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Breaking the Unwritten Rule

Jeremy Ottman makes quite a startling confession, although he claims it’s alright now.


You can change your relationship but not your football team. That appears to be an unwritten rule of football fandom.

But, of course, there is an exception to every rule; I have recently celebrated my 35th wedding anniversary (being married incidentally to a lifelong Watford fan), but in my 50-plus years of watching football, I supported Manchester United (my town of birth – and I idolised George Best), and watched Ajax (lived for two years in Holland and felt the same about Johann Cruyff) then Crystal Palace (my only excuse for that conduct is that they were my local team in my teenage years and young people can make mistakes).

As someone very interested in football generally, Watford only permeated my thoughts from time to time, such as the FA Cup semi-final in 1970; the initial appointment of Graham Taylor, after his success at Lincoln; the winner at Old Trafford in the League Cup (when teams still fielded full-strength teams) and the 1984 FA Cup Final. Although I went to Vicarage Road from time to time after moving to the area, I wasn’t particularly engaged, let alone committed.

Please keep this to yourself, but when my eldest son, Nick, was born in 1992, I inflicted a Manchester United bib on him. I take this opportunity to apologise and am very pleased that he has suffered no lasting harm.

I started taking him to Vicarage Road in the 1998/99 promotion season, which culminated in a glorious week – Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in Barcelona with a last-minute goal to win the Champions League, a game my wife and I were there to witness, and six-year-old Nick joined us both at Wembley a few days later to see Watford beat Bolton 2 -0 in the play-off final.

Sometimes, just sometimes, football brings unalloyed pleasure.

The following season, in the Premier League, I bit the bullet and bought a season ticket for my son and me in the Lower Rous. I seem to recall the cost of his ticket was something minimal. This was a very enterprising idea by the club to introduce regular football to a child. It was successful, as he has renewed his season ticket every year since then, even during a year abroad in France. As have I.

However, since this piece appears to be part-confession, I will acknowledge that there were times when I was only half-committed to the action in front of me at Vicarage Road. The other half was distracted by trying to follow Manchester United on the radio, if they were playing at the same time. Yes, middle-aged men can also make wrong-headed decisions, which might even embarrass a teenager.

Despite these initial aberrations, although there was no light bulb moment, gradually but inexorably my interest in Manchester United waned and the passion for all things Watford increased. I suppose you could call it reverse glory-hunting, since Manchester United went from strength to strength, winning trophy after trophy, whilst I was watching Watford rely on a last-minute equaliser to draw against Stockport or losing at home to Barnsley to goals from a striker who had forgotten how to score.

In addition to Nick, my wife joined me at games home and increasingly away, together with the twins Katie and my fellow YBR! correspondent Jack, and my conversion to the Hornets allowed various members of my family and me to enjoy the following, in no particular order:

Blackpool away (2007/08) – almost every away fan trying to run on the pitch when Tommy Smith scored a late equaliser to ensure we were in the play-offs. Blackpool were equally happy because a draw kept them up. 

Liverpool away (2004/05) – the League Cup semi-final first leg where there were at least 5,000 Watford fans midweek.  It was so noisy; you couldn’t hear the person next to you. Only Steven Gerrard was the difference between the teams.

Crystal Palace away (2005/06) – that wonderful play-off semi-final 3-0 first leg win, and enjoying the hordes of Watford fans streaming out afterwards, singing about promotion and Marlon King.

Walsall away (2001/02) – a fairly unmemorable game, save for a Watford fan, who was apparently banned, handcuffing himself to the seat, and the first time I heard Watford fans singing to their rivals ‘My garden shed is bigger than this’. Yes, even Vicarage Road at its worst could lord it over the Bescot.

Brighton away (2014/15) – Vydra scoring – although my wife, daughter and I all got trodden on or knocked over in the ‘limbs to end all limbs’, the adrenalin and post-match promotion made it absolutely worth it.

Brentford away (2014/15) – Standing with my two sons, and as at Brighton being knocked over in the celebrations; this time when Ighalo scored the winner, and realising that I was too old to be standing on the terraces.

At home, yes I was there when Doyley scored…

And, of course, my favourite moment in football, ‘Do not scratch your eyes’ – Deeney’s winner against Leicester.  Granted, that win did not actually lead to promotion, let alone a trophy, but it was a wonderful, wonderful moment of supporting a football team. And that, of course, is exactly as it should be.

I am now Watford through and through. Not ‘since I was young’ as the terrace chant goes, but since I was middle-aged, and better late than never. So, yes, despite that well-worn saying to the contrary, you CAN change your football team!