When the pre-season game in Klagenfurt was announced for 5th July, I knew that a long anticipated trip to Garsington Opera on the Friday and tickets for the theatre on Saturday meant that my attendance was not possible. Then, on Thursday, the venue and kick-off time were announced and the temptation was too much to bear. After all, I’d be home from the opera before midnight and the play will be on until the end of August and there were plenty of tickets left. When I found there were still seats available on the weekend flights to Klagenfurt, my decision was made. So Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, I was at Heathrow waiting for Don Fraser to appear for the trip to Klagenfurt. Don was somewhat elusive due to a couple of dramas with the assistance at Heathrow, but he eventually appeared and we arrived in Klagenfurt on schedule.
There were no taxis available outside the airport so, when one finally turned up, the driver asked the others in the queue where they were going. One young man was also heading to our hotel, so he shared the cab and told us that he was travelling with AS Monaco who were coming to the area for a training camp. Needless to say, these were not the footballers that interested us.
After a lovely lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Don and I headed for the Wörthersee Stadium. The stadium was very impressive indeed but, on arrival, the only footballers in evidence were the Monaco team having a practice game on the training pitch. A few minutes later we saw a couple of familiar faces. I must say that I am always greatly relieved to see someone with a Watford crest on his shirt when arriving at a pre-season venue just in case I have turned up at the wrong place. In proper football saddo style, we positioned ourselves outside the players’ entrance and, very soon after, the coach appeared and the players piled off. There were smiles and greetings from those who recognized us. When Lloydy appeared, he just shook his head when he saw us, then came over and gave me a kiss. He’d enjoyed his Summer, but wanted to forget the France game. Then GianLuca Nani appeared and greeted us like old friends.
Once our guard of honour duties were complete, we enquired about the location of the supporters’ entrance to the stadium. A steward, who clearly spoke no English and was taking no chances with my terrible German, directed us through the maze of corridors by means of smiles and pointing and, after taking a lift up, we emerged onto the concourse inside the beautiful arena and, as there was no obvious wheelchair area, took a place at one of the tables in the press area. As Beppe came out onto the pitch for the warm-up, GianLuca pointed us out in the stand and we were treated to a wave and a greeting. We’d positioned ourselves by the half-way line, so were soon joined by the players who were not taking part and the coaching staff. Troy, Ikechi, Bernard Mensah and George Byers were the first to come up and they sat just in front of us, so we were treated to Troy’s opinions throughout the game which added greatly to the entertainment.
The Klagenfurt announcer, who was wearing a shirt with no 12 on the back (as were all the fans in replica shirts), went through a detailed description of the Klagenfurt players but did not deign to inform us of the Watford line-up, so it was the usual pre-season practice of trying to recognise these young footballers who all look the same to me. I did pretty well as there have been no new hair cuts this Summer to fool me but, by the end of the first half, I had still not identified the no. 4. I was embarrassed to have to ask who he was and was quite pleased to be told it was Tamas, so I had an excuse for not recognising him.
The starting line-up was Gomes, Brown, Cathcart, Tamas, Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, McGugan, Dyer, Ranegie and Vydra. I was a little surprised, but also gratified, to see that Murray was captain for the day. The first real attack of the game came from the home side and was thwarted by a wonderful saving tackle from Brown. From the throw-in, the ball
reached Prawda who shot high and wide. The home side had another attempt on goal but the shot flew wide of the near post. Watford’s first corner was taken by Dyer and a number among our support will be unhappy to hear that he took it short. However, when the cross came in, it was met with a decent header from Vydra, but a Klagenfurt defender’s head was there to clear. On 20 minutes, Vydra fed Dyer, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Vydra picked up the loose ball and passed to Pudil whose attempt was also blocked. Deeney was giving McGugan some grief as he lined up a shot and his judgement was proved right as Lewis’s attempt flew high and wide. At the other end, a cross from the right was straight into Gomes’s arms. Battocchio, who had made a great start, played a lovely ball over the top to Vydra, but the attentions of a defender prevented him getting a decent shot in. Another pin point long ball, this time from Pudil, reached
Battocchio but his cross was cut out before it reached Vydra. On 26 minutes, we were a goal up as a lovely through ball from Murray found Dyer on the edge of the box. He advanced and coolly slotted the ball past the Klagenfurt keeper. A nice goal and the reaction of the players in the stands showed that Dyer is already a popular member of the playing staff. The home side had a chance to strike back as a through ball found Zakany in the box, he tried a shot that was turned around the post by Gomes. With 10 minutes to half time, the home side won a free kick in a dangerous position, it reached Prawda in the box but he headed wide of the near post. Dyer nipped into the box, he was closed down so passed back to Ranegie, who decided to control the ball rather than just shooting and found himself with his back to goal so the chance was gone. The home side tried to hit back just before half time with a free kick that was met with a strong headed clearance by Pudil. On the stroke of half-time Klagenfurt won a corner, but it was coolly caught by Gomes.
At half-time, a Klagenfurt supporter stopped to talk with us. He asked what we thought of the stadium. I said it was beautiful, he looked sad and said, “But we have no fans.” I wondered how they had the money to build such a stadium. He told me that it had been built for Euro 2008. He said that they have a good young team, but there is no TV money, no sponsorship and small crowds so they struggle.
At the start of the second half, Ekstrand, Hoban and Doyley replaced Cathcart, Tamas and Brown in defence with Fabbrini coming on for Ranegie upfront. There was a scare for the visitors early on as we failed to clear a corner and the ball bounced goalwards, but Gomes saved with his feet. From the corner Gomes came and caught the ball. On 53 minutes, Pudil was booked for a late tackle on Zakany. It was just in front of us and we could hear the victim’s rather dramatic scream.
Soon after, Murray played a one-two with Dyer and shot from a great position, but the ball curled high and wide. On 57 minutes, Smith replaced McGugan. The young Irishman was involved in the next move as he cut the ball back to Fabbrini who, if I’m being charitable, was fouled or, if I’m not, ran into the defender and collapsed. Dyer then went off to be replaced by Jakubiak. A shout of “Well played, Lloydy,” went up from Deeney and the new man looked up and smilingly acknowledged his teammate. Then Doherty replaced Murray who gave the captain’s arm band to Pudil. On 72 minutes a great run from Jakubiak appeared to have been stopped with a tackle that put the ball out for a corner, but it rebounded off the corner flag and stopped on the byeline, so Jakubiak retrieved it and hit a cross that just evaded Fabbrini and flew wide. Then a decent shot from the home side was
just tipped wide by Gomes. There followed a sublime move down the pitch by Watford, which finished with Pudil putting Vydra through one-on-one with the keeper. Deeney’s shout of ‘slot machine’ indicated that he also thought that a second goal was inevitable, but Matej’s shot was too close to the keeper who managed to save, leaving me with my head in my hands. Soon after, Vydra received the ball again but a bit further up the field. Don shouted “Give it to Lloydy” so he did, but Lloyd’s cross drifted wide and the chance was lost. With 10 minutes remaining O’Nien came on for Vydra and Gomes was replaced by a young keeper who, Alec told me, is a 16 year-old scholar called Nathan Gartside. At this point, Jakubiak went upfront. With a couple of minutes to go, Hoban lost out on the left but battled back to retrieve the ball, it flew into the air and was gathered by Gartside. On 90 minutes, there was great work from Pudil who controlled a long high ball to the left and skipped past a defender to unleash a shot that was cleared off the line. The game finished with a deserved one goal win for the Hornets.
As the players left the stand at the end of the game, Angella, who I sponsored this season, spotted me and said hello. I asked if he was resting. He lifted the leg of his shorts to show the strapping on his thigh. Fortunately, Don was on hand with the smelling salts.
We left the ground and took up stalking position at the players’ entrance again. Don had brought a shirt that he wanted signed and handed it over to Richard Line, the Operations Manager, who promised to get it signed during the week so that Don could pick it up next weekend. He said he wouldn’t bother the players now. At that point, Troy came over to talk to us, he signed the shirt and took it onto the bus and then into the dressing room and Don soon had a shirt full of signatures. We welcomed Vydra ‘home’. Then Beppe came over and thanked us for our support and told us that they were working hard for the new season. This was confirmed by Richard Line who said that they had been doing double sessions every day, which would explain the fatigue shown during the game. To be honest, I hadn’t expected them to go all out in the first pre-season game, but that made me a little more sympathetic to any perceived lack of effort.
We waved the coach off and went looking for the taxi that we’d booked to take us back to the hotel. It was nowhere to be seen, so we headed back towards the car park and asked one of the locals if they had a number for a cab. There was a family there and one of the lads kindly called us a taxi and they waited with us until it arrived, calling to ask where it was when it didn’t arrive on schedule. While we were waiting, they told us a bit more about the club. When the stadium was built, the club was in the top division, but they got into financial difficulties and were wound up. The new club had to start again in the 3rd division. They attract a very small crowd, c 1500, who rattle around in a stadium with a capacity of 30,000. When our cab arrived, we said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their kindness.
When my alarm went at 4am on Saturday morning after 3.5 hours sleep, I wondered what the hell I was doing travelling to Austria for a football match. But, as Don and I relaxed with a drink back at the hotel, we reflected on a cracking day out where we’d seen some football but also met some delightful people, many of them connected to our football club. We both concluded that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend.