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Beating the Traffic: Chelsea Dagger

Olly Wicken has only ever left one game early...


It’s a long-standing tradition at Vicarage Road that, just before kick-off, the stadium announcer shouts: “Enduuuuuure the Game!”

I’m fairly sure I’ve been hearing it correctly. A lot of Watford matches are definitely a test of patience. But I tough it out. I endure. In 55 seasons of watching Watford, I’ve only walked out before the final whistle on one occasion. And, as you’ll read, I’m submitting a plea of mitigating circumstances for my aberration.

You see, I’m a firm believer that football supporters should never leave a game early – on principle. (The clue’s in the word ‘supporter’.) What’s more, I don’t see the point. Every time Watford lose, I’m so upset that I lock myself in my bedroom. I never feel there’s a hurry to shut myself away with my tears.

Enough about my peculiarities, though. It’s time to analyse things on a more objective basis. There are many reasons why it’s wrong, or ill-advised, for supporters to quit a match. I’ll keep things brief and give you three. 

First, it’s in our contracts. When I signed on the dotted line, back in 1968, the contract said I had to stick with the ‘Orns through thick and thin. (Which, for those wondering, isn’t a veiled reference to Gerry Armstrong and Ross Jenkins.) Football supporters are meant to be loyal, and leaving a match early is not loyal.

Second, we all know how being a Watford supporter works. It’s like a fruit machine. You pay in and get nothing; you carry on paying in and you still get nothing; and then, just occasionally, the machine pays out – often in the last few minutes of a game. Imagine if you’d walked out in disgust in May 2013 when Michael Oliver decided Anthony Knockaert’s ‘front double somersault with pike’ was a penalty. You’d have missed the fruit machine’s biggest-ever payout. (Every time I see a clip of Deeney’s goal, the blood pumps in my head and I feel I can hear the fruit machine clanking.)

Third, leaving a game early is weak. Watching Watford play Manchester City may feel like going 12 rounds with Tyson Fury (personally, I feel I’m swaying, barely conscious, while my face is pulped), but if anyone throws in the towel before the final bell, they’re a coward.

It was cowardice that caused my one early exit from a game. The ‘Orns were at home to Chelsea in February 1980. It was a cracking game. Late on, we were 2-3 down, playing well, and pressing for an equaliser. But a few minutes from the end, I left. I didn’t think twice.  

That season was perhaps the peak of violence inside football grounds. In September, small groups from a West Ham firm had roamed the Vicarage Road end, beating people up at random. Against Chelsea, I suddenly saw that the bloke on the step behind me had a knife. It was a fight or flight moment. I headed straight for the exit. 

In hindsight, I regret that, by doing a runner, I blotted my copybook. I could have dealt with the situation more bravely. But I did learn a useful lesson about not leaving a game early, because I missed a last-minute Watford penalty. (So did Ian Bolton, but that’s not the point.)

So I’m pleased to say it was a one-off. Ever since, I’ve done my duty as a Watford fan. I’ve done what I feel is expected of me, and what I’ve been told to do. I’ve enduuuuuured the game.