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Fully Present

Olly Wicken remembers the 1981/82 season


What will you remember about the 2020/21 season, Olly?

I watched every game on a screen. I was an ever-present, in that respect. But I won’t recall the details, no matter how hard I try. I couldn’t tell the games apart – even while they were happening.

And what do you remember about the 1981/82 promotion season?

Forty years ago? That’s easy.

Seeing John Barnes play for the first time (at the reserve game on the opening day of the season) and gasping at what he could do.

Standing in the Shed end at Chelsea because we somehow thought it would be safer than coming under attack in the away end. Managing to keep quiet while Barnes made Watford win 3-1. Screaming with joy the moment the car doors clicked shut.

Knowing without doubt in the autumn that we were definitely going up. Objectively. No argument. (It was after we thumped Norwich 3-0 on The Big Match.)

A November trip to one of the great old grounds: Bolton’s Burnden Park. Proper Northern.

Sitting in the Shrodells and watching us smash four past QPR under the lights. Twice.

So you remember quite a lot, then?

I’m only halfway through… Beating Manchester United in the FA Cup and it was “…

Yep”. It just made sense. We were that good. Trying to get through the snow to Oldham, first by car, then by train, and failing.

Standing in the home paddock at Rotherham and hearing John Barnes inspire new uses of the word ‘bastard’. Noun (“Look at that bastard go!”), adjective (“Look at them bastard skills!”), and interjection (“Oh, bastard! He’s scored!”)

Witnessing Wilf Rostron line up at left-back. Mad. Then inspired.

Sunshine in Blackburn. (Just mad.) The weirdness of watching Watford play in trainers at QPR – on that despicable plastic pitch.

Half-time elation at home to Sheffield Wednesday. We were 4-0 up, and so clearly a side ready to take our place in the top flight. The completion of the mathematics in a way that still feels magical. Floodlights, a Ross Jenkins brace, and a pitch invasion. Watford were officially a top-flight club for the first time.

Sounds like you went to most of the games.

That’s why none of these memories are just goals or incidents on the pitch. I remember who I went with, what happened on the trips, how it all felt. I put so much into that season, and got so much out. It wasn’t just giving a tenner to Hive Live, then closing my screen at the end. I wasn’t quite ever-present, but I was fully present in the moment – for a whole season.

I properly lived 1981/82. In return, it’ll live with me forever.