We Arrived Late, and Missed Nothing
Peter Morgan on why timing is everything
Geoff Wicken’s article in YBR! 36, about arriving very late at a game, reminded me of a similar occurrence that ended in a truly memorable day and a win for Watford.
My niece, Charlotte, is not only a keen Watford supporter, after being brainwashed since birth by her father that God is spelt GT and having possessed a full repertoire of Watford songs by the age of two, but went one better and played for the Watford Ladies development side.
I managed to play in the Middlesex Cup at such a junior level I believe it might have been the Middlesex Foetus Cup, but on Sunday 2 September 2018 Charlotte was due to play in the Women’s FA Cup first qualifying round at Dunstable. For those of you who dismiss this as ‘only the Women’s FA Cup’, let me remind you that 43,264 attended that year’s final and 77,390 turned up for this season’s final. I would have loved the words ‘FA Cup’ and ‘Watford FC’ to appear on my ‘career’ resume.
Kick-off was at 1pm in Dunstable and, as I lived not far away, in Berkhamsted, she was to stay with us the night before, have a high carbohydrate meal before the game (bacon sandwich?) before I took her to the match.
But then Watford started the season like the proverbial steam train, winning the first three games of the season, and Sky chose our game against Spurs, who similarly had a 100% record, to be moved to the Sunday at 4:00. I calculated that if the game at Dunstable finished on time and I sped down the M1 and managed to park relatively quickly in Watford town centre, we should be inside Vicarage Road soon after kick-off.
As Robert Burns suggested, albeit unintelligibly to a non-Scots speaker, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and mine certainly went north as we came southwards on the M1.
Let’s just say the Watford Ladies development side did not make the next round of the FA Cup and the referee might have even ended the game early to prevent further punishment, so we were heading to the M1 before 3:00. Everything was great until just before junction 5, where the tailback of cars going off was a sign that there were problems ahead. The A4008 was shut and we had one choice of where to go; towards Bushey on the A41. We crawled to the Toby Carvery roundabout, noting that traffic the other way was at a complete standstill, as it was towards Costco.
By this time we were already listening to the game on the radio, and inhaled several times as Spurs went close, with the Hornets clearly struggling. This was, let me remind you, the Spurs team that eight months later was in the UEFA Champions League final. We had managed one point against Spurs in six games since returning to the Premier League in 2015, so the omens were not good. After the cars dispersed like the parting of the Red Sea, but in ultra slow-motion, we moved on to plan X, which meant driving to the Little Redding roundabout, heading through Bushey and then getting as near as possible to Vicarage Road before running to the ground. I cannot recall where we parked, but we managed to persuade a steward to let us in the ground at about the hour mark. Back amongst family and friends, we were told that we were losing 1-0 thanks to an Abdoulaye Doucouré own goal, following a catalogue of defensive errors. Quite frankly we were being outplayed and Charlotte and I were told we had missed nothing of consequence on Watford’s part.
As soon as we arrived the noise in the crowd rose. After waving at the crowd, vainly believing they might be cheering my late arrival, I realised it was because Troy had shoulder-charged Davinson Sánchez and crossed, and Toby Alderweireld’s header against the bar nearly resulted in an equalising second own goal.
Watford stayed on the front foot and a minute later a Holebas free kick was headed in by Troy and the Vic exploded. The game had now totally changed and the Watford support went from despondency to delight in an instant.
A few minutes later delight went to euphoria, as a Holebas corner was headed in by Craig Cathcart. In the space of the 15 minutes we had been in the ground, Watford had turned the game on its head and, with the same amount of time left, we were not only beating the mighty Spurs, but possibly heading for four consecutive wins at the start of the season.
Harry Kane missed a chance you would have put your house on him to score and Danny Rose skied a volley. Then the final whistle blew and everyone in Watford colours in the ground, including Sir Elton and his sons, exploded with elation.
Charlotte and I had only witnessed 30 minutes of the game, but what a half hour! No doubt the best 30 minutes of football I had witnessed since our return to the Premier League. Perhaps I should try turning up an hour into games in future? Would the club give me a discount on my season ticket if I only turned up for the last half hour? Later that season, I know of someone who left a game 30 minutes before the end of normal time. Perhaps we should share a season ticket? Unfortunately, the person in question left the semi-final against Wolves after their second goal and missed a game that trumped almost every other I had attended in over 50 years.
Perhaps, on reflection, I should always try and see the whole game. Otherwise I would not have witnessed the earliest-ever Premier League goal (boo!) or Gerard Deulofeu’s goal after 76 seconds at Norwich, just as I reached my seat, or last-minute goals by Tom Cleverley against Arsenal, Miguel Britos v Liverpool or that DEEEEEENEY goal.