Some wonderful days just need a crowd. Jack Ottman remembers a special match in 2015.
Brighton away in April 2015 will live long in the memory for so many Watford fans, and although the game was momentous in its own right, it’s the events which unfolded afterwards that most will treasure. That is certainly the case with me, as my memories of the hours after the final whistle at the Amex will last just as long as those of the events which preceded it.
The away day started like most others. I’m fortunate that my whole family follow the ‘Orns up and down the country, which means I travel to most away games in the car with my mum, dad, older brother and twin sister. There was nothing remarkable about the pre-match but the early kickoff time meant we had to set off early-ish in the morning, and the journey down to the south coast was spent working out the exact permutations which would result in us getting promoted that afternoon: a win for us, a loss for Middlesbrough at Fulham and Norwich to drop points at relegationthreatened Rotherham.
Because of our form going into the game, we were always confident of getting a result, but a slow start meant a first-half substitution, replacing Anya with Tőzsèr (a tactical masterstroke from Slav that doesn’t get mentioned enough), which soon led to Deeney putting us ahead on the half-hour mark.
The rest of the match is a bit of a nervy blur but when Vydra, who seemed to have the ball under his control for an eternity, finally put the game to bed in stoppage time there was pure pandemonium in the away end at the Amex, or as I prefer to call it: LIMBS. I ended up in the row in front with my brother and remember seeing my sister, who was seated to my left, ending up on the floor in the aisle to my right holding on to my mum. My dad was the next victim of the limbs as he fell over trying to help them back up and a few seconds later they were all pulled up by some kind strangers who immediately embraced them as soon as they were on their feet. We were all battered and bruised from the celebrations but far too happy to care.
The game and the celebrations were of course special, but as everyone knows by now, it was the afternoon’s events which took the day to another level. While most Watford fans stayed in Brighton to watch the 3pm kick-offs, I had to rush back home as me and my sister had my best friend’s 18th birthday bar crawl to get back to. This meant that we were on the M23 as the goals were flying in at the New York Stadium and Craven Cottage. The results weren’t going our way with Norwich winning but a late equaliser from Rotherham meant we were relying on Fulham to score a late winner against Karanka’s Boro. I was furiously scrolling through Twitter and we had Radio 5 Live reporting all the goals as they went in. In a topsy-turvy game, Ross McCormack, the man who scored the goal for Leeds which meant we missed out on promotion two years earlier, scored a 94th minute winner for Fulham and if results stayed the same, we were going to be a Premier League club again.
As the final whistle sounded at Craven Cottage and our promotion was sealed, the five of us in the car struggled to contain our excitement and my dad inadvertently swerved into the lane next to him, swiftly bringing us back to earth. We told my dad to take a deep breath and calm down, because although we were delighted about the results, we did actually want to survive to see Watford playing in the Premier League the next season. The rest of the journey was spent watching videos of the players celebrating on the coach at the training ground, receiving floods of congratulatory messages from my friends, and keeping an eye on my dad to make sure he wasn’t about to lose control again.
We managed to make it to my friend’s house in one piece, still wearing our Watford shirts, and me and my sister were given a hero’s welcome by our friends, as if we had been the ones who masterminded the promotion. We soon found out that the Watford squad were planning on spending the night celebrating in Oceana, the quintessential local nightclub, which on any other weekend would be our go-to destination for a bog-standard night out (especially because of their relaxed attitude to fake IDs for my friends who weren’t yet 18). I tried in vain to convince my friend to switch his pre-booked (and probably expensive) bar crawl in London for a night out with Troy Deeney and the boys, but he selfishly refused.
Due to a mix of alcohol and adrenaline from the day’s events, I can’t say I remember much from the evening, but I was proudly wearing my Watford shirt throughout and recall singing several promotion-related songs loudly in Leicester Square with my sister. I woke up the next morning with a sore head, memories of an away day which will last a lifetime, and the words ‘SLAVISA JOKANOVIC’ written on my arm in permanent marker.
Last minute limbs, my mum at the bottom of a bundle, promotion, a near death experience and a bar crawl in town – 25 April 2015 will definitely take some beating.