Vicarage Road Watford
FA Cup 3rd Round v Everton
Saturday January 6th, 2001, 3pm.
I set off for Vicarage Road without a ticket as Everton had sold out their allocation. I'd phoned the Watford ticket office earlier in the week to check whether tickets would be available on the day, only to be told that they wouldn't. However, I was confident of getting a ticket and as a last resort I knew that a regular visitor to this site - Martin, who works for Watford on matchdays - would be able to get me in somehow. Martin had advised me to park in the Gade car-park which is the nearest one to the ground. There are a number of car-parks in the town centre and the ground is only about 5 or 10 minutes walk from any of them. Furthermore, I found the signs giving directions to the car-parks very clear and easy to navigate by. A couple of minutes after arriving on the ring road I found the Gade and was pleasantly surprised to find that it only cost £2.50 for the day, but that only applies to the upper levels which are accessed via a second automated ticket barrier. However, I would point out that payment is made at the ticket machines just before you return to your car, and there was a huge queue for the machines after the game.
I made my way up to Vicarage Road, and again there were plenty of sings giving directions from the main pedestrianised shopping area. I soon noticed that thousands of Everton fans had already arrived - it was now midday - but none had any spare tickets. I then received a call from Martin who told me that tickets had gone on sale to home supporters only from the main ticket office so I headed straight there. When I arrived I found a few fellow Blues who had tried and failed to get tickets as their accents gave them away, but using my best fake southern accent I was able to get a ticket for the Main (East) Stand for £16. At the same time I also got some tickets for a couple of Everton lads. It was still early and I had arranged to meet up with Martin at 1 pm, so I took a walk around the outside of the ground. The infamous allotments are still present behind the Rookery Stand, which used to be the away end, and there is no room for expansion behind any area of the ground aside from the Main Stand. This, I'm reliably informed, will be developed at the end of next season and I can't really see the need for any further building work after that. I met Martin and had a chat before he started work. I then ventured off back into the town centre to have a drink. Watford is a real town centre club, and within a very short walk there are various bars, shops and restaurants. Spotting a couple of lads who I used to travel with, I spent the next hour or so catching up on how badly Everton had been playing recently.
I entered the ground just before kick-off and the place was already pretty full. I liked the look of Vicarage Road; the worst area of the stadium was the one in which I was sitting so there were decent, modern stands to look at wherever I turned. To my left was the Rookery Stand which is a large single-tiered structure that housed the bulk of the home support (it used to be the away end). Opposite was the double-decker Rous Stand that sported a peculiar looking roof. The Everton contingent were sat in the stand behind the goal to my right, and this looked identical to the Rookery End. The Main Stand is made up of a couple of different sized old wooden stands, with separate roofs, and an uncovered area of seating in the right-hand corner. The view wasn't spectacular but this was the only stand that had supporting pillars. The stand had a somewhat cramped feel to it, and having located the toilets (after a 5 minute search), I found the queue for the refreshment kiosk in a cramped alleyway beneath the stand. Very poor.
Although there were plenty of Evertonians dotted around the entire ground, this was the FA Cup and I wanted to get right behind the team who put in the worst 45 minutes of football I had ever seen them play during the first half. So at halftime I managed to get through to the away end, although the first senior steward I asked refused and threatened to eject me! He claimed that I was in a "non-segregated" area of the ground, and that the away end had no room for any further fans. He was talking rubbish, as there were empty seats in both bottom corners (for segregation purposes) and if I was in a "non-segregated area", how come the club were refusing to sell tickets to anyone other than home fans beforehand? Anyway, the next steward was more co-operative and I sat through the second painful 45 minutes roaring the Blues onto an amazing, if underserved, victory at the death. Both our goals were greeted with our usual pitch-invasions, and the equaliser was followed by some fighting in the Lower Rous Stand, although I couldn't make out who started it. As for the last-minute winner; well, I'm still aching now from tumbling over a few rows of seats and my throat is still hoarse.
The thrilling end to the game ensured that I enjoyed my visit to Watford. The ground was easy to find, and parking was simple and cheap. The fact that it lies so close to the town centre is even more convenient, and although there was a little bit of trouble after the game there are far less welcoming town or city centres around the country. The stadium itself was clean and modern - apart from the Main Stand - and I liked the design. If the club re-develop the Main Stand along the same lines as the Rous Stand then it will finish a fine stadium off, and one that I now have a soft-spot for.
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