50 Shades of Yellow: Suspect Device
Peter Morgan recalls some of the lesser-known Watford games during his first 50 years following the Hornets
I was still at school when GT arrived, so evening games on most school nights were strictly off limits, but on 13 August 1977, in the middle of the summer holiday, we went to watch the game against Reading in the League Cup first round first leg. We eventually got through, winning 5-0 in a replay, in what was perhaps the first great evening game of the GT era. We then beat Grimsby at home before being drawn away to First Division West Bromwich Albion. Conveniently for school-age boys, the third round was in half-term week in October, so my dad drove my brother and me up the M1. This was my first away floodlit game and the first time I had been in a packed away end. We were all in a corner of the ground, cheering on, as the team gave as good as they got. A young lad called Luther Blissett hit the bar with an acrobatic volley, but West Brom scored late on to win 1-0.
The second game I will mention is one of my two favourite games of the first GT era. Both, funnily enough, were FA Cup sixth round games. This game was in 1984, at St Andrew’s, home of Birmingham City, where we were on the open terrace on one side of the ground, just behind John Barnes, when he scored the memorable first goal past Tony Coton. For younger fans, it is difficult to overstate how important the FA Cup was in those days. The dream of Wembley was everything for any child growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. This was only the third time in over 100 years Watford had reached the quarter-finals. Birmingham had a team that Tony Coton, in his excellent autobiography There to be Shot At, referred to as the ‘Bruise Brothers’, a collection of some of the hardest players around at that time. Coton had a reputation, as he freely admits, and he was joined by the likes of Noel Blake, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Howard Gayle and (pantomime boos) Mick Harford. These players were reflected in the crowd that day of over 40,000, with the atmosphere being extremely aggressive.
This was a massive game for Blues fans too. They had not reached this stage since the late 60s and their supporters had turned out in force. We were opposite the imposing Spion Kop, full of home fans, which stood 110 steps high and, at one time, had a reported capacity of 48,000. Before kick-off, this was so packed that I remember a number of people being pulled out and put on stretchers. This was five years before the Hillsborough disaster put an end to such terrace crushes. Then, all of a sudden, there were photographers taking pictures of we Watford fans. Not just a few of them, but a posse. What could be so interesting, we thought? Was Elton amongst us? No, it seems this was another local pop star with previously unknown WFC credentials. He is credited with writing one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, Billboard’s number-one song of 1985. What made the paparazzi interested was that, a short while before, this person had had surgery to have his nose straightened and this was front-page news in the tabloids. Yes, Andrew Ridgeley had joined friends at the game, with his nose bandaged. Hold the front page, apparently! Andrew could celebrate at the end as Watford won 3-1 and the dream of Wembley became more than just a Careless Whisper.
My final Birmingham memory is a game on 7 December 1985, when my brother and I travelled back to St Andrew’s by coach for a Division One game. This time there were only 7,043 fans in the ground, fortunately, as it turned out. Just before half-time Birmingham took an undeserved lead, before Luther Blissett equalised just after the restart, Then, in the 62nd minute we saw a police officer run on to the pitch, whilst play continued, heading for referee Neil Ashley. Next minute the referee was taking all the players off the field. Curiouser and curiouser! Then the stewards started shepherding us out of the ground. We were taken to a piece of waste ground, where demolished houses had once stood. All around us were pieces of bricks and stones. Then we noticed the Birmingham fans edging towards us and with all this ammunition lying around the police outside the ground had to act quickly. Thankfully they ushered the ‘Bluenoses’ away before any stones were thrown.
So, what was this all about? Apparently, Birmingham City had received an IRA bomb threat. Several similar threats had been phoned to First Division clubs that day, but West Midlands Police were the only ones that took it seriously. Possibly the local police still remembered the IRA bomb that had killed 21 people in a Birmingham pub 11 years earlier and decided to take no chances. We were kept outside for an hour, being ushered back in the ground as the music of Sports Report sounded on my brother’s tranny, meaning games everywhere else had finished. Eight minutes later Worrell Sterling scored what was to be the winner. We returned home late, but happy.