50 Shades of Yellow: Into the Valley
Peter Morgan recalls some of the lesser-known Watford games during his first 50 years following the Hornets
Previously I revisited my first-ever game at Watford, in November 1970. It was another three and a half years before my brother and I were treated to an away-day by our dad, by which time the Hornets had slipped into the Third Division. This was at a ground that had held over 75,000 people and to get to this ground we went by ferry. Only eight clubs have registered crowds at ‘home’ games of over 75,000, and one of those was Spurs when playing at Wembley a couple of years ago. 75,031 was the attendance in 1938 at the Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, to where we travelled on 20 April 1974.
‘Ferry’, I hear you exclaim, ’to Charlton?’ For some reason my Dad decided he would take us to south-east London by way of the Woolwich Ferry. Next to us on the ferry was one of the old-type invalid carriages. For those of you who don’t remember these, they were light blue and were essentially adapted tricycles with a very rudimentary bodywork. Indeed, the bodywork was so rudimentary that if in collision with anything heavier than a sparrow, it would disintegrate.
‘Deviation!’, they would shout on Just a Minute. ‘What has this to do with your first away game?’ Patience, please. Let me explain.
Standing out as Watford fans on this nautical adventure, with our yellow and black scarves (no red yet), the man in the Invacar (yes, seriously, this is what they were called) introduced himself as Dennis Bond’s grandfather. Yes, THE Dennis Bond. The one Watford had sold to Spurs in 1966 for a club record £30,000, before he then moved to today’s opponents, in 1970, and then back to the Vic in 1972. To an 11-year-old in 1974, this was the modern-day equivalent of meeting up with someone who designs computer games, or has six million followers on Instagram. A relative of Watford’s number eight. Wow! Within a year or two, I was standing a few feet away from the biggest rock star on the planet every other week, but you have to start somewhere and, by then, I had become blasé.
After docking in south London, we made our way to the Valley, which I can only describe as a massive amphitheatre, a bigger structure than anything I had ever experienced at that time, making Vicarage Road look more like a Subbuteo stadium. However, its glory days were well behind it and the word ‘dilapidated’ would have been apt, had I known it at the time.
We walked to the very top of the vertiginous terrace, passing two mountaineers practicing for an ascent of Everest. As we reached base camp, we could see that there were large areas that had been cordoned off as unsafe, as the concrete had started to crumble. The ground perhaps represented Charlton’s decline in recent years. In 1958, at about the time Watford were climbing out of the lowest league for the first time, Charlton were getting relegated from Division One, in which they had been since 1936. In 1945/46, Watford were beating Bromley to reach the third round of the FA Cup, a few months before Charlton actually won the whole competition. But here we were in 1973, with the Hornets one point and four places ahead of the Valiants in Division Three before this endof-season ‘nothing-to-play-for’ encounter. Charlton’s top scorer for the previous two seasons had been Arthur Horsfield, who would join Watford a couple of years later. With Horsfield in the Charlton team were strikers Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan, who would help Charlton get promotion within two years, as Watford awaited the arrival of the ‘Messiah’ in Division Four.
The Watford team was a mix of old and new, with Dave Butler, John Williams and Walter Lees remaining from the Second Division team, whilst Stewart Scullion had left and then returned. Scully was on the right wing, whilst on the other side was my favourite player at the time, namely John Farley, nicknamed ‘Charley Farley’ after a Two Ronnies character. Whereas Scully meandered and did not feel content until he had beaten the whole of the opposition twice, Farley would just motor past the full-back. He was like a Hertfordshire ‘Road Runner’ – you expected him to shout ‘beep-beep’, as he left the poor defender in his slipstream.
Up front we had Billy Jennings and a lanky striker, who frankly was struggling to justify Watford’s record transfer fee of £30,000 a year earlier. Jennings would be sold 12 months later to West Ham for £110,000 and win the FA Cup in 1975. John Farley would also leave a year later, fuelling the unrest against chairman Jim Bonser. Jennings’ lanky partner would take more time to make his mark, but nine years on would finish as a runner-up in Division One, whilst still a Watford player. Step forward, Señor Ross Jenkins. Malcolm Dalrymple was in goal, playing one of only five games he played for the Hornets, and finished on the winning team, conceding only one goal, against those by Farley, Jennings and Scully, in a comfortable 3-1 win. Thankfully for his grandfather, Dennis Bond played in midfield, otherwise the risk of venturing out in his Invacar would have been wasted. As far as I know, he collided with no birds on the return journey and arrived home safely.