The writer of Hornet Heaven, Olly Wicken, has a tale to tell about watching Watford at Vicarage Road in the 1990s.
For him, it captures what watching our team at our spiritual home is all about.
The Vicarage Road stand was built in 1993. It rose much higher behind the goal than the previous terrace. It gave us something of a bird’s eye view of the place where, ten years earlier, we’d seen Graham Taylor’s team finish as runners-up in English football and host thrilling nights of European football.
What we were watching in the mid-nineties, though, was nothing like the wonderful stuff The Great Man had given us. This was the era of Keith Dublin, Perry Digweed and (literally the biggest eyesore of all) Mickey Quinn. Throughout the period, my friends and I sat in our regular places, two rows from the back of the new stand, sighing at mistakes and rolling our eyes heavenwards at yet another home defeat.
On one occasion, early in what became the relegation season of 1995/96, as we slouched back in our seats and gazed wearily upwards, we spotted something. There was a dead pigeon lying slumped on one of the metal rafters high above our heads. It seemed to sum up the state of things at Vicarage Road.
For the next few months, each time we returned to our seats for another helping of misery, we’d always glance up and note that the pigeon was still there, still dead.
It became the focus for our gallows humour. During a grim 1-0 defeat to Millwall in October, I remember, we discussed which current player was doing the best impersonation of the pigeon.
Another time, in January, we speculated that it wasn’t a pigeon after all, but a phoenix — the mythological bird that’s said to regenerate and rise, born again, from its ashes. We must have been desperate. We were daring to imagine that the decaying bird above our heads might be a sign that better days were to come. But, as we sat and watched a grim 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield (made all the worse by watching Kerry Dixon in a Watford shirt), we held out no real hope.
In mid-February, Watford were adrift at the bottom of the league table. The manager, Glenn Roeder, was sacked. His replacement (as general manager) was Graham Taylor. We were overjoyed at the return of The Great Man, even though we felt there was little chance he could turn the current season around.
On February 24th, we went to Vicarage Road for GT’s first game back — at home to Ipswich Town. His return didn’t spark a rare victory, but at least we scored a couple of goals. Towards the end, we sat back in our seats, feeling a little less fraught now that Graham was back. We raised our gaze.
And we noticed that the bird wasn’t there anymore.
We were amazed. The pigeon must have been a phoenix after all, we joked, hoping we weren’t joking. It must be a sign, we said, that the club was regenerating and rising, born again.
Well, you all know what happened next. Over the next four seasons, our match day experience at Vicarage Road changed dramatically.
By 1999, my friends and I had moved seats to the new home end — the Rookery Stand — and we were watching Watford play in the top division of English football again. From the ashes of Jack Petchey’s ownership of the club, Graham Taylor had once again transformed our afternoons and evenings at The Vic.
Of course, it’s 2020 now.
Another twenty years on, the experience of watching Watford is different again.
We have a properly Premier League stadium. We get to watch some of the best footballers we’ve ever seen.
Things may change a little from season to season, but Vicarage Road has been Watford’s home for nearly 100 years, and the highs and lows we’ve seen have provided powerful memories for every fan that has passed through the turnstiles. The recent past has been been a definite high, but suffering the lows together is all part of what makes The Vic our home — a place we feel we belong.
All of which makes me want to get back to Vicarage Road as soon as possible.
And I’m glad to say I’m not expecting to see another dead pigeon on a rafter when I’m there.
In 2022, Watford FC will be producing a book to celebrate the centenary of the ground as the club’s home. They’re on the look-out for stories that evoke The Vic.
If there’s something you remember that means a lot to you — a memory from a particular part of the ground, or aspects of the stadium you remember fondly — please share it with the club.
You can email them on email@example.com. Please get in touch with your memories of what you’ve loved about being a fan at The Vic.