When I was younger, so much younger, FA Cup Final day really was a day to cherish. Stop the clocks. Radio Times specials. BBC v ITV. A 3 o’clock kick off.
So much so that I can pretty much cite where I was and what I was doing for every final since 1984. Why 1984 — well that was the first ever game of football I ever watched. I have to ask, looking back, what was I doing for the first 8 years of my life?
1984 — Watford v Everton (I asked my Dad why our home high street was decked out in yellow and red and the resulting answer was me being perched in front of the TV).
1985 — Man Utd v Everton (Cub camp at Ashridge woods and Akela announced the final score to us around the camp fire)
1986 — Liverpool v Everton (Eating roast dinner on the carpet at a good family friends in Manchester)
1987 — Tottenham v Coventry (My friends round at my house, recreating Keith Houchen-esque diving headers in the garden afterwards)
1988 — Liverpool v Wimbledon (The Crazy Gang and partying at Andrew Lake’s 12th birthday)
1989 — Liverpool v Everton (Andrew Lake’s 13th birthday party!)
1990 — Man Utd v Crystal Palace (I watched the game at home that year, maybe Andrew Lake didn’t invite me this time round?)
You get the idea. It’s ingrained in me. It matters, despite everything that the authorities, the TV companies, the transport networks and the various ever changing sponsors have thrown at it in some bizarre attempt to undermine it.
In the years in-between there have been a few times when it’s looked like Watford might make it back to Wembley but in every game (’87, ’03, ’07 and ’16) we’ve been second favourites and not really done ourselves justice at the semi final stage. Stage fright. Not good enough. A happy go lucky team passing by and glimpsing through the cup final curtains rather than staking a real claim.
This season has been different though. We’ve made it to the FA Cup Final on merit after three away games in which we didn’t concede a goal, a gutsy win against a Palace team that love bursting our big day bubble and then the game of all games to cap it off against Wolves.
At full time, Twitter was a joyous place to be…
So fast forward a month and I’m just now days away from something I never really seriously imagined I could entertain — I’m going to see my team play for the FA Cup Final. It still feels silly just typing that out and I half expect some bigwig from the FA to announce that there has been some administrative blunder, in order to preserve the footballing status quo.
But it’s not and that means it’s our turn as a town to embrace the final, to do our part, to inspire the boys on to victory. So my yellow, red and black bunting can justifiably be hung up, the flags in town can fly high, the mini, and wonderfully nostalgic museum exhibit can welcome all comers and the tin foil FA Cup cut outs can be lovingly crafted and carried to Wembley with pride. Credit to those at the club. They’ve really wrung the maximum out of this special day and I don’t begrudge them one bit. The special one off t-shirts, the variety of flags, all that lovely football content and all done in a way that says, “We might not win this but by god we’re going to enjoy it”.
So after 35 years of following Watford FC this is the biggest game I’ve ever been to. When it comes to solid silver wear (and I don’t count Play Off Finals) I’ve seen us win just one Second Division Championship trophy. I’d not have it any other way really. You make your footballing bed, you buy the official Harry Hornet team duvet cover, and sleep in it. Which makes Saturday so ridiculously and stupendously exciting. This could be as good as it gets? Trying to sleep the night before, picking out my best yellow top, the walk up Wembley Way, Abide With Me and then game on.
We might just do it. The high street pond could be in danger. You never just know. Game on. COME ON YOU ‘ORNS!