Ruth Catley visits Vicarage Road for the first time and finds a sense of place and home
Forgive me Hornets, for I have sinned…
I have been dating (and am now married to) a fellow Hornet for the last five years, and until 3 July 2022, I was a Vicarage Road virgin. Now, before him indoors reminds me again, the offer has always been there to attend a game, but to be honest, I quite like my Saturday afternoons to myself.
So why now? Well unless you have been hiding from media in any form for some months, you’ll know Elton John played his last UK outdoor Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour dates at the Vic at the beginning of July, and this provided the ideal opportunity for me to combine two firsts – my first live concert and a chance to (finally) meet the third wheel in my newly married life (no – not Elton!)
After a sedate train ride to Watford Junction and a short hop to Watford High Street, we joined the early crowds ambling up the hill to the ground. As we rounded the corner and I saw the stadium I did think to myself ‘It looks bigger on the telly’. Unlike many of the grounds I have been to for the regal sport that is rugby, I was surprised to see just how residential the setting is. Not a bad thing, but it must be fun for residents on matchdays.
The splash of yellow shirts as we queued to get in indicated that the Hornet family was out to enjoy the evening whilst still keeping the ‘yellow’ close to their hearts. Walking along the concourse and seeing the history of the club suspended from the ceiling via various banners and posters, it made me aware of Watford’s heritage, and that the colour yellow certainly runs deep. The provender on offer certainly topped the ‘Pie and a Pint’ offer I am used to at my home ground of the odd-shaped ball, but today I resisted. I was fully prepared with a bag of jelly snakes to see me through the next few hours.
Now, being a lady, there are certain pit stops one must make before taking your seat at any event. The queue for the ladies is always 100 times longer (even though the ratio of men to ladies at most games is probably 500:1) as it just takes us girls a little bit longer to do what we need to do. Now please forgive me if you have a delicate nature as I describe what I saw upon entering the facilities. Us girls, every four weeks or so, are struck down with a mysterious affliction which, to be honest, can take us by surprise but is also blooming expensive. In the ladies, on a little shelf on the wall, was a basket filled with products we may require at such times with a note from the club saying ‘We do not believe you should have to pay for these, please help yourself to what you need’. 10/10 Watford.
Settling into our seats in the Graham Taylor Stand, the EasyJet legroom was pure pleasure and I was grateful to be sitting between family members with the chance to stand up and demonstrate my internal silent disco dancing once the music began. But even if I had been sat next to someone I didn’t know, I don’t think this would have been an issue. Before the music had even started, the Hornet massive were waving to each other, singing, chanting and making a guttural noise I am still yet to process and understand but sounded like ‘Yellows’?
The welcome Sir Elton got when arriving on stage and the calling out from the fans moved him, but it also moved me. Here, in this ground, was not a bunch of people on a night out, but a collective of Hornets, a swarm if you like, all joined together by a common love for the club. A family. And that is what I really felt that evening, not only the pleasure of seeing a legend perform, but a real feeling of the collective, togetherness. I no longer consider myself a Vicarage Road virgin, and as for the mistress, she’s not too bad either.
The Welsh have a word – hiraeth. It cannot be translated directly into English, but means place, home. And that is what I felt on that balmy Sunday July night. Hiraeth, a sense of belonging, and for that fellow Hornets, I thank you for allowing me to be a part of the extended family.