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The Ties That Bind

Tim Turner recently realised that his twin passions – Watford and Bruce Springsteen – have more in common than he thought


Anyone who’s ever considered applying to be on Mastermind will know that it’s no good being the world’s leading expert in one area; if your knowledge gets you through the first round, you then have to choose a different specialist subject.

I’ve never seriously considered applying (I suspect my brain would empty the moment the cameras started rolling), but at least I wouldn’t have this problem. I have two specialist subjects: football and music, and specifically Watford and Bruce Springsteen.

Watford has been in my life longer, ever since I attended my first game at Vicarage Road at the age of eight. It was nearly ten years later that I discovered Bruce, in the wake of a school exchange to New York and New Jersey where my friend Chris spent every coach trip pointing out locations that were namechecked in Springsteen lyrics. I was already familiar with the song Born to Run, so when I got home I bought the album of the same name, and a light bulb went on in my head.

Forty years later, in the room where I’m writing this are two shelves containing 27 books about or by Bruce; more than 50 CDs (all the albums plus special edition box sets, CD singles, bootlegs and compilations of cover versions); 20 LPs (including more bootlegs); half a dozen 45s; and two boxes and three binders full of fanzines. (This collection, incidentally, is barely large enough to register me as even a middle-ranking Springsteen fan.)

I’ve never really connected my twin passions beyond noting that both involve a lot of cheering and singing (at least on the rare occasions I get to see Bruce in concert). But thinking about it recently, I realised they have more in common than I thought…

Location, location

Bruce made New Jersey (traditionally seen as New York’s scuzzy neighbour) a cool place to come from. In the same way, most people only see Hertfordshire from a car or train on their way to or from London. And, while Bruce paved the way for other Jersey artists (notably Bon Jovi), Watford have in recent years been joined in the Football League by Stevenage.

True, the comparison only goes so far (unless there’s a Berkhamsted branch of the mafia I haven’t heard about), but I’m sticking with it. As the chants from the Rookery prove, Hornets fans are as proud of being from Hertfordshire as Bruce is of his New Jersey roots.

Success in the 70s

Both Watford and Bruce spent the 1960s laying the foundations for their future success: Watford challenging for promotion to the Second Division, finally achieving it in 1969; Bruce by playing in a succession of groups, honing his musical and songwriting skills. But it was the mid-70s that brought both to the attention of the wider public. Bruce released his breakthrough album, Born to Run, in 1975, while Elton John made headlines when he became Watford chairman in 1976. His appointment of GT bore fruit with the Division Four title in 1978 – the same year Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The people’s champion

Bruce is the rock star who most closely represents the working man (and woman), in his image and in his songs. And he doesn’t just talk the talk: for example, when playing Newcastle and Leeds on his 1985 UK tour, he made generous donations to organisations supporting striking miners and their families.

Watford, too, cares about ordinary people, from GT establishing football’s first family stand to the club’s support for the NHS during the pandemic. The club has never lost touch with its roots in the local community. And we love it for that.

Famous but unfashionable

Both my heroes arguably peaked in the mid-80s, and my obsessions collided in spring 1984, at the end of my second year at university. On May 19 I was at Wembley to watch the Hornets lose in the FA Cup Final; a fortnight later, I was cycling into town to buy Born in the USA the day it came out, though I had to wait until after I’d finished that day’s exams before I could actually listen to it.

But while my heroes now had a global platform, that didn’t make them fashionable. The Hornets were still regarded as interlopers in the top division, decried as a long-ball team. Meanwhile, Bruce was often caricatured as a denim-clad throwback, a rabble-rouser without any substance. But the fans knew the truth.

Still flying high

Both Bruce and Watford have had their ups and downs in the past few decades, but they’re still performing at the highest level. Now in his 70s, Bruce continues to release superb albums (two in the past two years) and is a respected elder statesman of the rock world, outspoken in his support for the downtrodden, now as always. And Watford are back in the Premier League, still defying the critics, though maybe not respected by all – the turnover of head coaches is a barrier to that.

All being well, Bruce and the E Street Band will tour Europe next year, and I’ll be there – though there’s always the possibility of a clash with a Watford game. That’s one choice I’ve never had to make …so far.