The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from YBR! Yellow Black & Red!

Matt Ballantine harks back to simpler times, and because he’s a man, creates a top ten.

Over the course of lockdown, a group of friends moved from doing Zoom quizzes to doing Zoom ‘World Cups of...’ If you don’t know the concept, you start with a long list of things, and then through a process of knockout elimination whittle the list down to the winner.

Over this time we definitively agreed the best beer, computer game, heavy metal album cover and 1990s indie band to name but a few. As we approached another period of lockdown, we were thinking about new subjects to cast our collective eye on (and, if truth be told, ramble on about times when we were all younger). One of the categories coming up in the cold winter months is the ‘World Cup of Things We Miss About Football’. As we prepared the long list, here’s my own top ten of things that I miss about days of Watford-supporting old...

10) The 70s- and 80s- format half-time shootout

A penalty shoot-out is all well and good, but only at the end of 90 minutes plus extra time. At half-time it’s a competition primarily in who can hit the target or who has opted to put their smallest player in goal. It must be great for the kids involved, but it’s hardly a spectacle for anyone other than the players’ parents. But back in my early days of going to the Vic, I remember a much more entertaining affair, where players would dribble from just outside the centre circle. Back then, presumably, for little legs just making it the 50 yards or so over the boggy, rutted pitch would have been tough enough. But added in was whether and when the keeper decided to run out, and whether the attacker decided to chip or dribble round. Now that was a shoot-out competition you could get involved with.

9) Being able to sit where I liked

For those first few years when first the Vicarage Road and then Rookery stands were built in the early 1990s we had a sit-where-you-like policy with tickets. And it was fair enough, because for many games when the attendances were in the 6- or 7,000s, you could not only pick where you wanted to sit but also choose an entire row if the fancy took you.

8) Floodlights on pylons

Now, I know from an environmental perspective the old floodlights at the Vic were a terrible thing, using up the same electricity as a small village and taking an age to warm up and cool down. But they were majestic, stuck on top of the pylons at each of the corners of the ground. Rising like cathedral spires, they made our temple of football visible from miles around. These days with super-efficient, super-directional LED bulbs, and an enclosed stadium, you barely know the lights are even on until you are at your seat.

7) Outfield players going between the sticks when a keeper got injured or sent off

Ooh, I used to love it when a goalie got injured. I mean, not in a sadistic way. But because it added a sense of double jeopardy as an outfield player would have to doubtfully pull on the green jersey and then find themselves bombarded with crosses to test whether it was all a dreadful mistake by them to volunteer.

6) The Saturday evening Sports Special Evening Echo with the match report

Number one in the ‘things I might as well not bother trying to explain to my children’ category, I only ever seemed to get hold of a copy of the Sports Special Saturday Evening Echo once in a blue moon. Looking back now it was a remarkable exercise in planning and logistics to be able to get a match report written, typeset, printed and distributed around south-west Herts in a matter of a couple of hours on a matchday. We sometimes forget that news used to travel pretty quick in the days before t’Internet.

Watford Observer:

The late Terry Challis

5) Terry Challis’s weekly cartoon

I don’t know if we quite knew how lucky we were to have a cartoonist of the skill and observational talent of Terry Challis, documenting the club’s fortunes over so many years in the Watford Observer. There’s not been anything quite like it since.

4) Adverts for Bonusprint at pitchside

Number two in the ‘things I might as well not bother...’ category. But a company who printed photos having the money to have seemingly loads of adverts at football grounds is totally unimaginable these days, even if people did still print photos...

Watford Observer:

The Hornets in their Iveco-sponsored kit

3) Shirts with sponsors that weren’t dodgy Chinese gambling sites

...because of all of the bloody gambling adverts. Now yes, I know that we are all grown-ups and should be allowed to make our own choices in life, but it still really irks me that the club seems fixated on having shirt sponsors whose product isn’t suitable to be put onto the kids-sized versions. What’s wrong with the good old days of petrol companies or glue manufacturers plying their wares on the sacred yellow tops?

2) Kicking balls into the crowd in the pre-match warm-up

I seem to remember this happening much more than it probably actually did. Still, I can distinctly remember in my early games in the late 1970s the squad running out, ball in each player’s hands, and them hoofing them into the crowd to be kept by whoever was the lucky winner of the presumable terrace scrums that ensued.

1) The old scoreboard

Not so much the old Vic Road scoreboard... although am I the only one to wonder why we had animations of little chaps raising their hats, or Hatters if you will? Felt like we might have been being trolled, 1980s-style.

But no, what I miss about the old scoreboard was that it meant we had no in-ground video replays. It meant you couldn’t afford to get distracted if you didn’t want to miss the action. Simpler times, where we were that bit more attentive perhaps...

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