quickly.

What do your colleagues in the media think of Watford?
 
I don’t think there is necessarily a common view about Watford these days. We all think of the iconic figures from years gone by like Luther Blissett, John Barnes, Elton John and Graham Taylor. But financial problems have been high on the agenda since Luca Vialli came in and spent a lot of money, so they’ve had a tough time of it since then.
 
Whilst at the World Cup, you worked a lot with Graham Taylor. Graham is rightly idolised by all Watford fans – is he as nice a guy as we all hope and think he is?
 
Graham is a genuinely lovely bloke and one of my favourite people to work with. We spent more time together in South Africa than expected after long journeys between grounds, but he really is a lovely chap.

We had some good fun – a four hour round trip to Rustenburg turned into an eight hour one as we got stuck in traffic and suffered from dodgy directions.

What really came through is his passion for Watford. He really cares about the club and is hugely loyal. It was clear how responsible he feels for the club now he is Chairman.

Watford are really lucky to have a man that cares so much, as it would have been easy for him to say no. He has his media responsibilities and also a family he wants to spend time with. He remains loyal to Watford though and really wants to do his bit. He also has a lot of time for Malky Mackay.

That’s great to hear. Talking about the World Cup – what was the highlight for you?
 
My personal highlight was the fact that South Africa hosted the tournament so well. Whilst the football wasn’t always amazing, the tournament itself went really well and a lot of the pre-World Cup fears about safety weren’t realised.

My Mum is from South Africa and I know she was pleased to see it go to plan. I remember her telling me that she never thought she’d see the day that South Africa plays host to such a massive event, so it was great to see it go so well.

It was also nice to catch up with colleagues. During the season you spend a lot of time travelling to and working at different games on your own, so it was good to catch up with some of them during the tournament. I spent time talking football with the likes of Graham Taylor, Danny Mills, Pat Nevin, David Pleat and Martin Keown – all good people with some cracking stories!

Apart from the obvious, were there any players that stood out for you at the tournament?
 
Diego Perez of Uruguay (and Monaco). He’s a tough, ball winning midfielder and I think he’d be brilliant in the Premier League.
 
We can’t talk about the World Cup without mentioning England’s woeful tournament. Can you sum up what went wrong in a sentence?
 
In a sentence? Are you joking?! I think the manager has to take his fair share of responsibility. He has proved himself to be a great club manager, but tournament football is different to anything he’d experienced before.
Having spoken to someone who knows some of the players, it seems Capello’s non-communicative, stand-offish manner over a period of weeks had an adverse effect on the squad. Plus the fact that they didn’t know the line-up until a couple of hours before kick-off – that really frustrated the players as they couldn’t practice team shape or psych themselves up.
He’s been a very successful manager, but I think this was a steep learning curve for him.

In terms of sticking with him, from a financial point of view the FA didn’t have much choice, given the removal of that clause which would have allowed them to terminate the contract without compensation. They couldn’t afford to pay him off as well as pay for a new manager. Roy Hodgson was on his way to Liverpool, which meant they’d just missed out on the only ideal replacement (in my view). Hopefully Capello learnt a great deal from the South Africa experience.

When it comes to the team itself, I don’t think you can just ditch all the experienced players on the back of a poor tournament. The new breed of youngsters do need to come in, but there needs to be a mix of youth and experience. Players like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand continue to suffer with injuries and may not be as mobile as they were, so looking for their successors is sensible, but we saw again this week what Steven Gerrard is capable of – he was on fire.

Back home, this morning there are reports that Man City are prepared to pay Zlatan Ibrahomovic £500,000 a week. Are those that work in the game as shocked at these sort of figures as the fans?
 
Yes. I think the one that we all raised eyebrows at was Yaya Toure. His wages are huge for someone who wasn’t a key figure in the Barcelona team.
There is a lot of money in the game, but the worry is the average fan being priced out of the game. I know that Watford fans were charged £31 for a ticket to the Norwich game. This is a game that is on the TV and on a Friday night.
Personally I think clubs would be better off charging less for tickets and getting full stadiums.

Being at a game is completely different to watching on TV. It’s an experience that you simply can’t get from sitting at home. On top of that, the clubs would generate extra income from fans buying food and merchandise.

The danger is we will breed a generation of TV supporters and that isn’t healthy for the future of the game.

Are you able to switch off from football when you aren’t working?
 
I’ve always been bad at switching off because football’s my passion as well as my job. But I’ve got better at it in the last year or so. My boyfriend and I have plenty of other things to talk about and I love seeing my girlie friends too – we don’t debate how many holding midfielders Manchester City have or how far Connor Wickham can go in his career. It’s great to switch off with them.
I must confess I like a bit of “Loose Women” on ITV to break up a prep day and am currently really enjoying watching “Undercover Boss” on Channel 4, although I always seem to end up blubbing at the end!
 
Are you able to enjoy the games you commentate on?

It’s very different to watching a game as a fan. When you’re reporting, you have to concentrate all the time in case the next moment is one of the most significant in the game. Who put the cross in, how far the shot was from goal, all that sort of stuff. I enjoy commentating more than reporting as you can really get involved in the game, but it is great to go to games as a supporter too – that’s really important to me.

Ahead of our chat I saw Roy Keane on TV and I’ll be honest, the thought of interviewing him strikes fear into my heart. What’s the hardest interview you’ve ever done?

Ha, I actually like Roy Keane. He’s good to interview. The toughest experience I had was as a pitchside reporter at the 2006 FA Cup Final. I was covering West Ham and was seconds away from getting to interview the players as FA Cup winners. As we all know, Steven Gerrard scored that late equaliser and Liverpool went on to win. Instead of interviewing jubilant players I had to go onto the pitch as soon as the final whistle blew and try to talk to players who had gone agonisingly close to being Cup winners.

It was a surreal experience, almost like walking into a computer game. Players everywhere were crying and clearly in no fit state to give an interview. Alan Pardew was distraught and made it clear he couldn’t talk and in the end it was just Teddy Sheringham who was willing and able to answer a few questions. I was grateful to him for that as he managed to give me a good interview in difficult circumstances.

Finally, have you ever made a memorable on air gaffe?

I’m touching wood now, but I can’t think of a major one. Or maybe there are just too many to stand out in my mind! Here’s a Watford-related story for you though…

If you’re a commentator who’s only reporting on a game for 5 Live, you still commentate off-air when it looks like there’s a chance of a goal (they’re recording the whole time back in the studio). That way the clip can be played later on 606 or another show to illustrate the game or goal.

I was covering Spurs v Watford in the Premier League when Spurs goalkeeper Paul Robinson lined up to take a free kick by his own penalty area. Seeing as you’re a Watford fan, I don’t need to remind you what happened next. I didn’t feel any need to commentate. What could possibly happen from a free kick so far back?!
Anyway, the ball bounced once in front of Ben Foster then sailed over his head and into the net. I was gutted that I had missed it. I wasn’t to know of course, but it would have been a memorable goal to commentate on.

Thanks so much for reminding us! Anyway, Jacqui that’s it, thanks for being such a star and enjoy the season.

***
 
You can download the ‘From the Rookery End podcast via iTunes or by listening directly at www.fromtherookeryend.com
 
You can follow Jacqui Oatley on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jacquioatley

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Open day delight…

Supporting Watford isn’t a perfect experience. Our beloved Vicarage Road has been a three sided building site for longer than I care to remember. We’ve spent and wasted a lot of money. We once signed Kerry Dixon and Micky Quinn. We hired Dave Bassett…

With continued uncertainty around who will own the football club and the ongoing financial constraints, it’s fair to say that all is not 100% rosy in the WD18 garden. If you look hard enough though, as in all aspects of life, you can find some positives.

 I have written before about the reassurance provided by the presence of Graham Taylor and Malky Mackay at our club. Both good, loyal men. Watford people. I have also spoken of my pride in the Academy and the clubs ability to bring through home grown players – a story that recently received national recognition in The Guardian (read it here – http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jul/17/england-world-cup-watford). It’s not just the big, well publicised projects that count though. It can be the little things that make the biggest difference.

On Saturday I was surrounded by little things, well, little people, as I took my daughter and nephew to the Watford FC open day in Bushey. I’ve never been to such an event before and had limited expectations. I guessed the worst that could happen was they’d get a picture with Harry the Hornet and would probably drop their overpriced ice cream on the floor. As it happened, my daughter was petrified of Harry and the ice creams were a bargain. Cheap Solero’s were far from the highlight though.

For the duration of the event, amongst the children, parents, burger vans and exhibits, were clusters of young, athletic men in smart tracksuits. Stopping whenever approached, signing autographs and smiling for photographs. For the entirety of this sunny Sunday afternoon the full Watford squad were face to face with their adoring young fans. For some it got better – modelling the new away kit for the first time alongside Aidy Mariappa and John Eustace, or participating in a game of football with Danny Graham, Scott Loach and Liam Henderson. Instead of watching their idols, youngsters were passing to them.

Now perhaps I’ve gone soft in my old age, or see the world through different eyes now that I’m a Dad, but I can’t be alone in thinking what a fantastic event this was. By giving supporters unlimited and unrestricted access to the players, those that visited were able to take away with them memories and souvenirs that they will treasure for a lifetime. Some will have scored a goal past Scott Loach. Some will have hugged John Eustace. Some will have pictures with Lloyd Doyley and footballs signed by Malky. Tangible, happy memories.

In an era when heroes, whether it be film stars, musicians or sports people seem to be further and further removed from the real world in which we inhabit, it was a joy to see our heroes bringing so much enjoyment to so many.

I don’t profess to know what goes on at other clubs, but I doubt many of those thousands of kids running around in Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal shirts have ever had a kick about with Wayne Rooney, Nikola Anelka or Cesc Fabregas. Well done to Watford for recognising and rewarding us – the fans, with a day to remember.

We’re Watford. We don’t have much, but we make the most of what we’ve got.

Keep the faith, stay positive and Come on You Horns!

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Involuntary reactions…

Right you lot. I’m going to be honest with you here. Bare my soul. You ready?

OK. So we all now know Luis Suarez. He is the Uruguay striker who by handling the ball on the line in the last minute of their Quarter Final clash with Ghana has become the embodiment evil. The man whose dastardly act dashed not just the hopes of a Nation, but those of an entire Continent. His hand didn’t prevent just a goal, but the continued development of African football.

Apparently.

Now, in common with most football fans I deplore cheating. Diving, faking injury, trying to get opposition players booked, crafty fouls and unseen shirt pulls. I hate it. I hate it all and am not shy in saying so. I’d be all in favour of six month bans for players caught diving. No half measures from me when it comes to the “dark arts”. It may therefore surprise you to learn that instead of joining in the increasingly embarrassing condemnation from anyone outside Montevideo, I’m here to stick up for Mr Suarez and his impromptu goalkeeping display.

You see, what poor old Luis did wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t a cold, measured decision, considered and undertaken having weighed up the pros and cons of his actions. It was a reaction. An instantaneous reaction. And you know what? I’d have undoubtedly done the same.

We’ve all been there. Your girlfriend is driving the car and is approaching a queue of traffic at a roundabout. The last car in the line is getting closer whilst she is clearly more focussed on Cheryl Cole’s forgetfulness when it comes to malaria tablets. You can’t help it – as you hurtle towards disaster, your foot leaps to an imaginary brake in the passenger footwell. An involuntary reaction.

Alan Green begins commentating on the radio. You turn the radio off. An involuntary reaction. Your boss is away for the afternoon. You surf the Internet and plan a long lunch. An involuntary reaction. You learn Stuart Atwell is set to officiate your football match. Your head sinks into your hands. An involuntary reaction. Some of our actions occur too quickly and too naturally for us to do anything about. As Star Trek fans would no doubt delight in telling us – resistance is futile.

I have struggled to imagine the situation that would involve me taking part in a World Cup Quarter Final, but despite this I’m pretty sure that if I found myself in that position, I’d have reacted the same. My reason for being on the goal line would already be established and clear in my mind. To stop the opposition scoring. Mission received and understood. The next thing I know, the ball is heading towards the back of the net. I realise I can’t stop it with my head and this is where the involuntary reaction kicks in. Before I know it, I’ve swatted the ball to safety, I’ve been red carded and Ghana have a kick to progress.   

If I were to criticise Luis Suarez, it would be for his abysmal haircut (or lack of it) and his ill advised celebrations in the tunnel area after Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty. I’m sure he regrets it too, especially as his fist pumping reaction was replayed ad nauseum across the Worlds TV networks. Still, at least it should make it clear to him how daft his hair looks.

Tonight Suarez is banned and will be joining us in watching the first Semi Final of the 2010 World Cup. Should Holland progress, many will deem it justice served and will dismiss Uruguay as South American cheats who eventually got what they deserved. Should they progress, whoever they play in the Final, the spotlight will be firmly back on Luis Suarez – in my opinion for all the wrong reasons.

Unlike the enemy of African football Luis Suarez, I will never have the chance to represent my Country at the World Cup. We do have one thing in common though. We both have involuntary reactions.

Cut the man some slack.

Having discussed these thoughts with friends over the weekend, it was suggested that in instances such as this, when a certain goal is denied by an illegal act, a penalty goal could be awarded. I’m inclined to agree. Whilst a penalty kick affords a fabulous opportunity to score, as we saw last week, it isn’t a goal until it hits the back of the net…

What, dear reader, do you think?

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The law of being average

It’s taken me the best part of a week, but I’ve finally worked out how I feel about England’s abrupt and let’s face it, humiliating, exit from the World Cup.

Those who watched the game with me on Sunday will have been treated to the mildly comical yet largely disturbing spectacle of me furiously striking the TV with my flip-flop whilst turning the air blue with my rather choice opinions on the horror show that was unfolding before our eyes. For these poor souls (and indeed their neighbours) it may be a surprise to learn that my over riding emotion isn’t anger.

Regular readers of this blog and those who I sit with at Watford will be aware that I’m not always the most optimistic of souls. I’m still nervy when we’re 3-0 up with 30 seconds to go for heavens sake. Therefore, if asked to bet, I’m sure my fellow Hornets would wager that I predicted an England defeat, allowing me a well deserved and self congratulatory pat on the back. But no, I don’t feel vindicated or smug either.

I’ll tell you how I feel.

Indifferent.

I had an inkling that something wasn’t right in my relationship with the England team long before the tournament began.

When the team captain Rio Ferdinand returned home injured in early June, my initial thought wasn’t of the negative impact it would have on the team. It was a sense of relief. Relief that if England did win the World Cup, that plank wouldn’t be the man to receive the trophy on our nation’s behalf. My mind then started to wander. I pictured the players going up one by one to receive their medals and take their turn with the trophy. I imagined John Terry holding aloft the biggest prize in world football. It left me cold. Then, and I couldn’t help it, my minds eye treated me to the sight of Ashley Cole, grinning like a maniac, part of only the second ever England team to win a trophy. I was almost sick. Twice.

I felt slightly less inclined to self harm as I imagined the rest of the team enjoying their moment of glory, but the damage was done. It was now clear to me. There can now be no mistaking it -I just don’t like the England team.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some honest, decent chaps among them. David James is an ex-Watford player so by default he’s a top man. James Milner seems like an alright bloke and Peter Crouch comes across as genuine and very funny. I like him. As a squad though, they stink. Unapproachable, cocky, ill educated, brash and worst of all – pretty bloody average at football.

This generation of footballers is, through no real fault of their own, the furthest removed from both fans and reality. Their astronomic salaries and superstar status mean that through necessity they are to some degree forced to retreat into a world where nothing is too expensive and everything is done for you. I understand this and don’t have a problem with it. If I earned 150k a week I’d buy a big house and would hire someone to operate the Sky remote for me too. Similarly, if I was famous, I’d try and keep myself to myself – signing autographs is fine, but not 24 hours a day.

However.

Having been afforded this status you occasionally have to back it up with action. Prove that you’re worth it. Or at least try.

Off the field this has already proved too much for a number of our ‘heroes’. Rio Ferdinand felt he didn’t have to do a drugs test because “He had a lot on”. John Terry felt it was appropriate to hire out his private Wembley box – a privilege bestowed on each England captain – for personal gain. Rooney badmouthing England fans who have saved for four years only to be treated to one of the worst performances in living memory. Ashley Cole, well Ashley Cole clearly won’t stop until everyone in the whole world can’t stand the site of him. The list goes on. No matter though. We’re football fans. We’ll excuse most things. As long as you give us something to shout about on the pitch.

In all fairness, most weeks, our club players rarely let us down. The England players play well for their star-studded clubs, whilst we lower league fans usually go home safe in the knowledge that our team may be crap, but at least they try. Why then do none of us get any satisfaction from watching England?

It’s simple. The England football team is average. Our players are supported at club level by far superior team mates, allowing them to believe their own hype and inflated worth. Some of them are good, the majority are average. No better no worse. We usually qualify for the Quarter Finals and rarely look likely to go any further. So it has been, and so it shall ever be. And that’s fine. We turn up, we do our bit, we work hard, we bluster and we battle until we are inevitably undone by better players or a penalty shootout. We go out, as expected way before the Final but with heads held high. As English football fans we’re fine with that.

Or at least we were. You see, I can handle supporting an average team. Crikey, as a Watford fan I can handle supporting a less than average team. What is harder, much harder, is supporting an average team for which you have no affinity. I just have no relationship with this England team. As players they don’t mean anything to me. Some of the reasons for this aren’t the players fault. Many of them are.

So it’s come to this. During this World Cup I watched England. I didn’t support them. Of course I wanted them to win. I cheered when they scored, I groaned when they conceded – as a sports fan it’s in my DNA, it’s hardwired into me. I didn’t invest any emotional energy in them though. And you know what? I don’t think any of them did either.

So, what happens now? By way of an apology, I’d love all those England fans that travelled to South Africa to get free tickets to the next England game – a home friendly with Hungary. The perfect opportunity for those who invested not only emotionally but financially to have their say. The sound of 80,000 heartfelt boos and catcalls may be a wake up call for some, an insight as to what real people actually think of them and their antics.

I doubt it though. After all, what do we matter? As Gary Neville so tellingly once said; “The fans are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all”.

Well. We will see Gary. We will see.

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