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Almost Beaten by the TrafficL: Half the Battle

Geoff Wicken arrived late, but just in time


I’m unable to contribute to the YBR! series on leaving a match early and regretting it. I have no such stories. I’ve only left early a handful of times, never missing more than a few minutes, and nothing significant has occurred. There was one occasion, though, when I didn’t turn up until half-time, and I absolutely didn’t regret it.

It’s a story of a hero’s homecoming: a warrior returning from purgatory to battle a troublesome foe. There was an epic journey at a personal level too, involving a 350-mile trip, traffic problems, and missing the entire first half of the match in question.

It was September 2009. Heiðar Helguson was back. He’d been a great favourite earlier in the decade of course, for his bravery – verging on madness, it sometimes seemed – and that prodigious leap that brought so many headed goals. His travels took him to Fulham, Bolton and QPR, until he escaped Loftus Road and rejoined on loan just before a home game against Leicester. Malky Mackay’s young team had started the season well, and Heiðar’s addition was an exciting prospect.

But I was faced with a university challenge. My son Tom was looking at where he might go to study, and had booked to attend an open morning at Exeter. That was three hours each way. We had a plan: leave early; be there for 9am; back in the car at 11.45; dash to the Vic just in time for kick-off.

Much of it went well. We tipped our hats to Stonehenge as we sped west on the A303. But we hit traffic on the return, and weren’t home until 3:40. Almost half-time. Leicester were two up, but we decided to head for the stadium anyway. Just suppose Watford turned it around and we weren’t there…

We reached our seats just as Heiðar took the field as a half-time substitute, and to much amusement from the fans around us. There hadn’t been any need to be there for the first half, we explained. We’d just come for the good bit.

And how good it was! Within 30 seconds Heiðar, goalkeeper and ball all converged, and he was inches from scoring with his first touch. It didn’t take him long though. He created the opportunity for Danny Graham to score Watford’s first, then got the equaliser himself. 

This was vintage Helguson. As Lee Hodson’s cross reached the far post, Heidar flew in for the header. The ball crashed into the net as he crashed into the goalpost. In 15 minutes he had got an assist and scored as ‘Heiðar’ a goal as you could hope to see. After another 17 minutes he scored another – this time diverting in a cross with his knee – to put us 3-2 ahead. Four minutes after that, he hurt himself and went off with an injury that would, it transpired, keep him out for six weeks. 

Heiðar was on the pitch for 36 minutes. I can’t think of a 36-minute performance that better encapsulates one player’s true essence. For the period in which he participated, we ‘won’ 3-0. 

Tom and I chuckled merrily with our Rookery neighbours about how they’d wasted their time showing up for the first half. For us, it had been a great day. Regrettably, the story was slightly spoiled when Watford’s defence did their best impression of the Stonehenge sarsens and Leicester grabbed a late equaliser. But we chose to put that aside. Heiðar had always belonged at Watford, and he was home.