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A Day in the Life

Tim Turner recalls the day that his twin obsessions, football and music, intertwined – and not in a good way


As a teenager in the 70s and early 80s, I had the same two obsessions as many other boys: football and pop music. My footballsupporting life began with my first visit to Vicarage Road, aged eight, while I can trace my obsession with music back to my 12th birthday, when my parents gave me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Over the next few years I spent a significant chunk of my pocket money on Beatles albums; by the time I was 16, my record collection consisted of their entire back catalogue and not a lot else.

Over the years, I’ve followed my twin passions in parallel, but they’ve rarely overlapped in a significant fashion. The exception to that rule occurred 40 years ago this month: 9 December 1980. That was the day the morning news led with the murder of John Lennon in New York. I can’t pretend I was cast into paroxysms of grief – I’d only been eight when the Beatles had split up, and I wasn’t really a fan of Lennon’s solo work – but his music had been the soundtrack to my teens, and it was hard to comprehend what had happened.

Rock stars simply didn’t get gunned down in the street. Somehow I made it through the school day and then made my way to the car park, waiting for Nigel to pick me up. Nigel was my next-door neighbour and a very useful person to be friends with, for several reasons. He was a year older than me and owned a car (a powder blue Triumph Herald convertible); he was a Watford fan and happy to give me lifts to home and (occasionally) away games; and, although he wasn’t the violent type at all, his muscular physique meant that any hooligan would have thought twice about messing with him. This made him a valuable companion at a time when attending an away game was like staging a raid on enemy territory, the aim being to get in and out without attracting attention.

Tonight’s destination was Highfield Road, for a League Cup quarter-final replay against Coventry City, after a two-all draw at Vicarage Road the previous week. But even though Coventry were in the First Division, while the Hornets were still finding their feet in their second season in Division Two, we travelled in hope. After all, two seasons earlier we’d reached the semi-finals of this competition, and the run that had taken us to the quarter-finals this year had already included the incredible 7-1 win over Southampton and an equally unlikely 4-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest. There was no reason to think we couldn’t get past Coventry at the second attempt.

It didn’t quite work out that way. I have no memory of the match itself, and I can’t find a single report online, but the scoreline – a 0-5 defeat – speaks for itself. It’s a useful reminder that not everything Graham Taylor touched in those glorious years turned to gold; his teams were as capable of getting soundly thrashed as any other. (Incidentally, this remained the heaviest Watford defeat I’d witnessed in person for many years – until we started playing Manchester City in the Premier League, that is.)

After the game the four of us (me, Nigel and a couple of his schoolmates who usually came on these trips) trudged disconsolately back to the car. Having finally escaped the city centre, Nigel stopped in a lay-by, went round to the boot and reappeared with a couple of four-packs of lager, nicely chilled by the cold December air.

As we headed back to the motorway, John Peel’s show was just starting on Radio 1. Peel had been a Beatles fan from the start and was clearly shaken by the news of Lennon’s death. He announced that, in tribute, he was going to devote the entire two-hour show to Beatles and Lennon songs and cover versions.

And so my abiding memory of that long day is of barrelling down the M1 in a draughty Triumph Herald with Nigel and his friends, drinking cheap lager and singing Beatles songs at the tops of our voices, simultaneously mourning the loss of a great musician and the death of Watford’s hopes of reaching their first cup final – for now, at least.

It’s strange that such a bleak day has stuck in my memory all these years. But the truth is that I’d just turned 18 and I’d never felt so grown-up.