The Strange Case of the Goalkeeper's Gloves
Peter Morgan on recovering long-lost treasure
Soon after it was published, I read Tales From The VIcarage 6: Rocket Men. On page 36, it quoted Steve Sherwood describing the scenes after the final whistle on the night in 1982 when Watford beat Wrexham to reach the First Division of the Football League for the first time.
“I literally got carried away – the fans chaired me off, along with at least two of the other lads. I lost all my gloves to souvenir hunters and the club made me pay to replace them, but I didn’t really care.”
I immediately called my friend, who I shall call Bob, primarily because that is his name. For longer than I can remember, but on reflection about 40 years, Bob had claimed that he had Steve Sherwood’s gloves, having obtained them on that memorable night, on the pitch, after the game. This certainly tied in with Steve Sherwood’s account, but there was a problem.
Bob had never, despite numerous requests, produced these gloves, and frankly our group of friends suspected porkies. To put this into perspective, Bob had been known to claim he could paint better than Picasso, that he was a better goalscorer than most Watford strikers between 1987 and 1997 (including Kevin Phillips), and that he could cook better than Rick Stein and Delia Smith combined.
So there was much stroking of chins, and shouts of “Jimmy Hill”, until we had to learn more modern vernacular when the next generation asked who the fuck Jimmy Hill was and why we were caressing the numerous chins we had all now grown. Shouts of ‘Put the gloves where your mouth is’, or similar adapted phrases from our school years, would resonate every time Bob mentioned the fabled handwear.
Then Bob decided to move house and, as he was clearing the loft of 25 years of detritus, I received an elated call, punctuated by dust-induced coughing. Amongst libellous schoolwork he had written about his family when he was eight, and old Watford programmes, Bob found the Holy Grail. Not literally, obviously, but instead the items we had been seeking for longer than King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the Monty Python boys put together had spent searching for the Grail.
Not just gloves, but… a cap. The icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the doughnut, capping it off, literally this time. Did this throw the find into doubt? Why would a goalkeeper need a cap for a 7:45 kick-off in early May?
After making a model of the 1982 ground and working out the trajectory of the sun, I confirmed that in the first half the sun might have been blinding for corners or throw-ins from the Shrodells side of the ground, pre-Rous/GT Stand.
The gloves had mud on. I thankfully had a preserved piece of the old pitch at home to compare this with and could confirm without doubt this was the 20% soil/ 80% sand mix in use at the time. This, together with Bob’s claims of being the sole owner since 1982, provided ‘provenance’. Until recently watching Antiques Roadshow, I had thought this was an area in the South of France, but apparently it means the background to something ‘sounds legit’.
On behalf of Bob, I started negotiations with a club employee to return these important artefacts to their rightful owner, or possibly have them passed to Watford Museum. They realised this was an Elgin Marbles moment, with the opportunity to preserve these antiquities for the nation, or at least a small part of it, and agreed to exchange them for a signed Ben Foster shirt. The gloves now reside in a safe at the club.
Watch this space, or more likely the Watford FC website, for more news on the gloves in the weeks to come.
What I had forgotten was how pathetic goalkeeper gloves were back in the day. In the 1974 World Cup West Germany’s goalkeeper, Sepp Maier, had worn gloves not dissimilar to those worn by goalkeepers today, with some even questioning their legality. However, many goalkeepers still preferred what amounted to little more than the cotton gloves my Mum wore. Think those white gloves that are worn when anyone touches an old book or picture on TV and you are in the right ballpark. No grip, no rubber to soften a punch or rocket-like shot, and seemingly no elastic on the wrists – these ones have tape at their base to keep them on.
The cap was pretty standard, but both gloves and cap were no different to those any junior goalkeeper would buy in Peter Spivey in Watford High Street in the early 80s. No sponsor’s name, no personalisation, not even initials – perhaps just as well in Steve Sherwood’s case!
Just one more mystery to solve. Steve Sherwood was reported as saying “I lost all my gloves”. That suggests more than two. So there are others out there, as well as other important artefacts from Watford’s past. Outside the ticket office you will now find a large container marked ‘Amnesty Box – Items for Watford Museum’. If you bring back any historic items, both the police and Watford Football Club have agreed to take no further action.
So if, hidden in a dark part of your loft, you have the missing gloves, or Steve Terry’s headband from the Cup Final, or Luther’s knee bandage, or Troy Deeney’s jockstrap from that Leicester game, you now know where to leave them.
On second thoughts, you can keep the jockstrap. And, no, we don’t want to know how you got it.