Singing in the Rain
Richard White recalls a watching his football from a place called the F-Block
In the early 1990s as my children grew old enough to take to Watford matches, we graduated to the family area, and sat in the East Stand F-Block. This was the only bank of uncovered seats in the ground, and was nicknamed the ‘Singing in the Rain Stand’ by Oli Phillips. We had to put up with the usual mickey-taking from our friends luxuriating in the dry seats whenever we were sitting under umbrellas. But let me tell you something. We loved it, and wouldn’t have swapped it for being crammed into a row of seats anywhere else in the ground.
We sat in the back row of the F-Block with a great view of the Vicarage Road end, and could stand up to watch the game whenever the mood took us (actually that’s not entirely true – there was one season when Football UK had a purge on standing at football matches for safety reasons. I was nearly thrown out of the ground by a zealous steward for standing up on one occasion). We had a handy tea bar next to us, and there was a large, warm family room situated behind us in which to take refuge on cold or wet days. The Andrews family always ensured there was a table groaning with sweets inside the room for the kids to buy at half-time.
As well as the predictable visits from Harry the Hornet and even Mr Blobby on one regrettable occasion, we had players like the colourful Steve Cherry who would occasionally come and sit amongst us. We had to dodge the dopey wasp (sadly not quite big enough to qualify as a Hornet) that would come and buzz around us each September as its parting shot before autumn fully set in. As attendances dwindled prior to the late-90s GT revival, we even discovered that we could sneak into the back of the covered East Stand in particularly bad weather, but this was rarely needed.
There was one memorable occasion in October 1994 when we decided to celebrate my son Warren’s seventh birthday by inviting half a dozen of his friends to the home game against Tranmere Rovers. My wife Avril had prepared party food boxes for them all, but as we started handing these out before half-time the heavens opened and the rain started pelting down. A steward had spotted us and kindly said we could take refuge in the enclosure in front of the old East Stand, which was (just about) covered by its roof, to keep the youngsters dry. Problem was, as some will recall, the venerable stand roof was notorious for its leaky gutter. As the rainwater accumulated above, a torrential gush of water plummeted to the ground and cascaded over the seats in the corner of the enclosure where we were sitting. The kids screamed and jettisoned their food boxes as they scrambled backwards over the seats to avoid the deluge. The pathetic sight of abandoned party boxes floating along a stream of water in front of the stand was accompanied by the sympathetic laughter of those that witnessed the scene. We won 2-0 though so my son was happy.
But nothing compares to THE DAY I ASSISTED WITH A WATFORD GOAL.
Yes folks, I am immortalised (in my own mind) for creating a Watford goal, and as Seb Coe once said about his Olympic gold medal: “They can’t take that away from you!” It stemmed from the family room behind the F-Block having a flat roof, and very occasionally a defensive clearance into touch would result in the match ball getting stuck there.
When we played Wimbledon in August 2002, half an hour into the game, with Watford losing 1-0, the match ball ended up on the family room roof. The first thought was that a replacement ball would appear from the Watford bench, and there was a short delay until it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen. The club was in financial meltdown after the Vialli overspending fiasco – together with the collapse of the ITV Digital sport channel this had left a huge hole in budgeted income, so a stash of replacement match balls was probably not a priority.
The Wimbledon fans started singing ‘You’ve only got one ball’ as the delay lengthened. It became clear that someone was going to have to go and retrieve it, so I scrambled over the fence behind the F-Block and onto the roof in full view of the jeering Dons fans at the Vicarage Road end. Grabbing the ball, I hurled it quickly (and extremely accurately I have to say) into the waiting arms of Allan Nielsen, who was on the touchline ready to take the throw-in. It was a pass of which Matt Dawson would have been proud (wrong game – ed). Nielsen immediately threw the ball long into the box, where it was helped on by a couple of back-pedalling defenders for Danny Webber to score with a diving header at the far post. It all happened so quickly that I was still sitting astride the fence getting back to my seat when the ball hit the net.
To say I celebrated the goal – and my assist – rather ecstatically in full view of the away fans is an understatement. To provide the icing on the cake we won the match 3-2.
Eventually of course the F-Block was closed and demolished, and the family area was moved into the Vicarage Road Stand, where it remains to this day. But there’s a happy chunk of my Watford supporting life that’s forever buried with the rubble under the Elton John Stand.