So, what’s it like going to watch Watford FC Women?
Colin Payne goes to see Watford host table-toppers Portsmouth and hopefully answers the question
Grosvenor Vale, normally home to Wealdstone Football Club, is situated in the very model of 1930s suburbia. Surrounded by bay-windowed semi-detached homes, with a nearby parade of shops still displaying their mock-Tudor credentials, and no parking restrictions, it’s an odd place for a football ground, but somehow right. Housing a strange collection of around half a dozen small stands (mostly scaffold supporting corrugated iron), ramps, slopes and steps, it is certainly a far cry from Vicarage Road. The field could double for an intermediate ski run if we had the climate, and it’s pretty much devoid of facilities bar a small but welcoming club house outside the actual ground, and a none-too-over-elaborate burger van parked at the side of the car park. Some (my co-editor in particular) would say it’s a ground full of character and charm, others that it’s a shithole – either way, it’s now home to Watford FC Women.
Parking was a doddle, entry to the stadium free of intrusive searches and technology that at any given time decides it hates you, and Thermos flasks aren’t deemed a threat to life and limb. There are no queues, no rush, and no pressure, because unfortunately there aren’t that many other people going.
Inspired by Pete’s glowing appraisal of the set-up, this was our second visit, and if I’m honest, on arriving I did think, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ Although that question had occurred a few times following the men’s game over the past couple of years, so shouldn’t be taken as a definite negative. An 80-minute journey incorporating a rush-hour M25 to stand alongside a couple of hundred other lost souls to watch a third-tier women’s game on a February evening wasn’t something that should have enthralled me, but strangely it did.
As Z-Cars played through the tannoy system, the two teams walked out onto the field. A smattering of polite applause echoed around a mostly empty stadium, as half a dozen travelling away fans congregated behind a giant flag with the words ‘The People’s Republic of Portsmouth’ emblazoned on it and droned out ‘Play Up Pompey’ into the night air. Hands were shaken, pleasantries exchanged, and following a pre-match huddle, the game kicked off.
I won’t go into the intricacies of the actual match, bar that the ball appears to be in play a lot more than in the male version, the team appeared incredibly together as a group, and the quality of actual football is very good. A goalless first half saw plenty of attacking intent by both teams, and in the second half Watford impressed a lot, getting the better of the table-toppers, utilising subs well and showing a willingness to switch things around. This appears a team with big characters and talent, but one that works together well.
For those new to going to a women’s game, myself included, there’s some things that need some getting used to. A fan, clearly bored with standing on his own behind the goal, striking up conversation with Watford’s keeper Georgie Ferguson during a stoppage for an injury; substitutes using the same loos as supporters; a linesman who simply shrugs his shoulders when not sure who should get a throw-in; and a Pompey player, Annie Hall, chatting to us as their physio attempted to stem the flow of blood from a nose that took the full force of a ball, and deciding after consultation that it was better to wipe her bloodied hands on her red socks rather than her white shorts. But these are good things. I did yearn for the crowd (which numbered 228) to get behind the team more, and maybe strike up a song, for it was subdued – and the team deserved support and a bit of noise – but maybe that’s not what it’s about. Prior to the second half, whilst the game was in the balance, the announcer informed the crowd that after the final whistle the team would be remaining on the field for a meet-and-greet and photos, and to chat to fans. It didn’t surprise me, because by then I had stopped comparing it to something that bore no comparison. This isn’t Championship football, it’s something else, something that needs to be seen as it is.
So, to answer my original question, what’s it like going to see Watford FC Women? It’s well worth it, they’re a good team, doing good things, get yourself down there before the end of the season. Don’t expect it to be Vicarage Road – but that’s very much part of the joy of it. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!