A Taste Of Hornet Heaven

Below is the opening of the very first episode.

If you want to read more, the paperbacks are available here. For audio, go here.



Frank Gammon wasn’t good company when Watford lost. Over the decades, he’d thrown more teacups than Graham Taylor. He’d kicked more cats than Paul Robinson had kicked wingers.

His first wife told him he was impossible to live with. His second and third divorces proved it. After the 4-1 defeat at home to Huddersfield at the end of 2013/14, even his latest cat walked out on him.

By then he was a very old man. He’d also become terminally ill. He moved into a hospice. He was treated well, but whenever Watford lost, the staff had to keep the sort of distance opponents used to keep from John Eustace.

As Frank declined, Watford improved. They began the 2014/15 season well and looked genuine candidates for promotion to the Premier League. But as Frank contemplated his imminent death, his greatest fear became its timing. He didn’t want to die angry after a Watford defeat. A nurse at the hospice once joked that, if Frank did, it wouldn’t half make the afterlife miserable for everybody. But Frank didn’t believe in an afterlife. He thought it was about as likely as Watford changing their manager in the middle of a promotion campaign.

Frank weakened rapidly. After Watford appointed their fourth manager of the season and lost four games on the trot in November 2014, the nurse joked to a colleague that the pearly gates looked like they were in for a right old kicking. In truth, though, Frank wouldn’t have had the strength for it.

Death finally came to Frank in January 2015. A week earlier and he’d have gone out on a high. Watford had won their last game 5-0. Unfortunately, at the moment of his passing, Watford were 2-0 down…

*   *   *

At first he didn’t notice. Then he discovered he couldn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t move. He had no sense of his body. His only sensation was the Three Counties Radio commentary in his ears. This was it. It was happening. He was slipping away.

Frank tried to shout for help. But his words wouldn’t come out. Nothing was working.

He swore. Someone had to do something. Quick.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. His only connection with the world was hearing co-commentator Derek Payne complain that the opposition’s striker had the beating of the Watford defenders. Before today, Frank had never considered whose voice he’d like to be the last he ever heard. Now he knew it wasn’t Derek Payne’s.

Frank swore again — in anger as well as panic. Dying in the middle of a match was a torture in itself. But Watford were losing. He shouted and shouted. No-one at the hospice heard.

As his life-force ebbed away, the final thing Frank Gammon heard on earth was Jon Marks summarising a truly disastrous first half.

‘If you didn’t hear the half-time whistle, you probably heard the boos here at Vicarage Road…’

*   *   *

Everything went blindingly white. He found himself in a snowy mist. Then the mist cleared to a dreary half-light. He recognised immediately where he was. He saw rotting fences, crumbling garages, twisted brambles. He was standing on Occupation Road behind the newly built Sir Elton John Stand.

He swore — in confusion, this time. What the hell was he doing at the stadium? He’d just died, hadn’t he?

He looked and listened. He guessed he was in the afterlife somehow. But it was odd. There was no half-time hubbub coming from inside the stadium. No half-arsed penalty shoot-out commentary. Nothing. He was alone in a silent twilight.

The place felt like a miserable grey limbo. Just what life must have felt like for Luton fans in the Conference, he thought.

This was no place to spend eternity, Frank decided. He needed to get back to the hospice somehow — so he could die after a Watford victory.

He started to look for the way out.

*   *   *

‘No point hanging around here, mate,’ he heard a voice say.

Frank turned. He saw a steward in a high-vis jacket. He reckoned he must be in hell, not limbo, if stewards were involved.

‘How do I get back to where I was?’ Frank asked tersely.

The steward rolled his eyes. ‘Here we go, first thing everyone asks.’

Frank snapped back: ‘Listen, pal, I died at the wrong moment, alright?’

‘Yup, that’s what they all say. As if this isn’t the best of all possible places you could end up,’ the steward said.

Frank glanced at the rusting corrugated iron, the cracked brickwork. It really didn’t look like the best of all possible places.

‘But you said there’s no point hanging around here,’ he said.

‘There isn’t, mate,’ the steward said. ‘Not here,’ he added. ‘But if you walk to the top of the road…’

Frank looked up the slope towards the junction with Vicarage Road. Throughout his time as a Watford fan, The Red Lion pub had always stood there. Now, instead, a golden glow was rising into the sky.

Frank followed the steward up Occupation Road. The half-light became brighter. But he couldn’t help thinking back to the boos he’d heard on the commentary. The more he thought, the more he began to get in a stew, the way he always did when Watford lost.

‘Nil-two!’ he said, and swore.

‘Uh-oh!’ said the steward. ‘Spoilers!’

Frank was in such a funk that he didn’t notice an ancient-looking turnstile in the wall behind the new stand.

‘At home!’ Frank said, and swore again.

The steward tried to cheer things up by getting Frank to focus on the positive aspects of his situation: ‘Anyway, mate, how are you feeling physically?’

Frank thought about this for a moment. He noticed how easily he was walking. Physically, he felt great. For the first time in two years his body felt full of energy and possibility. He felt like Matej Vydra lurking on a defender’s shoulder, ready to sprint through on goal. But he couldn’t focus on any of that right now.

‘Against the bottom team!’ he said, and swore worse than ever.

Soon they passed the dumped remnants of a shabby red portacabin. Its walls had been stacked flat on the gravel verge. Piled on top was a discarded rectangular sign that said ‘The Bill Mainwood Programme Hut’. Frank guessed someone was building a bonfire to symbolise Watford’s promotion hopes going up in flames.

Then he looked up and stopped in his tracks. The building that had replaced The Red Lion was a futuristic construction: glass and steel, with shiny curves and sharp angles. Golden light poured from every window. It was magnificent. Magnificent in a way Neil Price’s re-opening of the pub had never quite managed.

Frank asked what the building was. The steward pointed out the sign above the door. In yellow capitals it said: HORNET HEAVEN.

‘Well, I guess it’s catchier than The Yellow and Red Lion,’ Frank muttered.

The idea that Frank thought the building was still a pub made the steward laugh.

‘You really don’t get it, mate, do you?’

Frank shrugged. He guessed he didn’t.

‘Mate. You’ve died and gone to heaven. And not just any heaven. A paradise just for Watford fans. Hornet Heaven. This is the main entrance.’

Frank shrugged again. OK, he got the idea. But what was it going to be like? So far he hadn’t been impressed.

The steward put his arm around Frank’s shoulder.

‘You’ll be happy here.’

*   *   *

That’s it for a taster.

For paperbacks, go here. For audio, go here.