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The Day I Met: Des Lyttle

Nick Catley on his chance encounter with a not-so Watford legend


As a Watford supporter for 40 years, plenty of them spent in West Herts, you’d think I’d be bumping into Watford players all the time. But until Halloween 2017, excluding pre-planned events (open days, book signings and so on), I never had.

Partly that’s chance, and partly it’s my poor memory for faces (not handy as a teacher – luckily most kids seem to be called Oliver or Emily at the moment). More than that, though, I’ve always believed you should never meet your heroes. And with the best will in the world, my brush with a footballer didn’t test that maxim much.

I was sitting in the stand at Sutton Coldfield Town on a Tuesday night, as you do. Earwigging conversations at non-League football is a constant joy, whether they’re about internal club politics (Charlie means well, but he hasn’t got a clue), Margaret’s leg (they had to operate before it went gangrenous), or even, just occasionally, the game itself (how many TIMES, Jonah?) On this occasion, though, someone was talking about playing for Nottingham Forest, and I tuned in a little more closely. He then mentioned a move to Watford, and had I been a cartoon character, ear trumpets would have sprouted from my head, accompanied by a klaxon.

He’d apparently moved on our promotion to the Premier League because (quite reasonably) the money was good, and by this stage I knew I must have seen him play at some point. I did that thing of looking behind me at an unspecified point towards the back of the stand, then casually flicking my eyes across so he didn’t know I was staring (he knew I was staring). But still not a clue. However, a quick Google of the details revealed Des Lyttle was sitting behind me.

I immediately demonstrated why I’d decided not to meet any players previously, garbling a hello and incoherently recounting my one memory of his time at Watford – a fizzing volley against Liverpool which just cleared the bar, but would have rivalled Van Basten at his finest if just a few inches lower (I wouldn’t believe me either, but I’ve checked the highlights and it’s true). I asked him for my first-ever selfie – I still don’t know why, really – and he generously posed. Of course, I botched the encounter further by messing up the photo, meaning I had to ask him to smile inanely again – which, to his eternal credit, he did.

Shortly afterwards I slunk off like a repentant dog leaving the scene of a broken vase, feeling that Des might not want everything he said analysed by some bloke who couldn’t operate his own phone. But rather than remembering him as the kind of player you end up with when faced with a very short close-season following promotion, I now think of his kindness on a cold night in Sutton Coldfield. I still don’t want to meet my heroes, but maybe in future I’ll say hello to those who don’t quite meet that description.