Tag Archives: Grant Leadbitter

Saying Goodbye to Our Hero

Don & I with Graham & Rita

Don & I with Graham & Rita

The first time I ‘met’ Graham Taylor was one Summer in the early 80s.  I had heard that the Hornets trained at Shendish, which was a short walk across the fields from our house.  We headed over there a couple of times, while walking the dog, before the golden day when we saw the Watford players streaming on to the training pitch.  We were awestruck.  As they played a training game, every time the ball rolled off the pitch towards her, my young sister would pick it up and hold it for one of the players to collect.  After she had done this a few times, GT gently said, “You can throw it, you know.”  She started doing that and the practice flowed more smoothly.  Then my attention switched to Nigel Callaghan who was practising his ball skills when our Border Collie decided to challenge him.  When I look back on that day, I am horrified.  We were a group of children disrupting their training session, and GT would have been totally justified in sending us packing, but he didn’t once make us feel as though we shouldn’t be there.  That was just one of a number of encounters that I have had over the years with Graham Taylor that have always left me walking on air and adoring the man.  When I heard about his death this week, I felt as though I had lost a favourite uncle and discussions with fellow fans and those throughout the football world who had been lucky enough to come into contact with him showed that my feelings were shared by many.

Suddenly Saturday’s game with Middlesbrough had taken on a great significance and the tickets that were unsold as of Thursday morning were soon snapped up.

Graham Taylor, We Love You

Graham Taylor, We Love You

As always on an important football day, I took some time choosing my outfit for the game.  I could not find my “Golden Boy Forever” t-shirt, but did find “Elton John’s Taylor-made Champions” from 97-98.  I also took my Cup Final replica shirt to wear in the ground so that both eras were covered.

I left home earlier than usual so that I could get to the Hornet Shop to sign the book of condolence before the crowds descended.  On the train journey, I listened (again) to the 5Live tribute show.  The outpouring of love was just remarkable and it was wonderful to know that it wasn’t just Watford fans that loved the man so much.

As I walked along Market Street, I saw a friend coming in the opposite direction.  No words were exchanged as we met, just a heartfelt hug.  That would become a feature of the day.  I arrived at the ground at about 11:30 and took a while to admire the tributes that had already been left before joining the queue to sign the book.  It was lovely to see that the display in the windows of the club shop had been changed to feature shirts and tracksuits from GT’s time at the club.

There's only one Graham Taylor

There’s only one Graham Taylor

We took up residence at our usual table in the West Herts which soon filled up with the regulars and with some more occasional visitors, each arrived looking bereft and was greeted with warm hugs.  The build up to the Spurs v WBA game was being shown on the televisions and I was not taking much notice when suddenly I became aware of the sound of clapping.  I looked up to see Graham Taylor’s picture displayed on the screen at the ground and the players and crowd taking part in a minute’s applause.  All conversation in the bar ceased and you could have heard a pin drop until the referee’s whistle went on the television when we applauded the gesture and went back to our previous discussions.

I am usually guilty of getting to my seat just in time for Z-cars, but on this occasion, I wanted to be there early to pay my respects, particularly as Graham’s family would be in attendance, which I thought was incredibly brave given how recently they had lost him.  But, as Pete pointed out, “It’s what Graham would have done.”  As we got to the ground, the size of the crowds and the floral tributes had grown considerably since my earlier visit.  So many flowers and shirts with lovely messages and each of the bollards had Watford scarves tied around them.  Arriving inside the Rookery I saw yet another queue to sign the condolence book which brought tears to my eyes.

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

The tribute in the Rookery (many thanks to Sarah Priestley for the photo)

On the way through the concourse, I bumped into more and more friends, all in or on the verge of tears.  As we reached our seats, GT’s picture was on the big screen and “There’s only one Graham Taylor” was rolling across the electronic hoardings and being sung by the crowd.  Then I noticed other little details such as the black corner flags and that Harry Hornet was wearing the CTX shirt from the 97-98 season.  As we waited for kick-off, they were playing GT’s favourite songs and the big screen was showing highlights from past triumphs.  They then cut to show Rita, Joanne and Karen in the GT stand and I lost it completely.  Just before the teams came out, they played GT’s favourite song which is Buddy Holly’s “Raining in my Heart.”  If there was anybody in the ground who had kept it together until that point, I expect that finished them off.

As Z-cars was played and the teams came on to the pitch, the big screen was showing GT leading the team out at Wembley on cup final day.  The 1881 had arranged a foil display and as we held them up, I managed to catch a glimpse of the big screen.  The design GT on a yellow background was just perfect and those holding them were loudly singing “There’s only one Graham Taylor”.  The pre-match tribute continued as the foils were lowered and the legends flag was displayed in the centre of the Rookery.

The players lined up for the minute's applause

The players lined up for the minute’s applause

There had been some discussion before the game about whether a minute’s silence or applause was the most appropriate.  Tim Coombs closed the discussion with the statement that, at the family’s request, a minute’s applause would be held.  This had the benefit of allowing all in the ground to belt out “One Graham Taylor”, at least those who were capable of chanting through the tears.  It was wonderful to see that the Middlesbrough fans joined in with both the applause and the singing.

After all that, it was easy to forget that a game was taking place.  Team news was that Mazzarri had made five changes from the Burton game with Gomes, Prödl, Behrami, Holebas and Okaka coming in for Pantilimon, Cathcart, Mason, Sinclair and Ighalo.  So, the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Britos; Kabasele, Doucouré, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney and Okaka.  Returning loan signing, Tom Cleverley was on the bench.

Capoue lines up a free kick

Capoue lines up a free kick

Watford had a great chance to open the scoring in the 9th minute as Capoue went on a run, a defender attempted a tackle but the ball rebounded in the direction of the goal, Etienne continued his run while the ball took an age to drop, sadly the Frenchman’s first touch was poor and Boro keeper, Valdés, had time to save at his feet.  At the other end, a ball into the box was headed down to Stuani who poked it home but, much to the relief of the Watford fans, the flag was up for offside, so it didn’t count.  The next action of note was on the 26th minute as Okaka nodded the ball down for Doucouré, whose lovely strike was blocked by Valdés.  Soon after, the same players combined again as Okaka broke forward and fed Doucouré whose shot was blocked, a cross back into the box was just missed by the head of Okaka.  The Italian launched another attack, beating two players before putting in a cross that Chambers cleared just before Deeney could connect.  The visitors threatened again as a ball was flicked into the Watford box and Stuani chipped over Gomes but, thankfully, also over the bar.  A guy near the front of the Rookery stood up to remonstrate with the Watford keeper who, to everyone’s surprise, gave the fan a piece of his mind.  Just before half time, some more good work from Okaka allowed Doucouré to try another shot but, again, it was just over the bar.

The former players at half time

The former players at half time

There were boos at the half time whistle.  It had been a poor half, although Watford had the better of the chances.

I felt very sorry for the children taking part in the half-time penalty shoot-out in front of the Rookery as all attention was on the former players gathered on the side of the pitch being interviewed by Tim and Emma.  Ian Bolton, Les Taylor, Nick Wright, Allan Smart, Tommy Mooney and Luther Blissett all spoke about the great man and, as he has done a number of times this week, it fell to Luther to pay the most perfect tribute, “He is the greatest man I’ve known.”

The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets, but Kabasele headed Capoue’s cross just wide of the near post.  The home side had another half chance as a free kick from Capoue was headed goalwards by Okaka, but Valdés dropped to make the save.  At the other end a Prödl clearance found Fabio who forced Gomes into a flying save.

Waiting for a ball into the box

Waiting for a ball into the box

Capoue should have opened the scoring with a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post.  On 65 minutes, Gomes had to be replaced after picking up an injury when he fell awkwardly making a save.  Pantilimon took the field to chants of “Mackem reject” from the Boro faithful.  At the same time, the visitors brought Gestede on to make his debut in place of De Roon.  The substitute keeper’s first test came from a free kick that he gathered safely.  At the other end, Deeney played the ball out to Kabasele whose cross was headed just wide by Doucouré.  At this point (the 72nd minute) another minute’s applause started with the accompanying chants for Graham Taylor, again the Boro fans joined in.  Watford’s next substitution saw Tom Cleverley making his second debut for Watford in place of Behrami.  The Watford fans were screaming for a penalty as Okaka battled with a defender in the box before being pulled to the ground.  Instead, the referee awarded a free kick to the visitors and showed Okaka a yellow card.  Boro substitute, Gestede, tried his luck from 25 yards, but his shot flew over the bar.  Watford’s substitute had a much better chance and we were already on our feet celebrating when Cleverley’s shot rebounded off the post, Capoue’s follow-up cleared the bar.  Nothing was going our way.

Kaboul and Okaka

Kaboul and Okaka

Deeney had a great chance in the last few minutes as he ran on to a lovely ball over the top from Cleverley, with only Valdés to beat, the keeper stuck his leg out and the shot deflected wide of the far post.  From the corner, Prödl headed goalwards, but Valdés was able to make the save.  Watford’s final substitution saw Zúñiga take the place of Holebas, who took an age to leave the field, much to the displeasure of the Watford fans.  Watford had one final chance from a corner in time added on, but Kabasele’s header was saved.  There was just time for some handbags as Fabio and Deeney clashed after Britos had been booked for a foul on the Middlesbrough man.  So a disappointing game ended goalless.

There were a number of complaints after the game, but we had a considerably improved second half and had made enough chances to have won the game easily.  There were a number of positives for me.  There had been some good signs from Okaka.  Doucouré had an excellent game playing as the box-to-box midfielder that we had been promised.  Capoue was much improved with some good deliveries from set pieces and a couple of decent chances himself.  Finally, it was nice to see Tom Cleverley back, he made some lovely touches and almost grabbed the winner.  Off the pitch, the fans had been magnificent, both the 1881 for the pre-match displays, which were remarkable given the short time that they had to organize them, and the fans as a whole for singing Graham Taylor’s name for most of the ninety minutes.  I hope that Rita and the rest of the family took a little comfort from the outpouring of love from the fans.

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

The tributes outside Vicarage Road

We left the ground through the stand named after the great man, taking the time to remember all his achievements that are commemorated there.  We then stopped outside the shop to admire all the tributes that had been left.  It was a beautiful display.

Back in the West Herts, the post-match analysis was soon replaced with talk of Graham Taylor.  Unusually, perhaps, there were no reminiscences about great games, but all the talk was about encounters with him and the legacy that he has left for the club and the town.  We went back to the 80s when football grounds were generally nasty places to be and yet families were flocking to Vicarage Road to watch football in safety on the family terrace that had been built after GT raised money for it by running the London marathon.  At away games, we watched football from inside cages, but there were never any fences separating the fans from the players at the Vic.  He had also refused to have a covered dugout built until the fans in the Vicarage Road end had a roof.  At a time when football fans were treated like criminals, Graham Taylor refused to take this stance.  He treated the fans as he would want to be treated and the fans responded in kind.  The football club was built in his image and was a wonderful warm place to be.

Many Watford fans have talked this week about how much influence Graham Taylor had on their lives.  He was a man of great kindness and integrity who was a great role model to us all.  As a fan meeting GT, he had an incredible knack of making you feel that it was his pleasure to be speaking you.  He built a football club that still retains the family ethos that he instilled.  Last week that club lost its father.  We will miss him terribly.

A Very Happy Easter for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Nigel does his part in raising a flag for the Hornets

Monday afternoon saw part 2 of the Easter promotion challenge.  After the drama of the game at Pride Park, the nerves were kicking in again for the visit of Middlesbrough.  Due to the lunchtime kick-off, the West Herts was not open before the game so, for the first time in many years, I was at the ground before the gates opened.  When I gained access to the stadium, I saw that Roy and the 1881 lads were placing large flags throughout the Rookery.

Team news was that there were three changes with Anya, Tözsér and Paredes replacing Vydra, Layun and the suspended Motta.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Guedioura, Watson, Tözsér, Paredes, Ighalo and Deeney.  It was good to see both Vydra and Adbi on the bench in case they were needed.

The crowd was swelled by a group from Genk who were supporting their former players, Pudil, Tozser and Vossen.  The were cheers when each of the players’ names was announced and enthusiastic applause for Daniel Pudil’s warm up runs down the touchline during the game.

Deeney chasing his quarry down

Deeney chasing his quarry down

The tension ratcheted up before kick-off.  The “We are Watford” video was shown and then the players emerged to a wall of noise and a great spectacle from the flags.  The Middlesbrough fans had one small banner about “Belief” which looked pitiful in comparison.  Round one to the Hornets then.

There was a tentative start to the game from both sides.  The first goal attempt came after 9 minutes and fell to the home side as Deeney headed a cross from Anya over the bar.  For the visitors, Leadbitter tried to catch Gomes out with an audacious free kick from distance, but the Watford keeper was equal to it.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead as Anya played a one-two with Ighalo and unleashed a shot that was saved by the feet of the Boro keeper.  Angella was the next to threaten the Boro goal, but his header from a Tözsér corner went wide.  The first card of the afternoon was shown to Boro’s Reach for a hack on Tözsér.  Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo and fired a shot from distance that was wide of the target.

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Congratulating Deeney on his 20th goal of the season

Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button in taking a quick free kick that was cut out and allowed the visitors to launch a counter attack that finished with a shot from Bamford which, thankfully, was blocked.  Soon after, a cross from Friend was volleyed goalwards by Tomlin but Gomes was behind the shot.  On 36 minutes, Watford took the lead in some style as Guedioura played a gorgeous long pass to Deeney in the box who hit the ball past Konstantopoulos into the far corner.  Cue mayhem in the home stands.  That goal gave Deeney the distinction of being the first Watford player to score 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons.  Quite a remarkable record.  On 44 minutes, the Watford fans rose to their feet for the tremendous ovation of support for Nic Cruwys who remains in the thoughts of all of us.

If truth be told, there had been very little action of note in the first half.  But we had scored a terrific goal and, given the levels of fatigue after Friday’s game, I had been very impressed at the work rate of the Watford players.  They were giving the visitors no space, nor any time on the ball.  To distract us from our worries about the second half, there was a half-time egg and spoon race between Harry Hornet and a Nando’s chicken.  Needless to say, our Harry won by a country mile.  Hopefully that was to be a good omen.

Gathering for a corner

Gathering for a corner

Watford had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half.  Ighalo released Guedioura who found Anya, but his cross went begging due to the lack of any Watford player in the box.  Boro then threatened the Watford goal as a cross from Friend was turned just wide by Adomah.  At the other end, Guedioura played a through ball to Ighalo whose shot was easily caught by Konstantopoulos.  Watford’s first substitution came on the hour mark when Cathcart was replaced by Connolly.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead as the ball fell to Watson outside the area but his shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Angella headed over the bar.  My notes about the next incident read, “Watson to Ighalo, wallop!” which does a great disservice to the Nigerian who did brilliantly to beat Woodgate and hit the target.  In mitigation, I would say that my goal celebration probably left my brain starved of oxygen.  I had been counting down the minutes in the second half until that point.  The second goal gave us some breathing room.

Ighalo's goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

Ighalo’s goal celebration obscured by that in the stands

The goal was Ighalo’s last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Vydra.  We now have strikers on 20 and 19 goals for the season, so why not give Matej a chance to improve his tally.  Middlesbrough tried to strike back as Friend broke into the Watford box but there was Tommie Hoban to make a quite brilliant tackle.  Reach tried a hopeful shot from distance that was well wide of the far post.  Then Kike got under a header that flew well over the bar.  Deeney was the next to try a shot from distance that was deflected wide.  From the corner, Troy headed the ball out to Guedioura whose dipping shot was goalbound until it was tipped over by Konstantopoulos.  Into the last 10 minutes, Friend shot well wide of the far post.  Middlesbrough’s best chance of pulling a goal back came with a ball over the top to Kike who unleashed a shot that Gomes pushed out for a corner.  The final Watford substitution saw Layun come on for Guedioura who was given a rapturous ovation as he left the pitch.  The final whistle went to loud cheers and waving flags.

It had been a terrific performance from the Hornets who, once we went ahead, had never really looked like anything other than winners.  It had been an equally superb performance in the stands where the fans got behind the team throughout the game.

So, before the rest of the division kicked off, Watford topped the table.  Later results did not go our way, but we will have taken a lot of confidence from our performances this weekend, which will set us in good stead for the run-in.  There is a lot of football still to be played, and will be plenty more twists in the tale before May 2nd.  Let’s just enjoy the football and continue the terrific support.

 

Two Home Wins in a Week

Challenging for a cross

Challenging for a cross

When planning my journey to Saturday’s game, I had spent some time on railway websites working out which of my possible routes was the least disrupted by flooding.  The storms on Friday evening meant that I also had to give some last minute thought to trees on the line in Hertfordshire.  I set off more in hope than in expectation but, apart from spending rather longer than desirable standing on stations waiting for delayed departures, the journey was quite painless and I was in the West Herts at a respectable time.  Pre-match, more than one person asked incredulously whether my colleagues had really enjoyed the Birmingham game.  The response that they knew nothing about football seemed a satisfactory explanation.  The main team news was that Bond was in for Almunia who had picked up a calf strain, and Diakite was to make his full debut.  The starting line-up was Bond, Angella, Cassetti, Doyley, Pudil, Diakite, Tözsér, Murray, Faraoni, Forestieri and Deeney.  The Middlesbrough line-up included former Watford player of the season, Danny Graham, as well as Nathaniel Chalobah who impressed for us on loan last season.

In common with all matches this weekend, Vicarage Road was to have a pre-match appreciation of the life of the great Tom Finney who died this week.  No sooner had Richard Short started his introduction than the fans throughout the ground broke into spontaneous, affectionate applause, which was rather lovely.

Doyley executes an arabesque

Doyley executes an arabesque

It was the sixteenth minute before anything happened on the pitch that seemed worthy of jotting down.  To be honest, Adomah’s shot wasn’t that thrilling and Bond was down to save easily, but I was fearing at that stage that I would get to half time with a blank page in my notebook.  Watford’s first goal attempt came as Pudil passed to Forestieri whose shot was deflected for a corner.  Next a defensive header fell to Murray on the edge of the box, but his shot flew over the bar.  For the visitors, Adomah played a through ball to Graham in the box, but the former Watford man shot wide of the far post.  Forestieri picked the ball up from Faraoni and passed across the field to Pudil whose shot was well off target.  Then a free-kick from Tözsér was gathered at the far post by Shay

Tozser takes a free kick

Tozser takes a free kick

Given.  At the other end, a Ledesma shot from distance was nowhere near the target.  There followed a yellow card for each side.  First, Gibson was penalized for a trip on Deeney.  Then Leadbitter tried to escape from Cassetti and was taken down for his audacity.  The wronged man took the free kick himself, it was met with a header from Woodgate that beat Bond but, to the relief of the home supporters, was ruled out for offside.  A Murray shot was gathered by Given with Deeney closing in on him.  Finally, a moment of skill as a break from Graham was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Cassetti, but the Italian followed this up with a horrible shanked pass which was much more in keeping with the game so far.  Then Deeney jumped to meet a Faraoni cross that was a bit too high so he couldn’t get much power in his header which looped into Given’s hands.  The last ‘goal attempt’ of the half, came from a Tözsér free-kick which was headed wide of the far post by Forestieri.  The half-time whistle was a blessed relief after a truly dire half of football summed up by a comment from the guy who sits next to me that he’d never get that 45 minutes of his life back.

Shay Given

Shay Given

The start of the second half saw the return of Tommie Hoban after a more than a year out following Achilles surgery.  Lloyd Doyley made way, which was a bit surprising as Cassetti was on a card and Angella had taken some knocks but, unbeknownst to me, Lloyd had picked up an injury.  The visitors also made a substitution with Carayol replacing Ledesma.  Given the lack of entertainment in the first half, it was some consolation that the second half would feature the lovely Shay Given in the goal at the Rookery end.  There was no sense of finding his feet for young Hoban after his long layoff, as his first action was a robust tackle on the other substitute, Carayol.  A minute later, Forestieri was tripped in the

Troy's penalty

Troy’s penalty

box by Gibson.  The referee immediately pointed to the spot.  Troy Deeney stepped up and placed the penalty straight down the middle as Given dived to his right and the Hornets were unexpectedly a goal up.  Five minutes into the half, Watford were down to ten men as Diakite inexplicably launched into a two-footed tackle on Whitehead.  This was greeted with “I told you,” by Trevor who sits in front of me and is also a season ticket holder at QPR.  He’d commented when Diakite came on as a sub against Brighton that he doesn’t usually spend long on the pitch.  Middlesbrough almost took advantage immediately but Graham’s shot was deflected just wide.  Luckily for Watford, a moment of madness by Gibson

Stopping Carayol

Stopping Carayol

ensured that both teams played most of the second half with 10 men.  Bond had gathered the ball from a corner and was about to launch it upfield, when Gibson tried to kick the ball out of his hands and was, deservedly, given a second yellow for his stupidity.  Soon after, there was a bit of handbags between Chalobah and Forestieri that earned both men a yellow card and ensured that Nathaniel was jeered every time he touched the ball for the rest of the game.  As the second period reached the halfway stage, Anya replaced Faraoni.  Ikechi was involved immediately crossing for Deeney who, under challenge, headed straight at Given.  An injury then necessitated another substitution as Forestieri was replaced by Battocchio.  Middlesbrough threatened as an innocuous looking shot from Carayol took two attempts from Bond to control.  The visitors then replaced Varga with Main.  The introduction of Anya had injected a bit of pace into the game and a quick break had Given back pedalling, but he was able to narrow the angle so Anya’s shot was just wide of the far post.  Graham then got on the end of a cross from Whitehead but it was

Anya versus Friend

Anya versus Friend

easily caught by Bond.  It was end to end stuff as Anya played a lovely through ball to Deeney, but Given was out to dive at his feet and save.  He launched the ball upfield where it reached Friend whose shot was blocked.  Danny Graham had another chance from the edge of the box but again it was well wide.  Into the last 10 minutes, Kamara replaced Woodgate.  With four minutes remaining Deeney advanced down the left and pulled the ball back to Tözsér on the edge of the box but his shot was weak and did not test Given.  This move summed up the game for me.  It appeared to be in slow motion and seemed that neither Deeney nor Tözsér really wanted to bother the Boro keeper

Bond takes a free-kick

Bond takes a free-kick

with a shot.  A cross into the Watford box was punched by Bond as far as Adomah whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then found Murray on the left, who pushed the challenging Chalobah out of the way before shooting straight at Given, but the whistle had already gone for the foul.  There were five minutes of added time in which all the chances fell to the visitors.  First a cross from Carayol flew well wide.  The same player put in another cross that was headed back across goal to Graham whose header was caught by Bond.  Finally, Carayol went for goal himself but his shot was just wide and Watford had another 1-0 win.

So two home games in a week have yielded six points, but very little entertainment.  I’m all for winning ugly on occasion, but when it becomes a habit it is not a lot of fun to watch.  Next up is a trip to the West Country to stand on a terrace at a new ground, always something to look forward to.  Here’s hoping that the weather doesn’t intervene this time.