Watford v Swansea City
Vicarage Road / Premier League / 12th September 2015
On the 2nd weekend of September 2014 I found myself en route to the only Premier League I was yet to visit: Stamford Bridge. After the formalities of relegation from and promotion to the top flight at the end of 2014/2015, I was once again left with one ground unchartered for me in the Premier League for the new season; this time it was Watford FC’s Vicarage Road. Strangely enough, my visit to Watford would also fall on the second weekend of September, just like my maiden trip to Stamford Bridge almost a year ago to the day – the last time I completed ‘the set’ of Premier League grounds.
I was absolutely buzzing for a day out with the Jack Army with the only Swansea game I had been to so far this season being a 2-0 win over Newcastle at the Liberty Stadium, whilst I was back home in South Wales. I had missed the buzz of a Swans game.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to praise Swansea City Football Club’s latest initiative too. The last couple of years has seen an astronomical amount of money flow into the coffers of all Premier League clubs, including my club. I’m a huge advocate for the ‘Twenty is Plenty’ concept put forward by the Football Supporter’s Federation (FSF) – a concept that argues that away fans shouldn’t pay more than £20 for any Premier League away match. Fairplay to Swansea for being the Premier League club who have come closest to meeting this criteria. With their new-found finances, Swansea City have agreed that every away ticket this year will cost £22 (a bargain for Premier League football) with the club covering the rest of the ticket cost. Obviously, concession tickets are even cheaper. A classy act from the club and hopefully it’ll continue into the future.
So with Swansea shirt on, Swansea flat cap on and £22 away ticket in my pocket, I found myself walking through Salford/Manchester at 6am humming Swans songs en route to Manchester Piccadilly for the 7.15am train down to the ‘Big Smoke’.
I think we all know that the rail network in this country can be a bit shoddy, but I’m a huge champion of Virgin Trains who are always spot on for me. However, inevitably, they had to let me down at some point and today was that day. We were not 10 minutes out of Piccadilly station when the train suddenly came to a stop and the public address system (Tannoy is a brand name) was telling us that there was an ‘unspecified train fault’. Great. 50 minutes we were stranded in limbo between Manchester and Stockport, before finally we were underway again. Watford here I come!
A quick platform change in London Euston and I was soon on board a train zooming towards Watford; a destination it took a mere 15 minutes to get to. Time for the pub!
Our Swans fan ‘Whatsapp’ group had declared that the place to go in Watford was The Flag, a pub literally next door to Watford Junction train station. Good choice. Within I found Martyn and Chester Mike and I joined them with my beautiful pint of Lovestruck – an ale I indeed became lovestruck with. We had a pleasant chat with a Manchester City-supporting father and son who were on their way down to Crystal Palace for City’s game there, whilst also keeping an eye on the unfolding events at the Labour conference where they were – and we were – awaiting to hear the result of their new leader. I try to avoid politics on here, but lets just say I gave a bit of a fist pump when Jeremy Corbyn was unveiled to be the winner.
I kept saying I was going to leave the pub soon and explore Watford some more, but more and more Jacks kept turning up and I felt rude not spending time with some of the lads who I hadn’t seen since the end of the last season. More Lovestruck was needed.
It seems I’ve inadvertently developed a reputation for visiting Wetherspoons (I suppose guilty as charged there) and so I was soon asked “Have I been to Watford’s Wetherspoons?” When I declared I hadn’t, I was told it was only ten minutes down the road and lots of the Swans fans had gathered there. A good enough excuse for me.
I found myself on Watford High Street within minutes and there right ahead of me was Wetherspoons – another Spoons with the Orwellian inspired name of Moon Under Water. The place was filled with Swans fans and it was lucky that this branch of the pub chain was a sizable one. The Aberdare Jacks had caught me up from The Flag and so we decided to head outside to enjoy some of the Hertfordshire sunshine along with two friendly Watford fans who we had got chatting too; fair to say, they were not optimistic about the game today and they stated that they’d be happy if the Hornets actually scored – or even just got a shot on target, a feat the team had struggled with in their first two home games back in the Premier League.
Swans fans had been told to try get to Vicarage Road early as they were doing some sort of work near the away end which would lead to possible delays in getting into the away end. So, with that in mind, we headed through the streets of Watford and arrived outside Vicarage Road in ten minutes with twenty minutes to go until kick-off. I say we got near Vicarage Road, but that’s not exactly accurate. We weren’t near as the queue for the away end was huge! It seemed they weren’t lying about the possible delays. Obviously, within minutes I was getting wound up at the lack of movement from the queue and it was all a bit of a mess really. Fortunately, one steward came up with the obvious idea of creating two queues and soon we were into the away end with a few minutes to spare.
After all the stress of queueing for 15 minutes and with genuine worries we’d miss kick-off, I needed a drink…oh wait, Watford don’t serve alcohol in their away end. Nice one Watford. So far, not the greatest away trip I have ever had in the Premier League. It would get worse though.
I headed up to my seat just as the teams were coming out onto the pitch and having their prematch huddles. As for the ground itself, it was alright I suppose, but not too exciting either. Three sides of the ground are single-tiered and there’s not much to write about any of these. Saying that, one of these stands only opened in December 2014: the Sir Elton John Stand – named in honour of the legendary singer and two-time Watford chairman. In a nice touch, some of the lyrics of Your Song were penned across the back of the stand.
Undoubtedly the most interesting stand in the ground is the Graham Taylor Stand, named after the club’s most famous manager, a two-tiered stand with a strange roof complete with semi-circular arches. Us away fans were housed in the Vicarage Road Stand and as well as a good view of the pitch, we had a lovely view of a sort of derelict building site in the corner between our stand and the Sir Elton John Stand. At least tidy up after yourselves lads if you are going to build a new stand. (I merely jest, as I have been told that this part of the ground is going to be the site for the new club shop and more hospitality suites).
Vicarage Road was not the original home of Watford FC. Watford were formed in 1881 and played in several grounds before moving to a ground at Cassio Road, the site where they would play for 32 years before moving into Vicarage Road in 1922. As well as being the home of the Hornets, Vicarage Road has also hosted Wealdstone FC back in 1991 until 1994 and the Saracens rugby union team between 1997 to 2012. Today it is solely used by Watford and is now hosting Premier League football for the first time in 9 years.
Before the recent international break, Swansea City had been receiving plaudit after plaudit for their excellent start of the season – 2 wins and 2 draws, including a draw at Stamford Bridge and a win over Manchester United (again). So many had tipped the Swans to comfortably walk away with the 3 points today. It didn’t work out like that.
The opening stages saw both teams offering little going forward and it was generally a cagey affair early on. However, it was soon becoming clear that the Swans were not on the ball today and Watford began to get the better of the away team. The Hornets’ attacking duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo were giving the Swans defence repeated problems. There were several half chances for the home team, but it wasn’t quite falling their way.
“What the hell have all these international managers done to our players?” I queried Huw and Martyn, who were standing next to me, as our players just seemed to have forgotten how to pass. However, in Andrew Ayew, the Swans have the August Player of the Month, and it was his hardwork that created our best chance. Ayew cleverly won the ball off the Watford defence near the corner flag and made a beeline for goal. I began frantically shouting “Shoot! Shoot!” before Ayew played in Bafe Gomis, who somehow found himself on the ground after battling with a defender and then fired a powerful close range shot at Heurelho Gomes in the Watford goal. In my opinion, we really should have scored.
Watford had looked a lot more street-wise than us in the first half and I declared that I was quite happy to take 0 – 0 at half-time knowing that we still had Ki and the extraordinary speed of Jefferson Montero ready to bring on from the bench.
Half-time: Watford 0 – 0 Swansea City.
I stayed by my seat for half-time with no beer on sale and watched Watford’s mascot, a large bee, get involved in banter with the Jack Army; he seemed quite the character did Harry the Hornet. While we are on the subject of representatives, I should give credit to the Watford stewards too, who seemed largely anonymous and not interested in hassling the away fans – something that’s always a positive at Premier League level where you usually find a whole host of Nazi-stewards (I won’t mention any grounds in particular, but I’m mainly looking at a red-coloured Merseyside club here).
After a poor first half display from the Swans, I was optimistic for the second half as I figured they couldn’t be as bad as they were in the first. I was right there – they weren’t as bad; sadly, they were worse.
The Jack Army had been in good voice throughout the first half, but as the second half began to unfold I got a sense that there was a lot of nerves amongst the away fans, as the team just were not quite doing it on the pitch.
Ighalo had an effort go just wide of the post, but the Nigerian had given the Swans his warning and he wouldn’t be denied again. A ball up front to Deeney was played across goal by the striker for Ighalo to tap home comfortably. Suddenly, the stadium sparked into a frenzy of yellow and despite the home fans being virtually silent all game, they were now in full voice. Also, Harry the Hornet took to mimicking and mocking the trademark ‘Black Panther’ celebration of Bafe Gomis – an act which really angered me for some reason and did cause me to unleash some four-lettered words towards the cocky hornet. I actually can’t remember ever being so angered by a cuddly mascot. It was quite sad of me really.
The far stand became a sea of synchronised bouncing and yellow and black flags – think a poor man’s version of Borussia Dortmund’s iconic ‘Yellow Wall’. It did make me think though: why the hell hadn’t they made this sort of noise earlier to back their team? The ground was genuinely rocking now and I began to fear the worst.
Swansea threw on speedster Montero and the always astute Ki, but the Swans would also be thrown another lifeline too.
“What the hell is this ref playing at now?” was the general cry from the fans around me as he blew for a foul as Ayew and Valeron Behrami went in on each 50/50. We all assumed that the foul was against the Ghanaian Ayew, so we were delighted to see that the ref had actually given it our way. More to our shock though was when he brandished a red card for Watford’s Behrami. We were genuinely unsure as to why, but it’s since become clear that he did have a naughty stamp on Ayew. Plenty of time left on the clock and Swansea were against ten men. It should have been easy now, but somehow we got worse.
Montero, arguably our most lethal player over the past few months, had seemingly forgotten how to cross the ball and the Swans seemed to be in a panic to get on the scoresheet. Our usual composure on the ball was gone today.
Watford had a few very dangerous counterattacking moves, whilst Swansea had to wait until late in the game to have their one real chance to equalise. A ball was played to the back post and Swansea were presented with a free header at goal; sadly, instead of falling for the awesome head of Bafe Gomis, it fell to the head of centre back Fede Fernandez, who sent his effort soaring over the bar.
Not even the 7 minutes of added time could spur on the Swans and so an end was brought to Swansea’s undefeaten start to the season.
Full-time: Watford 1 – 0 Swansea City.
I trudged out of the ground and made my way through the streets of Watford and back towards the The Flag; that was the plan anyway. Sadly, in my post-Swansea loss misery, I’d buggered up my geography and got myself slightly lost. No worries though, I found the Estcourt Tavern and on spotting a nice mix of Swans and Watford fans within, I decided to head in there to find my bearings, watch the first half of Manchester United v Liverpool, and, obviously, have a pint. Peroni please mate!
Everyone in the pub, both Swans and Hornets fans, were in agreement that Watford very much deserved their victory today and it’ll be interesting to see how they proceed in the league now having picked up their firs twin of the season. All this talk of ‘mediocre Swansea’ was making me sad and so I decided to depart and head back to Watford Junction and back to Euston (having now found my bearings…well, switched on Google Maps).
I got chatting to some Ipswich fans on the train, who had been in the Swansea end today (I was confused too), and on arriving back in Euston I headed to The Rocket pub, a pub I had heard much fanfare about. A good call. A great pub and more importantly it sold Punk IPA. Ace. Punk IPA and the entertaining final 20 minutes of United’s 3-1 win over Liverpool were enjoyed, before I maintained my longstanding tradition of having a final London pint in a pub I now refer to as ‘Lost Boyos London HQ’: The Doric Arch, a pub practically connected to Euston station.
There was still one final Lost Boyos tradition to tick off before heading back north to Manchester and that was the purchasing of M&S’ superb Belgian lager to accompany me on my train home. It was purchased, but it soon turned out it wasn’t allowed to accompany me home. Let me explain…
It seemed as Manchester City’s game away at Palace was finishing at 5pm and United’s game at Old Trafford v Liverpool was finishing at 7pm-ish, that Greater Manchester Police feared there would be a clash at Piccadilly station between the three sets of fans. Bear in mind, I was departing London at 20:20 and wouldn’t be back in Manchester until shortly before 11pm, so I thought this was a load of crap to be honest. However, the GMP’s fear of inter-city Manchester clashes meant that there were police surrounding my train back to Manchester and ensuring no alcohol got near the thing.
“You’re going to have to get rid of them cans mate,” one officer explained to me.
“Uh…I’m a Swansea fan and not interested in United or City officer.”
“Well, it still has to go. Either drink them now or bin them,” I was told. This was 15 minutes before the train departed.
“I know I’m Welsh mate, but even I’m not prepared to down 4 cans of Belgian lager in little over ten minutes,” I calmly tried to explain.
“Well, you’ll have to bin them then.”
That wasn’t going to happen either, so off I jogged back to Marks and Spencer, where I got my money back for my cans after explaining to the lovely lady behind the counter my plight. She was agreeing with me that the GMP were being over-the-top here… I think she did anyway…actually, I don’t think she had a single clue what I was on about and just gave me the money back to get rid of me. I did inform her though, “You’re not having my crisps back though!”
So, I’d endured a dry bar at Watford and a dry train home back to Manchester. I felt like the universe was setting up some sort of intervention for me and this was all one big ‘stop drinking’ message. Nonetheless, I was left with Spotify and a packet of salt and vinegar Twirls for the train home.
Low and behold, on arriving in Piccadilly the place was like a ghost town and not the scene of some sort of football fan massacre. The only people there were me and a host of sobered up Manchester City fans arriving back from the capital.
Overall, I’d say my day out in Watford had not gone that well really. I suppose the pubs of Watford and the Euston had been great, but the day began with my train breaking down, on the pitch the Swans were dire and even the GMP had not let me drown my sorrows on the way back home.
As for Vicarage Road…meh. It was alright, but nothing special really. It has some character, but like all older grounds these days, the modernisation of it means it is slowly going to lose its charm. I will say though that if Watford fans could make a bit of noise like they did when they took the lead, then the ground could actually host a fairly raucous atmosphere.
Anyway, not a great day at the office, but as one former famous Watford fan once sang, “I’m still standing”.
Highlights: a good day for pubs in both Watford and Euston, meeting up with the Jack Army.
Low Points: train breaking down, queuing for ground, poor game (for Swansea), dry bar, dry train home.
See all my photos from my day out at Waford and Vicarage Road here.