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Set Me on the Right Track

David Harrison recalls a man who mapped his path to Vicarage Road


My grandfather set me on the right track, football-wise. My dad subsequently did all the heavy lifting, not to mention motorway driving, but it was old Alfred who laid the foundations.

You’d have liked him, but then it was impossible not to like him. He died in 1983, at the decent age of 96. He died in the same house in Harrow he’d bought himself when returning from the Great War, 60- odd years earlier.

He was of yeoman Cornish farming stock, meaning that Plymouth Argyle was his team. This despite the tiny Lizard farming village from where he hailed being 80 miles, and goodness knows how many Edwardian travel hours, from Home Park. 

As a bit of background, he was probably the nicest man I’ve ever met. I was 29 when he died and by then was visiting most days. I never heard him utter a bad, or negative, word about anyone. I also never saw him dressed in anything but a jacket and tie. He was from an entirely different generation but spending time in his company was an unadulterated joy.

He’d been at the famous ‘White Horse’ 1923 Cup Final and could tell vivid stories dating back to his childhood. Once, when the family were harvesting, he fell off a hay cart and broke his leg. He recalled every aspect of the event, down to the horse and trap they sent out to bring him back. The horse was a chestnut, with a broad white blaze. It was 1893.

The only real downside was that Grandpa was profoundly deaf, meaning that half an hour in his company would result in a minor sore throat, coupled with persistent ringing in the ears caused by his television operating at somewhere around 100 decibels. 

I took my old and much-missed Hornet mate Pete Burkwood in to meet him one day, when the snooker from Sheffield was on the telly. When we left and had regained the ability to communicate with one another, Pete observed that the TV volume was so loud he could hear Jimmy White’s leather shoes squeak each time he approached the table.

One of his early lessons was that Argyle, when pronounced correctly, is a singlesyllable word with all emphasis on the first two letters. This became invaluable advice many years later, but we’ll get to that in due course.

Grandpa’s house was a ten-minute walk from the wonderful old Wealdstone ground in Lower Mead and visits there are among my earliest football memories. He was Argyle through and through but over time had developed considerable affection for the Stones. The advice he imparted, long ago, remains with me to this day. As a small boy I must have enquired whether he would call himself a Plymouth fan or a Wealdstone fan. He lent down and patiently explained that it was fine to support two clubs, as long as there was no chance they would ever meet. At that time Plymouth were a solid Division Two outfit while Wealdstone plied their trade in the Athenian League, thereby occupying entirely non-overlapping football universes.

By then, thanks to some solid parenting backed, I must say, by admirable judgment of my own, I was unshakeably, irrevocably and forever Watford. Grandpa’s permission to allow another club into my life never needed to be taken up. I had eyes only for the Hornets. We only ever got him to the Vic once. It was February 1975 and Argyle, with Paul Mariner a goalscoring sensation, were clearly too good for Division Three and heading for promotion. We were also about to depart the division, but in the other direction. “Never mind lad,” he said as we shuffled home, “They’ll always be your team.” As usual, he was right.

Watford had become a Division One club when we lost the old boy and eventually the time came for us to consider leaving the sunlit uplands of SW Herts to make a new home. We ended up undertaking exactly the same journey Grandpa had made in 1910, but in reverse. On arrival, and with more time to spare, I needed proper involvement with a local football club to sit alongside my Watford season ticket. I visited all the grounds within about a 45-minute drive of our new home and eventually fell for the nearest club.

Today I write the programme and operate as the gateman, the Covid officer, the PA announcer, a radio reporter and correspondent for two regional newspapers. My wife meanwhile helps prepare unquestionably the finest half-time teas in the entire South West Peninsula League, Premier West Division.

It’s fine though. They’re really not very good and don’t have the remotest chance of playing Watford.

Grandpa would like that.