10 Wonders of Matchday - Afterglow
Nick Catley looks at what makes going to football special
So. Match day is progressing apace. We’ve scored an early goal, and added a second towards half-time, looking comfortable. Out of nowhere, we’ve conceded stupidly a few minutes into the second half, eliciting that familiar sinking feeling and knot in the stomach with the knowledge that the last half-hour, previously looking like a comfortable canter to the line, has now become the longest of slogs, filled with the kind of dread usually associated with seeing a train door close at the precise moment you realise your wallet’s still on it.
However, although we took a battering for a while, we’ve seen it through, and haven’t really looked like conceding for some time, not, of course, that you would mention this to anyone around you, or even admit it to yourself, except via some sort of internal lizard-like communication mechanism. As the allotted stoppage time is coming to an end, one last speculative effort floats harmlessly wide to a Rookery cheer that is half mocking, half genuine relief. The goal kick is taken, and with the ball in the air (and why, incidentally, does it seem to be impossible for any official to blow for time at any point other than when the ball has just been cleared? If time’s up, it’s up, surely?) the full-time whistle sounds. The knot in the stomach that’s been loosening very slightly for the last few minutes releases into relief (always relief rather than joy, as the full-time whistle isn’t so much a good thing as a signal that bad things can’t happen any more).
We sing and clap the team as Just Can’t Get Enough plays on the speakers. Incidentally, for someone who can’t stand interruptions such as music after goals, I really quite like this song. I think partly it’s because the main event is over, and partly it is because the sentiment genuinely does sum up the moment. It feels great. We bounce out of the ground surrounded by a Ready Brek-style glow (a reference which would no doubt confuse our teenage audience, if we had one), which works its magic on us for the rest of the weekend. Minor setbacks don’t matter, because we’ve just won. Got to see a less-than-cherished family member tomorrow? Maybe, but we’re three points further from relegation. Tricky meeting to come on Monday? Yes, but we’ve gone up three places, you see.
The glow lasts through a journey home which can happily be spent poring over other results and league tables, silently gloating over those who have slipped behind us. Even those who’ve won haven’t gained any ground. The journey passes in a flash, followed by a euphoric Saturday night, watching undemanding TV with a nice glass of something, floating on victory’s cloud. The world is painted in more vivid colours. The next day, the dreaded task is polished off in no time, the awkward problem is solved without fuss. The reasons are ridiculous, we get that – but that’s the way it is. It’s not quite true to say we live for this, but… it really does make a hell of a difference.
Since April 2019 – three years, near enough – this has happened just six times in home League matches with unrestricted crowds, including three in an 11-day period as we ended 2019 and started 2020 in the charming belief that it would be just another year. We’ve had our best-ever single-season home record in that time of course, but seeing it on TV just isn’t the same. Even then, the four games we didn’t win included two of the three where a limited attendance was allowed. It’s little wonder it’s started to feel a bit of a chore at times. Without the magic, we catch a glimpse of the back of the film set, start to see the sheer effort we go to for this ridiculous, pointless, brilliant hobby of ours. Plenty of people are saying how disconnected they feel, and link this to the club’s actions rather than their results – understandable to an extent, and of course Watford aren’t perfect, but a few more weekends like this would, I suspect, make most people an awful lot more sanguine about the Pozzos’ communications strategy.
These things go in cycles. Those Saturday nights will return, in one division or another.
Keep the faith.