Nick Catley on the place that shouldn’t exist, but does, quite brilliantly
It’s been said before, but the Bunker – the home of the 1881 fan group, which opens before matches for food, drink, music and conversation, really isn’t misnamed. Constructed entirely from concrete, and with the only natural light coming from the doorway, large silvery pipes criss-cross the ceiling. It should feel like the kind of place where a video of a hostage saying how kind their captors have been to them, and that they’ve come to agree that all their demands should be met immediately, might be filmed. Indeed, it could easily make the disused warehouse where Reservoir Dogs is set appear positively palatial.
Which, of course, only goes to emphasise what a fantastic job the 1881 have done. For this apparently unpromising location has become a superbly welcoming pre-match destination. It’s barely possible to believe that somewhere like this – a kind of Supporters’ Club-cum-clubhouse, with a little bit of the room used by the kids in Murphy’s Mob thrown in, can exist right next to a (not for much longer, sadly) Premier League ground, with all the corporate smoothness that implies. But exist it does, and it’s brilliant.
You can see this brilliance all through the Bunker, starting with the approach to memorabilia. No need here to go for the understated look that an interior designer might recommend – instead, the ambience is very much ‘football-obsessed teenager’ (albeit one with a few more quid to spend), with a ‘more-is-more’ look. Framed shirts dominate the wall to your right as you enter, from pretty much every era in living memory (including the early-90s blue chessboard away kit, which is awful in any number of ways but which I can’t help loving). Even if so much has been poured in that it seems the place must be full, there’s always room for more – exemplified by the 2013-14 kit which has been placed on the ceiling, in the absence of anywhere else to put it. To be fair, it wasn’t much of a season.
The merchandise is also brilliantly done, with the two parts of the 1881 logo dominating. One is a hornet that stops short of full-on aggression, but has a prominent sting and is very clearly not in the mood to take any shit – you suspect it would take Harry to the cleaners without breaking sweat – while the other is an extremely focused hart (with proper branch-like antlers, unlike the club badge moose which, while we all love it, and without wishing to reopen well-worn arguments, was surely originally a mistake). Both say, extremely clearly, that the 1881 is 100% Watford, but in no way official or part of the club – exactly what a fan group should be.
You can also get a beer and a hot dog, all contributing towards the 1881’s fantastic displays, and meet like-minded people – before the Burnley game, Colin and I ran into Justin and Peter of Do Not Scratch Your Eyes and You ‘Orns TV (as well, of course, as being YBR! contributors), and chatted about this and that, already knowing it would probably be the highlight of the afternoon.
And, for some reason, there’s a slightly incongruous piano against one of the walls.
In case it isn’t clear, I absolutely love the Bunker and what the 1881 have done with it. It’s an incredible testament – as is the 1881 more generally – to what can be achieved if people get off their arses and actually do something. The club’s role should also be mentioned – I’m sure quite a few wouldn’t be happy with a fan group selling beer and food almost literally on the doorstep of the ground where they make money by doing the same things, let alone donate the place for it to happen.
‘Amateurism’ has come to be synonymous with a slapdash approach, with things not done properly. This is a shame. The word originally derives from the Latin amor – love. Amateurs are people who do things for the love of it, not because of the money. Whenever I’ve had lackadaisical or shoddy experiences, it’s been due to people who are being paid to do something they don’t enjoy and really don’t care, whereas the achievements of people who instead take action simply because they want to – out of love – can be absolutely incredible. The Bunker stands as a fine example of this. Amateurism in the very best sense of the word. If you haven’t already been – try it!