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The Glory Stanchions

Olly Wicken gets excited about Vicarage Road fixtures and fittings


One of the many joys of writing for the Watford Treasury is looking through old photographs.

My favourite time as a Watford fan was the first Graham Taylor era, and I love browsing photos from this period for the rush of nostalgia they give me. In fact, I don’t just browse. I inspect them forensically. I’m on the look-out for small details that might spark forgotten memories so I can indulge myself in a good long soak in a warm bath of GT’s Watford.

One of the side-effects of this, I’ve noticed, is that I’ve started to feel misty-eyed about all kinds of odd little things I see in the pictures: the bare earth banking in the north-west corner alongside the terracing where I used to stand; or those yellow anoraks from the 1977/78 promotion season. And that’s why, today, I find myself writing about stanchions.

The goal posts at Vicarage Road during the best Taylor years had unique stanchions. (I’ve looked into it, and the only League club that had anything similar was Newport County.) The stanchions were huge. They went back from the top of the goal further than normal, and they returned to the goal post much lower: they joined the post halfway up. Think of a goal post as Ross Jenkins with his hands on his hips, and you’ve pretty much got it 

So whenever I’m browsing photos of some of the greatest occasions in my life, I see the stanchions in the background. The night we won promotion at home to Hull City? “Hello, you.” The night we beat Southampton 7-1? “Ah, my old friends.” The afternoon we beat Sunderland 8-0? “Thank you for your constant presence during those wondrous years, you were literally part of the furniture.” The nights we played in the UEFA Cup? “You were the Glory Stanchions.”

I love the way the stanchions are present in photos of less remarkable moments too. There’s a great action shot of an imperious John McClelland in 1985. It’s tightly-focused, with a shallow depth of field, but there’s a Glory Stanchion behind him, blurred but bold, standing watch. It’s saying to me “We were there! We saw it all! It really did happen!” and I’m saying “I know! Me too! Wasn’t it incredible?”

I could go on, and usually do. But, earlier this year, I did some research. I’d wondered when the Glory Stanchions disappeared from Vicarage Road, and I discovered that it was during the summer of 1985 when they were replaced with a smaller, more standard set. Their last game was a 5-1 win over Manchester United. The Glory Stanchions went out on a high.  

And then I wondered when they first appeared. I started looking through old programmes, newspapers and videos: I traced them back in time. And it was an eye-opener. I saw them, doing nothing, while we dropped into Division Four in 1974/75. I saw them, hands on hips, apparently in as much despair as I was, when we set a record low for points in Division Two in 1971/72. It turned out the Glory Stanchions were also the Misery Stanchions. 

At first I felt cheated. These stanchions had a dodgy past. Now they couldn’t symbolise Watford’s glory days of rising to the top of football because they also stood for the years when the club was sinking to the bottom. I felt they’d made a fool of me. 

But, of course, I’d made a fool of myself. As a boy, I’d watched the 1971/72 and 1974/75 seasons from the terraces, so I should have known the stanchions were part of the furniture when the fabric of the club was falling apart. In recent years, I’d stared at too many photos of the Taylor years, forming emotional attachments to inanimate objects, and I’d misrepresented the past to suit my feelings. It’s a lesson, perhaps, for all of us who are interested in history. When we feel a fondness for times past, we can create false associations unwittingly. 

So I don’t call them the Glory Stanchions any more. I don’t have another name for them yet, but maybe I’ll think of them as the Ross Jenkins Stanchions because they arrived not long before him and left not long after him and looked a bit like him. Or maybe I’ll think of them as the Big Dipper Stanchions because they saw our League finishes go from 40th down to 74th and up to 2nd. Whatever I call them, though, they’ll definitely still have huge meaning for me because their lifespan at Vicarage Road covered my formative years as a Watford fan: first the bad times, and then the very, very good.

Anyway, that’s enough of all that. I’m off to gaze at more photos of the Taylor years. I wonder if I’ll discover there was such a thing as Glory Corner Flags

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