It doesn’t seem like yesterday. There’s been far too much water – some of it crystal clear, some of it decidedly murky – under the bridge since then. But it certainly doesn’t feel like ten years have passed since that day at Wembley either.
There’s good reason for that. If it still feels close, if those stories are still fresh from re-telling, that’s because nothing has come near to touching it since. We shouldn’t belittle the second promotion to the Premiership under Adrian Boothroyd – it involved no more luck, arguably a little less – but the events of the spring of ’99 remain an impossible, giddy pinnacle in the recent history of Watford Football Club. Rarely has a club, its manager, players and supporters, dreamt as vividly as then. Rarely has it all come true quite so tumultuously. It was just magical.
That day, we had the entire world at our feet. As Nicky Wright looped that overhead into the top corner and Allan Smart belted in the second to conclusively finish what’d been started weeks before in that bizarre game with Tranmere, it felt as if nothing could stand in our way. Reality bit back quickly enough, of course…but that only makes it seem more special when you look back, the wintry shadows throwing the sun-drenched, romantic adventure of those two months into even sharper relief. For a moment or two, we all closed our eyes and let our imagination run riot.
We’ve had plenty of ambition in the years since then, plenty of proclamations about where we should be and where we could be; we’ve blown plenty of cash in hot (or lukewarm, often) pursuit of the Premiership gravy train. But the truth is that you can only have that innocence once: we were never the same again after the 31st May 1999, just as every club that swaps its daydreams for a hefty bank balance and visits to Old Trafford is never the same again.We beat Liverpool and Chelsea months later, but that team – an immense team, unforgettable names and unforgettable deeds – never existed as an entity again, shattered by injuries to many of its brightest stars. Victory at Wembley was its final momentous act.
Damned if I’d swap a single second of it, though. Watch the highlights and look at the photos and read the reports, but never forget how you saw it. Because it wasn’t a media event for Sky’s benefit. It was a defining moment in our collective history, in your life and your friends’ lives; it’s your story to tell to future generations.
It was a golden day. On the 31st May 1999, everything was possible. And it really happened.
Watford 3 Derby County 1 03/05/2009Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
Five thunks from the closing day win over the Rams
1- OK, so final day of the season, not much to play for (save finishing above Palace, always nice…). But given that… what a very fine way to end the campaign. Nigel Clough’s assertion that the first goal was pivotal was probably fair enough – the game was wide open from the start – but the implication that the Rams were worth something woefully optimistic.
2- As for the Hornets… a melancholy aftertaste on the conversation that must have taken place on hundreds of walks out of the ground. “How many of that lot will we see next season?”. Loach, Lloydy yes. Cork, presumably, no. The rest… all open to debate, varying degrees of maybe.
3- Lee Hodson. Good work, sir. Puts boot through the ball? Tick. Overlaps like a loony? Tick. Encouraging.
4- Who would have taken a penalty in the second half? Lloydy, maybe the popular vote. But would you have denied regular taker Smith on what may be his last appearance for us? Or what about Rasiak’s hat-trick? He’d have been the first Watford player on this ground since 1997 to score one…
5- Would Nigel’s Dad have ever played Robbie Savage and John Eustace in the centre of the same midfield? Hmmm. And did anyone else notice Rob Hulse throughout?