The Family Way
Nick Catley remembers the Family Terrace, and how Graham Taylor helped finance it
Watford’s role as a family club, epitomised by the opening of the first designated family area in the country in 1979 (as opposed to boys’ pens), is well documented and remembered. Slightly less celebrated, outside Hertfordshire at least, is the Family Terrace – not just the first of its type but, as far as I’m aware, unique.
The whole story of the Family Terrace screams ‘Watford in the 80s’, in the same way as the tackling footballers logo, red shorts, and Eddie Plumley. Looking to build on the Family Enclosure’s success, based on only admitting parties including adults and children, the obvious choice would have been to extend it, but there just wasn’t room. The appearance in 1982 of the uncovered F-block next to the Main Stand showed how desperate the club were for seats – they were often close to selling out to season ticket holders alone. In an example of the innovative thinking for which the club had become known, a Family Terrace was a way to offer something similar to more people, to ‘get families back to football’ as the phrase of the time had it (when they’d never really been there in the first place). The lack of seats was embraced as an opportunity to extend the market to those who preferred to stand (or, in a time of recession, could only afford to).
The most Watford part, though, was the raising of the £50,000 required to put in the necessary turnstiles, toilets and barriers. It was largely done through a sponsored run. That the runner was Graham Taylor, and the run was the London Marathon, was essentially just a matter of scale – the feel was a bit like chucking in a few quid for Brenda’s lass at the top of the village who was doing a swim to raise money for the church hall. Watford FC was that kind of place in the 80s. On the day, I stood with my family on Westminster Bridge to cheer him across the line, much as we might have done had a close relative taken part. As it happened, we missed him (we’d read somewhere he’d be in full Watford kit, and he wasn’t). We weren’t alone, as TV and the papers missed him too, to the extent he had the club’s office staff going for most of the next day that he’d had to quit after 17 miles, only possible by exploiting a dearth of information unthinkable now.
In one way, the Family Terrace was nothing new for me – that eastern extremity of the Vicarage Road end, side-on to the goal, was where we normally went to watch anyway. The key difference as far as I was concerned was that there were now yellow lines painted on the terraces beyond which adults couldn’t go (though as a seven yearold stickler for the rules I wondered why there were three, each a few steps apart, as surely all the adults would have stopped at the first one). But the Family Terrace, like the Family Enclosure before it, encouraged people who were nervous about coming to football, or at least about bringing their kids, at a time when the game was vilified from newspaper-column pillar to smartarse-atwork post, sometimes with justification.
The terrace opened in August 1983, and I got a fantastic view of most of that season from the front, most notably the European nights (I was forced into the Main Stand seats for the Sparta Prague game with some friends as it was my birthday ‘treat’) and the Brighton Cup game (we watched the Luton replay from behind the goal – I have no idea why). The only downside was that, standing in the children-only area at the front, I was unable to ask my dad the many probing and pertinent questions which were my habit, and it’s only with nearly four decades’ distance that I realise, for him, this was almost certainly the major attraction. At the end of the season, we moved away from the area, although we still went in the Family Terrace on our now-sporadic visits.
Two memories remain more clearly than any other. The first is the ridiculous amount of curl that Kenny Jackett used to get on inswinging corners, which I was perfectly placed to see (John Barnes might have been a more obvious choice to take them, but he was usually required more centrally). The second is bringing Panda to a game. Panda was a soft toy, three feet tall, who had been my constant companion since birth. I decided it was time he came to a match, so I dressed him up in my Watford kit, and sat him on the pitchside fence for a game against Second Division Huddersfield in the League Cup. We were a goal down from the first leg, but this was clearly a minor hurdle, and we scored twice in the first five minutes to restore what I saw as the natural order. With the diet I’d been privileged to, I hadn’t quite grasped that cup upsets could work both ways, and I watched in mounting horror and disbelief as we conceded twice to lose the tie. Panda was not invited back. Indeed, I could never really look at him in the same way again, and he left the family home shortly afterwards.
I later learned that there was all sorts of mysterious stuff going on at the back of the terrace, involving some sort of clubroom, sticker swaps, and the semilegendary Ann Swanson. And I suppose it would have been a good place to meet people my age as devoted to the club and the sport as I was. But I was a very selfcontained child/miserable loner (delete as applicable) – still am to some extent – and all I really wanted was an unobstructed view of the game. And thanks to a sponsored run by the greatest figure in the club’s history, that’s exactly what I got.