All I Want For Christmas
Neil Dunham explains if you are good, Santa will be kind
I’m of a certain age. One of those old fashioned blokes for whom Christmas is a special time of year, when men in Pringle jumpers stand by holly decorated fireplaces, singing Silver Bells and Silent Night. Childhood Christmas was toys, new socks, turkey and crackers. Games of Cluedo, Connect 4 and the annual failure to get Mousetrap to work made the evenings magical.
My dream presents varied year by year, but in 1974 I fell in love with something a bit different… because one day the Watford football kit had changed. The yellow shirt had spawned two big black stripes and a jolly hornet badge. I was amazed. I wanted one. No! I needed one. So the Yuletide campaign started; I wrote letters to Santa, trawled through the Great Universal and whined and pleaded with my parents. If Scully could have one then so could I, but it wasn’t to be. All I wanted for Christmas was that shirt, but the consolation gift of a Timpo Wild West set eased the pain.
Watford were awful that season and were relegated to Division 4. Luckily at my age I didn’t have a clue, I just loved going to the matches. The following season was better and just before Christmas 1975 a new player appeared, quickly established himself as my new favourite. There was something special about Peter Coffill, a more than passing resemblance to Rent-a-Ghost’s Mr Claypole had a lot to do with it. I wanted to be Peter Coffill and to be him I needed that hornet shirt. But, alas, there was no shirt under the tree this year either.
Time and Watford moved on and life went along for the ride. Senior school arrived and before long it was winter season, the herald of the torture that was cross country runs in freezing weather. Not being as sadistic as most, our PE teacher allowed us little scope for warmer kit. I remember the moment with crystal clarity; sitting in the changing room, my pal’s bag opened and he pulled out a plum. Not just a ’74 shirt, but a proper players’ shirt… Words cannot describe the awe. The envy. The jealousy! And just like that, the primal urge to don those stipes had re-awoken.
This, I think, was the genesis of my obsession with Watford shirts. Not replicas, but player’s match worn ones. I was lucky enough to have a brother and friends working at the club through the GT glory years and some classics found their way into the collection. The ’74, however, remained elusive. I later discovered one of the coaching staff had found one in a drawer at the Vic and was allowed to keep it – bugger! Missed another one that had been right under our noses for years.
I finally succumbed to the inevitable just a couple of years ago. Colin Payne (yes, your amazing YBR! Editor) had commissioned a beautiful repro version. He couldn’t wear it for reasons that won’t be explored here and, in the absence of a match worn one, my wife agreed to buy it from Colin and give it to me for Christmas. There I was, 44 years after first falling in love with the shirt, wearing one on Christmas day.
Later that season Watford got to the FA Cup Final. The occasion was worthy of a public outing for the shirt. There I was, proudly strolling up Wembley Way, displaying what could possibly be Watford’s all-time best shirt, when I spotted another fan wearing an original! I’m a pretty shy chap, but this was too much and I was straight over to tell him how jealous I was (and to make a cheeky offer to buy it). It turned out to be a reunion with my school buddy’s younger brother – wearing the very shirt I’d been so envious of at school. Looking at it I felt like I was looking at my personal holy grail, a think of sublime beauty.
So on to 2021. ‘There can’t be too many of these left’ I thought and resigned myself to never owning my dream shirt. That was until a message popped up on my laptop… ‘Hi mate, Have you seen the Watford shirt up for auction in Northampton? They’re saying it was Stewart Scullion’s ’74 top’. Pause. Longer pause. “Scullys?” I was straight on it and the kit geek instincts kicked in; it wasn’t Scully’s ’74, it was a ’75. That’d do for me. Oh my word! this was my chance….
Except it wasn’t. Even before the day of the auction I’d been outbid with commission bids. I was devastated. I’d craved that bloody shirt for 47 years! My wife slapped me on the back, gave me a cheeky wink and said “don’t worry, I’ll buy you something nice”. It didn’t cheer me up to be honest.
Days later I followed the auction with a face like a smacked backside and saw it sell for too much money, the auctioneer quipping “Looks like it might be Elton himself bidding”. It was then that I started questioning myself; should I have taken out a second mortgage or sold one of the kids? Would I have missed a kidney?
A week or so later, while working from home, I heard the unmistakable clatter of a packet dropping through the door. “You open it” my wife said with a knowing smile… and yes. It was. I didn’t faint. I didn’t jump for joy. I just smiled. And stared. And possibly wiped away a tear. This was nearly 50 years in the making. She took the shirt back and explained that it needed to be wrapped, ready for December 25th.
I won’t have a big surprise on Christmas day and my best present won’t fit my middle-aged frame, but I know that I’ll be receiving the best present I’ve ever had.
I hope the same happens to you. Merry Christmas to all Watford fans everywhere.