What do Wembley, Turkiye, and Bahrain all have in common? They’re all places I’ve watched Watford win promotion. I’m not sure how I’d follow the golden boys’ exploits if we hadn’t had the explosion in global TV coverage.
I remember spending a few months in Mallorca in the early 1990s, long before streaming and live TV coverage kicked in. The first I knew of us beating the then league champions, Leeds United, 2-1 in the League Cup, was reading it in the Spanish papers the next day. A week or so later, a small parcel arrived. My folks had gathered together all the press coverage, including the Watford Observer, and sent it to me. It was the only way I could get a feel of what a famous night under floodlights had been like.
Nowadays, it’s totally different. I only need the TV remote or my login details for Hive Live and I can watch every game, or more likely in recent times, avoid every game. Even I got bored with the phrase, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’m not getting back.”
Being an expat Hornet has led to some amazing times. The day Kevin Phillips scored the dubiously awarded penalty for Palace in the playoff final was painful. I was in Doha. I’d watched the game on BeIn Sports in my apartment, but felt like a decent glass or two of wine to wash away the disappointment. I lived opposite the Four Seasons, where the Cigar Lounge had become my local. The staff had become friends, and remain so. What they did that night was above and beyond. The chef had kept track of the score and realised I’d probably need cheering up. To research the Watford badge and turn it into a plate of food was astonishing. As the below shows, a picture really does speak 1,000 words.
It’s far from the only place being a Watford fan made me feel at home. There will be a book about my travels around the World, but that’s for another day.
I remember my first job in Saudi Arabia. things didn’t start well. There’d been an issue at Heathrow, so I arrived in Riyadh with just my hand luggage. Thankfully, I’d worn my work suit in a vain attempt to sweet talk my way into an upgrade. It didn’t work. I’d arrived on a Wednesday before starting my new job on the Saturday. Saudi weekends were Thursday and Friday back then. I was fortunate to be in an expat compound which had a rule that everyone helped the newbie. There was a knock on the door at 7pm with an invitation to a birthday party that night in the restaurant on the compound. They even lent me a t-shirt and shorts.
It ended up being a pivotal moment in my life as I was sitting next to another Watford fan. She, and the man who would later become her husband, have become so close I call them family. Through their bad judgement, I was even best man at their wedding. I would never claim I did a good job of the best man’s speech, except for one part. We all lived in Saudi Arabia at the time and had come back so the UK based friends and family could come to the wedding. It gave me an idea for presents for the bridesmaids. A trip to the Hornet Shop ensued, with a boot full of Watford shirts heading back to the wedding venue. Then I struck gold. Aston Villa was playing Spurs and staying in the same hotel. Ashley Young was playing for Villa at the time and was beyond generous in signing the shirts. Martin O’Neil, the then manager, was even kinder in buying a large round of drinks too. Top people doing something very special.
My trips to the Hornet Shop put a seed in the little grey cells. The bride and groom’s home was Saudi. Therefore, we were away from home. A present for the bride of a Watford away shirt was the highlight of my speech.
An evening sat chatting to a fellow Watford fan in the middle of the desert led to me finding some of my greatest ever friends. Oh, and for those who have read my book of short stories, yes, the husband is called Dave.
Indonesia also has a massive connection to Vicarage Road. My mother had a shop in central London selling furniture imported from Indonesia. The buying trips were amazing and allowed me to travel further. Little did I realise I’d end up living in Jakarta, doing my normal day job a few years later.
We had a manager of the furniture warehouse, Soloman, who I also call my Indonesian brother. Like most Indonesian’s he loves football, and the UK game in particular. It wasn’t a difficult job to almost ruin his life of hope by converting him to being a Watford fan. The present of a home shirt did the trick.
When our first container of stock arrived, he came over to London to help unpack and check everything was in order. It gave me the chance to take him to a live game, even if we were in Division 1 at the time. I had a 2-seater convertible and, as we’d left late, I did push the speed limit to the max. I’ve now seen the driving in Indonesia, so I understand why he looked so terrified for most of the journey. We still arrived a couple of minutes late to the game against Northampton Town. We even sat in the Vicarage Road end. He loved it. It’s not all about watching Watford around the World. Sometimes it’s about bringing the World to The Vic.
It wasn’t my final Watford and Indonesia themed evening. My parents came to visit me in Jakarta after I’d moved there. Dad ended up in hospital with dengue fever. Thankfully, he was well on the way to recovery by the time Saturday came round. Our manager had flown in to help and we had the chance to watch a Watford game in the middle of the night. I know we opened a bottle of something, and emptied it, but what it was, which Watford game we watched, and the score is beyond me! All I know is, two Watford fans from opposite sides of the World found a release valve from the stresses of life by watching 11 blokes in yellow shirts run around a field chasing a little white ball.
I was in Bahrain that famous day we beat Brighton. I was sat in the corner of the “Sherlock Holmes” which had been rebranded “Max’s Corner,” as it’s where you’d find me every time Watford or Saracens were playing. The bar manager was a wonderful Mancunian. When the other results came in, confirming we’d won promotion, his only comment was, “don’t you dare hug me, or beat United.” I didn’t hug him, but we did OK against United.
It’s far from the end of my travels, or Watford's success. I moved to Turkiye after my parents retired as I needed a break so I could follow my dreams of a secondary career, putting random words on a page and seeing if anyone would read them.
I was in a beach bar in a little place called Mavihisar, watching Watford play what would be their last win of a relegation season under Nigel Pearson (our 3,000th manager of that season). There’s something special about being able to eat fresh octopus caught that morning whilst watching Watford win. I’m sure, in a different life, I’d have settled for a pint in The Red Lion, but what’s a man to do? I made the immortal prediction - “That’s us safe then.” Oops. I can’t be perfect all the time!
The following season, none of us watched Watford live thanks to Covid, so being abroad didn’t feel very different. It was strange watching Watford with a Turkish commentary, though. We won promotion, but it felt more a relief than a celebration. It’s not a season I remember with any fondness, probably because we all had bigger fish to fry.
Time, as always, moved on and the next big moment was signing Tufan. I live in an area dominated by Besiktas fans. They all loved Tufan as a Turkish player, but warned he was lazy unless pushed. Watford signing him gained us many fans in Turkiye. Sadly, we never found the key to unlocking his talent. I suspect changing the manager every 5 minutes was part of the problem. Now we’ve appointed Valerien Ismael (until next week anyway) and I’m finding the Besiktas fans laughing out loud. They didn’t exactly get it right about Tufan, though, so I live in hope.
There’s an elephant in the room. The FA Cup Final. I was in Turkiye and we were invited to several bars to watch the game. The cameo from Gerard Deulofeu in the semi-final gave us all hope. Troy’s magic defence splitting pass to Pereyra made us dream. In the end, I was glad I watched it at home with Mum and Dad rather than surrounded by Mancunians at an expat bar.
It’s amazing when I look back and realise how many different parts of the world I’ve been in whilst watching Watford. What surprises me more is I’ve always bumped into a fellow Hornet wherever I’ve been. We really do get everywhere!
Maximilian Sam grew up above his mother’s clothes shop on St. Albans Road. He’s old enough to remember Luther Blissett playing for England Under 21s at Vicarage Road. He’s lived all over the World and always found another Watford fan to share the roller-coaster ride being a Hornet brings wherever he’s been. He is also an award-winning author. You can find out more at www.maximiliansam.com.