All football supporters know that you pick your team, you stick with it, you hope your kids pick the same team, there will be glory days, good times and bad times. It’s the same the world over.
As a Watford supporting family, amongst the consistent years of boring mid-table mediocrity, there have been a few glory days. I’ve been lucky to see them promoted to the Premiership twice (obviously immediate relegation followed both times!) via the magic of the play-offs and great days out at Wembley Stadium and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Much to Dan’s pride, Joshua has followed in his footsteps and is an ardent stubborn Watford supporter, fielding off any influences from his Premier League supporting friends and his Hong Kong friends, most of whom have never even heard of Watford!
So for the sake of everyone’s emotions, I was hoping that for our few years in Hong Kong, Watford would dependably have a few forgettable seasons of continuing averageness. Not to be.
They romped their way up the table at the start of this season and through some great football and scoring more goals than any team in any league they threatened us with promotion for the whole season. I was nervous. If Watford got promoted I would be gutted that Joshua would miss out on a season of watching Watford play all those Premier League teams. Immediate relegation would undoubtedly follow as usual and who knows when this would happen again.
But no one could have predicted exactly how the season was going to end. Even for the neutrals, Watford created excitement and tension beyond belief. On the last day of the season, they could have grabbed the last automatic promotion spot and if it wasn’t for two injured goalies, they would have done. We watched the tension unfold late at night via internet streaming in Hong Kong. There was agony, ecstasy and agony again as Watford let it slip away, finishing third, a position they would have gladly taken at the start of the season but under the circumstances was disappointing. Joshua was devastated and I now had to counsel him through the lottery of the play-offs.
And so to the play-off semi-finals against Leicester. The first leg was lost 1-0. And with seconds to go at the end of the second leg at Vicarage Road, the score was 1-1 and Watford were not going to make the final. Then Leicester were awarded a penalty to put the nail in Watford’s coffin and that was surely it. Joshua was in absolute tears of disbelief, Dan was tearing his hair out and all I could do was hold Josh, ready for more tears as the penalty to seal our fate was taken. And seal our fate it did, but not in the way anyone who was watching could have thought. The penalty was saved – twice – and then in the dying seconds Watford took possession, dashed up the other end and scored the most magical unbelievable goal, putting them in front for the very first time over the 2 leg tie but who cared?! Watford were going to the final at Wembley. It was nearly 10pm at night in Hong Kong. Me, Dan and Josh were all jumping around screaming and hugging each other. Joshua’s tears of devastation turned into tears of joy and he didn’t even realise he was still crying!
OK, so now what? Watford are going to Wembley and we are in Hong Kong. Gutted for Joshua and gutted for us that we can’t take him for the amazing experience that is seeing your team play at Wembley Stadium. But hold on just a minute. Dan wasn’t having any of that and family at home were desperate for Joshua to get his day. Within 24 hours, insanely, the flights were booked. Just two. Dan and Josh were off for a whirlwind 3 day trip to London. Their excitement was contagious but I was gutted. There was just no point me and Eden going when Eden wouldn’t go to the game and it’s too far to take her just for 3 days. So I was staying behind with her. Dan certainly wasn’t going to!
Such is the nature of our double-life that people in Hong Kong barely batted an eye when we told them that Dan and Josh were going to London for 3 days for a football match. Whereas our London friends were open-mouthed in disbelief!
To pass the time in the two weeks until they left for London, Dan went to Singapore then Shanghai and Joshua had his accident with his eye, great stuff. Having nursed his wound and kept it infection-free, sweat-free and dry for 10 days, I was nervous sending him off to London for Dan to continue my expert aftercare. But there was still one more thing to get through. Despite being advised that he had to wait another week after his stitches were out before doing any sports, 2 days later (and the day of their flight) he had a football tournament that he was desperate to play in. It was invitation only and he had been picked. He was desperate. So we padded his eye up, protected the area with a baseball cap and let him play. All was fine and his team won the Plate. Big sigh of relief from me!
And off they finally went. Joshua was actually emotional at leaving me and Eden behind but I knew he’d forget about us soon enough! I actually didn’t realise how hard I would find the weekend. I thought Eden and I would have a nice girly time, and we did, as best we could anyway. Being stuck in Hong Kong with no husband, no car and an amber rainstorm didn’t leave me with many options on the first day but I managed to get us out for a few hours for Eden to let off some steam. But in my mind I was living every second of a weekend that I wasn’t part of but had planned every minute of for my boys. I knew exactly what times they would be where. On the Sunday when they crammed in as many friends and family as they could manage and Dan sent photos by the minute of Josh with everyone, it was very hard and I found it very emotional. I surprised myself with how I felt as I wasn’t really expecting it. After all, in 7 weeks we would all be in London together and, as I was also reminded, I would be in London by myself again in October so it would be my turn then, so snap out of it. Not the same I’m afraid. The summer is something we will all share together and my week in October will be a quiet week with my sister and her new baby.
I think it was the picture of Josh with my grandma that sent me into my cave of self-pity! Or maybe it was the horrendous Hong Kong weather that restricted Eden and I from doing as much as I wanted us to do. We still had fun in the few dry hours we were granted though.
Or maybe it was that I could see how much Eden was really missing her Daddy and brother. She asked where they were all the time. She knew they were in London and that she would be going there soon. If anyone was under any illusions that Eden remembers anything about her old life in London, they need to think again. She declared that when in London she would be going to the beach with Pop in her swimming costume and I was instructed to bring the sun cream. OK Eden, you might be a tad disappointed. I reassured her that everyone was thinking of us and I was sure we’d be brought back lots of little presents and care packages for being left behind. Luckily she’s got a short memory, they must have got lost in transit.
Oh, and Watford lost. I was as disappointed and frustrated as anyone about that but it paled into insignificance compared to how desperately I wanted to be there to comfort Josh when the final whistle went. Everyone said he was surprisingly ok about it but I knew differently. Much as I wished that were true, I know Josh. Couldn’t they see that he was just trying to act brave for everyone else’s benefit? I knew it from 6 thousand miles away and there was nothing I could do but just go to bed. It was 1am and I had a nocturnal daughter to remember about. But when they finally arrived home the next day and we cuddled up for a private chat, the truth came out, together with the exhausted, jet-lagged, unsurprising tears. I know my boy. But despite his Joshy emotions and the disappointment of the result, he got his magical day and I know he’ll never forget his amazing footballing, family-filled, friend-filled weekend in London.