Growing up, I could never imagine Watford in the FA Cup final
Between staying in business and reaching Wembley, Watford have won several 'cup finals'. Now they can enjoy the real thing, writes lifelong fan Adam Drury.
Falling in love with football around the turn of the century, FA Cup final day was an institution.
No other match brought with it so much unmissable television viewing. Sky Sports’ pre-match build-up from 8am, then switch over to Soccer AM at nine, and onto Gary Lineker and the gang on the BBC at midday.
Early memories include Roberto Di Matteo’s winner in the last final at the old Wembley, followed by Michael Owen’s late brace for Liverpool in the first one in Cardiff. But all reminiscences are underlined by the realisation, that grew to be an acceptance, that this was not a match Watford are involved in.
The very concept of supporting a team in the cup final was alien. It still is.
Having said that, the emotions felt after the Hornets’ breathless comeback against Wolves in the semi-final last month were familiar.
The feeling was something like when England progressed to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia. A team you have invested so much emotional energy into breaking inconceivable boundaries.
But the national team will always come second.
Yes, Watford have suffered hardship.
Administration or liquidation have been swerved by a matter of hours twice in the last 11 years, the second time because of the Pozzo family, the protagonists in a story that has seen a traditionally second-tier club make themselves at home in the Premier League.
But plenty of clubs have similar tales.
Ultimately, the joy of reaching the final is that Watford are being noticed. For a Home Counties club that has been, and will continue to be, overshadowed by Arsenal, Tottenham, and the rest, not being forgettable is an achievement.
Over the last 20 years, the fleeting moments of fame have been the best times to be a Watford fan: Aidy Boothroyd’s 2006 promotion-winning heroes, that Troy Deeney play-off goal against Leicester in 2013. But football fame doesn’t get much bigger than being involved on cup final day.
The Sky Sports News ‘breaking news’ ticker that begins: “Wat…”, every headline, every tweet from a high-profile neutral (now they’re interested), each plug of the coverage on BBC One or BT Sport.
Andre Gray’s genuinely interesting back story is national news. Card-happy Jose Holebas, a long-time cult hero at Vicarage Road, is a figure of intrigue. Even that goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes will likely retire after Saturday to become a pastor is relevant.
And then there’s Troy. OK, ‘Mr Watford’ might do a lot of talking, but each wry smile that greets his latest media appearance is accompanied by a punch of pride. Think what you want about Deeney: it will be some story if the ex-convict lifts the FA Cup on Saturday tea time.
The day itself will be a series of is-this-really-happening moments.
The Wembley arch lit up in yellow and sky blue, Wembley Way, sharing the moment with family, friends, familiar faces you never see outside a football stadium, and those Arsenal fans who have “always had a soft spot for Watford”. (Where were they for Barnsley away? But you don’t begrudge them it, honest.)
Then there's Abide With Me, God Save The Queen, Prince William, and (*swoons*) Roberto Pereyra in an FA Cup final suit.
Supporters from America, Australia, New Zealand and other corners of the globe have already set off. On Saturday lunchtime, the local trainlines and roads will become a mass of yellow, a time when supporting a club with such distinctive colour is most worthwhile.
The fear is that there is too much hysteria for the team to possibly maintain focus for 90 minutes, as they surely must do to stand a chance of winning.
But the prospect of victory is not totally what has fuelled the feverish build-up.
In our several bids to stay in business, avoid relegation, win promotion and reach this Wembley showdown, Watford have negotiated plenty of self-proclaimed ‘cup finals’.
Now we get to experience the real thing.
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