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Teach Your Children

David Harrison recalls the days of following Watford away in the Fourth Division


In retrospect I suppose my educational development was somewhat perverse.

While you lot steadily progressed through the primary and secondary years, building significant knowledge across your teens, I approached things from a rather different angle.

I peaked, academically, at the age of ten before commencing a downward intellectual spiral that, my wife would contend, continues to this day.

When sitting the 11+ (ask your parents if you must), I was bright, inquisitive and eager to learn. This standing was confirmed by the startling award of a scholarship to what I subsequently learnt to be a very minor public school. But it was a scholarship, a public school and I landed it. I duly turned up to accept the position with hope in my heart and a veritable spring in my stride.

But in terms of achievement, that was it really. I bought into Bill McGarry’s heroic, but ultimately doomed, 1963/64 promotion push and the die was cast. Even the heroic Charlie Livesey couldn’t help me, in fact he was no help at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I spent a hugely enjoyable seven-year spell in this cloistered seat of learning and made lifelong friends. But ten was definitely the peak.

I wasn’t hopeless by any means. My maths (essentially calculation of goal average) was excellent. History (right back to Cassio Road) a strong point. But it was geography where I hit the heights. Not all that sedimentary and igneous nonsense, this was the real deal. Where places were and how to get there.

By age ten I knew the lot. All 92 of them, including the trick questions, like Tranmere and Port Vale. For good measure I also learnt the location of non-League clubs we’d played in the Cup – at that time Cheltenham, Wycombe, Romford and Poole.

The mythical beast was Accrington Stanley. They went bust in March 1962 but their old Peel Park ground remains a legendary venue. Watford never played there, sadly, but to this day the old Stanley club and ground (not the current incarnation) hold a special place in the hearts of lower-league fans of a certain age.

However, learning about ground locations is a long way from actually getting there and it was the 70s before I was able to start making significant headway.

When my father’s job relocated to Sheffield in 1977, my parents moved to Derbyshire and my away travel racked up a significant notch. Every few weeks we would drive to Bakewell early on a Saturday, following which my wife would join my mother for the afternoon, leaving my dad and I to tour the lower-league fleshpots of the north.

It was marvellous. Donny Rovers, Rochdale, York City, Barnsley, Darlo, Hartlepool, Huddersfield, Crewe Alex, Scunny, Grimsby Town and by some margin the worst Football League ground we encountered, the appalling 1978 incarnation of Halifax Town which I immediately loved with a passion. Bakewell, it soon became thrillingly apparent, was halfway to everywhere.

The excitement was significantly enhanced by the fact that once GT arrived we rarely lost. My dad and I would collect a copy of the Sheffield Green ‘Un, containing all the day’s results, and invariably get back to the Peacock in Bakewell by about 6:30. Frank the landlord would greet us warmly. “Here they come, the pair of idiots. Where was it today then?”

We would proudly announce how we’d made some ludicrous 100-mile round trip and, what’s more, returned with two precious points. Frank silently shook his head while bewildered locals returned to their big frothy northern pints.

The jewel in the crown was Workington, about which readers of The Watford Treasury will soon be reading in an extended feature. Workington was a very long way from Derbyshire. Well, from anywhere really. Further from Watford, in fact, than Amsterdam or Brussels. But my dad and I got to the glorious Borough Park.

A personal favourite of mine was Southport. My father had seen a 1-1 draw there in 1968/69 when Ken Furphy’s team had been comprehensively outplayed but somehow escaped with a point. He raved about the venue and the lively atmosphere under the Haig Avenue lights, but it was another eight years before we got there together. Once again Watford were truly terrible, gleefully hurrying home with a point when Brian Pollard grabbed a thoroughly undeserved equaliser as the clock ticked towards five o’clock. I liked Haig Avenue very much.

Sadly neither of us had been able to make the trip on 4 November 1975 when… well, I’ll leave the description of one of Watford’s more unusual victories to the splendid Southport history, The Sandgrounders: ‘Just how desperate things became was epitomised by the bizarre intervention of ‘Romark,’ the stage hypnotist. Granada Television’s ‘Kick-Off’ programme arranged for the team to be put under his influence before the home game with Watford. This unlikely project also failed; goalkeeper Kevin Thomas, not fully out of the hypnosis, gashed his head on a girder before the match and Watford prevailed 2-1.’

Hey, let’s not get sniffy. At that time we’d not won an away game for well over a year and were perfectly happy to accept one, whatever the circumstances. The attendance for our December 1977 visit was a derisory 1,727 meaning there was no need for segregation of any sort, despite probably 20% of the crowd having travelled north for the day.

When Watford arrived, Southport had managed one win all season and had just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Runcorn. To get within seconds of beating the runaway leaders, only to see that morale-boosting victory snatched away deep into injury time, was brutal.

However the atmosphere was entirely nonthreatening and we apologised profusely to all and sundry as we left the ground, having stolen a point the ‘Port needed so badly. Indeed they sadly lost Football League status at the end of that season, despite finishing seven points ahead of Rochdale. Whether they ever return must be extremely doubtful.

An incongruous spot for a Football League ground, Haig Avenue, barely a mile from the beach, represented an inoffensive street in a genteel seaside town. The towering 1,800-seat main stand was one of the most impressive structures in Division 4 and today must stick out like a sore thumb in the National League North. A visit to what is a nicely redeveloped ground is heartily recommended.

Now, some of you might recognise the title of this piece as a much-loved Crosby Stills and Nash album track, released around the time of my father’s initial visit to Haig Avenue. It includes this verse, written by Blackpool’s own Graham Nash:

Don’t you ever ask them, ‘Why?’

If they told you, you would cry

So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you.

I couldn’t have put that much better myself.

But be that as it may, the primary intention of this piece is to ensure your children gain an early and thorough grounding in British Practical Geography.

Or possibly not.