Watford triumphed 2-0 over near Neighbours St Albans City at Clarence Park. For those of you that couldn’t make it, here’s what it looked like…
You can click on the picture to see a bigger version.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“You don’t win anything with kids”
“If you’re old enough you’re good enough”
“There’s no substitute for experience”
These are phrases that all football fans will be familiar with, each of them an often used part of every football pundits armoury. Apart from being massively overused, these three phrases have one other theme in common. Youth.
It’s fair to say that not everything talked about in football circles is applicable to Watford. “Mackay’s biggest task will be to keep the string of Internationals that don’t make his first team happy…” is not a phrase you’ll likely to hear any time soon. We don’t generally have to worry about resting players ahead of an exacting European campaign. Whether the 30 goal a season Italian World Cup star will chose Old Trafford or Vicarage Road is not an oft posed query. Questioning whether half of the squad have permission from their Mother’s to play, is perhaps more pertinent.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Watford’s immediate history, we find ourselves heavily reliant on youth. Boys that we have signed, then trained and nurtured. Youngsters that you probably wouldn’t let into a 15 rated film, much less be allowed to buy a pint. This is no bad thing though. Bringing through youngsters? We’re pretty good at it you know.
As I write this, myself and the rest of the Nation are counting down to England’s final World Cup game with Slovenia. Whilst the majority of the starting XI is unknown, the goalkeeper is already common knowledge. The man between the sticks for the big game? David James. Now almost 40 years old, James has played for some of the Countries biggest clubs. And Portsmouth.
I’m sure most of us don’t need reminding where DJ’s path to stardom began, but for those of you too young or too forgetful to recall, it was right here at Watford. A product of the Watford youth team, he played 98 times for the Hornets before leaving for Liverpool in a record breaking deal worth £1,000,000 in July 1992.
Whilst David James is approaching the end of his career (don’t tell him I said that!), Ashley Young is most definitely at the start of his. A more
recent graduate from the Watford youth system, you would have had to have your head stuck in a large bucket of sand not to have noticed his meteoric rise. Unlucky not to feature in this summer’s World Cup, Ashley is a shining example and a fantastic illustration as to how seriously and how committed Watford are to progressing young talent.
For many, the quotes at the beginning of this piece are just words. Throw away remarks to fill time of space. Not for us. Not for Watford. Ahead of the new season we find our squad liberally sprinkled with graduates from our increasingly respected and recognised Academy. Marvin Sordell, Liam Henderson, Lee Hodson and Michael Bryan are sure to feature heavily this season and whilst a reliance on such young and inexperienced players could be cause for alarm at other clubs, it most certainly isn’t the case here.
We know that if a player comes through our system and appears on the Vicarage Road pitch in a yellow shirt, then age and experience really isn’t important. We know our system works. We know they’ll be good enough. Instead of approaching the season worried about our young squad and their ability to succeed, we approach it with both excitement and pride, safe in the knowledge that when it comes to bringing through youngsters, Watford do things right.
Multi million pound signings? No thanks. We make our own superstars here.
Come on you Horns!
I don’t mind admitting it. I’m so excited that I reckon I could be sick or pass out at any given moment. I refer of course to the beginning of the final series of Big Brother, but it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that the World Cup starts this week too.
It isn’t actually Davina and her latest array of fame hungry misfits, but the start of the football that has got me and the rest of the world so giddy with glee. Fans across the world are eagerly plotting routes to the Final for their various teams and taking part in endless speculation about starting elevens and gossiping about possible formations. I’m even enjoying the fact that every single advertisement is seemingly linked to the World Cup.
And all this despite the depressing knowledge that it will inevitability all end in tears.
A combination of pressure from us back home in blighty and the limitations of the average assortment of players that will be wearing the three lions in South Africa mean that (in my opinion) the chances of England getting anywhere near the Final are slim. I still can’t wait though. I’ve still got butterflies. I’m still toying with the idea of taking the afternoon off to watch South Africa take on Mexico.
Anyway, in thinking about the England games and how much I’m looking forward to them, I started to recall some of the big games that Watford have been involved in. The Cup matches, the Play-Offs, the relegation six pointers. Now, those of you who have read what I write before will know that I think we’re pretty lucky to be Watford fans. We’ve had some good times and thinking back to when it has really counted, unlike England, Watford have rarely let us down.
I wasn’t old enough to go to the ’84 Cup Final or any of the fun and games leading up to that, so my first real taste of big match action was the 1987 FA Cup Semi Final with Spurs.
The game was at Villa Park and my Grandparents lived not far away in Stratford upon Avon, so we travelled up to stay with them the day before. I was so excited. The papers were full of build up, FA Cup Semi Final weekend was big news in those days and I proudly devoured each word. The car was bedecked in as much Watford paraphernalia as I could lay my hands on – I wanted everyone to know where I was going.
The morning of the game dawned and I walked with Dad to the local shop to get a paper. The big story surrounding the game was who would play in goal for the Hornets. With the awesome Tony Coton unavailable, Steve Sherwood was a more than able deputy, but a finger injury sustained in training meant he was unlikely to feature. Rumours began to circulate about who would replace him and a story about a wine waiter just wouldn’t go away…
Inside the ground, Villa Park was a joy to behold. The sea of yellow was, for a boy of 10, a truly spectacular and awe inspiring sight. The noise was equally memorable, singing coming from every part of the ground and the atmosphere becoming increasingly fervored as kick off drew closer.
As a youngster I don’t think I fully comprehended the importance of Gary Plumley appearing in goal. I knew I had never heard of him before and certainly hadn’t seen him in action, but I kind of figured if he was going to play for my club in one of the biggest games in its history, he must be OK.
Even at my tender years, I was insightful enough to know however, that when the first goal went in, it was pretty much all over.
I couldn’t believe it. All the build up. All the talking about it with my 8 year old brother when we should have been in bed. All the decorating of the car. The getting my replica kit ready the night before. After all that, we were going to lose. I cried.
Looking back at that game, it remains one of my favourite and most vivid memories. I can still remember the feeling before the game, the unadulterated excitement and anticipation. The pride in my team. The sheer delight that I was actually going to an FA Cup Semi Final. I also remember the despair. I knew immediately after the first goal that I was going to cry. I didn’t want to, but quickly realised I couldn’t help it. The tears flowed. From a high to a low with one kick of a football.
There have been lows since of course. Being relegated is never fun, and it’s happened four times in my Watford supporting career. We could see those coming a long way off though, we had time to get ready and prepare ourselves. When it’s been a one shot deal though, when we’ve one game in which to do the business, a game with a big build up, a game that we’ve been excited about they have more often than not delivered.
When it really, really matters, we are rarely left disappointed.
Just one more reason to be grateful for being a Hornet.
Come on You Horns!
Oh, and for pity’s sake – Come on England!
To paraphrase dear old Aggers I’m about to use a sentence that has never been used before. Not truthfully anyway. England are cricket world Champions. Sounds good doesn’t it? There was even some icing on an already tasty cake. It was Australia that we beat in the Final. Handsomely. For a cricket fan, it doesn’t get much better than that.
So why do I find myself feeling slightly underwhelmed?
Well, the culmination of the tournament meant two things. On one hand, it meant England hoisting aloft their first ever World Cup, but on the other, it meant that (for a while at least) Test Match Sofa would be going off air.
Whenever I used to happen across an episode of Eastenders, I always used to baulk at the lack of realism – “There is no way they could be so close to Ian Beale without ever swearing at him” I would protest. Well, sports commentary is a bit like that too. It is often very good, but it rarely describes the action in a way a passionate fan would. This is where the Test Match Sofa gang come in.
Broadcasting from a front room in London, Test Match Sofa comprises a gaggle of cricket fanatics who gather in front of Sky Sports to provide an alternative, live commentary on all England’s International matches.
Having commentated on the recent winter tours of South Africa and Bangladesh, the sofa team faced their biggest and most ambitious challenge when they undertook to commentate on each and every game of the Twenty20 World Cup.
These boys and girls know their cricket, but Aggers and Henry Blowfeld they most certainly are not. Fortunately they aren’t Mark Nicholas
either. Once tuning in, you can expect to hear a full compliment of profanity, the voicing of personal and irrational hatred for individual players and demands for someone to “answer the bloody front door”. You’ll also get used to the background accompaniment of beer bottles being opened and drained, cigarettes being lit and food being fetched from the kitchen. Amongst the chaos and banter, you’ll also find some pretty entertaining cricket commentary.
The captain of the Test Match Sofa ship is Dan, who from what I can gather, was on air for every single game of the tournament, illustrating impressive if not slightly demented commitment to the cause. The rest of the commentary team was put together on a whoever can make it basis. Jarrod Kimber, the exiled Aussie, author of a number of books, creator of the cricket with balls blog and founder of the “Dirty” Dirk Nannes fanclub (Membership – 1) was a regular feature, whilst the caustic tones of Manny and Nigel were heard more sparingly, but to devastating effect.
Another regular was Sophia, who deserves a special mention for A) reading out a lot of my correspondence on air and B) putting up with the characters listed above. There is also anecdotal evidence that a number of listeners tuned in primarily to hear her velvety tones…
The other members of the squad all pitched in at frequent intervals and the jingles, recorded for use in any eventuality and ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, quickly became the soundtrack to my tournament.
I’m missing it already.
When you come back from a comedy night, your nearest and dearest invariably ask to be told one of the jokes you’ve heard. Invariably you can’t remember any. It’s equally hard to explain why listening to Test Match Sofa is such good fun. Trust me though. If you like cricket aren’t you aren’t a complete nitwit, you’ll enjoy it.
They are back on air for the Bangladesh test match which begins on 27 May. Tune in. You won’t like it. You’ll love it.
You can tune in via the web at http://www.testmatchsofa.com
After positive comments on the first batch of pictures, here are a few more from Saturday’s triumph against Reading.
Thanks for taking the time to visit, I hope you enjoy them.