Farewell to a Team Mate
It was with great sadness that we heard of the passing of Martin Patching, taken far too early at just 65 years of age, a player who was at Vicarage Road for close to four years, having signed from Wolves in 1979 for £125,000, he was to make just 24 league starts for the club, a career cruelly hampered, then curtailed, by a knee injury. But he will always be remembered for his contribution in that final game of the runners-up season back in 1983, when he scored the first of Watford’s two goals in an injury-defying swan song straight out of the GT book of wonderful moments.
However, for members of the Look at the Stars/BSaD six-aside team his display playing in a defeat to the Norfolk Hornets back in 2002 (or there abouts) will forever be recalled with fondness and love. Even if Norfolk side did contain a ten-year-old. Patch would write for Look at the Stars over the course of a season detailing that 1982/83 campaign from start to finish, in what could best be described as a unique and humorous style, just happy to share his memories and experiences as a Watford player with those he know would appreciate them.
We reproduce his final article of the series below, detailing his injury woes and that final game.
Rest well Patch.
At the Far Post
Martin Patching concludes his look at the 1982/83 season with a lump in his throat.
As you may, or may not imagine, I have tossed these 500 or so words around on numerous occasions, ultimately coming to the somewhat cliched conclusion, ‘It’s a fairy-tale…’
Injured for some 20 months following two knee operations at a London Harley Street clinic, I was far removed from the player who joined Watford from Wolves in 1979 for £125,000 (my fee not my salary weekly or annual!) With a contract running out and little sign of it being extended, I remained in limbo. Fit yet unfit. Young yet experienced. Such a dilemma.
For most of the reserve games I was captain during the 1982/83 season. With the amiable John Ward at the helm, we worked hard, had much fun and young players came through the ranks showing much promise.
For two long and lonely years the backbone of the club urged me on. Tom Walley, who himself had played with a knee injury so bad, he understood the all-important mental aspect of such a situation. The late, great, and sorely miss Roy Clare lifted my spirits. Roy served as Watford kit man, players confidante, reserve-team physio and everyone’s ‘favourite uncle’. Roy also had 25 years’ experience in the RAF to call on. In short, a big man. From GT? Empathy. A player never wants to finish playing, least through injury. Graham had experienced similar. Pat Molloy had a lifetime of experience to draw from. Billy Hails was the club physio. Billy pushed me, pulled me, and we bantered and talked for hours. Now in my prime? It is Billy I thank for giving me great reserves of strength, for it was him who suggested I should carry the giant frame of Roy Clare on my back whilst running up the Vicarage Road terracing. The late Bertie Mee, highly respected and qualified in the medical world overlooked my slow progress.
During my treatment room nightmare many players came and went. Some quickly, Pat Rice with a niggle, Big Ross with a strain, or Luther with bruise on top of a bruise. Others reluctantly stayed longer, Kenny Jackett had cartilage trouble, young Neil Price the same. Fellow smoker and lover of Indian food Ian Bolton had serious problems in the lumbar region. 'Webby’ and I attacked the Football Café menu with Bunterish aplomb, most combinations enjoyed to the full. The rigours of the rehabilitation programme produced an enormous appetite.
However, in the build-up to the last game of the season, certain twists and turns saw me take the field. The Football League medical officer had declared my knee unfit for pro-football and I took up the post of manager of the Red Lion at Potten End whilst still playing for the reserves and training full-time. On the Sunday prior to the Liverpool game the squad were having a wonderful night out at the Watford Observer End of Season awards, held at Bailey’s in the town. Towards the end of the evening, Eddie Plumley, who was then chief executive at the club, visited my table and shared a joke or two, as well as several drinks. On leaving Eddie passed me a note saying, “The boss sends this”. The note contained a message from Graham Taylor saying words to the effect, ‘If you put that cigarette out now, due to injuries, you will be in the team next Saturday.’ Well I did, and I was, and had a splendid time indeed.
On the eve of the game I served a few pints behind the bar, changed a barrel of Benskins and made my excuses, heading for an early night. The shone brightly the following day and well into the early evening. The Yellow Brick Road had finished one kerb short of the top-spot. If you witnessed the game, hopefully it remains in the memory bank to this day. If you were less fortunate, or too young, I scored the winner, there were 50,000 there, and Elton cooked bacon and eggs for the players after the match whilst singing Crocodile Rock, playing the piano and the frying pan simultaneously. In what is a wonderful life it was a ‘mile high’ point for me.
Here for the record are the facts…
Saturday 14 May 1983
Football league Division One
Watford 2 Liverpool 1 27,173
Watford: Sherwood, Rice, Sims, Franklin, Rostron, Callaghan, Patching, Jackett, Sterling, Blissett, Barnes. Sub, Lohman.
Scorers, Patching (39 mins) Blissett (48 mins)
Liverpool: Grobbelaar, Neal, Lawrenson, Hansen, Thompson, Lee, Souness, Johnston, Kennedy, Dalglish, Hodgson. Sub, Nicol.
Scorer, Johnston (62 mins)
There were various other factors, which made this more than a football match. It was to be Liverpool manager Bob Paisley’s last game in charge of the First Division champions. If we avoided defeat, we would be runners-up. The Referee Mr AW Grey from Great Yarmouth was officiating his last league fixture. It was also my last league game. During the build up to the game Graham Taylor had given free transfers to Ian Bolton and Ross Jenkins, much to the fans surprise. Paul Franklin made his league debut and Worrell Sterling made his first home bow. Both produced memorable displays. Paul was named Man of the Match having contained Kenny Dalglish on the day, but in part due to his knee injury he was unable to fulfil his promise as a top-flight centre-back.
In concluding I will quote the inimitable Oli Phillips Watford Observer report published the following week. ‘Taylor Penchant for tossing in the unexpected caused as much confusion in Patching’s mind as it did the Liverpool defence. This was not so much a match, as a great sporting occasions and pure theatre.’ These words are so tangible, almost edible to this reader. They sit, somewhat uncomfortably, alongside the Sunday headlines from that weekend which announced, ‘Patching Earns Pints’ and ‘Roy of the Rovers Return’. It makes one even more appreciative of Oli’s contributions over the years. When the time comes I’m sure he will miss it, as we will miss him.
As for the confusion in my mind, well, I deal with it on a daily basis! See you at the Near Post, or there abouts.