An Enduring Love Affair with My Local Football Team

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An Enduring Love Affair with My Local Football Team

Having parked up in what was then called The Harlequin, a seven-year-old boy took the half mile walk down Watford High Street towards Vicarage Road along with thousands of other fans. On the surface it was nothing special; the nights were long, the weather was dreary, the shops were busy. But for this young boy, it was to become an enduring love affair with a club and community always associated with the terms, ‘nearly’, ‘almost’, and ‘average’. This is how I fell in love with little old Watford FC.

Born across from Vicarage Road Stadium in June of 1992 at Watford General Hospital, it took until April 2000 for the seed of adoration to be planted. Arsenal were the visitors to Hertfordshire in the newly-formed English Premier League and my father, an avid Millwall fan, along with family friends, Tottenham fans, thought it might be a nice day out. The leading reason for this bizarre and somewhat wayward excursion for a party with no affiliation to the sides in contention was that I, a misguided and naïve youth, supported Arsenal at the time.

This short but strong affection for the Gooners was born from two interlinking factors: they were good and they were local. I was oblivious to the idea that you should support your local team, uneducated on history and affiliations; blissfully ignorant about the meaning of community.

My father, born and raised in Lewisham, had endeavoured to exploit this ignorance by subtly promoting his own side, Millwall. However, fortunately for me, he understood the need for community association. He knew I was a Watford fan at heart and, besides the occasional visit to the Den, has allowed me to decide my own footballing destiny. In my selfishness, I have not been so kind to him. My father is now in his 8th season as a Watford season ticket holder, and my father has become an honorary hornet. We still attend the significant events in the Millwall calendar to satisfy his need – Play-Off Finals and visits of Watford FC, for example. But the old man has certainly started to appreciate the finer things in football since following Watford; a family-friendly environment for one, and, in more recent times, skill and flair.

Returning to my first live footballing experience, when Watford went three-down at home to Arsenal the aforementioned seed showed no signs of life. What was, for 45 minutes, a sombre and dejected stadium with fans resigned to relegation was transformed in the 58th minute as Golden Boy Heider Helguson drew one back. Micah Hyde added another two minutes later and pressure began to build along with the noise. Vicarage Road went from a mortuary to a festival of colour and vibrancy in the space of 20 second-half minutes. Fans sang in unison, willing the team on; drums were setting the tempo and driving the team forward. Watford FC were well and truly in search of an equaliser. But try as they might, the Hornets couldn’t find a breakthrough.

As time faded away so did the noise, but Arsenal continued to be architects of their own downfall and having seemingly survived the onslaught, Patrick Vieira gave Watford fans brief hope of redemption. For all of his talent and skill, Vieira was well-known for his psychological frailties and in the dying seconds he head-butted Helguson. Watford fans erupted like most supporters would when their fan-favourite and icon has been assaulted on the pitch, however there was additional animosity in the mix as hopes of survival were now intrinsically linked to the result. A point meant more than a draw, it meant an upturn in fortunes, an injection of confidence, a fight not yet seen that season. So with Helguson on the floor, 20,000 Hornets screaming their disapproval, and Vieira remonstrating like a guilty man, surely the man in the middle, Harris had a straightforward decision in sending off the Arsenal captain?

No

Vieira received a yellow card and with it, Watford’s hopes of survival were extinguished. Fans were left incensed and as the final whistle was blown a little time later, Watford FC were all but relegated from the Premier League.

It is said that love often presents itself in the darkest and most unexpected of lights and this affair was no different. The seed of love blossomed for the Hertfordshire club as fans stayed in the stadium for 15 minutes after the final whistle singing again in unison; the display of passion was both for the referee and in admiration of the Hornet’s second half performance. As an Arsenal fan I was not used to such an exhibition. It was new, it was different, it was love at first sight.

I now began seeking out Watford results and following the matches on teletext. I had been infected by the hornets and thus began the end of my relationship with Arsenal. Even the unbeaten season of 2003-2004 could not save Arsenal from the inevitable break-up as my father and I had already become season-ticket holders. I have always felt a little guilty with how that relationship ended but sometimes the heart has to rule the head. Arsenal would only have ever made me enjoy football, it was Watford FC that made me live it and love it. It was Watford FC that made me understand it.

Football, for many, is a pastime, a hobby; a sport that can be enjoyed for 90 minutes but no more. However, as I have said before, football is so much more than that. It provides an identity, an escape from everyday life, a family and sense of belonging that you can’t get in any other walk of life. This is why supporting your local side is important for the soul. It may not be easy to support your local team, but nothing worth having or loving is. There are often more lows than highs but football is about more than the result for fans. Yes Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and City may be your local team, and I do not hold that against you, however to support such clubs is to miss the true meaning of football if not from the area.

Football is about taking the train with your friends on a cold November night to watch your side lose in Nottingham. Football is sneaking into the opposition’s stand as your side have sold-out their allocation. Football is celebrating in victory and shedding a tear in defeat. Football is going out in your home town following a promotion, a relegation, a mid-table finish.

Football is taking pride in where you’re from.