Beating the Traffic: Shall We Go?
David Harrison never leaves a game early – well not usually
Saturday 4 October 1980. The date needed checking but the events of that day remain painfully vivid.
Fairly recently married, still childless and living in Oxhey, we’d received a kind dinner invitation. To be honest, I have no recollection from whom, but it involved my being shaved, respectable and ready to leave just before eight o’clock that evening.
The Horns were away at Cardiff, an even less attractive proposition then than today. Given our evening commitment, together with a lack of enthusiasm or availability amongst my regular travelling companions, I’d not remotely entertained the idea of making the trip. Until, that is, my wife lobbed an incendiary suggestion in my direction.
“Where are Watford this afternoon?” she innocently enquired. I replied that (a) they were in south Wales, and (b) we were going out that evening. “Oh, OK. Couldn’t you get there then?”
Well, clearly I still could, but only if I left immediately. Which of course I did. The M4 was clear, as was the Severn Bridge, meaning I was parked up, virtually outside the ground, with time to spare.
Purely for context, Ninian Park in those days was semi-derelict and entirely charmless, despite remaining an intimidating venue. The ‘crowd’ that day, including a tiny visiting contingent, was 6,407, and they had the misfortune to endure a truly appalling encounter.
My recollection is that the game was not only goalless but devoid of any significant incident. By quarter to five I wasn’t alone in inching towards the exit gate, silently imploring the referee to put both sets of fans out of their shared misery.
Deep into injury time and with the ball safely out of play, I seized my opportunity and gleefully shot off back to the car. Halfway there I heard an odd, muffled sound, slightly louder than seemed likely to greet the end of a miserable 0-0 draw.
Sure enough, Cardiff had somehow contrived an injury-time winner. The man responsible, it transpired, was one Constantinous (Tarki) Micallef, not exactly a regular goalscorer but a Welshman whose name became forever etched in my memory.
Don’t ask me to describe the goal. To this day I have no idea what happened. All I know is that I was well out of Cardiff before Sports Report came on, safely over the bridge soon afterwards, and home in good time for our dinner engagement, whatever the identity of our generous hosts.
I’ve not left a Watford game early before or since. But if ever I had good reason, it was that miserable afternoon in south Wales.