Christmas 1983 saw a present from one set of grandparents of a Watford scarf and hat. This led this particular 9 year old to announce that I wanted to use the scarf and hat in more than a practical, keeping warm kind of way, and actually wanted to use them to support my local team. My My Mum’s brother was a season ticket holder at Vicarage Road, and when my other grandfather was staying with him at Christmas, he would go along as well. The next game was on Boxing Day at home to Aston Villa, however I was doing something else, so had to wait a few more days until the New Years Eve clash with Birmingham City. My Grandad had brought back the programme from the Villa game, so I had already started to learn a few of the players who I would be watching.

Maurice Johnston Watford 1983/4

Mo Johnston scored the only goal of the game, one of 20 he scored in his first season in the 1st Division

Memories are hazy, but I do remember it was £3.00 to get in (it was even cheaper for children on the Family Terrace), and the programme was 50p. If you want a ticket for a Watford game this season, it costs around £20.00, and the programme will coincidentally set you back £3.00, which is quite cheap by the current UK standards. With inflation in 30 years, it should cost approximately £8.18 to get in to a game these days, although of course in 1983 it was an uncovered terrace, these days it’s a seat with a roof. However there is no denying that the cost of watching football these days is a far more expensive business. I still have the original programme from the game, with my late grandfather’s scribbles of the team changes on the back, although I did pick up a fresh “clean” copy of the programme from eBay a year or two back as well.

Watford v Birmingham City 31st December 1983

Of the game itself, I remember the one goal that went in (Watford won the game 1-0), which was down the far end, but the thing I remember is the roar of the crowd and a sea of arms going up in the air in celebration (meaning for a while, I couldn’t see anything). I remember late Birmingham pressure and the Watford goalkeeper Steve Sherwood making some fine saves. I don’t remember much of the opposition goalkeeper who I’m told also had an excellent game, but a young Tony Coton would be a Watford player within 12 months and would go on to become a favourite of mine and many a Watford fan. I also remember the regular smell of cigarette smoke (and I later discovered how annoying it was if you got a chain smoker standing right in front of you), but it’s a smell, whether good or bad, that you won’t get at games any more.

Later in the season, I would get to see my first defeat as a Watford fan, at home to the all conquering Liverpool team of the 1980s, Rush and Dalglish at their best. I also got to watching Match of the Day (usually videoed on a Saturday night and watched on a Sunday) on BBC1, and then Sunday’s “The Big Match” on ITV. One of the early games where Watford featured was a classic 5-3 win at Notts County, an entertaining and attacking Watford side at its best (and in defence, both teams fairly average).

My football mad Grandad also took me to Loftus Road to see QPR thrash Southampton 4-0, but it wasn’t enough for me to change my allegiances. Of course this was also the season that Watford reached their first and only FA Cup Final. My parents thought I was too young to go to games away from the family atmosphere of Vicarage Road, so I had to make do with watching the game on TV. I did get to go to Wembley a few weeks later though, as my Grandad took me to see England slump to a 2-0 defeat to the USSR in a friendly (England had failed to qualify for the European Championships that year), where only an excellent Peter Shilton display prevented a heavier defeat…this was shortly before the national side travelled to Brazil and John Barnes scored that goal in a 2-0 win. For those who think the England team were better 30 years ago, listen to the fans’ reaction to the defeat in the video. I still have the programme from the game, which reflected on England’s recent u21 championship win (so things weren’t all bad), and cost a mere 60p. I seem to remember it was a fiver for the ticket to the game.

Just a few memories of football 30 years ago. I think the top division has undoubtedly improved in terms of technical ability, helped by the introduction of players from all corners of the globe, but note that England are at least qualifying for tournaments. Having said that, Bobby Robson’s position although in doubt at the time, he did survive and saw England to qualification in the next three tournaments, and a quarter final in 1986 and semi final in 1990. As for me and my first game, despite the opposition manager Ron Saunders’ comments that it was “an awful game”, my first question on leaving the ground was “when’s the next game, and can I come?”. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years.