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Oliver Phillips reflects on how Vicarage Road has changed after returning to Watford earlier this month
The toilet near the guest room of the Rous Stand is not a venue I could imagine nominating as a source of inspiration but as there was a lack of that commodity on the pitch, that was just what happened on Saturday [May 3]. There was an advert drawing my attention to the fact I could get married or at least have my wedding reception in the Rous. Flowers, music etc could also be arranged.
Having sampled their lunch, I can well believe catering for a wedding is well within Watford FC’s compass but as I left the toilet, the advert only brought home to me how much has changed since the days I first arrived at Vicarage Road, feeling a little self conscious with pen and pad in hand back in 1960, to set off on my career.
There were Penny on the Ball tickets to be had; you might purchase a hamburger from a stall outside if you were lucky but inside the ground catering was minimal. Towards the interval, two lads would emerge with a wooden box containing metal numbered sheets to hang on the scoreboard hooks and you would be able, with help of the programme, to see the half-time scores, along with the communal buzz of surprise when a potential shock seemed possible. That was the way of the world back then and it had been pretty much unchanged for 40 years, apart from the fact Watford no longer played in blue and white, but gold and black.
Later, in the 70s, you could obtain a pie or a cup of Bovril heated up but the idea of the club being able to host a wedding reception was laughable. They did not have the room, unless you cleared the rubbish that had dropped through the wooden slats and held the reception under the old Shrodells Stand.
The place where I sat for many years in the old Main Stand has long since gone and a new edifice rises in its place. It is a fine family-financed undertaking by the Pozzos – proof of their long-term commitment – and I understand the club is a good place to work once again.
Unfortunately, behind the Rookery, the health campus crowds in on the ground – a monument of the short-term thinking that was one of the many failings of the dreadful Simpson-Ashton era, but now that Vicarage Road is boxed in, they appear to be making the best of it.
I looked across from the Rous and noted a digger was perched roughly on the spot where I used to watch one half – the Bend between Shrodells and the Rookery being the other venue as we would transfer during the interval in order to be close to Watford’s attack. We travelled in hope even in those days. Below the digger, I could make out the concrete of the target area, where players would practice shooting and playing head tennis from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The digger has ripped up the terracing and probably turned it into hard core. Taffy Davies helped to lay that concrete back in the 1930s on the terrace just beside the old Main Stand.
Somewhere down on the pitch, long since spread and probably covered by new earth and fertiliser, Tommy Barnett’s ashes lie there. So did my old mate Terry Challis’ which were spread from a great height, fired by his relatives high over the old main stand and onto the ground by firework rockets. He would have enjoyed that.
Vicarage Road was my alternative place of work for many years; a place for delight, entertainment, frustration and being bored beyond patience by the football on occasions.
I was reminded of the latter experience when I saw the match [against Huddersfield]. What a thoroughly awful performance. The Hornets seemed to lack quality, steel, confidence and commitment. It was hard to see why they were not fighting relegation on the basis of that display. They looked a long way from coming to terms with the requirements of the Championship. Of course it was one game and it was the final match of the season.
“I think they are already mentally on the holiday beaches,” I was told by one onlooker. “Greece or somewhere exotic.”
Yes I could remember the days when footballer’s minds were already on the beaches of “Skeggy” (Skegness) and the like, but their holiday horizons have changed.
Apparently, “to be fair” the end of the season could not come quick enough for the Hornets. “In all fairness” it was just boringly a matter of fulfilling the fixtures. Apart from fact such statements now have to be uttered with the new fashion of adding “to be fair” or “fairness” to them, I did not think Huddersfield had one eye on the beaches.
And there is another point.
When players turn in such a pitiful performance because “there is nothing to play for”, it is worth remembering the supporters are still committed and have no choice but to accept the fact. They do not receive a reduction because the performance renders the afternoon as “nothing to pay for”.
When you find yourself watching Harry the Hornet or reading through the programme for the second time, you realise there is nothing much of value on the pitch.
This article was first published in the Watford Observer on Friday, May 9.
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