The Things we do for Love: Watford's My Bag
Olly Wicken talks about a bag. A lovely bag.
Must have been 1975, I reckon. I was 12, and the latest craze at Watford Boys’ Grammar School was Adidas holdalls – for carrying your books and sports kit. (They’d become fashionable as an overnight bag on the Northern Soul scene.)
The holdalls came in various colours. Plenty of people had the solid black, plain white, or vivid blue, but I rather liked the less obvious colours: there was a sort of antelope brown I admired. So I got my mum to take me to the sports shop in Carpenders Park to buy one.
At the shop, though, a different bag caught my eye. It was made by Gola, not Adidas, and I knew I had to have it. No one else at school had got one. It would mark me out. And it would mark me out in the way I wanted to be marked out: as a Watford fan. The bag was yellow, with black handles.
To be clear, I wasn’t wanting to show off. Watford were rubbish in 1975. We’d just been relegated to Division Four and hardly anyone at school was interested. And if you were interested, you were ridiculed. So I thought that having a yellow and black bag – not branded Watford, but with a black Gola logo on the side – would be a subtle way of demonstrating my allegiance. (If you can call a huge, bright yellow holdall ‘subtle’.)
At the shop, my mum didn’t think the bag was a good choice. She came up with all kinds of reasons why it was unfit for purpose. I was having none of it. The bag was yellow and black, therefore it was perfect.
The next day, I marched proudly into my classroom with my new bag. Heads turned. As I made my way to my desk, I heard whispers. It made me wonder if my classmates had already made the connection between the colour of the bag and my devotion to Watford. But I don’t think they had, because the first thing someone said to me was “What the fuck is that bag?”
Our class teacher told everyone to quieten down. She told us to get our books out. Everyone else reached down and unzipped their Adidas holdalls. I reached down and opened my Gola bag. The air was filled with a deafening ripping sound. Did I mention the bag had a Velcro fastening?
The teacher came over to find out what the noise had been. I said: “I was only doing what you said, miss. I opened my bag.” She reached down to the yellow bag. She lifted its black fastening flap, and saw the Velcro strip. For a moment I was frightened she might confiscate my brand-new bag. This would be a humiliation – though, with hindsight, it would have been no worse than my thinking our new striker Arthur Horsfield was the man to lead us back into Division Three. “Well, open it quietly next time,” she said.
From then on, at the start of every lesson, I had to try and open my bag as unobtrusively as possible. I tried various techniques but settled on easing the nylon hooks of the Velcro very gently away from the nylon pile. This was slow (like Arthur Horsfield) and a waste of time (like Arthur Horsfield), but the inconvenience seemed appropriate. Being a Watford fan in 1975 was all about suffering. With each barely audible tear of hook from pile, I was patiently demonstrating my loyalty.
Also, the fastening wasn’t the only thing that had made the bag look a bad idea in the shop. Inside, there were compartments along the bottom that I had to flatten so I could fit all my books and sports gear in. But I kept on using it nonetheless. To me, my yellow and black bag represented Watford, and I wasn’t going to quit. Yes, it was unfit for purpose. Yes, it wasn’t as cool as other brands. Yes, at times, it made me a laughing stock. But I could carry all that.
Two years later, in 1977, Graham Taylor arrived at Watford. Arthur Horsfield left the club, and I got a new holdall.