While I was working with Graham Taylor on his autobiography, we visited Grimsby Town’s Blundell Park ground one day. As he reminisced about his playing days, he remarked on how the ground had changed over the years and went to sit in the main stand, which has remained largely the same since the 1960s. Later on we walked over to the other side of the ground and up to the back row of the much higher Young’s Stand.
‘Isn’t it funny,’ he said, umprompted. ‘We all of us watch the same game but we all have a completely different view of that game and we all see different things. The view from over there,’ he said, pointing across at the main stand, ‘is completely different to the view from up here. I could watch the game here and get a totally different impression of the game from someone sitting over there. Someone sitting behind the goal gets another view again. Is it any wonder we all come away with differing opinions?
‘It’s why, when I was a manager, I liked to watch the first half of home games in the directors’ box because it gave me a much better impression of the play than sitting down on the bench next to the touchline.’
It made me think about the hours of analysis, the wall-to-wall discussion of matches on television, radio, in newspapers and online, all purporting to offer us answers. For all of that, football remains a game of mistakes, fortune, opinion and interpretation.
We can evaluate the formations and tactics all we like but even the former players on television, who can draw on the experience of hundreds of matches and team talks and thousands of training sessions, are only making educated guesses based on what they have seen. They are not usually party to the coach’s instructions, they cannot see the game through the eyes of the players on the pitch but they do have an understanding of how the game is played at an elite level. What chance do the rest of us have?
It remains a game of consequences, both intended and unintended, and as a result football retains its allure in an era when money is doing its best to eradicate any role for the underdog. A seemingly innocuous slip or mistake in the middle of the pitch suddenly becomes of pivotal importance if the ball ends up in the back of the net moments later.
We can’t help but review everything with the benefit of hindsight. A substitution that took place while the scores were level turns out to be a stroke of genius if the team goes on to win, and it’s seen as ineffectual meddling if they don’t. In a 90-minute game made up of millions of individual actions and decisions it seems bizarre that we home in on one or two incidents and use them as our frames of reference when evaluating a team’s performance.
Of course for us supporters the result ends up being our chief determinining factor. We will overlook a dreadful performance if the team wins – just see Saturday’s 1-0 win over Everton for evidence of that – as we appraise the match, the players and the coach’s decisions through the prism of victory or defeat.
Much of what we think we know is probably flawed – and I include my own views in that – but discussion and opinion are the lifeblood of a game that is devastatingly simple in concept though can contain intriuging complexities in its execution.
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Last season, I wrote a column about Watford for Yahoo and enjoyed it for a while but had to bring it to a close because I was in the middle of writing Graham’s book and the job of trying to write in his voice was challenging enough without switching between his and mine. When Graham died the task became even more difficult and without the support of his family and my editors I’d not have managed to complete the manuscript. However, I had to halt the Yahoo column because it was an unhelpful distraction from what had become an all-encompassing job.
I sit in Row Z at Vicarage Road, hence the name of this blog, although I’ve not yet caught one of the defensive clearances made famous by the cliché. Taking Graham Taylor’s words of wisdom as my guide this blog is not meant to be a definitive account of events, nor is it designed to persuade anyone of my own point of view, it is simply one supporter’s opinion, occasionally drawing on more than 30 years’ experience watching the team as well as conversations I've had with some of the past players and managers. And so to the disclaimer. I make no apology for bias, selective vision or irrationality contained within these pages.
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So, now you’re here, what else is on this website?
• I am adding the matches from my book The 100 Greatest Watford Wins one at a time here. The countdown is in the high eighties now and, as I’m adding one match each weekday, we’ll get down to the top ten in a few months time. Click on the Matches tab in the menu to see the games that have been posted so far.
• All the interviews done for Enjoy The Game are being put on the Watford Legends site and you can also find an index on this site here. There’s around 40 interviews with players, coaches and staff who played a part in the 1980s. The latest batch of three contains an interview with Dave Bassett which might not be to everyone's taste but I found his willingness to be candid engaging.
• You can also check out a range of T-shirts inspired by Hornets history and produced by Gold & Black. Admittedly the coldest spring week since records began is probably not the ideal time to buy a T-shirt but they do hoodies too.
Next time: I'll write a bit about the football and why 'two up top' might not be the answer.