Saturday, 29 January 2011

Watford v Brighton

The Seagulls That Kicked The Hornets' Nest

Watford 0-1 Brighton (29:01:11)

It was so nice of Southern Rail to get in on the act. They chose to celebrate the Seagulls progression into the 4th round of the FA Cup proper by laying on a fleet of (Gus) buses to ferry 3,649 Brighton fans to Vicarage Road. Well, very nearly. They actually dropped us off in Three Bridges, 60 miles away, but the thought was certainly there. After all, hands up who's not keen as mustard for a bus replacement service to kick start their Saturday.

The train took the strain from Three Bridges to Watford. Britain's busiest train as it transpired. Just the four carriages were laid on for the heaving mass of singing Seagulls. Only a few hundred were able to squeeze on our train and the rest were left to frantically scroll through their train timetable applications on their iPhones.

Long gone are the days when I'd put a tick next to a few pre-match beers in an O'Neills, Wetherspoons or Walkabout pub on the High Street with a couple of police riot vans parked outside for company. It's quite hard to get misty eyed about those ten-deep rugby scrums at the bar.

We're all about meticulous preparation here at European Football Weekends, so we opted for a few real ale pubs outside Bushey Station, twenty minutes from the ground and full of a mixture of home and away fans happy to eat, drink and be merry rather than entertain the notion of a toe-to-toe fight.

Cup fever reaches WD18.

No place like gnome.

Our first pub of choice, The Rifle Volunteer promised us Panini's from 10am. I hadn't collected those stickers for years, but I was happy they were still be traded in the WD postal district, even though I had forgotten to bring my swaps. Actually they turned out to be of the bread variety. And not even two metre meat bread at that. Sigh.

Next up was The Railway Arms were we'd arranged to meet some Glory Hornet Boys. Step forward Mike and company from the excellent "From The Rookery End" podcast. Also supping pints of Abbott Ale were Damon and Simon from the equally excellent Real FA Cup blog and six or so Brighton fans who formed the EFW team for the day.

Sadly, The Rookery End boys failed to bring along 'Xavier' the lucky snowman. A small model with WFC hat and scarf, named after Xavier Gravelaine. Or for that matter, their knitted version of Watford legend Wilf Rostron (see their podcast for details).

My last visit to Watford FC to see Brighton play was in the old Division 2 at the back end of the 80s. You no longer have to yomp through an old cart track through Arthur Fowler's allotment to get to the away end. There used to be a little vulpine-esque avoidance trick of paying to get in the Rookery (home end) before explaining to a local bobby that you'd inadvertently goosed up. He or she would then march you along the side of the pitch and into the away section thus saving you a twenty-five minute walk.

So what's changed? There's no longer an enormous scoreboard at the back of the Vicarage Road terrace. This has been replaced by video screens. The curved shallow terracing elsewhere and bright yellow bench seats have also been filed under bin. The East Stand is still a bit of a shambles though. Health and safety gurus now ensure this section is only good for the press, players, Elton John and Graham Taylor. Fans aren't welcome there. I've no doubt about that in my mind*. *Nod to Graham Taylor.

Through the electronic (electronic!) turnstiles we went, negotiated our way through Hertfordshire's tiniest concourse - not suited to nearly 4000 fans, or 400 for that matter - and out into our seats. We did have a choice of seat - red or yellow.

A hat-tip must be offered to Watford Football Club with regards to the price of the match ticket for this tie. Despite the obvious fact this was their cup final, they'd seen fit to reduce the cost to a very agreeable £15. There's a bit of FA Cup magic for you.

Seagulls, flying high.


In the previous round, Watford had notched three of their four goals by a move involving players cutting in from the touchline. Piero Mingoia's effort being a 20 yard effort - on his debut. Brighton are made of sterner stuff than Hartlepool these days though, and Gus, like EFW, had done his homework. Brighton's back four had the inform Danny Graham in their pocket and young whipersnappers Buckley and Sordell didn't get any change out of my man of the match Liam Bridcutt - who pulled more strings than Geppetto.

Brighton deservedly took the lead on 16 minutes when Ashley Barnes drilled in a shot that had Gillmartin - in between the Watford sticks - flapping Robert Green-style. An absolute howler from the lad. 0-1. Star jumps were the celebration of choice in the away end. A brilliant way to both celebrate and keep warm at the same time. Some cruel Albion fans mocked Gillmartin - not a regular starter - with the Mitchell Johnson Barmy Army song, "He dives to the left, he dives to the right, that Gillmartin, he's f*cking sh*te."

In the words of Rookery Mike "football may as well not exist if we can't treat ourselves to the occasional gloat." So, here goes: The blue and white wizards were superb. They played total football (hello to you, Ajax) in large spells of this game. And. Triangles. The only thing threatening stopping their champagne football was a combination of a bobbly pitch and a local power cut, which cut the supply to the "golden boys" floodlights for much of the first half.

The large solar panel on the East Stand reignited the floodlights.

The green, green grass of Vicarage Road.

We can see you sneaking out.

I must admit, that Abbot Ale does wonders for loosening the vocal chords. I rolled back the years and started a song. Picking my moment to perfection, I bellowed out "From the South..." and seconds later the best part of 4000 fans were singing "We are Brighton, super Brighton, we are Brighton, from the South," Not a note out of tune either. You never really lose your SSS (song starting skills). Good old life.

As well as being in the hat for the 5th round proper, Brighton and Hove Albion FC can also be very proud of something else this week. Football clubs change their club crest willy nilly these days, and there are some horrific examples of how this can go very wrong; Arsenal, Fulham, Morecambe, Shrewsbury, QPR, Northampton, Manchester City, Leeds United - in fact the list goes on and on. Brighton are changing theirs again. The excuse? They're moving into a new stadium. Fair enough. Thing is, they've got it very right. I was never comfortable with the current badge - hate in fact. But the new effort, which is a return to the old school design, but with a clever, subtle and modern twist - a yellow beak - is absolutely spot on. All we need now is for the club to dig out the four towering floodlights from the Goldstone Ground, and fasten them onto the corners at the new stadium in Falmer and we really will be able to sleep tight at night. Sweet dreams.

Further reading Brighton v FC United (Round 2), Brighton v Portsmouth (Round 3).
For lots more photos CLICK ME.

- Feel free to comment below -


Nicos Goodwin (ngood77) said...

Danny, yet another superb report, matched only by our superb performance. Hats off to the warm welcome offered by RookeryMike and The Real FA Cup boys. And a special mention for Per, the obligatory Brondby rep. Here's to an even bigger and better awayday in the last 16 (last 16!). He dives to the left...

Danny Last said...

@Nicos - Cheers mate. Talking of The Real FA Cup boys, one of them has just popped a small video of the Brighton fans onto YouTube:

Ville said...

Great report again, Danny, and well done The Seagulls. Long may the FA Cup journey continue. By the way: I am hoping to have a late taste of Withdean and attend the Notts County game in March.

Danny Last said...

@Ville - Thanks old chap. The away match with Notts County is on May 7.

Danny Last said...

Want to see how it's really done? Here's The Real FA Cup with their blog on the match. It is of course Grade A, 10/10 stuff - as always, including a better headline than mine. Grrrrr.....

Brighton Eye Bushey Tale


Rookery Mike said...

Well done Danny on a nice piece and well done Brighton on negotiating the weather, floodlight failure, a dreadful pitch and a lacklustre Watford performance. A thoroughly deserved win for the Seagulls.

Good to meet a number of you before the game, you'll forgive me if I say I wholeheartedly wish I had stayed in the pub.

Let's do it again next year and hope for a more agreeable temperature and a much better spectacle.

Good luck for the rest of the season - and enjoy Stoke!

Danny Last said...

@RookeryMike - Cheers Mike and thanks a million for the pre-match entertainment. That is how football should be in my book and that's not just referring to the vast quantities of Abbot Ale.

Keep up the splendid work with the 'Rookery End' podcast, which is well worth a listen - if anyone is still reading this (unlikely - Ed.).