That Is What We Do
Mark Groves tells how three generations of his family have been following Watford for 115 years
It all began on an autumn day in 1907 when my grandfather, Joseph Groves, went to his first game at Cassio Road. Little did he know that his legacy would live on until the present day. He was born in Aynho Street, a stone’s throw from the current ground, and a cousin of the player who became probably the first legend of the club, Skilly Williams.
Joe owned a building business in Watford and proudly dressed up in his Sunday best to sit in the Main Stand every Saturday, one week the first team and the other ‘the stiffs’ as he called the reserves. War was the only time he missed a game, the first one in the trenches in France and the second as Captain of the Home Guard in Watford. We often wondered whether Jimmy Perry based Captain Mainwaring on him. In the 1950s he used to employ players as labourers during the summer when they were not paid by the club. Naturally he attended the first home game at Vicarage Road (never ‘the Vic’), and I still have his programme suitably annotated with the score and attendance.
My father was born in 1928 in Sydney Road and was taken along to his first game in 1934, having been told that is what you do on a Saturday. He continued to support the team until just before he died in 2017. He always told me that Taffy Davies scored against Manchester United in 1950 and it got further over the line as he got older. From a very young age I was told about the exploits of all the great Watford players – nobody else had any or else they would have played for us. Len Dunderdale and Cliff Holton got mentioned the most.
This prepared me for my first game on 21 March 1964 against Crewe Alexandra – after all, I was told that this is what you do on a Saturday. I wanted to go to the previous game against Coventry but was told that the crowd would be too big as we were both vying for promotion. Ultimately, we just failed but it was the start of a rollercoaster that has lasted a lifetime.
The following season was a bit of an anti-climax unless every game was to be savoured as it was for me. 1965/66 started with great optimism as we had re-signed Cliff Holton and great things were expected. The first game of the season was at Reading and this was my first away game. No goals for Big Cliff but two from Dave Carr secured a memorable victory. Tragically, Dave Carr had a car accident shortly afterwards that finished his career. For reasons that are still a mystery to me, after 24 games and 12 goals Big Cliff was sold. I resigned from the Junior Hornets club and sulked for a while – but only a short while.
1966/67 was another rollercoaster – my first big cup game when we so nearly beat Liverpool, and an agonisingly close flirt with promotion. I can still see the near miss from Ken Furphy that might have sealed it in the last home game against Colchester United.
1967/68 was not quite as close but probably acted as a good grounding for the following season, and what a season it was! The start of our journey out of the doldrums of Division 3 and the start of mixing with the big boys, well possibly not that big. It dawned on me that promotion was a distinct possibility when we beat our nearest rivals, Swindon Town, on their ground. I still remember the euphoria when Barry Endean scored the winner. Oh, and that season we ran the European champions pretty close in the Cup. I still maintain that we only lost because their superstars could play on ice and we couldn’t. We lost with honour but this was the first of those special cup nights under the floodlights.
Division 2 proved to be a step too far at the time and I came to the realisation that perhaps we were destined to accept that Division 3 was where we should always be until we slipped into Division 4. What could possibly be worse than getting relegated on your 18th birthday? I nearly jumped into the Pond after the game but that would happen later.
Any defeats today are minor setbacks compared with spending a Saturday night in Darlington when you have just lost 1-0 and are bottom of Division 4.
The recruitment of Graham Taylor, the right support structure and the ability to sign the right players created a formula that worked and was somewhat unique in the modern game. This, together with an insistence that the club played a very active role in the community, meant that there was strength in the considerable gathering of like minds together.
1977 just happened to be when I was a student and so naturally sport was far more important than academic study. A few of us used to travel all over the country watching the team and at the same time learning geography. Ironically, we sealed our promotion out of Division 4 on the exact day of my 21st birthday with a victory over Southport. A not-very-few beers were had by all that night!
During the following ten years there are just too many highs to mention, and anyway they have been well documented before. The ones that stand out for me are Manchester United away in the League Cup (yes, I am one of the 40,000 supporters who claims to have been there – but I was), Southampton in the League Cup having been in their away cage when we lost 4-0, and Wrexham at home in 1982 when we went up, a night tempered by HMS Sheffield going down in the Falklands War.
However, the standout time must have been the trip to Kaiserslautern in 1983. Three of us set out on the Monday morning to drive there armed only with a ‘Watford in Europe’ T-shirt with a map of Europe on the back. We should not have worried as there was a procession of yellow, black and red ploughing a furrow through France trying to pay for beer with a mixture of francs, Deutschmarks and pounds and astounded to find that rural French people do not speak English. Our first attempt at finding a hotel ended in disaster when one of my so-called friends went ahead and asked to book “one bedroom for three people”. Not surprisingly this did not end well, and we had to seek accommodation elsewhere. For the night of the game a travel-agent friend had booked us into a hotel near the ground called Hotel Sickinahof. No, I did not make this up, and the excess of schnapps and beer meant it was aptly named.
In 1984 I moved to Wilton, just outside Salisbury, and it never crossed my mind that I should not continue with my season ticket, as I do religiously to this day. After all, that is What I Do.