I, along with the other 2,249 Watford supporters making the lengthy trip to Newcastle United had already decided that it was going to be good fun.The “Toon Army” are renowned for their friendly welcome, the City centre famous for it’s nightlife and the imposing St James’ Park stadium is a great place to visit – despite the 14 flights of stairs that lead to the away section of the ground.
Safe in the knowledge that my trip was going to be an enjoyable one regardless of the result, I travelled happily – more in hope of a win than in expectation. Then I read a preview of the game in the Newcastle Chronicle and everything changed.
I’m not daft. I know the article in question was written to elicit a response, to provoke a reaction. The words were carefully chosen to touch a nerve and they did exactly that. The article described Watford as “pygmies in the land of the giants” and went on to suggest that their hosts should “sweep them contemptuously aside”. Whether the author of the piece truly believed what he wrote is debatable, but the blue touch paper had been lit regardless. All of a sudden, this was a game I really wanted Watford to win.
As a Hornet of some years, this sort of dismissive coverage is nothing new to me. When Watford made it to the top flight for the first time back in the 1980’s, Graham Taylor and his team were accused of being nothing more than route one exponents whose direct brand of football was setting the game back years. The spiteful coverage continued despite the mounting evidence to the contrary – Nigel Callaghan and John Barnes were two of the most exciting wingers in the game and the Hornets racked up a host of impressive results, ultimately finishing runners up behind Liverpool. It was an extraordinary feat, but one that was tainted by a lack of acceptance or appreciation from many within the sport.
Over thirty years later, nothing has changed. Watford are once again in the top division and under the ownership of the Pozzo family are intent on making sure it’s a lengthy stay. The Hornets’ squad has been bolstered by a host of astute acquisitions, the club making excellent use of a wide reaching and painstakingly created scouting network, whilst in Head Coach Quique Sanchez Flores, they have a leader with vast experience and an impressive pedigree. The signs, for anyone willing or prepared to read them, are pointing firmly towards a healthy chance of survival.
Why then do the cheap jibes and ill thought out criticisms persist? A desire to court controversy? Maybe. A lack of research? Perhaps. A basic misunderstanding of what’s been unfolding at Watford? Almost certainly. Should we, as Watford supporters, worry? Categorically not.
Thanks to an impressive first-half display and two beautifully crafted goals, Watford came away from the North East with a magnificent victory and three vital points; the well organised, disciplined and talented group of players set up perfectly by the Spanish head coach, leaving Steve McLaren with a headache that will rival those felt by many of the Watford fans who stayed in Newcastle to celebrate the win.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the media coverage that followed was focussed on the increasing problems the Magpies are facing, but there was certainly a sense that some correspondents and experts are starting to sit up and take notice of what’s happening at Vicarage Road. They’d be well advised to do so, too because as we saw at the weekend, in the land of the giant – the pygmy can be king.