On Tuesday lunchtime I left work knowing that a waterlogged pitch at Tranmere meant that the game was in doubt. Unfortunately, I was booked on an early train and was probably just passing through Hemel when I saw the first report of the postponement. As the first stop for the train was Stafford, I had some time to contemplate whether to turn around but decided to finish the trip, just in case there was a rapid rearrangement. There wasn’t, so it ended up being a very expensive trip to the cinema (I saw “Knives Out” which was great fun).
On Wednesday evening (after my return from Liverpool!) I attended an amazing evening at Vicarage Road highlighting the work of the Community Sports and Education Trust. Instead of talking about their own work, they invited a number of participants to talk about their experiences, interviewed by Emma Saunders, who did a fantastic job. There was a guy who took part in the Shape Up programme who went from being a 24 stone couch potato to running a half marathon. A guy with mental health problems who has gained new confidence from the Man Up! events. A young boy who was being bullied and attended events that allowed him to gain confidence to the extent that he is now a mentor for younger children. A lad from the NCS who got so much out of it that he is now an advocate encouraging other youngsters to join in.
The star of the show was Geoff, who has attended the Golden Memories project for dementia sufferers, and it has brought a smile back to his face after he and his wife moved to a care home. His joy at the experience was palpable as he quite rightly said that 2 hours was not enough.
It was lovely to see Rita Taylor there with daughter Karen and granddaughter Rhianna. Rita attended a Golden Memories session as a guest to share some memories and has returned as a volunteer and can be found making tea for the participants.
Adrian Mariappa and Adekite Fatuga-Dada talked about their experiences as youngsters at Trust schemes. It was the first time that Adekite realised that she wasn’t the only girl who played football and allowed her to progress to playing for Watford Ladies. Daniel Bachmann was there as someone who has attended events as an enthusiastic volunteer, which is great to see.
So much credit has to go to Rob Smith who has worked tirelessly for many years to make the Trust such an amazing success. The Trust is a charity and self-financing and the work that it does is incredibly valuable for the community. This evening was a timely reminder of that.
I had a chat with Daniel Bachmann afterwards, who was absolutely lovely, although I was very confused by his Manchester accent (he came to England to play for Stoke when he was 17). But the little moment that reminded me why I love this club so much was when Aidy Mariappa put the chairs away after the event. Pampered Premier League footballers? There are some who are still treasures.
On to the weekend and Saturday lunchtime games are the worst. I went to the theatre on Friday night (Duchess of Malfi at the Almeida, very good but very bloody), so decided to stay in London to shorten the journey on Saturday morning. Don had passed on the news that the West Herts was opening early, so I arrived just before 10:30 to find our table already nearly full although there were an unusual number of coffee cups on the table. I decided that it was late enough for a beer but was glad when Jacque arrived just after me, so I wasn’t the only one with a pint. We left earlier than usual (persuading Mike that there wasn’t time for another drink) in order to be at the ground in time for the tribute to GT. Fans had been instructed to bring their scarves and, as I passed the Hornet Shop, I noticed that his statue was suitably attired.
Team news was that the team was unchanged from the Bournemouth game. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Masina, Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Capoue, Chalobah; Deulofeu, Doucouré, Sarr; Deeney. By all accounts, Pearson had been happy with his first sight of new signing Ignacio Pussetto, and he was given a place on the bench.
When I took my seat, I asked the guy that sits next to me whether he had a scarf with him (he doesn’t usually wear one). He didn’t so, as I had last year, I offered him my spare to hold up as the teams came out. It was a lovely sight with all the stands displaying our brightly coloured scarves. Rather heart-warming to see a number in the away end hold up theirs and those that had no scarves were applauding enthusiastically. It was very moving to see.
The teams swapped ends before kick-off which tends to elicit a groan from Watford fans as it is perceived as unlucky. The game kicked off and the Hornets carved out a very early chance as Deulofeu ran the length of the pitch and unleashed a shot that flew just wide. Soon after, the visitors had the first shot on target, but the effort from Son was easily caught by Foster. The visitors started to dominate and, from a corner, Lamela’s delivery was punched out by Foster, but the ball found its way back to the Spurs man who shot wide of the far post. Then a dangerous looking cross from Aurier was headed clear by Cathcart. Spurs threatened again as a ball across the box reached Son who played it back to Tanganga whose shot from outside the area was straight at Foster. The first quarter of an hour had been all Spurs, but then the Hornets had a great chance after Doucouré dispossessed a Spurs player on the wing, advanced and crossed for Sarr who took a touch when he maybe should have just tried a shot as his effort flew high and wide. The first booking of the game went to Tanganga who took down Sarr after a poor clearance dropped to the Watford man. The foul meant that the Hornets had a free kick on the edge of the box, but the delivery from Chalobah was poor and flew high and wide of the near post. Just before the half hour mark, there was a break in the game as the referee walked off the pitch. I thought that maybe he was injured, but it seems that it was his communication with Stockley Park that was suffering. It seemed an age before his equipment was repaired, so the fans from all stands amused themselves with a chant of “It’s not football anymore.”
The game restarted with a chance for Son who tried a shot from the edge of the box to the near post, but Foster made the save. There then came a flurry of chances for the Hornets. First Sarr crossed for Deeney whose flick towards goal was blocked. Then Deulofeu got into the box and hit a shot at the near post but it was deflected into the side netting. From the corner, Chalobah’s delivery looked to be sneaking in until it was tipped over by Gazzaniga. The first card for the Hornets was a typical Capoue booking as he was cautioned for a sliding tackle on Lo Celso. The visitors looked certain to take the lead when Alli played a through ball to Lucas, who had the goal in his sights when Foster came out to make the block. They had another great opportunity when a long ball found Son in the box, but his volley flew well over the crossbar. Watford then created a decent chance when Chalobah crossed for Deeney, whose header was on target, but lacked power and was easily caught by Gazzaniga. There was one last chance in the half as a cross from Sarr was headed clear by a defender, it fell to Capoue on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t get a shot in. Bizarrely, given how long the referee had spent off the pitch to fix his VAR communication, only two minutes of time were added at the end of the half, which finished goalless.
The guest at half time was Allan Nielsen who had played for both teams. He talked very fondly of his time working with Graham Taylor. He also spoke of being overwhelmed by the ovation that the fans gave him at his last game for the club. It was rather lovely that he had a similar experience on this occasion.
The second half started with a great chance for the Hornets as Sarr crossed for Doucouré at the near post, but he could only find the side netting. Then there was a terrific chance as Deeney headed the ball down for Sarr, but he shot wide of the near post when he really should have hit the target. Spurs then threatened with a counterattack, Son crossed for Alli whose header cleared the bar. At the other end Deeney tried a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected just wide of the goal. Adam Masina was having another good game in defence and he came to the Hornets’ rescue cutting out a great ball before it reached Son in the box. Then, suddenly, it all kicked off. There was some Grade A handbags between Doucouré and Winks before Vertonghen joined in and VAR got very excited about possible violent conduct but, while this message was still on the big screen, the ref had shown the two original combatants a yellow card and indicated that the game should continue.
Spurs had another chance to take the lead after a great run from Son, but he shot just over the bar. Then a shot from Lamela was blocked by Dawson and went out for a corner. It was right in front of us and there was complete bafflement when there was an announcement that VAR was checking for a penalty for an infringement (handball) that nobody had even suspected, the decision (no penalty) came up almost immediately. From the opposite end of the pitch, Deulofeu’s shot looked like it was going in but had appeared to rebound to safety. There was much excitement among the home fans when the referee pointed to the spot as the shot had been blocked by the arm of Vertonghen. The excitement was short-lived as Deeney stepped up to take the spot kick but Gazzaniga went the right way and made the save. The first substitution was made by the visitors on 72 minutes as Eriksen came on in place of Alli. At the same time Vicarage Road rose to pay tribute to Graham Taylor. Scarves were again held aloft, and my neighbour took the other end of mine. Again, the Spurs fans joined in with applause. I hope that Rita and Karen sitting in the stands were comforted by the outpouring of love from the crowd. During the tribute Spurs were attacking at the Rookery end but, thankfully, it came to nothing. The Hornets had another chance as Deulofeu played the ball across the field to Sarr whose shot was high and wide.
Pearson then made his first substitution replacing Chalobah, who left the field to a huge ovation, with Pereyra. At the same time Fernandes came on for Lo Celos for the visitors. Lamela had a chance to break the deadlock, but his shot was from a tight angle and he turned it over the bar. At the other end, a powerful shot from Capoue was blocked. Rather worryingly Sarr went down clutching his hamstring and had to be replaced by new signing Pussetto who came on to make his debut with two minutes left on the clock. Lamela had another chance to grab the three points with a shot from distance that he curled well wide of the target. Into injury time and the ball was prodded into the Watford box, there was a scramble to clear it but Lamela looked to have got the crucial touch until new boy Pussetto appeared to clear the ball off the line. From behind the goal it didn’t look to have crossed the line and the referee waved his ‘watch’ at the protesting Spurs players to indicate that they had not scored. That was the last action of the game. It had been a decent goalless draw. The visitors had started the game strongly with the Hornets sitting very deep, but Watford came back into it and had a couple of decent chances. Both defences played pretty well, and the forwards from both sides were very wasteful.
It was a happy group that gathered back in the West Herts to follow the 3pm kick-offs and cheer on the teams playing those around us in the table. I must admit that I was surprised to see the graphic showing the position of the ball relative to the goal line for that chance just at the end. The ball overlapped the line by 10mm, so Pussetto’s timing was impeccable.
It is hard to fathom that a month ago we despaired of seeing the Hornets win again this season. It is a measure of the difference that Nigel Pearson has made that I travelled to this game thinking that we could get something out of it and finished the day a little disappointed that we hadn’t taken all three points. We have some very winnable games coming up, so we need to keep up this momentum.
While all is right with the world on the pitch, this week was special for the off-pitch moments. Seeing the great work of the Trust and the outpouring of love during the tributes to Graham Taylor reminded me (if a reminder were needed) of what a special man he was. He has left a legacy at Watford that stretches into the community and for that we will always remember him with love.