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Up For The Cup!

Neil Dunham is very much ‘Up for the Cup!’


Today’s the day! Get up, pull on the baggy woollen pants, the tired vest, the collared shirt and thick woollen tank top. Downstairs to the trusty old school shoes and Mac, but most important, the treasured blue and white scarf, knitted by nan in years gone by. Uncle Clarrie is at the door and it’s off to the bus stop at Sheepcot Lane. Catch the 351 and head to town. Off the bus now and we pass Cordells and through St. Mary’s churchyard and on to Vicarage Road, with the huge procession of flat caps and trench coats, shoulder to shoulder, jostling along. This was no ordinary day, no ordinary game, this was the FA Cup.

The most exciting game of the season, well, until the next one if luck was with us.

There, the black corrugated fence of the ground. The big queue, then, at last, through the turnstile, to the terrace with it’s tree-lined summit. Down the sunken stairway, the concrete terrace steps to left and right. The heady aromas of coffee, of Bovril and of nervous expectation in the air. It’s down to pitch level, the smell of grass and mud, to sit in the grass and sand of the dog track in front of the wall, where scores of others, mostly boys, have already taken their places, adorned in their blue and white. Scarves, rosettes, straw hats and badges. Banners, the proud reward of many a night’s toil at the dining table. Foil covered, cardboard cups in gloved hands – and there is Ant Gurney, leading the main stand cheers in his huge top hat, a rattle in each hand – ‘PLAY UP WATFORD!’ goes the cheer from the ancient disciple. The Silver Prize Band playing brass tunes on the pitch, their minions carrying the donations blanket by the corners, the boys throwing their coins at the bearers and laughing uproariously.

And here come our heroes! Bald Dave Thomas, blonde Tommy Eggleston, imposing keeper Geoff Morton and Watford man through and through, seemingly forever, Taffy Davies. Then, there, the Cup favourites, Manchester United, resplendent in red, white and arrogant pride. The peacocks of football, are they really here at our home? Battle begins and the blue warriors toil, their defence unbreaking, their attack threatening. Taffy kicks one in! ‘GOAL!’ the cheer, deafening with joy and surprise – but no! The man in black says ‘PLAY ON!’ the king of Manchester, manager Busby, cannot believe his eyes. Or luck. Watford push and United puff – there’s only one team in it now, the Third Division minnows. Not minnows to us, but giants, warriors, heroes. ‘2, 4, 6, 8, Who do we appreciate? W. A. T. F. O. R. D. – Watford!’

Then, in the dying embers of the fire, the cruellest of fates, a clearance, a stumble, a shot, a goal! United are through with one touch from a player so quiet, so well caged for so long. The hopes and dreams dashed, lost for another year and back to the humdrum of life, the torture of school. But this will be remembered. The day Taffy Davies got ‘the goal that never was’. The day the mighty, world-famous Manchester United came to Watford, the day they got given the game of their nightmares, the day they met the Blues of Watford. A game remembered for life in Watford and forgotten tomorrow by the rest of the world. The walk home with heads held high, but relived through tears. What could have been? A pride that would last of a lifetime. The pride of Watford.