Walk of Worship

FA Cup, 3rd Round Proper – Watford FC v Bradford City FC
Saturday, 7th January 2012, 3pm
Vicarage Road
Distance 36 miles, Attendance 8935

There’s a feeling I get, just walking up Vicarage Road. It’s an indescribable sense of comfort tinged with a hint of uplifting joy. It doesn’t seem to matter what game is on, or even whether a game is on, just rounding the corner of Harwoods Road, even in the close season, it grabs me. Look before you start, I’ve heard all the “three-sided-ground-unattractive-satellite-town” nonsense… It means nothing. That walk past Watford General can fill me with optimism even in the darkest moments. I’m not alone in this (I hope), sports fans worldwide have their own walks of worship; Scotswood Road, Avenida de Concha Espina, Yawkey Way, Dog Kennel Hill, Brunton Avenue, Wembley Way, the list is endless. On an average day these byways are filled with hope. On FA Cup 3rd Round day… invincibility.
This 3rd Round day pitted us against Bradford City, a team that once competed with the elite, a league above the Hornets, though more recently very much feeling the pinch of modern football. Taking my seat in the Rookery, the place I once stood thirty four years ago, I realised today was a match full of firsts for me. Obviously it was the first time I’d been amongst my own people on this long road to Wembley. It was also the first time UHT capsules, rather than fresh milk, would have to supplement my match day cuppa, and the first time I’d have to curb my camera selection for a game*, the first time my hat represented a team I was watching, and, most worryingly (far better writers than I do this exceedingly well), it was the first time I’d have to write about a game I was very emotionally attached to . Usually I always want the underdogs to win a Cup tie, but with Watford involved… well needs must.
This is in no way disrespectful to Bradford City, or their fans. I’ve genuinely always thought quite fondly of them. They’re quite an unfashionable side, with great club colours, and their nickname is an animal my family once kept in the garden, but they aren’t my beloved Golden Boys.

Losing the toss and having to kick towards the Rookery in the first half is usually not a great sign, but as Troy Deeney’s headed home an early opener any notion of trepidation was soon wiped away (of the 58 goals I’d seen in 17 FA Cup games this was the first I’d seen a replay of straight after it was scored). Even a defensive block handing Bradford an easy equaliser didn’t change a thing, this was always going to be Watford’s day. The play wasn’t always pretty but it was exciting, and the corners were coming thick and fast. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down… (if you’ve sat in the Rookery you’ll understand). Yeates curled one close, Deeney forced the keeper into a good save, and Eustace had a great chance from an unfeasibly tight angle. Then just before the break, Sordell got the ball in the box. He twisted and turned and slotted under the keeper into the corner. Half time, 2-1 Watford and pretty much game over unless the home side pressed the elf-destruct button (it’s happened many times before).

another great Marvin Sordell goal

(As its half time I’d like to take a moment to discuss fashion, and pay credit to the Bantams’ kit designer. Wonderful, plain black: shorts, shirts and socks. No trim, no panels, no piping, no vents, no stripes, no nonsense. How I yearn for such an elegant kit on the Watford boys. The only negative point was that all bar one of the Bradford team, in a huge fashion faux pas, chose ridiculous coloured boots to accompany the kit. Two questions: Are players colour blind? and, Why don’t officials ever wear coloured boots?)
When the sides emerged for the second half captain John Eustace was trussed up Terry Butcher style, just as fearless, but without the blood. He’d left the game early before the break to quell the bleeding and was now back when some may have take the easy route to the shower. This is exactly the kind of player that every team needs, though I’m not sure I’ll be offering him some of the things those at the back of the Rookery sing of. Within minutes he was back in the thick of it, marshalling midfield. (I won’t mention the going down clutching the ball thing that annoys me, in others, John is OUR hero). Much like the first, the second half started without many shots on target, but still 4 parts Watford to 1 part Bradford. Then, in three great minutes, the difference in class told. Firstly Yeates having beaten a defender and some rugby divots knocked the ball wide as he bore down on the goal, and Forsyth running in from the left completed an easy tap. The second showed the best in my three “men of the match”. Stand-in keeper Jonathan Bond commandingly punched away a Bantams’ corner, the ball eventually fell to Eustace who tore up field. Under pressure he slotted the ball through to Forsyth who smashed a low drive home from distance. Leaning back my mind wandered to the ’99 Play Off Final, the similarities to Allan Smart’s goal, and that comforting feeling of knowing that no matter what the opposition did now, they were never going to win. Bradford scored again before the end… whatever! This Cup was exactly what I want from a 3rd Round (Proper) game; a fair team performance, with academy products on the pitch, scoring a few goals, one of which was admirable, producing a fine advert for The FA Cup, and above all else a Watford win.

Of course this game was never going to reach the neutrals. TV companies, in their wisdom, will always select the more photogenic clubs** or big local derbies instead. But this one was worth braving the cold for. Cheaper than Crawley v Redbridge in 2nd Round Proper, more goals than the Manchester derby, and more action than Birmingham v Wolves in the early kick-off. Despite the current plights of both Bradford & Watford they put on a good match.
As I sauntered back down Vicarage Road, I started whistling…
She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon
She wore a yellow ribbon
In the merry month of May
And if you ask her why the heck she wore it
She wore it for her Watford as they’re going to Wembley…
Wem-b-ley. Wem-b-ley. We’re the famous Watford FC and we’re going to Wembley.
(*sadly football authorities are sensitive about this, **BIG/rich clubs)
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