Last weekend I wrote about the experience of watching a team achieve promotion into the Football League when I went to see Barnet defeat Gateshead to clinch the Conference Title. A week later I was back in North West London to watch a team achieve promotion out of the Football League and into the Premier League. This time the venue was Vicarage Road Stadium, as Watford were promoted to the Premier League after a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday.
This was not my first journey to Vicarage Road this season. On Boxing Day, unable to get tickets to the day’s Premier League matches (Chelsea vs West Ham and Arsenal vs QPR), but wanting to experience the festive nature of Boxing Day football, my father and I made the journey to the end of the Metropolitan Line for Watford’s Sky Sports induced 5:30 kickoff against Wolverhampton Wanderers. We battled torrential rain, flooded streets, 40-degree weather, pitch-black streets due to poor floodlights and howling winds but we still managed to come away with a favorable impression of Watford and Vicarage Road. There was something endearing about the public address announcer coming out onto the pitch and directing the fans to sing various Christmas carol’s before kickoff and the very intimate setting of the smaller ground devoid of the tourists that infiltrate venues such as the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane. Watford lost the match 1-0 and my father and I had to battle the elements again to return to Central London but we figured that was all part of the experience of festive football. I vowed to return again at some point this season if my schedule permitted.
My second trip to Vicarage Road was also on a holiday, but this time the weather was much more favorable. With Watford closing in on the top two and a lunchtime kickoff on Easter Monday against fellow promotion rivals Middlesbrough, I figured it was too good of an opportunity to miss. I could feel the tension in the air as the match would go a long way to determining which teams went up from the Championship. Middlesbrough came in top of the league, but only two points ahead of fourth placed Watford. The atmosphere was fantastic – the Watford 1881 movement (basically a bunch of teenagers trying to create atmosphere at matches) sang for the whole 90 minutes, directed by a drummer who effectively served as their conductor. The opening exchanges of the match were greeted with chants from the Middlesbrough fans of “we’re top of the league”. Watford went on to win 2-0 and as a result they they led chants of “we’re top of the league”. By the end of the day, however, AFC Bournemouth were top of the league after defeating Birmingham City 4-2 in a later kickoff. That’s how tight the Championship was this season, full of all the drama that the Premier League lacked. The passion from the fans was a great advert for Championship soccer as all the fans in the ground were emotionally invested in the outcome of the game. After the match, I immediately bought my ticket for the final day of the season with the hope that I would see a tooth and nail final day scrap for a promotion place.