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10 Wonders of Matchday - Travelling Hopefully

Nick Catley looks at what makes going to football special


I lived in Watford, once. It was only for five years (2000-2005, fairly unremarkable ones for the team), but it was the fulfilment of a childhood ambition. Walking to the ground, getting back through the door at 5:15, picking up the Watford Observer on a trip to get bread and milk. Heaven in so many ways. However, work, relationships, circumstances and property prices mean I’ve spent most of my life living outside the area. This does at least mean experiencing the first of my match day wonders every time I watch Watford – the journey to the game.

In some ways, it’s the worst time of the day. I don’t know if you ever have anxiety dreams about football. Mine seem to have stopped as I get older, but they were never about heavy defeats or missed sitters, instead always, always relating to being unable to get there (usually somehow frozen in time in Watford town centre as the match kicked off, like Ramon Vega being turned by a nippy forward). Losing I can handle – God knows we’ve had plenty of practice – but not being there? That’s another level altogether.

The journey is the last serious chance that the game will take place without you. I still have cold sweats at the memory of a huge traffic jam on the A41 due to an overturned horsebox before our season finale in 2014 against Huddersfield. When we eventually reached the scene of the accident, at around the same time as kick-off, petrified-looking creatures were veering wildly all over the place with no sense of why they were there or what they were supposed to be doing. When we eventually reached our seats, it turned out that our defence had been giving a similar impression. Ultimately we lost 4-1. And yet I’d still rather have been there to see it.

Usually, though, I go on the train, which brings a different set of worries, but also a different set of rituals. ‘What’s a Walsall fan doing in Northampton? Who have they got today?’ Maybe, like me, they live here. More likely, they are playing Orient. If you see a lower-league fan on the way to a game, almost anywhere, they always seem to be playing Orient. There are other emotions on spotting fans, of course (something that can be done equally well in a service station as on a train). If they follow a big team, you get a warming sense of superiority. They chose the easy path of wins and trophies. We followed the true and righteous one. The anguish and wretchedness of a hopeless season is something they can dip into only occasionally, more fool them. I might also see a fan of that day’s opposition. Barnsley, perhaps, or Reading. In normal circumstances I’d have a huge amount in common with them. And I like to think of myself as a reasonable person. But even if I say hello, my actions are undercut by suspicion. Today they are the enemy and Not To Be Trusted. How dare they have made exactly the same decision as me based on being born in a different place? All being well, we are deposited safely at Watford Junction in plenty of time. The worst is over. Match day proper can begin!