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Three Thousand Miles (Volume 2)

David Harrison on the joys of travelling... in 1909


My name is David, and I saw my first Watford away game in 1962.  

I was beside myself with excitement as my Dad fired up the Ford Anglia and headed for Loftus Road, where we enjoyed a shock 2-1 victory. Rangers were pushing hard for promotion while we weren’t, only adding to the fun for a hopelessly smitten young boy. I’d have enjoyed it even more had I known we wouldn’t win away again for six months, but you don’t think like that when you’re just short of your 9th birthday. Remarkably though, I don’t think the matchday experience has actually changed all that much in the intervening 56 years. The balance between the various means of transport may have shifted somewhat, but people still predominantly travel to games on foot, by car, by train or by bus, just as they did in 1962. There was very limited seating then, and not much cover. There was certainly no choreographed singing or chanting and no crowd segregation, although even then you picked your terrace spot with care……especially at Millwall, as I usefully learnt a few years later. But it really wasn’t all that different, certainly in the lower leagues, the level at which Watford then exclusively competed. 

But what if we travel back another 56 years, to that period prior to the First World War, when Watford were competing in Division One of the Southern League?  

We have some black and white press photographs and a few odd postcards, but no film exists, and of course there’s nobody left to ask. We know away trips were organised, as they were regularly mentioned in the matchday programme, but there are no subsequent accounts of what those glorious-sounding charabanc excursions were actually like. 

A few years later, with the club operating in Division 3 (South), a programme piece enquired if any supporters would care to join the team, as they travelled to their opening away league game at Walsall by motor coach. The cost would be ‘the very nominal sum of ten shillings return’, and applications should be made to Mr Pagnam, the club’s manager. I wonder how Javi Gracia would react to receiving a postal order, along with a request to join the team on their next away trip? 

Lewis’ All-Weather Coaches of Watford (‘Motor Coaches and Omnibus Services’) regularly advertised in the Observer’s Annual Handbook, promising, ‘Hail, Rain or Shine, Comfort All the Time’, alongside a shot of one of their prestigious fleet. The level of comfort they offered en route to away games might have been open to debate, as the pictured vehicle appeared to have no roof, but not to worry. The best source I’ve found, in my attempt to learn a little about away travel in the 1900’s, is the 1909/10 edition of the handbook. 

Under a heading of ‘Three Thousand Miles!’, the author details some of the sights enjoyed by the official club party as they travelled that distance, usually by train, in fulfilling Watford’s 20 Southern League away fixtures. The article suggests that, while supporters were toughing it out on one of Mr Lewis’s topless vehicles, the players and officials were travelling in relative luxury. 

We’re told, ‘These journeys are made in the most comfortable manner possible. The club usually engages a private saloon and the men pass the time playing cards or reading. Thanks to the enterprise of our railway companies, the exceedingly important problem of obtaining good meals on the long journeys is solved, to the complete satisfaction of everyone. In the long runs to Plymouth and Exeter, luncheon and dinner is served in first-class style in fine restaurant carriages; for Norwich, Swindon and Coventry, the party usually have luncheon baskets; and for the south coast matches lunch is generally ordered at the hotel on arrival.’ 

Our correspondent then goes all lyrical on us, musing on the countryside and terrain through which they pass, ‘Opinions are sharply divided as to which run provides the most beautiful scenery. Of course the journey to Southampton is through some lovely country, and the run through East Anglia to Norwich is decidedly interesting. The same can be said of the run to Bristol, which gives a panoramic view of a complete section of the British Isles.  

In going to Coventry, you get some charming views of leafy Warwickshire, and one of the routes to New Brompton (Gillingham) passes through the land of the hoppers. But for rugged grandeur and beautiful sea pictures, all these are eclipsed by the fifty-odd miles between Exeter and Plymouth.’ 

‘But which,’ muses our man on the train, ‘is the worst journey?’ Now I know exactly what you’re thinking, but on this occasion the news is slightly surprising. 

‘This question can be answered without hesitation. It is scarcely possible to conceive a more irksome, grimy journey, or one more likely to fill you with gloomy and depressing thoughts than the trip to Millwall.’ 

It’s a perfectly reasonable opinion, although the glaring absence of Bedfordshire’s tourism capital is odd. We’d visited Kenilworth Road the previous Boxing Day (losing 1-0, confirming that some things never change) but, for whatever reason, the trip failed to earn a mention. 

But next time you’re belting along the M6 trying to ensure you make the kick-off time at Molineux or wherever, just take a moment to appreciate the charming views of leafy Warwickshire, as John Goodall and his Southern League team would have done, in those days before the Great War. 


This article is from Volume 2 of The Watford Treasury, to purchase this publication in all its visual glory, please follow the link below:

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