Saturday, 24 September 2011

Watford - Vicarage Road


Watford FC
Vicarage Road Stadium
Watford
Hertfordshire
WD1 8ER





Ground Number: 24
Tuesday 19th November 1996
Watford 1-0 Wycombe Wanderers
Nationwide League Division 2







TEN FACTS ABOUT WATFORD FC

1:  The club was formed in 1881 by Harry Grover who went on to play for the club. They were originally known as Watford Rovers and then West Hertfordshire. They adopted their current name following a merger with local rivals Watford St Mary's in 1898.

2:  The club was an amateur one to start off with the club starting out in the Southern League. Initially, in its second tier, they were 2nd Division champions in 1900. Aside from a single season back in Division 2 (1903/04), Watford remained in the 1st Division and were champions in 1915.

3:  Following the end of the First World War, Watford joined the newly expanded Football League in 1920. They have played in all 4 tiers - their lowest finish being 15th in Division 4 in 1959, the highest being an amazing 2nd when they finished as runners-up to Liverpool in 1983.

4:  Though his tenure as England manager was a disappointment, Graham Taylor's record as Watford manager was incredible. He guided them from the 4th Division to the 1st Division between 1977 and 1983 when they finished as runners-up in the top tier. He left in 1987 but returned a decade later, leading the club from the Second Division to the Premiership in his first 2 seasons. Statistically, the manager with the highest win percentage is Slavisa Jokanovic with a 60% win record during the 2014/15 season.

5:  Watford were FA Cup runners-up in 1984 as they lost 2-0 to Everton and have also reached the semi-final on three further occasions. Lower points in the competition include a 10-0 defeat to Wolves in 1910, though they did have a 10-1 win over Lowestoft Town in 1926. There have also been a number of defeats to non-league teams, the last being in 1977 when they lost 3-2 to Northwich Victoria in the FA Cup 3rd Round. 

6:  The League Cup semi-final has twice been reached with defeats to Notts Forest in 1979 and Liverpool in 2005.

7:  Watford played on several grounds, including the nearby Cassio Road during their formative years. They moved to their present home, Vicarage Road in 1922.

8:  Watford have played in yellow, red and black since 1976. Previous colours include gold and black between 1959 and 1976 and blue and white from 1927 until 1959. Prior to that, colours changed regularly.

9:  Watford's most famous supporter is Elton John, who also became chairman in 1976. He spearheaded Watford's most successful spell in their history, following the hiring of Graham Taylor. Other famous fans who support the Hornets include boxer Anthony Joshua and actress Jennifer Aniston. 

10: Striker Luther Blissett is record appearance holder for Watford with 501 outings. He is also their record scorer with 186 goals during that time.  Their record transfer outlay is £18.5m for Andre Gray in August 2017 whilst in the January of that year, they sold Odion Ighalo to Chinese side Changchun Yatai for £20m.


MY PREVIOUS VISITS

My 23rd ground was a reverse of my first one. Back in 1991, my first ever game was Wycombe beating Watford 2-1 in a friendly. At the time, Wycombe were in the Conference and Watford were in the second tier, with 2 whole leagues separating them. But 5 years later they were equals, both playing in the third tier. This was now known as Division 2, following the Premiership rebranding exercise in 1992.



Coming into the game, Wycombe were rock bottom of the league. But form had improved slightly under new manager John Gregory. They had just had the first win of his tenure, beating Neil Warnock's Plymouth side 2-1. And the week before they had disposed of bitter rivals Colchester in the FA Cup. In a very defensive game, Wycombe were unlucky not to grab a deserved draw. But disaster struck on 89 minutes when a mix up between Dave Carroll and Jason Kavanagh, allowed Gary Penrice to intercept and pass the ball to David Connolly, who put the goal past John Cheesewright for the winner.


The subsequent visit from Wycombe was memorable as it was just after the death of Princess Diana and Watford chairman Elton John was recording his "Candle In The Wind" song at the time. Wycombe lost 2-1 on that occasion, Paul Read getting the goal. Ironically the week before, Wycombe had beaten Fulham 2-0 at home. At the time the club was owned by Al Fayed, whose son Dodi had also died in the tragic crash in Paris.



My third visit was in January 2011, not for a Wycombe awayday, but for Watford's FA Cup game against Brighton. An error from Watford keeper Rene Gilmartin allowed Brighton to snatch a winner, not that either manager really cared much, judging by their team line-ups.I went with my mates Dale and Paul, those these days I'd have gone on a random groundhop somewhere, but I was less fussy at the time. As for around 18 months later, I made my 4th visit as Wycombe were unlucky to lose 1-0 in Extra Time, thanks to a Chris Iwelumo goal in the League Cup 1st Round.



VISIT 5: WATFORD 1-0 WBA (EPL, 3/3/18)

I was hoping for a train trip into London to tick off a ground and have a good day out on this day, but my plans were scuppered by a bout of unseasonal snow which wiped out pretty much the entire non-league calendar. Even the few matches that were on would have meant a risky journey so though I fancied a revisit to Dover or a new ground at Steyning, I decided not to take the risk and spend the day in instead. I went down to the shops and got some shopping on the morning of the game. However, one of my Twitter followers alerted me to a Tweet by Watford FC who were offering half-price tickets to season ticket holders of other clubs. It was 11.45 by now, so it meant a quick change of plan. I was pleased to see that the train would also be cheap - just £1.90 each way and a lot cheaper than petrol and parking. I left just before 12, getting to a side road near Amersham Station around 15 minutes later. I was annoyed to see a train pull off just as I got through the barriers and with a patchy service from Amersham, it was another 30-minute wait for the next train. It pretty much scuppered my pre-match plans, but at least I was still going to see a game.



I was really glad to be going to football when all hope looked lost. I just wish they'd announced the offer earlier as it was a bit of a rush. I'd fancied a revisit to Watford when I'd see the fixtures but had ruled it out due to the silly ticket prices. With the cheapest ticket at £36, it was more than I was willing to pay but this half price offer made it great value. Personally, I think around £25 is about right for this level, considering the opposition. It seemed Watford were keen to sell tickets, they'd offered freebies to those who had helped clear the pitch earlier that morning and were also allowing season ticket holders to buy additional half-price tickets for guests. I was a tiny bit concerned that I'd miss out on a ticket with me not arriving super early but was hoping to get a place in the Graham Taylor Lower Tier. With it being the joint cheapest place to sit and with me having 'ticked' both ends on my previous visits, it would also allow me to get a picture of the Elton John stand, newly built since my last visit. I'd be cheering for Watford today, as well as their generous ticket offer, I had them on my bet along with Spurs and Millwall.




I got the 12.47 train to Moor Park, where I had a 15-minute wait to get my train to Watford. Getting there at 1.25, I jogged the mile to the ground, arriving at 1.40. Straight to the ticket office, I secured my ticket for £18 in my favoured stand, the service was quick, friendly and helpful. I only had a fiver in cash at this point, so it was good to be able to pay on my card. My first stop was a bit of a find. The Bunker Bar was a small dimly lit room in the far corner of the ground with no bouncers on the door and a friendly atmosphere. The selection of drinks was not great, though they were priced well. I had a can of Strongbow for £2 whilst watching some old Watford games on the big screen. There were some cracking looking pies too but I didn't have enough on me, so went in search of a cash machine. The only one I could find was in a local shop and it was charging £2 for withdrawals. I'd spotted a few places that took cards on the way and I settled on a place called 'Grilled Cottage'. This was very nice and I pushed the boat out a bit, getting a double Piri Piri fillet burger, large fries and large Fanta for £6.79. From there, I walked to the ground, arriving at 2.40. Getting in was hassle free and I had a good view of the game. Watford won 1-0, though the goal was a long time coming, eventually scored by Troy Deeney. Watford were the better side, though didn't create that much, but looked solid. Visitors West Brom also focused on the defence and despite a bright start, didn't create many chances. A scan of the match report from The Daily Star is below.



After the game, I left the ground pretty quickly. By 5.20 I was back at the underground station and for the second time that day, I saw my train pull off just as I arrived. I had to wait 15 minutes for the next one, although at least I got to shelter from the cold in a nice warm waiting room. I'd been listening to BBC Radio Kent as I knew they'd been covering two of the very few non-league games on that day with Dover beating Leyton Orient and Folkestone drawing with Harlow. By 5.35 I was on my train, with a grumpy driver moaning that people were blocking the doors. It had been a decent day for me, even though the game had not been the best and Millwall had let me down on my bet. That said, I was still £15 up on where I was last week. I got to Moor Park at 5.45, with the times not working kindly for my train to Amersham as I had another 25 minutes to wait. I was listening to Radio 5 by now and this kept me entertained with me also making a start on my blog update. I got back to Amersham at 6.30 and not for the first time this week, I was greeted by inclement weather. I dashed back to my car, getting in at 6.50. My Mum served up a great dinner of pork chops, chips and mushy peas which filled me up a treat. The rest of the evening was spent working on my blog while I listened to the football phone-ins and then catching up online. It was the usual Saturday night ritual of Match Of The Day, resulting in a late night. I never mind this, especially when the game that I went to was on it, though it's still a pain getting up at 4 am the following morning.



SCORES ON THE DOORS

1: Ground facilities & condition (for the level)
It's smart, but one of the smaller in the Premier League (6)

2: Area around the ground (parking, food/drink, public transport)
Great location for trains, near the town and street parking available if you are prepared to walk (8)

3: Welcome / Club Friendliness
Really friendly for the Premier League (8)

4: Value for money
On this occasion, £18 was great value, though more expensive normally (9)

5: Social Media & Website
Fairly standard stuff, though a little less commercial than most (7)

6: Programme
I no longer have my 1996 issue, so can't comment (-)

7: Game entertainment
Not the best, but not without merit (5)

8: Tea Bar
The usual overpriced dull selection (4)

9: Bar / Clubhouse
The Bunker was decent, limited to cans but well-priced and did food too (7)

10: Club Shop
Good range, but pricey (6)

TOTAL SCORE OUT OF 90: 60
AVERAGE SCORE: 6.66


THE GROUND

VICARAGE ROAD is now a smart, modern ground, albeit one of the smaller in the Premier League with a capacity of 23,700. It's situated within walking distance of several train stations, the closest being Watford High Street and Watford Underground Station being a mile away. It's also close to the town, with a wide range of places to eat and drink.

Closer to the ground, are a decent range of takeaways, shops and bars. I enjoyed my visit to Grilled Cottage, which had good food at reasonable prices, whilst cans of drinks are available from local shops and street drinking is not frowned upon if you are sensible and show respect. Back at the ground, the 1881 Bunker is a simple but welcoming bar, offering food and drink at reasonable prices. There's the usual club shop, though this, as expected, is quite pricey. The same can be said for food and drink in the ground, so it's best to fill up before you go in.








The newest addition to the ground - THE SIR ELTON JOHN STAND is a smart 3,800 capacity single-tiered stand. It is named in honour of Watford's former chairman and includes lyrics of his first hit 'Your Song' at the back of the stand. This replaced an older stand that was a mixture of seats and terracing.







Opposite is THE GRAHAM TAYLOR STAND. This was formerly known as The Rous Stand and is a smart two-tiered affair. Despite being a let down as England manager, ig hearted Taylor was a huge success at Watford and now has this stand named in his memory. It holds around 5,000.



The ROOKERY STAND is the biggest in the ground, holding just under 7000 fans. This is where the main vocal support for Watford congregates and an impressive pre-match display of streamers can be seen from here.



The VICARAGE ROAD STAND has a capacity of around 6,000. This is split between the Family Stand and the away fans. The corners are also filled in and more the most part, it's possible to walk around the ground, aside from the away section which is segregated. The corners of the ground have been filled in, some with seats to further increase the capacity.

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