Post-Match Reaction

Here you can find the post-match reaction in Hornet Heaven to matches throughout Watford’s 2016/17 season. Most recent game first. Scroll up from the bottom to re-live the season in chronological order.

Watford 0 Manchester City 5

21st May 2017; Premier League

‘I HATE the close season, sir!’

Derek Garston was sitting despondently on the tarmac of Occupation Road. Bill Mainwood was sitting with him, trying to console him.

‘Golly. It’s a bit early to say that, young man. It’s only 5 minutes since the final whistle blew against City.’

‘But now we’ve got to put up with another 11,088 minutes – the 11 weeks of the close season, sir – in which our last match was a hideous home thrashing.’

‘Ah, but I prefer to see the close season as a clean sheet.’

‘A clean sheet? Because we won’t concede a goal? You sound like you’re clutching at the most feeble and ridiculous positive you can think of, sir. You sound like Walter Mazzarri, sir.’

‘I mean a clean sheet in the sense of a blank page. A fresh start.’

‘It’ll be all the fresher for not involving Walter Mazzarri, sir.’

‘Don’t be bitter, Derek. Remember that nothing from this season counts going forward – apart from the fact that we stayed in the Premier League.’

Derek cottoned on.

‘Ah, I see, sir. You’re saying the close season is like performing a hard reset on a mobile phone – getting rid of all the garbage that’s built up in your memory over the last year.’

‘Exactly, my boy. Right now, just 5 minutes after being spanked 5-0, we’re suddenly joint top of the table with every other team. We’re level with Manchester City, Chelsea and all the other big teams on zero points.’

Derek hadn’t thought about it like this. His eyes began to sparkle. He said:

‘With a new manager to be appointed and lots of expensive new players coming in… Crikey, sir! I love the close season, sir!’

Derek got to his feet. Bill got up too. Derek started chanting. Bill chanted too. Together they walked up Occupation Road singing:

‘We are top of the league! I said, we are top of the league!’

They were ready for 2017/18.

*     *     *

Chelsea 4 Watford 3

15th May 2017; Premier League

Bill Mainwood was at his desk. After so many goalless away defeats recently, he hadn’t bothered to go to the game. He’d catch up at some point later, he reckoned. He looked up and saw his 13-year-old assistant, Derek Garston, entering the office.

‘Golly, you’re back late, young man.’

‘I know, sir. I’ve just had a cracking night out.’

‘Gave the football a miss, did you? Where did you go?’

‘I was out in London’s fashionable West End, sir.’

‘Ah. So you did go to the football, my boy. What conclusions are you drawing from the result and performance?’

‘None, sir. It was just a great night out. Highly entertaining, sir.’

‘But should Mazzarri stay or go?’

Derek began to get irritated.

‘For goodness sake, sir. Football is best when you simply enjoy it as entertainment – and forget about it until the next time. Being in the Premier League has made you so frightened about survival that you over-analyse what each game means for the future, sir. You need to stop obsessing, sir.’

‘You mean I need to get—’

‘Carpe diem, sir. You need to do what the club used to tell us to do, sir. You need to Enjooooooooy The Game!’

Bill was surprised. He’d been expecting Derek would tell him to get a life – which, in Hornet Heaven, of course, wasn’t possible. The way Derek had put it made him want to go to the Chelsea match straightaway.

He got up from his desk and headed for the ancient turnstile, full of renewed passion.

‘Enjooooooooy The Game, sir!’ Derek squawked after him. ‘Enjooooooooy The Game!’

*     *     *

Everton 1 Watford 0

12th May 2017; Premier League

Later in the evening, 13-year-old Derek Garston went up to his boss Bill Mainwood in the atrium.

‘Sir!’ he squeaked. ‘Did you know we’ve now played for 10 hours and 17 minutes without scoring a goal away from home?’

Bill sighed. ‘It actually feels quite a lot longer than that, young man.’

‘I’m not surprised, sir. We’ve lived 101 days and 5 hours and 36 minutes of our afterlives since Troy Deeney scored at Arsenal. Hold on, sir. Wait a moment… There. You can add another minute to that.’

‘Oh dear. Well, I suggest you don’t keep count, Derek.’

‘And if, sir – as you’d expect, sir – we don’t score at Chelsea, sir, we won’t have another chance until August 12th at the earliest. That’ll be 193 days, sir!’

‘Steady on, young man. That calculation’s not really fair on the team. It includes the close season.’

‘It’s perfectly fair, sir! I hate the close season, sir! The team never scores!’

Bill didn’t reply. He thought it better to let Derek cool down.

But it did occur to him that 2016/17 could prove to be the first time in Watford’s history that – in terms of away performances – the close season had started in January.

*     *     *

Leicester City 2 Watford 0

6th May 2017; Premier League

‘That’s it! Walter’s definitely got to go, sir!’

Thirteen-year-old Derek Garston walked into the programme office, red-faced with fury – exactly the same as five days previously. He sat down at his desk.

‘Hold on, young man,’ Derek’s boss Bill Mainwood replied. ‘Are you talking about Walter Mazzarri or do you mean Walter in IT, like you did last time?’

Derek was seething. He paused, then he said angrily:

‘Walter in IT, of course, sir. I went through the ancient turnstile with a programme for the Leicester game and I ended up watching a match I’d already seen before.’

‘Oh dear, my boy. That definitely sounds like a malfunction. Which match did you see?’

Derek squawked at the top of his voice: ‘The same bloody match as the last four times away from home, sir! We lost without scoring!’

Now Bill got it.

‘Ah. So it’s actually Walter Mazzarri that you think has got to go. Is that right, Derek?’

But Derek didn’t hear him. Derek was too busy thudding his head on his desk.

*     *     *

Watford 0 Liverpool 1

1st May 2017; Premier League

‘That’s it, sir! Walter’s got to go!’

Thirteen-year-old Derek Garston walked into the programme office, red-faced with fury.

‘Steady, young man, we do need to be even-handed about this,’ his boss Bill Mainwood replied, trying to be reasonable, as always. ‘Mr Mazzarri had a very clear game-plan: try to contain a better team for 75 minutes, then take risks in the last 15 minutes. It very nearly worked.’

‘I’m not talking about Mr Mazzarri, sir. I’m talking about the Walter who’s in charge of IT in Hornet Heaven.’

‘Oh. Why?’

‘I asked him to re-programme things so that when we go through the ancient turnstile, we arrive 15 minutes from the end of a game because the first 75 minutes are always just so boring, sir. But Walter in IT doesn’t know how to do it, sir. He’s got to go, sir!’

Bill raised his eyebrows at Derek’s idea of changing how Hornet Heaven worked. He liked it. He liked it as much as he’d disliked watching Watford not even try to win the game for the first hour and a quarter.

It wasn’t just the boredom. Boredom he could take. The problem was that, earlier, he’d watched the game knowing that Graham Taylor, The Great Man, elsewhere in the stadium, would be hating every moment. That knowledge had hurt Bill’s soul.

Bill never wanted that pain again.

He started shouting: ‘Walter out!’

And he didn’t mean the IT guy.

*     *     *

Hull City 2 Watford 0

22nd April 2017; Premier League

After the defeat, Bill Mainwood found his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston on Occupation Road. In the beautiful eternal sunshine, the boy was reclining on the gravel opposite the ancient turnstile. Bill said:

‘Why are you lying there, young man?’

‘I’m pretending it’s shingle, sir.’

‘Shingle? Why?’

‘Because we don’t have sand in Hornet Heaven, sir. Or deckchairs. Or buckets and spades. It’s the best I could do, sir.’

‘Well, I must admit the weather’s gorgeous. But it’s gorgeous everyday in Hornet Heaven. So why pretend you’re at the seaside today in particular?’

Derek’s soft face hardened as he said crossly and little loudly:

‘Because if the players are on the beach, sir, it’s only fair that the fans should be too.’

Bill knew exactly what Derek meant. But he wasn’t really too bothered. Bill had the feeling that 40 points meant the season’s work was done.

He knelt down on the gravel and said: ‘Budge up, young man.’

Then he lay down, closed his eyes, let out a sigh, and said:

‘Ahhh. Wake me in August, will you, my boy?’

*     *     *

Later, Johnny Allgood, Watford’s first ever manager, was in The Gallery restaurant with Henry Grover, the man who founded Watford Rovers in 1881.

Both men were feeling depressed. Watford had had 66% possession against 10 men and had failed to score.

‘So, Henry, what one word would you use to describe that performance?’

‘One word, Johnny? Ha! I can do it in no words.’

Henry opened his mouth and removed his upper denture.

Then he removed his lower denture.

He gave Johnny a great big gummy grimace.

Johnny frowned. He didn’t get it.

‘Poophless,’ Henry said. ‘Popally poophless.’

*     *     *

Watford 1 Swansea City 0

15th April 2017; Premier League

Bill Mainwood was in the programme office. He had his feet up on his desk. He was very happy that Watford had reached 40 points for the season.

Suddenly he heard Derek Garston – his 13-year-old assistant – rushing into the office.

‘Sir! Sir!’ Derek squeaked.

‘Hello there, young man,’ Bill said. ‘You seem excited.’

‘I am, sir. Today’s game has given me an idea for a question for the next Hornet Heaven quiz night, sir.’

‘That sounds good, my boy. Is it one of your statistical questions?’

‘No, sir. It’s more of a riddle, sir.’

‘Well, I’m feeling quite playful this evening, so go on – riddle me, young man.’

‘OK, sir. Here’s the question. Since 1881, which Watford player’s surname best sums up the era in which he played?’

Bill knew the answer immediately. Success summed up the Pozzo era.

But he was feeling too jolly to give a straight reply.

Derek said: ‘It’s a brilliant question, isn’t it, sir?’

‘Well, I’m not sure, Derek. ’

‘Oh. What’s wrong with it, sir?’

‘There are too many possible answers, young man.’

‘What do you mean, sir? Surely there’s only one?’

‘Oh dear, Derek. You must have forgotten. In the early 2000’s, we had a midfielder called Gary Mediocrity.’

‘Who, sir? I don’t remember him.’

‘And back in 1972 we had a full-back called Ernie Shambles.’

‘Shambles? Are you sure, sir?’

Derek bowed his head and turned to leave the office. ‘I think I need to go and do my homework, sir.’

Bill tried hard not to smile. He decided he’d follow Derek in a minute and explain that he was teasing.

Before he went, though, it struck him how his banter was actually a reflection of how much the Pozzo family had done for the club in the current era. Now he thought about it, it was truly amazing that someone called Success playing for Watford wasn’t, in any way, a joke.

*     *     *

Tottenham Hotspur 4 Watford 0

8th April 2017; Premier League

Bill Mainwood trudged up Occupation Road with his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston. He was feeling at a bit of a loss.

‘Well, young man,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure what we can learn from that.’

‘Nor am I, sir,’ the boy replied. ‘It was just like my schooldays a century ago – when we’d suddenly get several sharp whacks of the cane without knowing what we’d done to deserve it, sir.’

‘Golly, that sounds painful.’

‘Yes, sir. Exactly like today, sir. We’d be working hard – not putting a foot wrong, sir – when suddenly the teacher would give us a damn good thrashing. He said it was character-building for us.’

‘Ouch. And was it character-building?’

Derek thought about this for a moment.

‘Either that or character-destroying, sir. It depended on the boy.’

Bill thought about this. As he walked up Occupation Road, he tried to imagine how each individual in Watford’s team would react to receiving undeserved punishment like today’s. He was starting to worry – until Derek said:

‘But it also depended which part of you got caned, sir. So I think Watford should be alright.’

‘That’s reassuring,’ Bill said, as they arrived at the doors to the atrium and went inside. ‘But what makes you say that?’

Derek declared loudly: ‘Today’s caning was more palm of the hand than bare buttocks, sir. ’

Bill coughed and reddened as everyone in the atrium turned and looked at them. He mumbled:

‘Ahem. Rather too much information, young man, but I see what you mean. Thank you, Derek. Thank you. Strangely, that does help.’

*     *     *

Watford 2 West Bromwich Albion 0

4th April 2017; Premier League

Hornet Heaven was buzzing. It had been a proper night of football under the lights at Vicarage Road. Everyone was standing in the atrium, chatting excitedly.

Suddenly the doors opened. It was Cliff Holton. Such was The Big Fella’s aura that everyone turned to look.

He had a stern expression on his face. The atrium instantly fell silent. The atmosphere of excitement evaporated.

By the programme shelves, Bill Mainwood leaned down to his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston. Bill whispered:

‘What’s the matter with The Big Fella? Why’s he looking so stony-faced after a win like tonight’s?’

‘It must be because Troy Deeney scored, sir,’ Derek replied. ‘Troy overtook Cliff Holton in the all-time charts tonight. The Big Fella has gone from 4th highest scorer in history to 5th.’

Bill and Derek watched as Cliff Holton made his way solemnly to the yellow sofas and climbed up onto one.

The Big Fella gathered himself to his full height and prepared to address everyone.

‘Oh dear,’ Bill whispered. ‘From the look of his face, I don’t think he’s taken it well.’

Everyone in the atrium stood watching, in silence, wondering what The Big Fella was about to say. Fifty years ago, Cliff Holton had reached second on the all-time list. Now he was sliding down it. People began to sense how disappointed they’d feel if it had happened to themselves personally.

Derek said in a hushed squeak: ‘Troy’s taken his place, sir, and there’s nothing he can do. It must hurt.’

Now, finally, The Big Fella prepared to address the crowd. He raised both his arms. He tilted his face upwards. He began to chant.

Immediately, people recognised the tune. They joined in. They all chanted the second phrase. Then they chanted the third phrase. Finally they all roared the final line together.

‘Tr-oy Deeney… Watford’s Number Nine!’

A smile of satisfaction broke across The Big Fella’s face. A huge cheer erupted from the crowd. The Big Fella had taken it exactly the way everyone would have wished. 

The atmosphere of excitement returned – and lasted all night.

*     *     *

Later, Bill Mainwood looked up from behind his desk in the programme office.  Derek was standing there.

‘Excuse me, sir.’

‘I’m a bit busy, Derek. What is it, young man?’

‘I’d like you to call me something different, sir,’ Derek squeaked. ‘Not “young man”, sir.’

‘Really? What kind of thing are you thinking of, my boy?’

‘Not “my boy” either, sir. But close.’

‘How do you mean, close?’

‘From now on, I’d like you to call me M’Baye, sir. After my new favourite player, sir – M’Baye Niang.’

‘M’Baye, my boy?’

‘Without the “my boy”, sir. “M’Baye” instead of “my boy”.’

‘I see. Very well, M’Baye.’

Bill turned his attention back to the programme he was repairing.

‘Ooh, I like being called that, sir. Thank you, sir.’

‘No problem, M’Baye,’ Bill said without looking up.

‘Ooh, I really like that, sir. I know you’re busy, but can you just say it one more time, sir?’

Bill shook his head, sighed, and waved Derek away.

‘Goodbye, M’Baye.’

*     *     *

Watford 1 Sunderland 0

1st April 2017; Premier League

‘People say it’s the hope that kills you, sir. But that’s cobblers.’

Bill Mainwood was on Occupation Road with his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston. Bill replied:

‘Language, young man. You’re sounding like Lamper. Have you been speaking with him?’

‘Yes, sir. And he knows what he’s talking about. As the steward who welcomes new arrivals in Hornet Heaven, he assures me that hope is an extremely rare cause of death.’

‘I see. So what does kill you, according to Lamper?’

‘He says it’s the fu—’

‘Steady, my boy,’

‘He says it’s anxiety that kills you, sir.’

‘Anxiety, eh? Well, then. Hopefully today’s result will keep the number of new arrivals in Hornet Heaven to a minimum.’

Bill leaned back against the stadium wall. He was sitting on the pavement. He’d sat down as soon as he’d emerged from the ancient turnstile. He’d exhaled with relief at the result.

Next to him, Derek had done the same, blowing out his soft cheeks.

Alongside Derek were Henry Grover, Neil McBain, Mike Keen, Tommy Barnett and The Big Fella. They’d all sat down and let out deep sighs.

Bill looked down the long line of relieved faces and smiled. Today, Watford fans in Hornet Heaven and the land of the living were able to breathe again.

For now, anyway.

*     *     *

Crystal Palace 1 Watford 0

18th March 2017; Premier League

‘Peter Out! Peter Out!’ Derek squawked.

‘Don’t you mean Walter?’ Bill asked.

‘No I don’t, sir.’

After the dismal defeat at Palace, Bill Mainwood and his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston were slumped on the yellow sofas in the atrium.

‘I don’t understand,’ Bill said. ‘Who’s Peter?’

‘No-one, sir.’

‘Then why are you chanting Peter Out?’

‘Because I want the season to peter out. I don’t want us getting into a relegation battle.’

‘I see, my boy. So you don’t want the season to remain interesting, or even get exciting?’

‘No, sir. I want safety and boredom, sir.’

Bill slumped deeper into the sofa and sighed.

This was what the Premier League had done to football, and he wanted to cry.

*     *     *

Watford 3 Southampton 4

4th March 2017; Premier League

Bill Mainwood and his young assistant Derek Garston were in their office. They were trying to take their minds off the game by busying themselves with programme repairs. But Derek couldn’t stop himself squeaking with frustration.

Without looking up, Bill asked the 13-year-old:

‘What’s bothering you, young man?’

Derek kept his eyes on the programme he was repairing. He said:

‘Sir, have you heard the saying that sometimes good teams have to win ugly?’

‘Yes, young man. I have.’

‘Well, sir, do you think we were just practising for that today by losing ugly?’

‘I’m not sure that’s—’

‘And last week, sir, by drawing ugly?’

Bill realised these weren’t innocent questions. Derek was angry. The boy thumped his small fist on the table and squawked:

‘Ugly, ugly, ugly!’

Still without looking up, Bill said quietly:

‘Oi, oi, oi!’

Derek thumped the table and squawked again.

‘Ugly!’

‘Oi!’

‘Ugly!’

‘Oi!’

‘Ugly, ugly, ugly!’

‘Oi, oi, oi!’

The two of them carried on silently repairing programmes. Soon Derek said:

‘I feel much better for getting that off my chest, sir. Thank you, sir.’

They both looked up and smiled at each other. Suddenly, the fortnight ahead – without a new game to erase the memory of the Southampton performance – felt as if it might be a little more bearable.

*     *     *

Watford 1 West Ham United 1

25th January 2017; Premier League

Derek Garston was cross.

‘I’ve just been back to watch the match again, sir,’ the 13-year-old squeaked.

Bill Mainwood was tidying programmes in the atrium.

‘Why did you do that, young man?’ Bill asked. ‘Tonight’s was another of those games where Watford don’t really bother playing any football. We didn’t deserve anything from that.’

‘I wanted to watch the last three seconds again, sir. To work out how the—’

‘Steady, my boy.’

‘How the—’

‘Careful.’

‘How on earth Isaac Success missed that chance from one yard out, sir.

‘I see.’

‘So I went and stood in the penalty area to get a close look, sir. And do you know what, sir? Isaac Success took his eyes off the ball.’

Bill shrugged. ‘Well, I can’t really blame him,’ he said.

‘What, sir?’ Derek squawked, incredulous. ‘If he’d got the slightest touch, he would have won us the game. How can you say that?’

Bill carried on tidying programmes and said: ‘I can’t blame him because I’d been averting my own gaze for most of that second half performance.’

Derek thought for a moment.

‘Well, when you look at like that, sir…. Yup. Fair comment, sir.’

*     *     *

Manchester United 2 Watford 0

11th January 2017; Premier League

BEFORE THE MATCH…

Thirteen-year-old Derek Garston rushed into the programme office and tugged at Bill Mainwood’s sleeve.

‘Sir! Sir! I’ve got an amazing new fact for you, sir,’ Derek squeaked.

Bill was a bit busy, but decided to indulge the boy. ‘Go on, young man,’ he said.

‘Well, sir. Nearly forty years ago, a Watford striker with a memorable name, who wasn’t quite 21, scored two goals at Old Trafford.’

‘Luther Blissett, you mean?’

‘Yes, sir. And this afternoon a Watford striker with a memorable name, who’s just turned 21, will score two goals at Old Trafford.’

Derek’s eyes sparkled. He blurted with glee: ‘Isaac Success, sir!’

Bill looked up. ‘I know you’re excited, Derek, but that’s not a “fact”, is it? It’s a prediction.’

‘But it is a fact, sir. It’s a “future fact”.’

Bill looked up, frowning. ‘A “future fact”? Is that like an “alternative fact”?’ he asked.

‘Of course not, sir. Mine is an actual fact – just not yet.’

Derek skipped excitedly out of the office. He called over his shoulder: ‘You wait and see, sir.’

Bill muttered ‘Foolish boy,’ and tried to get back on with his work. But the memory of a Watford striker with a memorable name scoring two goals at Old Trafford had set his pulse racing.

With haste, he dashed over to the programme shelves for a programme dated October 4th 1978 – to prepare himself emotionally for Derek’s future fact to come true.

AFTER THE MATCH…

‘I’m very, very, disappointed, sir,’ Derek Garston squeaked. ‘After Arsenal, I was convinced we’d win at Old Trafford.’

The 13-year-old was sitting under the desk in the programme office, refusing to come out.

His boss Bill Mainwood said kindly:

‘I know how excited you were before the game, Derek. But, on the day, United were so good that, for a spell, we looked like we were just making up the numbers.’

‘That’s completely wrong, sir,’ Derek squawked from under the desk.

‘What’s wrong – my assessment of the game?’

‘No, sir. Making up numbers. As a statistician, I abhor the practice.’

Bill frowned. He wondered why Derek was talking about falsifying stats.

Then he noticed something on the desk. It was the ledger in which Derek kept his record of Watford matches. It said that Watford had won 2-0 with both goals from Isaac Success. Derek had been so excited before the game that he’d filled it in prematurely.

Now Bill understood what Derek’s disappointment was really about.

He got down on his knees and crawled under the desk. He sat on the floor next to the boy.

He said softly: ‘I understand. You’re probably thinking you were naive to let your hopes get so high before the game, my boy.’

Derek nodded with tears in his eyes. ‘Thank you for being so understanding, sir. I made a big mistake.’

Bill nodded sympathetically. Then, when he saw Derek was recovering, he said:

‘Too right, young man. I mean, Isaac Success to score two – and not Troy Deeney? Woefully naive, my boy,’ he said with a wink. ‘Woefully naive.’

*     *     *

Watford 2 Burnley 1

4th February 2017; Premier League

‘Sir! Sir!’

Thirteen-year-old Derek Garston was bursting with excitement. He rushed up to his boss Bill Mainwood by the yellow sofas in the atrium. He squeaked:

‘M’Baye Niang is brilliant, sir! He’s the new Isaac Success!’

Bill frowned and said: ‘I think I get what you’re saying, young man, but that’s an odd way of putting it.’

‘But it’s true, sir. Niang is a fast and skilful winger who’s made an immediate impact. And his goal was identical to Success’s at home to Bournemouth, sir. M’Baye Niang is definitely the new Isaac Success.’

Derek was hopping from foot to foot with excitement.

Bill said: ‘But we haven’t seen very much of Isaac Success yet. He’s still new. Can you have a new version of a new thing?’

‘Of course you can, sir. Haven’t you seen the pace of change in modern football, sir? Keep up, sir!’

‘Well, I suppose—’

‘Ooh, but wait, sir. I’ve just realised. When Niang was substituted, it was Isaac Success who replaced him. And he was brilliant too. So Isaac Success is now the new M’Baye Niang!’

Bill frowned again. He said: ‘I’m not sure I—’

‘Which means, sir,’ Derek continued, at an even higher pitch, ‘that Isaac Success is now the new new Isaac Success!’

Derek stopped hopping with excitement. Now it was his turn to frown.

He said quietly: ‘I think I’ve just done my own head in, sir.’

Bill gave a kind smile and said: ‘Perhaps we should just agree that Niang and Success are two of the most exciting footballers we’ve ever seen in Watford colours, Derek.’

Derek mumbled ‘Excuse me, sir,’ and lay down on one of the yellow sofas. He pressed a small hand to his fevered forehead and tried very hard to calm down.

*     *     *

Arsenal 1 Watford 2

31st January 2017; Premier League

After the Arsenal game, just as after the game at Millwall, the noise at the top of Occupation Road was deafening. But for an entirely different reason.

Generations of Watford fans were singing as loud as their lungs would let them – in sheer joy. Men and women, from 1881 to 2017, were belting out songs from every era.

But, as at the Emirates, the singing kept coming back to the same chant.

The one chant.

The right chant.

What everyone had seen on the pitch – the passion, the resolve, the drive, the team effort, the positive thinking – had them all thinking about, and singing about, only one man.

The song stayed on their lips, on repeat, for hours into the night.

‘One Graham Taylor, there’s only Graham Taylor….’

In Hornet Heaven, the love and gratitude to The Great Man would be a song without end for the rest of eternity.

*     *     *

Later, Derek Garston stood next to the programme shelves, squeaking with excitement.

‘Sir! Sir! After his goal tonight, Troy Deeney has gone ahead of Cliff Holton on Watford’s all-time goalscoring list!’

Bill Mainwood gave his 13-year-old assistant a kind smile.

‘Oh dear, you’ve made a mistake there,’ he said. ‘This isn’t like you, young man.’

‘I’m definitely not wrong, sir.’

‘I’m sorry, Derek, but the statistics don’t lie. Troy has 102 and the Big Fella has 105.’

‘But those are gross figures, sir. Troy scored an own goal last season – so his net total is only 101.’

Bill frowned at the idea. A net total? He’d never heard of such a thing.

‘Well, I hope Troy doesn’t find out. I don’t suppose he’d take kindly to having a goal taken away from him.’

Suddenly Derek looked a little scared. ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, sir.’

Bill continued: ‘And, anyway, how does that put Troy ahead of Cliff? Cliff never scored any own goals.’

‘Ah, but don’t you remember the game at Southend United in 1960, sir? When our goalkeeper Dave Underwood broke his arm, sir? Underwood was replaced in goal by Cliff Holton.’

Bill began to see where this was going.

‘And how many did the Big Fella let in?’

‘He shipped 5, sir, in a 1-6 defeat. So Mr Holton’s net total is only 100. One behind Troy.’

Bill nodded thoughtfully. ‘I see. And do you think the Big Fella would take kindly to this idea?’

‘Oh, I hadn’t thought of that either, sir.’

Bill said: ‘Well, now’s your chance to find out.’

Derek frowned. He turned. He saw Cliff Holton behind him.

He ran.

*     *     *

Millwall 1 Watford 0

29th January 2017; FA Cup, 4th Round

The noise at the top of Occupation Road was deafening. Again. The glass window of the new Hornets Shop was being pounded by the foreheads of generations of frustrated Watford fans after the lamentable FA Cup exit at Millwall.

Thirteen-year-old Derek Garston was smashing his head harder than anyone.

‘I can’t get it out, sir,’ he shouted to his boss Bill Mainwood in between head-butts.

Bill had just arrived at the shop, unable to suppress the urge to nut the glass himself.

‘Get what out, young man?’

‘The fact in my head, sir. Today was the first time, as a top flight side, that Watford have been knocked out of the FA Cup by a club in the third tier or lower.’

Bill felt sorry for Derek. Just like everyone else, the young lad had been witness to a pitiful, abject, clueless performance. But, unlike others, he was aware of a fact that made the whole sorry affair even worse. The poor boy needed help.

So Bill helped.

He took Derek by the ears to give added force to Derek’s head-butting. He slammed the boy’s head against the glass, over and over.

‘Thank you, sir! Most kind, sir!’ Derek called out. ‘Harder, sir! Harder!’

*     *     *

Bournemouth 2 Watford 2

21st January 2017; Premier League

‘Derek, I need reassurance. I need some of your famous statistics.’

Bill Mainwood was in the atrium with his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston. After 7 games without a win, he was worried where Watford’s season was heading.

Bill continued: ‘Make me believe it’s not as bad as it feels. Give me some figures to prove that things have been far worse in the past.’

Derek always had statistics. The fresh-faced boy gave a smug smile.

‘Spare me the Eddie Howe impersonation,’ Bill said. ‘Just give me the facts.’

‘OK, sir,’ Derek squeaked. ‘You know how we haven’t kept a clean sheet away from home for 6 games? Well, back in 1984, we went on a run where we didn’t keep an away clean sheet for 37 games.’

Bill gave a deep sigh. ‘Ahhh, thank you, Derek. I feel better already. Repeating a run as terrible as that is extremely unlikely.’

Derek grinned, chuffed with himself for helping his boss. He was so chuffed that he couldn’t suppress another of his statistics.

‘The current run started with a 1-6 defeat – at Anfield, sir. Guess how the 37-game run started.’

Bill’s face drained of all colour. He murmured: ‘With a 1-6 defeat?’

Derek giggled, utterly delighted at his own encyclopaedic knowledge.

‘Yes, sir! Isn’t that a brilliant fact, sir?’

Bill pondered the prospect of another 31 games of shipping goals like today’s. He felt the urge to go and smash his head against the window of the Hornets Shop.

He started running out of the atrium.

‘Sir?’ Derek called out after Bill. ‘Sir? Was it something I said, sir?’

*     *     *

Watford 0 Middlesbrough 0

14th January 2017; Premier League

‘It’s all my fault,’ Henry Grover mumbled.

The man who founded Watford Rovers in 1881 was sitting in the Sensory Room, head bowed. He’d wanted to be alone, but Bill Mainwood had tracked him down.

Bill said: ‘Now, now, Henry. It’s not your fault.’

‘It definitely is,’ Henry insisted.’ Thousands of people are grieving. If I hadn’t started this club, nobody would be in such pain.’

Bill laid a gentle hand on Henry’s shoulder. ‘There’s nothing to blame yourself for, Henry.’

‘I saw it in the stands today,’ Henry said. ‘Real loss. Real hurt. Grown men were sobbing in public.’

Bill said softly: ‘But that’s good.’

‘What? How can it possibly be good that so many people are so upset?’

‘Because it shows the richness and depth that this club has given to people’s lives,’ Bill replied. ‘If Watford and Graham Taylor didn’t mean so much to them, they wouldn’t be feeling this way.’

Henry looked up. Bill’s words were beginning to help a little.

‘Grief is the price we pay for loving,’ Bill said. ‘People thought they had respect and admiration for The Great Man. But this week they discovered it was love.’

Henry nodded slowly. He felt he recognised himself a little in what Bill was saying.

‘We all love Watford and we all love Graham Taylor. You should be proud of what you started – and The Great Man transformed.’

Henry wasn’t sure about this. He wasn’t quite ready.

Suddenly he felt Bill pulling him to his feet.

‘Right,’ Bill said. ‘If you won’t accept it from me, you need to hear it from the wisest man in Hornet Heaven. Come on, let’s go and see the Great Man himself. He’ll tell you.’

*     *     *

Watford 2 Burton Albion 0

7th January 2017; FA Cup, 3rd Round

‘What are you talking about, sir? Derek Garston squeaked crossly. ‘Have you gone mad?’

Bill Mainwood carried on walking up Occupation Road after the Burton game. He smiled benignly at his 13-year-old assistant.

‘I don’t see what’s wrong with being happy that we’ve just secured the first of the six wins we need this season,’ he replied gently.

‘What’s wrong is that you’ve completely lost your marbles, sir. The six wins need to be in the Premier League. We won’t get the 18 points we need for safety by winning Cup games. It’s the League that’s the be all and end all.’

‘Ah, but think what happens if we do win six Cup games,’ Bill said.

Derek did think. As they walked, he held out his fingers and silently counted the rounds of the cup.

Bill watched Derek’s soft young face as the schoolboy realised that the sixth win would be the FA Cup Final. Derek came to a halt. His eyes suddenly shone.

‘Glory, sir!’

‘And do you mean temporary, fleeting, glory, Derek?’

‘No, sir,’ Derek gasped as he properly contemplated what winning the FA Cup would mean. ‘Lasting glory, sir! Eternal glory, sir!

Bill grinned at his young charge’s epiphany. The boy had a look of total wonder on his face.

Bill said: ‘A moment ago, you were talking about the League as a priority. Do we have any chance of glory in the League?’

Derek’s face creased into a frown – his reverie suddenly shattered.

‘What are you talking about, sir?’ he squeaked crossly. ‘Have you gone mad?’

*     *     *

Stoke City 2 Watford 0

3rd January 2017; Premier League

There was a deafening noise at the top of Occupation Road. Generations of Watford fans were pounding their foreheads in frustration against the glass window of the new Hornets Shop.

No-one was able to stop themselves. The uncoordinated cacophony of thudding foreheads was reverberating through Hornet Heaven like competing sound systems at a carnival.

But the atmosphere felt more like a funeral than a carnival.

Now – suddenly, unexpectedly – the thudding began to take on a distinct rhythm. No-one was sure who started it, but a slow beat broke out. 

A slow thud.

Another slow thud.

Three faster thuds.

Four more of the faster thuds.

Two final quick thuds.

The rhythm repeated. Everyone recognised it. They all joined in, beating their heads on the glass in strict tempo.

Thud.

Thud.

Thud-thud-thud.

Thud-thud-thud-thud.

Someone shouted ‘Watford!’ at the end.

The sequence started again. The sound built and built, the rhythm tighter and tighter. Everyone was together – beating the glass and yelling ‘Watford!’ at the end. People started using their fists, not their heads. The din became joyful. It rose as a crescendo – and reached a natural finale.

Everyone stopped. Silence fell. The residents of Hornet Heaven rubbed their heads a little gingerly and walked away. They felt much, much better.

They were ready to go again.

*     *     *

Watford 1 Tottenham Hotspur 4

1st January 2017; Premier League

At half-time, the most illustrious former players in Hornet Heaven began to gather in a small room. The first half performance had been utterly abject.

Johnny Allgood shuffled in. He looked profoundly troubled.

Tommy Barnett staggered in. He looked traumatised.

Cliff Holton stumbled in. He was clutching his temples.

None of them spoke.

Johnny gazed silently at a wall projection of an aquarium.

Tommy rested on a beanbag and stared at a glitter ball.

Cliff, the Big Fella, peacefully watched beads of air rise up a bubble tube.

Gentle music washed over them.

Before long, Hornet Heaven’s chief steward poked his head into the room. Lamper shouted:

‘Come along, Gents! Second ‘alf is startin’!’

Johnny shut his eyes; he put his hands over his ears.

Tommy shook his head violently, fearfully.

The Big Fella – to whom everyone in Hornet Heaven looked up – whimpered loudly.

Lamper could tell things must be bleak.

There was definitely one positive, though, he thought to himself.

The club’s newly installed Sensory Room – with its calming area – was proving very useful indeed. 

*     *     *

Watford 1 Crystal Palace 1

26th December 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood was in the atrium playing Top Trumps with his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston.

‘I don’t believe it!’ Bill exclaimed. ‘You’re a cheat! I’ve caught you!’

‘No I’m not, sir,’ Derek squealed indignantly. ‘I—’

‘Don’t lie to me, young man. Is this your handwriting on these two cards?’

‘Yes, sir, but—’

‘Aha! So you admit you’ve crossed out the printed stats and written in your own figures to make sure you win.’

‘But that’s not why I did it, sir.’

‘I told you not to lie, Derek. Why else would you deface the cards?’

‘Please, sir, take a look at the new stats I’ve written in.’

Bill inspected the two cards closely.

The first card was Heurelho Gomes. Before, it had said 82 appearances. Now it said 100.

‘Ah. I see,’ Bill said. ‘That’s a nice tribute, Derek.’ 

Bill looked at the second card. It was Troy Deeney. It had said 96 goals. Now it said 100.

Bill blushed. ‘I’m sorry for accusing you, Derek,’ he said. ‘You’re not a cheat at all. In fact, you’ve shown great fairness. The team may not be in the greatest of form right now, but it’s only right to recognise the achievements of the two greatest stalwarts in our current squad.’

‘Thank you, sir. Can we get on with our game now?’

‘Yes, we can. And I’m proud of you, Derek, for thinking to honour Heurelho and Troy like this. ’

Derek smiled.

Then, secretively, the boy slid his next card into his pocket. He decided he wouldn’t get it out again until Lloyd Doyley had returned from Colchester United and reached the 200 goal total Derek had scrawled on the card in biro.

*     *     *

Sunderland 1 Watford 0

17th December 2016; Premier League

Frank Gammon had left the match early so he could smash his head against the window of the Hornets Shop in frustration.

‘0-1! To the bottom team!’ he seethed, as he thudded his forehead against the glass. ‘And as for Deeney, he’s worse than useless! He’ll never get his 100th goal!’

Frank felt a small hand on his shoulder. A high-pitched voice squeaked: ‘Hey! Stop bad-mouthing Troy!’

Frank didn’t turn to look at Derek Garston, the stats-obsessed 13-year-old from the programme office. He just barked at the boy to clear off.

‘No I won’t, Mr Gammon, sir,’ Derek replied firmly. ‘You need to learn your Top Trumps. To the end of last season, Troy had scored a goal every 2.7 games. Same as Luther. Second only to the Big Fella.’

Frank wasn’t in the mood for facts. He turned to face Derek. Suddenly he saw that someone else was standing alongside the boy. It was the Big Fella himself.

Frank was awestruck by Cliff Holton’s aura. He fumbled for words. ‘Well, when I say worse than useless…’

The Big Fella crossed his arms, ready to hear Frank’s explanation.

Frank quickly realised that ‘worse than useless’ didn’t accurately describe Troy Deeney. Or anyone who’d made it into Top Trumps.

Frank bowed his head. ‘I’m sorry. I… I’ve let myself down.’

Then he felt something being pressed into his hand. He looked down. It was a pack of Top Trumps, placed there by the Big Fella himself. Frank looked up. And, for the first time in Hornet Heaven, he heard the Big Fella speak:

‘Merry Christmas, Frank.’

*     *     *

Manchester City 2 Watford 0

14th December 2016; Premier League

Derek Garston shouldered a long stick with a spotted handkerchief tied to its end.

‘That’s it, sir. I’m off,’ the 13-year-old said to his boss Bill Mainwood. ‘I’m leaving Hornet Heaven, sir.’

‘What? Leaving? After 95 years? Why?’ Bill asked.

‘Gianfranco Zola’s just taken the Birmingham job, sir. I want to go and watch sexy football in their heaven, sir. It’ll be called Bluenose Bliss, I expect.’

Bill understood why Derek was tempted. Watford’s football at the Etihad tonight hadn’t been remotely sexy. Nordin Amrabat had been Watford’s most creative player, but only by Graeco-Roman wrestling his way past defenders.

‘Imagine it, sir. We could watch swift, expansive passing football instead of the stop-start, lumpy-humpy stuff we play to make sure we stay in the Premier League.’

For a few moments, Bill recalled the way Almen Abdi and Nathan Chalobah used to keep the midfield flowing in the days before Watford traded beauty for effectiveness. He sighed, then pulled himself together.

‘No. I can’t let you go, Derek,’ he said finally. ‘For one reason. Yeovil.’

Derek’s eyes widened in horror. He took the stick down from his shoulder. He began to weep tears of relief.

‘Oh my God, sir,’ Derek said. ‘I nearly made the most terrible mistake, sir. Just like Birmingham probably have, sir.’

Bill untied the spotted handkerchief. He handed it to Derek to wipe his eyes.

‘Thank you, sir,’ the boy said. ‘Thank you.’

*     *     *

Watford 3 Everton 2

10th December 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood returned to the atrium with his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston.

Derek said: ‘Last week, sir, I declared that Stefano Okaka will always be a hopeless lump.’

‘I know. But he was brilliant today,’ he replied. ‘The delicacy of the finish for his first goal—’

‘And I told you categorically, sir, that set pieces are our downfall. Can’t defend them, can’t score from them.’

‘Well, that certainly wasn’t the case today.’

‘And last season, sir, I stated definitively that Seb Prodl is too error-prone to merit a place in the side.’

Bill finally got what Derek was saying.

‘It’s alright, young man,’ he said gently. ‘You’re allowed to be wrong.’

Derek looked sad.

‘I don’t understand, sir. Why don’t I know anything? And why do I carry on mouthing off as if I do know everything?’

Bill reflected how Derek must have watched something like 5,000 Watford matches in Hornet Heaven – many more than any Watford fan on earth. And many, many more than any newspaper, television or radio pundit.

‘Don’t worry, Derek. At least you’re not stealing a living from it.’

Derek seemed to take some comfort from this.

‘But what is it about being a football fan, sir?’ the 13-year-old asked. ‘I’ve been watching matches for 95 seasons since I died, but it still hasn’t made me wise beyond my tender years.’

Bill didn’t have an answer. But he was wise enough to take a different angle.

He laid a hand on Derek’s arm and said softly:

‘Supporting Watford isn’t about you. It’s about all of us. We’re seventh. Unexpectedly. Don’t worry about right or wrong. Just enjoy it.’

*     *     *

West Bromwich Albion 3 Watford 1

3rd December 2016; Premier League

Henry Grover, the man who founded Watford Rovers in 1881, stood at the top of Occupation Road after the latest ten-man defeat. He could cope with losing. It was the lack of discipline he didn’t like.

‘Where’s our self-control gone?’ he moaned to himself.

He was watching a crowd of people in front of the Hornets Shop. Frank Gammon was in his usual spot, smacking his head against the shop window in frustration. But so was the Victorian lady from after the Stoke game. And Derek Garston. And Bill Mainwood. And Tommy Barnett. And Arthur Woodward. And Johnny Allgood. Generations of Watford players and fans were pounding their foreheads against the glass.

Henry gently tapped Johnny Allgood on the shoulder.

‘I say, Johnny, I think we need a little perspective here. We watched a Tony Pulis team do exactly what it says on their tin. Cede possession. Score from set plays. Keep it tight at the back. Antagonise. We were Pulis-verised. We knew all along that that’s what his teams try to do.’

Johnny Allgood stopped head-butting the window. ‘Aye, you’re absolutely right, Henry,’ he said.

‘So why is everyone so wound up about it?’ Henry asked.

‘For precisely that reason: we knew all along that that’s what his teams try to do. And it worked.’

‘Ah,’ Henry said. ‘Now I understand.’

Henry nodded thoughtfully.

Then he said ‘Budge up, Johnny,’ and started thudding his own head against the shop window.

*     *     *

Watford 0 Stoke City 1

27th November 2016; Premier League

Frank Gammon stomped angrily up Occupation Road. He made straight for the Hornets Shop to head-butt the window.

But someone else was already head-butting the glass in frustration. It was 13-year-old Derek Garston.

A Victorian lady, in a crinoline skirt and bustle, was watching Derek smash his head repeatedly against the window. She was almost in tears.

‘Please stop the boy!’ she begged Frank. ‘Please!’

Frank knew exactly the distraction tactic he needed. 

‘Laddie!’ he growled. ‘You need to keep things in perspective. This was just one defeat. Do you know how many league and cup defeats Watford have suffered in total since 1898?’

Derek stopped smacking his head on the window. His eyes widened at the opportunity to show off his schoolboy knowledge.

‘One thousand, nine hundred and nineteen,’ he chirped in his unbroken voice.

Frank seized his chance. He had no interest in the boy’s emotional or physical well-being. He just wanted his shop window back. He stepped in front of Derek.

He grinned. The kid was out of the way. Now he could head-butt the window all by himself.

Except – suddenly – he found himself on the ground.

‘Oi!’ the Victorian lady said, standing over him. ‘There’s a queue, you know!’

She started pounding her forehead against the Hornets Shop window.

‘0-1! At home to Stoke!’ she wailed.

Frank, Derek, and half of Hornet Heaven, looked on enviously.

*     *     *

Watford 2 Leicester City 1

19th November 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood walked up Occupation Road with his 13-year-old programme assistant Derek Garston. Bill was smiling. He said:

‘I think we should be very happy with how this season’s going.’

Derek said in his squeaky voice: ‘Did you know it’s 30 years ago since we last beat the reigning champions in a League match, sir? December 1986.’

Bill said: ‘That’s interesting. When we beat Manchester United in September, it had been 30 years since we did that too. Sounds like we’re having a similar season to 1986/7. Where did we finish that year?’

‘Ninth, sir.’

‘And where are we in the table today?’

‘Eighth, sir.’

‘Very similar.’

‘Apart from one thing, sir. That year, we finished two positions below the team that dare not speak its name.’

Bill frowned. He’d forgotten how Watford’s achievements could feel diminished by the success of them from up the road.

‘But I just checked the tables on someone’s phone, sir. The filth are quite a few positions below us at the moment.’

Bill began to smile again. ‘Go on, how many? Say the number.’

‘Sixty four, sir.’

Bill beamed. Watford were back where they used to be, beating the title-winners without having to play exceptionally. And this time the satisfaction was unrivalled.

*     *     *

Liverpool 6 Watford 1

6th November 2016; Premier League

Afterwards, 13-year-old Derek Garston found Frank Gammon head-butting the window of the Hornets Shop.

‘6-1!’ Frank seethed. ‘Six bloody one!’

Derek tried to help. He said gently in his high-pitched voice: ‘At least the score wasn’t as bad as the 0-11 away to Southampton in 1902, Mr Gammon, sir.’

Frank stopped head-butting the window. He glared at Derek. He wasn’t ready for any kind of perspective. It was far too soon.

‘What’s more, Mr Gammon, sir, we had 8 shots on target – equalling our record in the Premier League.’

Frank lifted his head to the sky and howled.

‘Stop being rational! I need to grieve! Don’t you have a single ounce of emotional intelligence?’

Suddenly Derek understood. Statistics were no use to anyone at a time like this. Drubbings like today’s needed to be worked through at an emotional level.

He took a step towards the window and rested his head against the glass. He said: ‘Go ahead, Mr Gammon, sir.’

Frank Gammon grasped Derek’s head by the ears and thudded it into the window several times. Then he exhaled with deep satisfaction.

‘Thank you, Derek. Thank you.’

He let go of the boy’s ears and headed for the atrium with renewed spirits.

‘Right,’ he said. ‘We go again.’

*     *     *

Watford 1 Hull City 0

29th October 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood and his young programme assistant Derek Garston stood in the Captain’s Bar discussing the match.

‘Today, sir, Watford did something I haven’t done since I died in 1921,’ thirteen-year-old Derek said.

‘Aha. Is this going to be one of your splendid statistics, Derek?’ Bill asked keenly. ‘Was it the first time you’ve seen a Watford winger turn a full-back inside-out more than four hundred times in a single game?’

‘No, sir, it’s not that sort of—’

‘Or was it the first time you’ve seen us have no shots on target but still win?’

‘No, sir, it’s not actually a statistic. It’s more an opinion, really, sir.’

Bill frowned.

‘Opinion? Steady. The place for that kind of nonsense is Twitter, young man.’

‘Hear me out, sir. You see, it occurred to me that today we behaved like an established Premier League team. We spent 81 minutes not really getting anywhere against a promoted side – but we still beat them in the end, breaking their hearts.’

‘I see. But I’m confused, Derek. How was that something you haven’t done since you died in 1921?’

‘It’s simple, sir. Today, sir, Watford grew up.’

*     *     *

Swansea City 0 Watford 0

22nd October 2016; Premier League

Afterwards, two former players stood on Occupation Road deep in conversation.

Skilly Williams said: ‘Heurelho Gomes is the first Watford goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a league game at Swansea since I kept one in 1923. So that’s definitely a decent point.’

Henry Grover, the man who founded the club in 1881, replied: ‘But I’ve still come away feeling disappointed. It’s a question of standards.’

Skilly shook his head in frustration. In recent years, he felt, many Watford fans had become impossible to please.

‘But we’re doing even better than at this stage last season, Henry. Why can’t you just be happy?’

‘I have to have high standards because I’m the Father Of The Club. And I didn’t like what I saw today. Gomes wears the most sumptuous goalkeeping kit in our entire history – that beautiful purple – but the colours of his gum shield clash abominably with the rest of his outfit. Every time Gomes grins, I feel I die a little.’

Skilly sighed. It never ceased to amaze him how fans could find new ways not to be satisfied. Lack of goals. Or lack of quality. Or lack of entertainment. Now it was lack of a matching mouthguard.

Skilly excused himself and went off to ponder the Premier League table. Watford were in 9th place, with a quarter of the season gone. In the history of Hornet Heaven, it was Watford’s second most heavenly league position. He, for one, was determined to enjoy it.

*     *     *

Middlesbrough 0 Watford 1

16th October 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood emerged from the ancient turnstile with his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston. 

‘Well, there’s 90 minutes of my afterlife I’ll never get back, sir,’ Derek complained in his unbroken voice.

Bill empathised. The game had been so slow and dull, it had felt like it would go on for eternity. Like Hornet Heaven, but without the interesting bits.’

‘People say the Premier League’s the best league in the world,’ Derek continued, ‘but I’ve seen better kick-arounds up here in Hornet Heaven.’

Bill was about to tell the boy this was ridiculous.

But then he glanced at a 5-a-side game taking place on the tarmac behind the Sir Elton John stand, with coats for goals.

Tommy Barnett – a sprightly 87-year-old inside forward – jinked past two defenders and thumped a brilliant shot past the full-length dive of 69-year-old Skilly Williams, with the ball ending up in a back garden.

That was thrilling enough in itself. But the ensuing argument – over who had to fetch the ball – was definitely been far more entertaining than anything Bill had just watched at the Riverside Stadium.

‘Fair point, Derek,’ Bill said, nodding sagely. ‘Fair point.’

*     *     *

Watford 2 Bournemouth 2

1st October 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood emerged from the ancient turnstile. He was unusually grumpy.

It didn’t cheer him up when Derek Garston, his thirteen-year-old assistant, said:

‘Sir, I think Eddie Howe may end up in Hornet Heaven.’

Bill stopped and stared at the young boy.

‘What are you talking about? Eddie Howe didn’t have that boyish smirk on his cherubic little face because he was pleased to be at Vicarage Road. It was because his team was diving for free-kicks all day long and he’d stuffed the referee’s socks with his owner’s Russian roubles.’

‘Oh dear, sir. I think your bad mood is stopping you considering the facts.’

‘What facts?’

‘My research tells me that Eddie Howe grew up in Chesham, sir. When he was a boy, he regularly came to watch Watford.’

Young Derek looked pleased with his encyclopaedic knowledge. But Bill wasn’t in the mood. Watford had just been playing Bournemouth.

‘Well, he won’t be coming up here, Derek.’

‘But my research suggests it’s a distinct possibility, sir,’ Derek trilled, self-satisfied.

‘He won’t, Derek. And I’ll tell you why.’

‘Why, sir?’

‘Because, Derek, one smug schoolboy in Hornet Heaven is quite enough.’

*     *     *

Burnley 2 Watford 0

26th September 2016; Premier League

Frank Gammon was angrily head-butting the window of the Hornets Shop again. Watford had just lost at Burnley.

Bill Mainwood approached Frank gently. In Hornet Heaven, Bill was renowned for his ability to offer calm, wise and emotionally intelligent perspectives on short-term setbacks such as tonight’s.

‘Hello, Frank. It’s hard to deal with a performance like that so soon after the win over United, isn’t it?’

Frank continued smashing his forehead against the glass.

‘0-2! To Burnley!’ he seethed.

Bill said kindly: ‘I expect the fans on earth are just as upset as you. Personally, at times like these, I used to find it helpful to remember that there’s much more to life than football.’

Frank stopped nutting the window. He thought about this.

‘But that’s not true up here. In our afterlife, there’s nothing except football.’

Bill looked at Frank for a few moments. Deep in thought, he removed his glasses.

Then he pushed Frank out of the way and started head-butting the window himself.

*     *     *

Watford 3 Manchester United 1

18th September 2016; Premier League

Residents of Hornet Heaven poured out of the ancient turnstile onto Occupation Road. They’d just seen Watford beat Manchester United.

Hundreds of fans from different decades were chanting: ‘Since I was young, I followed them!’ It didn’t matter whether they’d been young in 1881 or 1981, beating Manchester United was an amazing feeling for any Watford fan.

Ahead of the crowd, Bill Mainwood and his programme assistant Derek Garston walked past the club shop towards the atrium. Derek noticed his boss’s eyes looked a little moist.

‘We waited thirty years for today,’ Bill said, with a happy sigh.

‘Thirty years and two days, actually, sir,’ 13-year-old Derek squeaked in his pre-pubescent voice.

‘Yet that’s not what’s so special about it,’ Bill said.

‘But it was historic, sir. What can be more special than a historic win?’

Bill replied: ‘What’s more special is realising that Watford fans won’t be waiting another thirty years for it to happen again.’

At first, as a lover of stats, Derek was a little perturbed by the idea that victories over Manchester United weren’t going to be historic any more.

But soon a big grin spread across his soft face as he contemplated the future.

*     *     *

West Ham United 2 Watford 4 

10th September 2016; Premier League

Several Watford fans from the Edwardian era were standing on Occupation Road, discussing the brilliant victory at West Ham. They watched nervously as Lamper – Hornet Heaven’s chief steward and former hooligan – approached them.

‘I ‘ope you lot are gonna learn the lessons from that turnaround,’ Lamper snarled.

‘Gosh, I should say so,’ one of the Edwardians said. ‘Never give up when you go two goals down.’

‘Quite,’ said another Edwardian. ‘Especially if the other team start doing their fancy dan party pieces.’

‘What you talkin’ about?’ Lamper growled. ‘Weren’t you even watchin’?’

‘Of course we were. Watford’s football was quite marvellous.’

‘I ain’t talkin’ about the football,’ Lamper said. ‘I’m talkin’ about the knuckle. First, there wasn’t any. Then the ‘Ammers fans turned it around – and there was plenty. What a turnaround!’

‘But I’m not sure that’s—’

‘Shut it!’ Lamper shouted. He knew exactly what needed to be learned.

‘The lesson is,’ he said, ‘if in doubt, smack your own fans about. It’s the West ‘Am way.’

*     *     *

Watford 1 Arsenal 3

27th August 2016; Premier League

Bill Mainwood was tidying programmes in the atrium with his 13-year-old programme assistant Derek Garston.

‘Sir, I’ve been thinking,’ Derek trilled in his pre-pubescent voice. ‘Do you think referees have their own special place in the afterlife?’

‘Like ours, you mean?’ Bill asked. ‘A paradise?’

‘No, sir. Obviously not. An inferno. A lake of fire for their corrupted souls.’

‘Oh,’ Bill said. ‘That sounds a little unkind. Perhaps they have a paradise too. Perhaps it’s called… …Referee’s Rapture!’

Bill was well known in Hornet Heaven for his kindness, wisdom and tolerance. He hoped these qualities were rubbing off on young Derek.

‘Don’t be silly, sir. A Premier League puppet like Kevin Friend doesn’t deserve never-ending bliss. He should be condemned to spend eternity with the likes of Roger Milford, Rob Styles and Stuart Attwell, sir.’

Bill said nothing for a moment and thought about what Derek had said.

‘Yup. Good point. Fair enough.’

*     *     *

Watford 1 Gillingham 2 (AET)

23rd August 2016; EFL Cup

There was a terrible racket on the corner of Occupation Road. Hornet Heaven’s angriest resident was trying to kick in the window of the new club shop.

‘Oh dear. Frank Gammon’s completely lost it,’ Bill Mainwood said to his 13-year-old assistant Derek Garston.

‘Out of the cup!’ Frank was seething between kicks. ‘To a League One team!’

‘See if you can help Frank calm down,’ Bill said to Derek. ‘Give him some statistical perspective.’

Derek went up to Frank. His high-pitched voice shook slightly as he said:

‘Excuse me, Mr Gammon, sir. But did you know that Watford have gone out of the League Cup to opposition from a lower division in eight of the last ten seasons? It would be unusual if we didn’t.’

Frank stopped kicking the glass. He stared at Derek.

‘Is that a fact?’

‘Yes, Mr Gammon, sir.’

Frank nodded. ‘Thank you, boy. That helps.’

‘Glad to be of service, Mr Gammon, sir,’ Derek said, extremely pleased with himself. ‘I bet you feel a lot better now.’

Frank turned away. He paused to let the new information influence his mood.

Then he yelled: ‘Eight of the last ten seasons!’ and started head-butting the window.

*     *     *

Watford 1 Chelsea 2

20th August 2016; Premier League

After the match, Bill Mainwood led his 13-year-old programme assistant, Derek Garston, into the brand new Hornets Shop.

‘This should cheer you up after losing to Chelsea, young man,’ Bill said. ‘Have a good look round. The new kit looks lovely, don’t you think?’

‘I’m not interested in the kit, sir. I’m looking for something else with the club badge on it,’ Derek squeaked in his high-pitched voice.

‘That’s nice. What kind of thing? A lamp-shade? Or a pencil case, perhaps?’

‘Speedos, sir.’

‘Well, Derek, I’m sure you’d look very fetching in Speedos, but—’

‘Not for me, sir. For the Watford players. So they can learn to dive like Diego Costa, sir.’

*     *     *

Southampton 1 Watford 1

13th August 2016; Premier League

Henry Grover, the man who founded Watford Rovers in 1881, was relaxing at his usual table in The Gallery restaurant after the match. He was with Johnny Allgood – the man who’d become Watford’s first-ever manager in 1903.

‘Well, Johnny, what do you make of the new Head Coach – Walter Mazzarri?’

‘Ach, he won’t last, Henry.’

The Father Of The Club was taken aback.

‘Really, Johnny? What makes you so sure?’

‘I went down to the dug-out to hear how he communicates with the players.’

‘And?’

‘Era deludente.’

Henry frowned. ‘I beg your pardon, Johnny?’

‘Molti giocatori non riuscivano a capirlo.’

Henry began to get irritated.

‘What? What are you saying?’

‘Non può parlare inglese.’

Henry got up from the table, his patience broken.

‘I’m sorry, Johnny, but this is ridiculous. If you want me to understand what you mean, you need to speak in a language we share.’