Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard

London

September 2015

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Watford


Watford FC, who were formed as Watford Rovers FC in 1881 playing home games in Cassiobury Park, are based in the town twenty miles north west of London. The club changed their name to West Hertfordshire in 1893 and became members of the Southern League three years later. 

In 1898 West Herts merged with Watford St Mary's to become Watford FC as they moved to a new ground at Cassio Road. Early nicknames of 'The Brewers' because the club were sponsored by Ralph Thorpe, chairman of Wells Brewery and Benskins Brewery.


The breweries sponsored the purchase of a new ground for the club at Vicarage Road in 1924 as 'The Wasps' played in coloured hoops. Watford played in the Southern League until 1920 winning six league titles in the divisions in which they competed.

In 1920 the club became members of the re-organised Football League, and then Division Three South in 1921, where they remained for the next thirty seven years. Promotion was won to the Third Division in 1960 after the Football League became four divisions, and then promotion to the second tier in 1969. 


The following season Watford reached the FA Cup semi final before crashing out to Chelsea with striker Barry Endean being a hero of the day. Up until 1960 the side were nicknamed 'The Blues' owing to the club colours of the time, before they changed to gold and black and the name of 'The Hornets' was adopted.

However the success was not to last and the club were relegated twice in five years, before the turning point of their history occurred in 1976 when singer, shareholder and lifelong fan Elton John became Chairman and appointed a young Graham Taylor as manager the following year. 


Consecutive promotions were achieved after the greyhound track was removed on the request by Taylor as he felt it lowered the clubs' ambitions. Taylor also ensured both benches were uncovered as the fans had to stand on an uncovered Vicarage Road End. It was one of many PR masterstrokes along with the team playing in yellow, black and red.

In 1982 Watford reached the top flight for the first time in their history. Prominent players of the day included Wilf Rostron, Luther Blissett, John Barnes and Ross Jenkins. They finished their debut season as runners up to champions Liverpool to qualify for the UEFA Cup the following season. 


That was again memorable as they reached the FA Cup Final, where they went down 2-0 to Everton at Wembley. A fine run in Europe coincided with wins in Europe against Kaiserslautern and Levski Sofia with Mo Johnston providing the goals.

In 1987 Taylor left the club to join Aston Villa. Dave Bassett took over for just eight months as John Barnes was sold to Liverpool and The Horns were relegated. A spell of several seasons followed in the second tier before they suffered another relegation in 1996. 

Taylor returned as manager after a short spell as the Director of Football as the club began to rely more on youth to stabilise finances. Successive promotions were achieved in 1998 and 1999, the latter against Bolton Wanderers in the Wembley play off final.


Watford by now had new owners as their spell in The Premiership lasted just one season, with Taylor resigning in 2001 to be replaced by Gianluca Vialli, whose big signings and salary were to cripple the club financially as it came around the same time of the ITV digital disaster which originally promised clubs much revenue before it went bankrupt. He lasted just one season before Ray Lewington worked wonders to take the side to the FA Cup semi final where Southampton ended their run.

Lewington was sacked to supporters disgust in 2005 despite leading The Hornets to a League Cup semi final, to be replaced by Aidy Boothroyd. The jeers soon turned to cheers as he helped saved the side from relegation before securing promotion the following season after a play off victory over Leeds United. Star players of the day were Marlon King, Jay DeMerit, Malky Mackay and Ashley Young.


Again their spell in the top flight lasted just one season. Despite this Watford reached the FA Cup semi final, where they lost to Manchester United. By the following November Boothroyd had been sacked with Elton John breaking his links with the club as he resigned as Honorary Life President in protest. 

Brendan Rogers was appointed as new boss while Graham Simpson resigned as Chairman of the clubs' holding company, which led to John returning to his role.


Rogers walked out on the club which caused much anger among Watford fans to be replaced by Malky Mackay, who did a fine job with limited resources as a battle went on over ownership and stabilising the worrying finances. His talents did not go unnoticed and he was recruited by Cardiff City, to be replaced internally by former defender Sean Dyche.

In June 2012 the Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo who also owned Udinese and the Spanish club Granada bought Watford from Laurence Bassini. Within a few weeks Dyche was dismissed as manager to be replaced by Gianfranco Zola. Zola put together a fine side in his first season at the helm, with many loan signings included from Italy who went all the way to the Play Off Final, only to be defeated by Crystal Palace at Wembley.


By December 2013 Zola was gone to be replaced by Sannino, who led The Hornets to a mid-table finish. However, he was dismissed after a good start to the 2013-14 campaign as it was rumoured that the players disliked his management style. The former Brighton boss Oscar Garcia came in as his replacement in September 2014.

Less than a month later Garcia was gone on health grounds, with Billy McKinlay coming in. Remarkably the Vicarage Road board decided that McKinlay was not for them within a few weeks and he was replaced by the Serbian Slaviša Jokanović.


In December 2014 the new Sir Elton John Stand was opened to make Vicarage Road a four sided enclosed stadium to be proud of. To celebrate the news the team put in some tremendous performances, which led to a second place finish thanks in no small way to the goals of Troy Deeney and Idion Ighalo.

Jokanović departed in the summer of 2015 to be replaced by the Spaniard Quique Flores, who took the side to a mid table finish and the FA Cup semi-final before being replaced by Walter Mazarri in May 2016.


My visits

Watford 3 West Bromwich Albion 1 (Saturday 4th February 1984) Division One


I was at college in Borehamwood and was pally with the college's librarian called Mark. He was an avid football fan, particularly of Watford. We used to have plenty of chats about my visits to grounds, so he offered me a lift to Vicarage Road for a game, which I readily accepted.

After parking up and having a McDonalds for lunch (this in a time when they weren't everywhere and definitely not in Scarborough!) before heading to the ground. This was in the good old days when you could just turn up at a top flight game and pay at the turnstile to stand up.


We went in the Rookery. This was a big cover, set back from the pitch like all the stands owing to the old greyhound track, with shallow terracing. The view wasn't brilliant but the acoustics were fantastic. To the right was the East Stand with one old stand and a clumsy addition and open family seating beyond it.

The far Vicarage Road End was an open terrace curved around the track with an electronic scoreboard at the back. The final side was open terracing around the corners before the Shrodell Stand, which had open bench seating in front of covered seats. It wasn't the best ground, but it had character and atmosphere. It helped the team were at their peak at the time.


Watford ran out easy winners in the end despite an Albion flurry for a while. Mo Johnston scored with a great header at our end. I thoroughly enjoyed my day out.

Watford 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Saturday 3rd August 2002) Nigel Gibbs Testimonial Match (att: over 10,000)


Colm, my Irish drinking pal new to London and I were at a loose end so I suggested going on the tube up to Vicarage Road. He thought it a good idea as the weather was warm and we were ready for some live action after the 2002 Euro Championships.

Both of us would ideally liked to have found a cash machine. There was none between the Metropolitan line station and the stadium. Crowds were gathering and for reasons best known to ourselves we went inside and hoped there would be a machine inside. Of course there wasn't!


We had just enough for a pint and a half each at the prices for beer inside the Rookery Stand but we knew everything about Nigel Gibbs as we had an hour before kick off to read the programme. At least our seats were good in the large stand behind the goal, which was one tier with an upper and lower section.

A similar Vicarage Road Stand was at the far end, although it didn't hold as many fans. The East Stand remained the same but on the left was the Sir Stanley Rous Stand. This had two tiers of seats separated by a row of corporate boxes. It was a much improved venue than on my previous visit.


Watford Old Boys played a curtain raiser against Watford Internet FC, which was as thrilling as it sounds, followed by the main match. Spurs ran out winners in a tight game despite most of their first team been rested for a prestigious friendly the following day. We got away at the end and headed for the cash machine back in Willesden, followed by beers!

Several Games as a Vicarage Road Steward during the 2003-04 Season

I worked at Lord's Cricket Ground and gradually made many contacts especially on big match days. My good friend Jeff Cards dealt with a stewarding company called Recruit Event Services and he arranged a meeting so I had the opportunity to work with them at several venues to supplement my meagre winter wages.

After doing the required training I was given a list of events and venues where staff were needed. One of these was Vicarage Road and entailed stewarding both Watford and Saracens RFC games. 


I had many varied experiences in all of the stands. Sometimes I was on duty just inside the gates monitoring and frisking the crowd in the away end (including Alastair Campbell for Burnley's visit) before being deployed into the stands on general crowd control, including the hopeless task of asking fans to remain seated.

I hated this rule anyway, so I used a bit of tact as a football fan to get chatting with the visiting supporters to try to get them on my side. On other occasions I did the home end, which was easier. I did a decent job and this was recognised when I was placed in front of the away section on a little stool on a few occasions.

As I understood the game I was put in charge. Basically I had to keep one eye on the game (which suited me perfectly!) and get up and face the crowd if a goal was scored or a controversial incident took place to form some kind of human barrier to deter fans from encroaching.


If anyone attempted to, and thank goodness no-one did on my watch, it was our job to stop them. Pitch encroachment was a definite black mark against the person/s responsible and the company.

I'm glad some of my team weren't in the same back four as me trying to play the offside trap, as their concentration was often found wanting! Strangely enough I always seemed to do gigs at Wembley Arena instead of Vicarage Road if West Ham, Millwall or Luton were in town, all of which of course was completely coincidental!


Overall I didn't mind the job at all, which was as well because I was certainly never going to retire on the wages. We met at Wembley Arena and went to the stadium by mini bus for a briefing before the gates opened.

We then went to our positions ready to greet the fans. I went in all areas of the stadium which was always interesting to me. At full time we waited for the crowds to leave before taking our tabards back and got a lift back to Wembley.

I enjoyed the rugby even more, especially the action on the pitch. Some fans were a bit snooty and couldn't see why they had to follow any ground regulations as they never did when they played at their old underdeveloped home ground, but on the whole they were fine. Saracens were great with us, making sure we all got a baseball cap and club tie as well as ensuring we always got a hot drink and a pie in the second half. This was much appreciated and something the football club were often found wanting with.


However, my debut tested out the mettle of Watford and its people. We were in the stand awaiting our briefing when we were introduced to Chairman, Graham Simpson. I thought that looked a nice touch, him coming to introduce himself at the seasons opener.

His tone soon made me realise all was not well. The match was postponed owing to "tragic circumstances beyond their control", This left all kinds of rumours circulating, some of which was pure guess work. A bomb going off somewhere, problems with opponents Coventry and Elton John dying were just some of them.

I was put at the away turnstiles with a team at the corner of Vicarage Road and Occupation Road that ran behind the East Stand so most fans would see us. We still weren't told the reasons for the postponement but word was gathering pace that a Watford player had died overnight. We were pestered with questions as fans assumed we were in the know. 


Some Coventry fans should have been ashamed of themselves with their attitude asking why weren't they informed to save a wasted journey? The unofficial news broke that young winger Jimmy Davis, who was on loan from Manchester United, had been killed in the early hours in a road accident while twice over the drink drive limit. 

Naturally there were many tearful home fans, some stoked with alcohol on a scorching day as they began to lay flowers by the gates. At 3pm many came from the pub, blew a whistle and held two minutes silence before leaving. We got away at about 4pm. It had certainly been a testing and emotional day for us all. 

The following game against AFC Bournemouth was also emotional with some tremendous pre match tributes. It was soon apparent I was among a lot of decent people, which put me at ease for my further shifts at the ground.

Watford v Coventry City Postponed (Saturday 9th August 2003) Division One

Watford 1 AFC Bournemouth 0 After Extra Time (Tuesday 12th August 2003) League Cup Round One (att: 9,561)

Watford 0 West Bromwich Albion 1 (Saturday 23rd August 2003) Division One (att: 15,023)

Watford 1 Ipswich Town 2 (Saturday 27th September 2003) Division One (att: 15,350)

Watford 1 Burnley 1 (Tuesday 30th September 2003) Division One (att: 11,573)

Saracens 39 Harlequins 33 (Sunday 5th October 2003) Rugby Premiership (att: 6,380)

Watford 1 Bradford City 0 (Saturday 18th October 2003) Division One (att: 12,399)

Watford 1 Coventry City 1 (Tuesday 21st October 2003) Division One (att: 13,487)

Watford 1 Rotherham United 0 (Saturday 1st November 2003) Division One (att: 18,067)

Saracens 31 London Irish 34 (Sunday 9th November 2003) Rugby Premiership (att: 5,013)



Saracens 29 Rotherham Titans 10 (Sunday 30th November 2003) Rugby Premiership (att: 5,680)

Saracens 82 Rugby Roma 5 (Sunday 14th December 2003) European Challenge Cup (att: 4,181)

Watford 1 Stoke City 3 (Saturday 20th December 2003) Division One (att: 13,732)

Saracens 32 Newcastle 27 (Sunday 22nd February 2004) Rugby Premiership (att: 7,516)

Watford 2 Derby County 1 (Tuesday 16th March 2004) Division One (att: 13,931)

Watford 2 Crewe Alexandra 1 (Saturday 10th April 2004) Division One (att: 18,041)

Return as a fan

England 6 Azerbaijan 0 (Thursday 1st September 2011) Under 21 European Championship Qualifier (att: 7,700)


This was an opportunity too good to miss. I had finished work for the weekend and tickets were just £10 at the nearest League ground to where I now lived, plus I wanted my own photos of Vicarage Road.

I booked the tickets online and they had arrived by post.  I was going with fellow Scarborough Athletic fan Ian Anderson who was to come on the train from Milton Keynes after work so he could have a couple of beers. He arrived at Watford Junction before me so he had a quick beer in The Flag while waiting. We then went wandering towards the town centre.


I had done my research in advance and before long we were sat in The One Crown sampling a fine pint of Speckled Hen. We were impressed with the pub but decided to try another one nearer the ground. We found The Oddfellows which served us a pint bottle of London Pride, which was a perfect alternative to a draught pint.

Two minutes later we were outside the stadium, where we tried the food from a burger van, and walking down towards the Rookery End. This had changed since my last visit. A large block of flats were now in the corner over the turnstiles. We went in around the back and were soon in the sparsely populated stand. At least we had plenty of room to spread out.


To our left, a block in the corner built for hospitality and access had still not been completed, owing to cash running out. The whole Occupation Road side was closed to spectators. The changing rooms were still in use and a large set of dug outs and a TV gantry and studio were in place. A cover was over the old Main Stand seats with the old roof now removed. The rest of the ground looked as good as I remembered. If they could sort out the final side, Watford would have a stadium to be proud of.

England came out and dominated from the off. I really was proving to be an unlucky mascot to the Azerbaijani's as on their previous visit to England, I'd also been there when they shipped in seven at Milton Keynes. This evening in Watford was nearly as bad.


A free header from Craig Dawson, a spectacular volley from previous Watford loanee Henri Lansbury and a special from the skipper, Jordan Henderson sent the home side in at the break with the game already wrapped up. A visiting forward somehow managed to put a shot over the roof of our stand, which really did defy belief.

The second half offered more of the same if a little more disjointedly. The team boss Stuart Pearce made a very popular call by bringing on Watford striker Marvin Sorvell. Further goals were added by Lansbury, Dawson and a thirty yarder from Martyn Waghorn. Some of the goals were excellent, but it has to be said that some of the defending and goalkeeping certainly wasn't.


I used my local knowledge so we could get up to the Vicarage Road End via the Rous Stand and therefore catching the action as we went. It also assisted my photography. At full time we got away rapidly knowing we had time for a pint before our trains took us in different direction. Ian said he could catch one from Watford High Street, which suited me perfectly. We went back to the One Crown, which was just a couple of minutes walk away.

I returned to Kingsbury to enjoy a few pints in my local Wetherspoons, knowing full well that I could relax the following morning. To round off a top evening the goals were shown on TV before I called it a night.


Watford u23 1 Sheffield Wednesday u23 4 (Monday 19th September 2016) Professional Development League (att: approx. 300)

Checking through the fixtures for the forthcoming week on the excellent Soccerway site, I noticed that this fixture was due to be played at Vicarage Road rather than the training ground. A quick look on the Watford website confirmed the news. Even better; admission was free!

The trains were playing up on the Metropolitan line so I travelled to Stanmore and then took the 142 bus, which deposited me near Watford High Street station. I walked up to the ground as quickly as I could but realised that I’d probably miss kick off.


There were no signs or stewards, so I tried to get in via the new stand and at the old Rookery End. Eventually I got round to the Graham Taylor Stand where a steward told me that they’d been up the road before the match but had been redeployed. I got my free teamsheet and took a seat with an excellent view upstairs.

One of the reasons I wanted to go along was to have a look at how Vicarage Road looked since it had been completed with the construction of the Sir Elton John Stand. I was most impressed, especially with the lyrics to “Your Song” adorning the back wall.


I’d missed the opening goal, which saw the Hornets 1-0 up through Jerome Sinclair, their £4M signing from Liverpool. The home side also fielded their Jamaican international defender Adrian Mariappa. Their coach was Harry Kewell.

Despite the experienced players it was Wednesday who took the game by the scruff of the neck and bounce back when their captain Jack Stobbs saw his long range shot slip from the grasp of Charlie Bannister and into the net.


They went ahead when a Trialist gave away a penalty which Stobbs put away. On thirty five minutes they extended their lead further. Mariappa’s woeful back pass was ponced on by Devante Rodney, who slotted past Bannister.

At the break I had a look along the concourse at the fine displays of the history of the club. I was delighted to see Tommy Mooney, one of my all time Scarborough heroes, had been remembered.

Watford put in a better display in the second half. Although they could have conceded further, they created a couple of decent efforts. Skipper Carl Stewart hot the outside of the post. However, it would be the Owls youngsters who travelled back up the M1 in a happy mood when Warren Clarke’s deflected effort made it 4-1.


I took the train from High Street back to Kenton after the game. I had intended an early dry night as the deciding County Championship game between Middlesex and Yorkshire was starting the following day, but then Wednesday fan and occasional drinking pal Mick Devereux also got off. I ended up heading to the Moon under the Water at Colindale with beers with the usual suspects.

The old photos of Vicarage Road have been taken from the internet.







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