Ann Swanson recently joined the exclusive duo of Graham Taylor and Sir Elton John in having a stand named in her honour. Jon Moonie explains why it was so very well deserved.
It’s been 38 years since I became a Junior Hornet and first met Ann Swanson. And as a full-grown man, and then a little bit, seeing the Family Stand being named after her, during the Brighton home match, brought a tear to my eye. It was recognition beyond anything I might have imagined for her role in forming the Watford Football Club we know and love.
For fans older than me, who probably didn’t stand on the Family Terrace, her impact on the club might have passed them by. Fans younger than me probably only heard about Ann from their family members, but never got to see her in action, running the family areas of Vicarage Road and holding up the values and standards that Graham had set.
Now, I only became a Watford fan in 1986 so I only caught the final season of Graham’s first stint at the club. However, I had a teacher of the ways of Taylor in Ann.
Like many members of staff at the time, I had seen Ann’s face before I met her. In the programme and the club’s handbook you could see photos of many of the faces from behind the scenes. You’d see them around on a match day and have, from what I know, a remarkably different connection with them than you would have done at other clubs. Ann was the face of the Junior Hornets and one you’d see and talk to as you walked through the turnstile. I was about to write that she was welcoming, that she was standing there like an air hostess smiling and pointing you towards your seat. But that wasn’t an Ann welcome – there was little space for pleasantries. It was, ‘you’re here so let’s get on with it.’ Straight talking and that was perfect for me.
She ruled the family area, but not like an Iron Lady, as the then Prime Minister was styled, and would suffer no fools. She would also make sure none of us were out of line and told us off if needed. When the first few rows of the Family Terrace (exclusively set aside for children) started a ‘Bassett Out’ chant she came over and told us to stop it. Graham may have left the club the summer before but Ann wasn’t letting his standards slip in her Family Enclosure. In fact, 30 years later, when I went to her home to talk with her for a From The Rookery End special, the first thing she did was tell me off. I was a little late but I had to go back and get a memento I wanted to show her and I got stuck in some roadworks. She wasn’t going to let me get away with my tardiness.
As we talked, we reminisced about the Junior Hornet away trips. With an early start, she would take a coach full of kids hundreds of miles to play a game against the opposing club’s junior team then head to watch the Watford match. Oh, then get us all home. Remember, this was in the 1980s, when football was very different and often seen as unsafe. It wasn’t with Ann guiding us. She looked after us as if we were her own kids and told (with no negotiation) any security where she wanted to park our bus. I felt safe with her, even after we lost the roof of our double-decker bus on the way home from a half-term trip to Highbury.
I know the club wouldn’t be what we are without Elton John buying the club and hiring Graham. And I know the personality, values and ethos of the club wouldn’t be what they are without Graham Taylor. But I wouldn’t be the Watford fan I am without Ann Swanson.