Ian Metcalfe on falling in love with the Hornets
I have been a Watford fan for 42 years, but have spent only two of them based near Vicarage Road, living within a 15-minute walk. I headed north to go to university in my late teens and I have never returned, but while the man was taken out of Watford, a love of Watford FC has never left the man. Virtually all the matches I go to are away games, and over the next few issues you’ll read some of my memories as an exiled Hornet from the time I became hooked on the Golden Boys to the present day.
Strangely, I don’t exactly remember my first-ever Watford game. I think it was a random game against Aldershot in 1976, but I can’t be sure. I was a relatively late starter to the Watford fold because my dad didn’t take me to the football, rugby being more his game. I have no recollection of who would have taken me to the Aldershot(?) match and a handful of other games in the late 1970s. However, as the new decade began and I was old enough to go on my own or with my schoolmates, I do vividly remember the one specific match when I was properly struck down with the Watford-supporting disease.
Despite my dad being ambivalent about football, it was always the game for me. My very first memory of the beautiful game was seeing the 1971 ‘Charlie George’ FA Cup Final in which Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1. FA Cup Final day for me in those days was almost comparable in excitement to Christmas Day, as live football on TV was such a rarity and that year it just happened to be on my birthday as well; and only days before we had got our first colour telly. Pre-internet and before blanket TV coverage, my mates and I used to spend virtually every spare waking hour playing football (’jumpers for goalposts’ etc etc) and I also avidly absorbed every possible football-related information source. I was lucky that my pocket money stretched to buying Shoot! magazine every week.
So, it wasn’t a ‘Dad taking me along to the Vic, we won 5-0 and the rest is history’ kind of introduction to football, but I was fortunate that by my mid-teens, with Graham Taylor at the helm, there really was only one place to be to get my fix of live football. In 1980, we lived in Bushey. You could hear the crowd from our house, but I only heard it from a distance once or twice, as by then I was there at nearly every home match (not the 7-1 demolition of Southampton unfortunately), at least until my exile to the north-west of England a few years later.
More often than not, I met up with a couple of mates from school at the ground, but on 11 October 1980, for the home game against Wrexham in the old Division Two, I was there on my own. Now that I am in my fifties, it feels totally daft trying to articulate it, but arriving home after this very ordinary match (a 1-0 victory for Watford as it happens), I can remember I was absolutely buzzing. The Rookery end, with its shallow terrace, was hardly the Kop, but for some reason the sights, the sounds and smells, the chanting, the clapping, the mesmerising movement of the crowd in tune with the ebb and flow of the action on the pitch from that day just stick in my mind so vividly. What I think I had experienced was an overwhelming sense of belonging, something I’d never really experienced in my short life before then; a feeling that by being there at the match I was part of something... something very important and very special. I knew that I was now totally hooked on Watford FC.