Hubris is always punished.
Before I jot down these quick thoughts, I must point out that I wasn’t able to get anything out in the last week. If I had I would have spoken about the jubilation, the massive pride in the team and club and the general feeling of invincibility I, and I’m sure most of you, felt waking up on Sunday. So take them as read, before I dive into this negative post.
If last weekend was the culmination of a huge, season-long team effort, today was a massive bloody bummer, equally brought about by virtually everyone.
From the outset, today was about celebration. It’s fine, of course, to want to appreciate the massive achievement of promotion, but the job wasn’t done. Over the past few months the atmosphere created by the fans and the club with the big screen has been spot on – focused and full of gravitas. We’re all together and driven to achieve our goals.
Instead of that, today we had pre-match ‘chats’ with a succession of kids and not-kids doing their best to seem cool whilst screaming on cue and singing off-key. Rather than let the crowd do their thing it seemed we were being whipped up into a manufactured wheeze.
Whatever, that didn’t really matter, but it set the tone. The job, it suggested, was done. Here’s a formaility. Huzzah.
The team didn’t look like they agreed. By half time, the score could quite easily have been 5-0. Marco Motta over-and-over again bombed down the wing with Hélan, almost of this parish, picking daisies on the halfway line. If only he could pick a cross.
Up front Vydra and Deeney were phenomenal, the latter spurred on by the latest in a year of mystifying Lee Probert decisions – turning a blind eye to Chris Kirkland chopping down a strutting Troy.
The finishing was lax, especially that of the otherwise excellent Almen Abdi, but it was still a cakewalk. The goal would come eventually. And once it did through Vydra’s rebounded header, the onslaught continued.
Then, the second half. Or more accurately, the last ten minutes.
Slavisa Jokanovic is a hard-nosed bastard. He cares not for your feelings, just about the result. But here, in the form of three early substitutions, he seemed to succumb to the occasion. Motta may have been a bit short of fitness, and Vydra and Anya were fading from the game, but bringing on Tozser and Ighalo looked to me like a lap of honour for two fine players who’d played a big part in the campaign.
Neither really added anything, and a Munari, adding a bit of bite to midfield, or a Forestieri, whizzing around up top to hold the ball up, would have been more suitable to the situation.
And then, with ten minutes to go, the unthinkable happened. A sodding Mexican wave.
To be clear, there are NO circumstances in which a Mexican wave is permissible. Aside from being lame, they show you are bored, that whatever event you’re at has lost your attention, and most of all that you no longer have an emotional interest in it.
This was, to remind you, ten minutes before the club was set to win their biggest ever silverware.
With a Mexican wave, the game is considered won.
There followed a yellow smoke bomb, and then when that was being cleared, another.
The side were fading. After over an hour of completely dominating, they lost the ability to hold onto the ball. There was no more overlapping, no more runs in behind; every short ball was misplaced, every mid-length ball was under-hit, and the majority of passes, big ol’ diags to Troy, came straight back at us.
We were one goal up, with our promotion rivals coasting at 3-0.
Watford, as those who have spent some time around the place will know, are not immune to giving up late leads, even if the act hasn’t reared its head too much of late.
What this team didn’t need was constant stoppages caused by things being thrown onto the pitch. What they didn’t need was a bloody Mexican wave. What they didn’t need was the crowd closing in on them, assembling at the hoardings and clambering up from the Lower Rous.
What came was clearly coming.
As Wednesday won a deep free-kick, the crème-de-la-crème of unneeded intrusions – some pissed-up toss pot waddling into the penalty area, waved through by the hundred lurking stewards – took the attention of the players when it was needed most.
While the stewards watched passively, it was Troy – arguably our best defender of set pieces – who was charged with getting the arsehole off the pitch.
You know what happened next.
And then, with the side desperately flooding forward for a winner, a corner was held up while some pre-teen among the crowd enveloping the pitch on the touchline stole the corner flag.
When it was all over, the pitch invasion went ahead. We’d failed, we’d all failed. Nothing was gained, everything was lost, and yet the pitch was flooded with fans with no interest in the result.
I have nothing against a good flood onto the pitch. The best thing about that video of Jonny Phillips doing the Soccer Saturday report of Troy’s goal against Leicester was seeing the blurred crowd behind him surging forward as one in delight. Wanting to be among your heroes as they cement glorious victory is only natural.
But these days, the act has become selfish.
Fans aren’t losing themselves in a fug of jubilation, they are taking advantage of an event to make it about themselves. And they’re becoming so ten-a-penny that any genuine celebration is lost among the smugness.
A section of kids, most likely those with the smoke, flew past the players they were meant to be congratulating and headed straight to the away end, where they stood for ten minutes taunting the Wednesday fans who, obviously, could not have cared less.
Others lay down on the grass, some grabbed selfies, all after the atmosphere of arrogance and presumption had contributed to our failure.
The players, and Slav, were clearly pissed off – Troy said as much in a post-match interview. But a compulsory celebration followed, by which time the fans seemed to have realised that the game hadn’t been won, and the lap of honour was conducted in near silence.
The season has been tremendous, and what an achievement promotion is, given the ructions of September and October. Monday will see a real celebration of this achievement, and we will all have a jolly good time.
But this was it. This was our chance to see Lloyd Doyley lift a league championship. Instead, partly because of us, he was limited to a bottle of champagne.
And because we are now an established Premier League side, we may never have a chance to win anything again, until the Europa League rolls around in a few years.
So I sit here, hugely deflated. Having to look at pictures of Bournemouth, a good side but not – I feel – as good as us, lifting our trophy. Second place is the first loser.
The feeling will dissipate and once all the semi-big names of European football are beating a path to our door the full realisation that we are Premier League will soak in.
But for now… bugger.