This season has been a first for me, personally.

Never, in 46 years of supporting Watford, have I ever watched every single first-team game in every competition, home and away.

Now I fully accept that it’s far, far easier for me to do that, given I don’t have to pay for tickets and my expenses are covered by my employer.

So, let me say from the outset that the efforts of a journalist cannot compare to those of a fan.

But what it has done is give me even greater respect for my great friend and mentor, the late Oliver Phillips.

It’s a slog, even when you love Watford and football, to go through an entire season with all the associated work, late nights and long days, without missing a game.

I’ve done it just the once. Oli did it for decades.

I’ll never come close to Oli’s achievements, the number of games he must have watched, his quality of writing or his longevity in the job.

But what I did try to do this season is personally attend and watch as many Watford games as I could, be that the men’s team, the women’s team and the various Academy sides.

And, when the final whistle went at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, May 4, it brought down the curtain on my season which has, in total, seen me watch a grand total of 80 Watford FC games.

I’m not sure if even Oli managed that, because for many years when we worked together I would go and watch the Reserves or the Under-18s for him, as did various other colleagues.

The one thing, above all else though, that this season of trekking north, east, south and west, through all weathers and often spending many long hours driving in the dark has taught me is this: Watford’s fans are outstanding.

Watford Observer: Watford supporters deserve to be applauded for their effortsWatford supporters deserve to be applauded for their efforts (Image: PA)

Like I said, other than time, there is no cost to me in going to Sunderland on a Tuesday night to watch the men play or heading to Lewes on a Sunday for a women’s game.

Yet our fans somehow find the money, not to mention the passion, to follow the club’s teams through thick and thin – and let’s be honest, it’s been pretty much wafer-thin in the last few seasons.

I’m sure other clubs have fans that are equally worthy of praise, but I can only speak of those that I see, hear and find wherever I go on my travels.

Supporting Watford has been hard work for a few years now. It feels like things have been on the decline since the whistle went for the start of the 2019 FA Cup Final.

I know there has been a promotion since then, but a combination of games behind closed doors and the general trend on and off the pitch makes that individual season very much an outlier.

And let me say this article isn’t a pot-shot at the owner or anyone involved in the running of the club. All football clubs go through ups and downs – and regardless of what we might think about the way things have panned out at Vicarage Road, I am not writing this in order to get a dig in.

No, it’s more a recognition and acknowledgment of the people who really are the heartbeat of the club. The fans.

As I’ve written before, fans are a constant. They were there before a manager, before an owner, before a particular player – and they’ll be there still, after all those have gone.

Watford Observer: Watford fans at Wembley in 2019Watford fans at Wembley in 2019 (Image: Action Images)

When you look back on league results in the five seasons since that day out at Wembley, it shows why I say that being a Hornets fan has been testing:

P214 W70 D57 L87

That’s more than 40% of games lost in the five most recent campaigns - and when Watford were promoted in 20/21 they only lost nine games.

So, extract that season and it's more than 46% of games lost.

In the last three seasons, only a quarter of league games at Vicarage Road have been won by Watford.

And yet still our fans turn up, perhaps out of a sense of blind faith or unfettered optimism than real belief.

But whatever drives them, whatever keeps them going, whatever motivates them – it still costs a lot of money, probably involves juggling time off work and certainly puts them through the emotional wringer.

Yes, I see the extremes, especially on social media and in the comments on the Watford Observer website – those who can see no wrong in anything the club do regardless, and those you feel almost crave defeat because it fits with their terminally negative narrative.

The thing is, as fans, we are all entitled to our views, our opinions, our beliefs, however extreme, myopic or unpalatable they may seem.

Who is to say which viewpoint on any subject is right? That is why we all love football, because it generates a multitude of different perspectives, and not just between fans of different clubs but within the fanbase of any given team.

So, my reason for writing this piece at the end of another disappointing season (hopefully we can all agree on that!), is to doff my cap – or ‘chapeau’ as Slaven Bilic regularly said – in the direction of all my fellow Watford fans, wherever you are and whatever your views may be.

Watford Observer: Fans of all ages continue to support the Hornets home and awayFans of all ages continue to support the Hornets home and away (Image: Action Images)

Supporting Watford is rarely glamorous, not laden with trophies and certainly not a bandwagon that people jump onto.

It’s good, old-fashioned support for our team. It’s the people who still went to Middlesbrough, even though it was moved to 12.30pm and meant either an overnight stay or a painfully early start.

It’s the people on Coach A, whose picture I see on social media so often, smiling as they set off for another trek.

It’s those spread across the world who tune into Hive Live, follow my live blog or ‘allegedly’ manage to find a dodgy stream each time Watford play, often sitting up until late in the night or getting up in the small hours of the morning.

It’s the family and friends of Academy players I see on the touchline when the Under-21s and Under-18s play, regularly soaked, frozen or both on a pitch with absolutely no cover at London Colney, determined to get behind the young Hornets of the future.

It’s the supporters who have embraced, and taken to heart, Watford Women. Many of them often travel for back-to-back away games on a Saturday and Sunday, and are rewarded by a team whose lack of success on the pitch has not diminished the tremendous group that creates such a family-friendly and happy environment.

It’s those remarkable individuals, like Supporter of the Season Sarah Priestley, who works so hard to ensure the history and heritage of the club and the town is maintained for future generations, or Gavin Ricketts who I regularly see outside the training ground, at away games and just about everywhere else work takes me, in his wheelchair with a smile on his face and something yellow, red and black on his body.

And it’s those fans who keep turning up at Vicarage Road. I don’t care if you cheered, moaned, applauded or had a negative-themed (and health-and-safety-certified) banner. We’re all fans, we all want what we believe is the best for Watford.

I’ve seen other sets of fans turn wildly on their team this season – recently at Ipswich I witnessed a couple of fans gesturing and pointing the finger at their manager and players because “we’ll never achieve anything if we can’t beat teams like Watford”. A few weeks later, they were in the Premier League.

Vicarage Road may not always be the noisiest, it can sometimes be overly forgiving, but it is definitely very patient and loves ‘one of its own’.

It’s a place I’ve called home since the late 1970s and somewhere I couldn’t imagine ever not going to, like probably the vast majority of the 12,000-plus who have renewed their season tickets.

So, having spent 10 months writing about the players, the team, the coaches and the club, I thought it was long overdue to write something about all my fellow Watford fans.

I don’t know if anyone ever says thank you . . . so thank you. Without you, there would be no team to play for, and there would be no club to own.

Come on you ‘Orns.

PS – my own ‘personal’ record for my ‘Watford season’?

P80 W23 D23 L34 F106 A129