Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Monday, 29 November 2010
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
When Graham Taylor arrived at Vicarage Road in the summer of 1977, I was 14 years old. When I took my O levels, Watford had just clinched promotion to Division Two, and I was on my gap year when they made the final step up to Division One. So for me, as for many Watford fans, Enjoy The Game is the story of my formative years.
Although its subtitle is ‘Watford Football Club: The Story of the Eighties’, Enjoy The Game is really the story of Graham Taylor’s first 10-year spell at the club, from 1977 to 1987; the rest of the decade is rushed through in double-quick time. Not that I’m complaining. If reading the first 300 pages is like wallowing in a warm bath, the final 40 are the literary equivalent of an icy shower.
In writing a book about the most successful period in the Hornets’ history, Lionel Birnie is pushing against an open door when it comes to winning over middle-aged Watford fans like me. But it’s worth pointing out that Enjoy The Game is an excellent book, expertly structured and written in a fluent, unobtrusive style that lets the story take precedence.
Birnie’s best decision was to base his story on the primary sources. So the bulk of the narrative is carried by candid and revealing interviews with the players who created history: not just the stars (Bolton, Blissett, Jenkins and many more), but also bit-part players such as Charlie Palmer and Neil Price.
There are fascinating insights from the management team, too, especially Graham Taylor, who is predictably frank throughout. I was particularly intrigued by his admission that he screwed up by naming the starting eleven for the 1984 FA Cup final a week in advance; he subsequently wanted to change the team, but realised he couldn’t go back on his word. Who would he have dropped, and who would he have replaced them with? I suspect we’ll never know.
More impressively still, Birnie seeks out voices that can tell the other side of the story. A number of Everton players provide a new perspective on the FA Cup final; bogeymen Dave Bassett and Trevor Senior tell their side of the six months that sealed Watford’s fate in 1987/88; and there’s even an interview with Roger Milford – the referee who denied Wilf Rostron a place in the Cup final, and then robbed the Hornets of a place in the semis of the same competition two years later. Predictably, Milford still thinks he was right on both counts, and I still hate him. But I do also respect him for taking the time to talk to a writer who might have been expected to have an axe to grind.
Borne along by judiciously chosen extracts from these interviews, the story proceeds at a brisk pace. Every now and then Birnie changes gear and inserts a chapter on a particular topic: how the fearsome Tom Walley nurtured the youth team, for example, or Watford’s pioneering role as a ‘family club’.
Quibbles? I’d have liked an index, though I understand why this wasn’t practical. I only spotted one factual error – moustachioed winger Bobby Downes is confused with his Wimbledon namesake, Wally – and a handful of typographical lapses, but certainly not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book.
Ultimately, much of that enjoyment comes from sharing in the happy memories of the players and staff. I particularly like the story of the day GT told the squad they were going to start their regular cross-country run with a walk. He duly led them to his home near Cassiobury Park, where his wife, Rita, was waiting to serve the players tea and cakes. It’s anecdotes like this that demonstrate why Watford was such a special club in the Eighties – not just to support, but to play for as well.
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Sunday, 17 October 2010
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
There’s no such thing as home advantage.
Sunday, 22 August 2010
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Sunday, 25 April 2010
- Lucky for us that Reading had already left for their summer hols, mentally at least. The last time I saw such slack defending, Watford were doing it
- Danny Graham may never get a better chance to score a hat-trick; it’s a good thing the two shots he volleyed high over the bar didn’t affect the final score
- The Mexican wave has no place in a football ground, and I will refuse until my dying day to take part in one
- And those red, yellow and black balloons someone in the Rookery blew up in the second half and chucked around were fun for about two minutes, and then became extremely annoying
- I wonder what Arsène Wenger thinks about Henri Lansbury? He sent us a promising, ball-playing midfielder, and after nine months at Vicarage Road he’s about to take return delivery of a first-rate hoofer - some of Henri’s clearances upfield yesterday were positively agricultural. I blame the pitch
- I really hope that’s not the last time I see Heidar Helguson in a Watford shirt, but I fear it will be. For what it’s worth, I’d sign him like a shot if it were feasible: with his injury record, he’s unlikely to be available for a full season, but he’s worth a place in the squad for his effect on opposing defenders alone