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Hornet Heaven: The Empty seat

A tale of love from Olly Wicken


It was tough. It was the first new game I went to, after I died. Home to West Ham – just after Christmas.

I’d been up here a couple of weeks by then. Wasn’t easy at first. I was missing Jeanie – my other half. Don’t get me wrong, Hornet Heaven’s got everything you’d want as a Watford fan. But Jeanie wasn’t into football, so I knew I was never going to see her again.

I went to a load of great old games in that first couple of weeks, though. Kaiserslautern. The 7-1 over Southampton. Amazing games. And the people up here were brilliant to me. Bill Mainwood and Henry Grover. Daisy Meriden. They really helped me settle in.

But, like I say, West Ham was my first new game and it was tough. I went into the Rookery as usual and the sight of it just hit me so hard. My seat – empty. Where I’d sat for 25 years – I wasn’t there. No one was in it. Back down on earth, I was dead and gone. 

I mean, I’m missing from other places too. Like the 7:22 into Euston. And my office at the sorting centre. And my chair at home – next to Jeanie’s, in front of the telly. I can’t see those from up here, though. 

Seeing my seat really brought things home to me. Down on earth I was just a gap. That’s what I was now. A gap in the Rookery. I saw that all the usual people around me were still there – Old John on one side, Haseem on the other. They didn’t seem to be missing me. They probably guessed I was on holiday, to be fair. So I stood at the end of our row for a bit, trying to deal with the whole thing.

And then Emmanuel Dennis scores after, what, four minutes? Brilliant goal. The place erupts. Absolute limbs. Except in my seat – except in the gap. I couldn’t bear looking at that gap. So I went over to it. It was weird. I was walking through people – I walked through Old John. Anyway, when I got there, I couldn’t sit in the seat because it was tipped up. No one in it, see. So I had to stand.

I stood there for a while. West Ham scored twice in about a minute, so that wasn’t great. But it felt like it was my last chance to be watching the ‘Orns from my place – before Jeanie told the club I’d died and they’d give the seat to someone else. And that got me thinking about Jeanie again. You know, thinking what she’d do – now that I’m gone. I wondered if she would contact the club – like, would she even know who to contact? She was never interested in football. She’d have to find out. 

And that made me think something else – that there was other stuff she was going to find out. There was stuff she’d find when she went through my things at home. And she wasn’t going to like it.

Under my side of the bed, I had an old cardboard box. It wasn’t a secret. And there wasn’t anything bad in it. There was just a few tickets and programmes from big games, and my first Watford scarf – from the 1970s. That kind of thing. Stuff that had meant a lot to me, down the years.

But I knew Jeanie would find the box and I knew she’d hate finding it – because of what it stood for. It stood for the part of me that wasn’t hers. No, that’s not right. I’ve said that wrong. Makes it sound like she thought she owned me. What I mean is, me and Jeanie were really close. We talked about everything. But being a Watford fan was a side of me she wasn’t involved in. 

The weird thing is, I even don’t know how she felt about that. She never said anything about it. I mean, she never joked about it being my ‘dark side’. She never said she hated me going to games, or anything. Then again, she never asked me how a game went, or how I was feeling afterwards, or how I felt about the club. The whole topic was out of bounds, sort of. So I knew she wouldn’t be happy finding my Watford stuff under the bed. She’d be finding a great big box of the thing we never talked about. A reminder that we weren’t total soulmates. So, yeah. I just wished I hadn’t died, leaving it there for her to find. 

I hated the next couple of days. I kept thinking about the box and wondering how upset she’d be when she’d find it. I think I felt guilty for the extra, like, grief she’d be feeling. Did it feel to her like she had a (what do they say in the papers?) a love rival? I don’t know. Jeanie isn’t the kind to be jealous. But I spent the two days after the West Ham game thinking maybe she was going to open up that box and it would look to her like evidence of my other love. 

I tried to take my mind off it by going to a few more old games. I went to the Leicester play-off game – you know, the Deeney goal. I watched myself when Deeney thumped it in. I was out of my seat, grabbing Haseem. We looked like we were about to burst. And I just thought “I wish that had been Jeanie with me”. I mean, me and Jeanie had some of that with each other (you know, in the bedroom) but the Deeney goal was the most ecstatic moment I had in my whole life. And I was wishing I’d had it with her. So going back to that game didn’t help.  And then I went and watched the Cup semi-final against Wolves, and it brought back all the feelings I’d had at the time – when Troy won that last-minute penalty and scored it. And I got to thinking how Jeanie was never interested in how Watford made me feel. Which was always kind of odd. I mean, whenever we talked, me and Jeanie would feel a togetherness through the feelings behind the words. But not when it came to football. She didn’t want to know. And for the whole of our 30 years of marriage that never changed – until my next day in Hornet Heaven, the home game against Spurs. 

I went through the old turnstiles on Occupation Road and I went straight down to the Rookery. I wanted to see if the club had let someone else have my seat. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about that, to be honest. And then I saw her. Jeanie. In my seat, wearing my 1970s Watford scarf – the one from the box. I couldn’t believe it. I was seeing her again – the love of my life. Which was amazing. But I couldn’t work out what she was doing at the game.

I watched her for a moment. She was looking around, taking everything in, like she was trying to understand it. Trying to understand what the hell I’d got from football for so many years.

And then I was running up to her, through Old John again, and I was trying to hug her, and my arms went through her, and she had no idea I was there. But the only thing I cared about was that my seat wasn’t empty because she was there. 

Since then? We haven’t had another home game just yet. Maybe Spurs was a one-off. Or maybe she’ll be back – maybe she’ll fall in love with the ‘Orns and she’ll be joining me in Hornet Heaven when the time comes.

But I mustn’t get ahead of myself. At least I know she’s found the cardboard box. And she seems alright about it. That’s the main thing.

But I can’t help thinking… I can’t help thinking… Jeanie looked as pissed off as I was when Spurs scored in the last minute. Maybe she’s already in it for the long haul!