Turning up the volume

For years, I’ve heard Watford fans complaining about the noise level inside Vicarage Road. Yesterday, it would have been the neighbours complaining.

In the 59th minute, when Ighalo slotted, sound exploded from all four sides of the ground. Birds flew in fright. Children burst into tears. I think a little bit of blood came out of my ears.

It was brilliant.

As home fans, we’d been waiting almost exactly four hours for our first home goal in the Premier League. There was a lot of stuff pent up inside us: pride, hope, expectation, anxiety. It came out as pure noise.

It was as if Roy Moore and the 1881 had planned the moment. “You see, most fans, you know, will be shouting at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten. Where can you go from there? Nowhere. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Put it up to eleven. One louder.”

After the goal, the noise didn’t stop. The Rookery bounced and boomed. The old lady three seats along from me was roaring at the pitch like a WWE wrestler.

We kept the noise up when we went down to ten men. We kept it up when seven minutes of time were added. Then came the final deafening eruption. The attendance was 20,057 and it sounded like that many decibels.

You know you’ve had a good afternoon at the football when your ears ring all the way home.

When the final whistle blew, the noise sounded like an aeroplane taking off. But it wasn’t. It was our season taking off.

“Here’s Hogg….”

That goal against Leicester in the play-off semi. Two years later, it still gives me¬†goosebumps on YouTube. I reckoned¬†it was a footballing memory that couldn’t be improved.

Well, it just got better.

The latest volume of Tales From The Vicarage – the¬†fourth in the series – has just been published. There’s a chapter called ‘The Deeney goal’. You have to read it.

You’re probably wondering what a written chapter could possibly add to all that glorious footage and your own memories. I was wondering too. When I saw that author Lionel Birnie had interviewed the players who took part in the goal, I didn’t expect¬†anything exceptional. I’m too used to players saying ‘the ball come over, and I just hit it’.

But, oh my God.

You have to read it.

Brilliantly, Birnie lets the players’ words stand alone to describe¬†the progress of the move, building to the climax that still makes us shudder. But, for me, it’s the reflections of two of the players that¬†make the chapter so special. You get a clear sense of how those 20 seconds fit into¬†Jonathan Hogg and Marco Cassetti’s lives, now that they’ve left the club.

I’ll be honest. I had tears in my eyes.

Before the chapter, I knew that the power of the goal was that we all shared it. Not the social media type of share. The sharing we do with our hearts. And I knew that, for most of us, it will probably be the very best single moment of our supporting lives. But reading the players’ perspectives made me feel this shared¬†permanence even more deeply. My best ever Watford memory just got better.

The book is in the shops now, and can also be bought online.

Did I mention that you have to read it?

Buy online from: http://talesfrom.com/tales-from-the-vicarage-volume-4/

How should we judge Quique Sanchez Flores?

I’ve been sitting here¬†thinking Quique Sanchez Flores¬†is the luckiest boss¬†in Watford’s history.

For decades, Watford’s gaffers¬†had¬†to make the most of¬†players¬†they’d inherited. It was like making a pie out of leftovers. The¬†manager was judged on what he could rustle up from some¬†leathery old meat and a fair bit of gristle.

Who did best in the Great Watford Bake-Off? Steve Perryman never produced anything remotely appetising. Ray Lewington gave us something to keep the wolf from the door. But in 1977 Graham Taylor took unpromising ingredients and immediately served up something record-breakingly satisfying.

Since 2012, things have been different. These days, new¬†gaffers decide on a recipe and the Pozzos supply¬†fresh meat. That’s why I was sitting thinking QSF is the luckiest boss in Watford’s history. He’s arrived just as the Pozzos have¬†increased the grade of beef they’re¬†importing to Hertfordshire. It’s prime time at Watford.

But¬†when I call¬†him Watford’s luckiest ever boss, I’m only looking at it from the point of view of a fan who’s seen plenty of previous managers struggle. (Remember¬†Colin Lee? He couldn’t stand the heat and was quickly ushered out of¬†the kitchen.)

Look at it from the Pozzo’s point of view, though, and it’s different.¬†They’ve changed the managerial requirement¬†at Watford from¬†thrifty cook to classy¬†chef. When they look at¬†QSF’s Europa League medal they see a Michelin star.

(QSF is supposed to be highly innovative. Maybe he’s a bit like Heston Blumenthal, who sometimes uses a blowtorch. I can easily imagine QSF chasing Berghuis down the touchline with one of those.)

It’s clear the Pozzo’s¬†standards are much higher than mine have ever been as a Watford fan. Across¬†the years, my¬†most enjoyable¬†seasons were¬†when we had low expectations and vastly¬†over-achieved.¬†I haven’t properly adjusted to having high expectations. Last season I fretted until promotion¬†was finally achieved.¬†I had my cake and eventually ate it – but it was a long and difficult¬†chew.

Truth is, I’m not used to dining in a higher class establishment.¬†In the past,¬†I’ve set greater store by¬†the skills of the chef¬†than¬†by the quality of the¬†ingredients the owners bought in. Is that still right?¬†And what if I prefer something the chef doesn’t cook?¬†In the past I’ve had¬†chips with everything (often¬†up the touchline, into the channels,¬†from¬†Lloyd Doyley),¬†but I don’t think that’s on the menu anymore. Should I complain?

And how should¬†I behave in this new place if I’m not happy? Should I just yell from my seat? Should¬†I have a quiet word with the maitre d’ (hello, Dave M)? Or should¬†I go home and write a furious review online (hello, Twitter)? What’s the correct form?

You can see¬†I’m uncertain. So this season I’ll sit in my armchair, but not¬†in judgement. I’ll try out what the new chef produces and see how I get on with it.

It’ll be paella rather than pie, obviously. ¬†But I’m looking forward to it.

The fertile fields of Hertfordshire

It’s hard for us to get our heads around it. Instinctively we see everything from a Watford perspective. That’s why days like today can seem so bemusing.

I don’t know if it’ll help you, but the¬†analogy that helps me is this…

The Pozzos are an international organisation that trades a kind of livestock we call a footballer. They have fields in Italy, Spain and Hertfordshire. They move their livestock around to where it will fare best. Since May, the Hertfordshire field has become promisingly fertile for their highest quality livestock.

Each year, they¬†buy from around the world. This summer, they’ve put 15 heads of their new livestock in their Hertfordshire field. Sometimes they move individuals rapidly from one field to another. Last January, a Mexican specimen was housed in the Spanish field for less than a day before being moved to Hertfordshire. Yesterday, he was moved to pastures new in Portugal.

They farm¬†their livestock well – to increase the prices they can fetch for it. And they trade it without sentiment. Recently they swung a promising young Czech¬†into their Hertfordshire field because local prices looked good. They invited offers and loaned him out. Another farmer paid a lot of money to rear the Czech for a year – which the Pozzos hope will improve the Czech’s¬†value. In twelve months time,¬†the Czech will return temporarily to the Hertfordshire field before being loaned out again. Unless another farmer pays over the odds to purchase him outright.

Like any trader, the Pozzos¬†often end up with surplus stock. If so, they move¬†it out – taking a hit on the price if necessary. Some of the livestock they reared in Hertfordshire a couple of years ago didn’t fatten up nicely. It was jettisoned.

I don’t know if that analogy will help¬†you. I use it to¬†keep reminding myself¬†of the way things now operate at Watford. I find I often need reminding.¬†I’ve followed football for too long, and Watford for too long, to have the new mindset ready at all times. If I don’t think clearly, I’m liable to think that¬†when a club gives¬†a player a five-year contract, the club must want¬†the player in its¬†team. This is no longer how Watford works.

If the livestock analogy doesn’t work for you, you could simply¬†think of the Pozzos as traders. After the last home game, I saw a street trader selling Watford v Southampton badges. He’d bought in too many, so he’d dropped his price from ¬£3 to ¬£1 to get rid. It was slightly surprising that Gino Pozzo wasn’t standing beside him trying to flog off Essaid¬†Belkalem.

Anyway, three new footballers¬†were placed¬†in the Hertfordshire field today. I’ll be attending¬†the next livestock show on September 12th, along with 20,000 other loyal spectators.

Some people might think that we’re¬†the sheep.